Monday, May 17, 2010

When a Child Clearly Favors One Parent Over the Other

Ila's whole body goes stiff.  Her arms flap up and down horizontally.  Her mouth spreads across her face in the biggest smile that an 8 month old can muster. I mean you can see the stub of her new tooth if you look closely.  If she is sitting she begins to excitedly bounce on her bottom.  If she is standing in her saucer, her legs lock, her whole body quakes and she gives a throaty squeal in eager anticipation of being picked up by her very favorite person in the whole--wide--world.   What a warm and fuzzy feeling the recipient of this joy must feel.   Yeah, Jeff just loves it!  

(Those of you who don't do whiny might want to look away for a sec because I am going to start bemoaning BIG TIME in the next sentence.) After nine months of carrying Ila, after 4 months of bed rest to keep her healthy where any muscle tone that I had turned to liquid and oh-so-lovely cellulite, after gaining a substantial amount of weight in order to keep her fed, (weight that plans on staying by the look and size of its suitcase), even after adjusting my life's goals in order to raise a happy, well adjusted child...Ila prefers her dad.

The word "prefers" doesn't do it justice.  Let me paint the picture for you.  Today Jeffrey was changing Ila in her bedroom.  I walked in and bent down to kiss her.  She planted her chubby hand in the middle of my face and shoved.  She immediately clenched her fists, gave a low growl which then led to a panicked squeal.  She looked towards Jeff with pleading eyes continuing the high pitched squawk as if to say, "Don't let that mean lady touch me." 

I know, I know anything could have set her off during that scene this morning.  But unfortunately this plays out over and over and over again in many different scenarios.  Kinda hurts a girl's feelings.  Now don't get me wrong.  We have great times together; on the floor playing with her Fisher Price farm, cooling off in her kiddie pool, eating new foods, taking walks.  As long as Jeffrey isn't around Ila and I are thick as thieves.  But put the three of us in the same room together and, well, do I dare say it?  I am chopped liver. 

Trying to be a "different" kind of mom than I was the first time around, I decided to be proactive and take this bull by the horns. Today I found out that there are ways to turn this rejection on its head, not so that she is rejecting Jeff (although secretly if that happened just once I have to say that it'd feel delicious,) but instead so that she learns that she can love both of us at the same time.  At first, I have to admit, I fell into that old trap of scowling and telling her a firm "no" when she began to throw fits when I showed up on her radar.  I even asked Jeff to tell her no, thinking that his disappointment might somehow thwart those growls and wails of panic.  When that didn't work, I quickly consulted my trusted therapist (who I happen to have on speed dial) and as usual, she made me see things differently.

In her educated and always correct opinion, she told me that Ila wasn't shutting me out so much as asserting her strong feelings for her dad.  It was important therefore that together Jeffrey and I show Ila that we can all love each other.  I guess you could call it operation "Can't We All Just Get Along" and it was simpler than I anticipated it to be.  My beloved Dr. Speed Dial suggested that when Ila growls or treats me like an outlaw, Jeff and I should kiss and hug each other and then kiss and hug Ila together.  Much to my surprise she LOVED it.   For the rest the day when Jeff and I were together, Ila cherished both of us.  She grabbed our faces or our hair and pulled us toward her, and we kissed and loved her until she dissolved into belly giggles. 

They say hindsight is 20/20.  Not many mothers get a chance to do it all again and correct the mistakes that they made the first time around.  I feel fortunate that I have been given that opportunity.  The lesson I learned today is that there are ways to solve problems with your children that don't always have to start or end with anger, disappointment or the word "no."  I am evolving-thanks to a pretty special 8 month old girl.