By: Amber Leventry
Like magic, or perhaps developmentally age appropriate behavior, our twin boys started to the display signs of preferring Mommy over everyone else at the same age our daughter and first child began this phase. When all of our children were a little over a year old, they began to cling to Mama, but I wasn’t the mama any of them wanted. Some call this the mommy phase, I call it total rejection.
My partner, Amy, and our three kids have and always will have a special bond, one created by sharing Amy’s body for nine months and one that includes vaginal travel and breastfeeding. But at some point this bond seemed to be bigger than all of them and beyond our children’s control. It was as though Eva, Ben, and Ryan’s primal senses continued to remind them that Amy was their creator and original source of food. Their allegiance was strong, and if our house was a Hunger Games arena, each of them would have killed me in a hot second to spare my partner.
I have never felt jealous or threatened by my non-biological mother status. If anything, I feel relief it was Amy’s body and not mine that was sacrificed for the creation of our children. I certainly don’t feel less than our children’s second parent. Breastfeeding aside, Amy and I have tried to maintain equal status when it comes to caring for the kids. We both feed and bathe them—actually I do more of that with the boys since I am home with them more, so you would think they would be scratching at my legs to be picked up. But, can I get a kid to scream whenever I leave the room? No. Which begs me to ask, WTF?
I play with the kids. I put the kids to bed. I cook and cut up their meals. But there have been nights when only Amy can calm or comfort them. And at times it seems like only Amy can help them with tasks like brushing their teeth or offering them a fork.
The shift was slow to develop in the first place and with time the parenting equilibrium will slowly start to restore itself. In fact, Barnacle Ben is showing small inclinations of distress when I leave a room without him. This is endearing. At the moment.
We are very much in the middle of this phase—Cryin’ Ryan still throws textbook perfect tantrums when Amy won’t pick him up—but this phase of parenting doesn’t feel as cutting as Eva’s months of giving me the cold shoulder. When Eva was little I had to pry her away from Amy each morning so that she could use the toilet without Eva on her lap. It was like peeling a koala bear from a tree if the tree needed space and if the koala bear cried and screamed while shaking their head no.
For the most part, once the detachment has occurred, all of our kids—well not Ryan—realize I am not so bad and are happy to be with me. But there was a time I distinctly remember Eva throwing herself at the closed bathroom door, Amy on the other side, and began yelling and crying, “Mama!” Over and over. And over again.
I reassured Eva that I, the other mama, was available and picked her up and took her to our bedroom and shut the door. Who can poop with someone banging on the door? Actually Amy and I both can, because after having three kids you have no other choice, but at the time we had the luxury of using the bathroom in peace.
With Eva in our bedroom, mine and Amy’s bedroom—we have never subscribed to attachment parenting; some days I question my subscription to parenting—two doors separated Eva from Amy and her tantrum unfolded on the dirty laundry I was trying to sort into baskets. I tried to be patient and comforting; I reminded her that Mama would be back soon. I tried to distract her by encouraging her to help me, and I told myself not to take her display of dissatisfaction as a sign of her failing love for me.
She slowly snapped out of her heartbreak when she found a pair of Amy’s underwear. Wearing them like a necklace offered solace in the same way I used to sleep with Amy’s t-shirts when we were separated for weeks or months at a time when Amy moved out of our college apartment for summer internships.
After a few minutes, Eva mimicked what I was doing and put the underwear into the basket. When she wailed to have them back, I used the opportunity to do an experiment: I offered her a pair of my underwear. She threw them on the floor and demanded Amy’s out-of-reach underwear at the bottom of the basket too deep for her arms to reach.
“Fine. Here,” I told her as I retrieved what she wanted, no longer hiding my frustration with my second-place ranking.
I knew I shouldn’t be mad at her. And I had no reason to be mad at Amy, but I didn’t feel better until I snapped, “Just wait until you need to learn how to throw a baseball or make gravy from scratch.”
And there it was. In one unnecessary statement I insulted Amy’s throwing and cooking skills. I made our relationship with Eva a contest. And I based my importance as a parent on the assumption Eva would want to learn those skills. Still, my irrationality made me a bit happier. And it was a reminder I needed: Amy and I have very different things to offer Eva and now to Ben and Ryan as well.
One of the excitements of parenthood is that we will get to share our interests and hobbies with each of our kids; Eva now likes to putter around the garden and hardware store with me and hopefully one of my kids will enjoy watching several of the 24 hours of A Christmas Story each Christmas Eve. Amy is reminded of her childhood each time Eva slips on her ballet slippers and soccer cleats. We’re curious to see what the boys will be interested in, but whether it’s something Amy is drawn to or something I love, we will both burst with pride when we see them gain the confidence and independence to have hobbies of their own. Unless it’s ice dancing—we both kind of hope none of them want to take up ice dancing.
On most days, our kids benefit most when Amy and I work together. But as they go through these phases or learn that one mama is better at something than the other, Amy or I will need to step aside and wait our turn.
Right now, Amy’s attention and hugs are outweighing anything I have to offer to Ryan. But I am waiting patiently. It’s harder on Amy than me; it’s not like she enjoys the suffocating attention and screams of a toddler. We are confident Ryan will eventually allow me to pick him up when Amy is in the room. We have the experience of parenting Eva to remind us of this. When I was on the toilet one morning during Eva’s mommy phase, I heard her calling for me. Unlike the way I needed to handle this behavior, Amy opened the door and let Eva run in to give me a hug.
As a parent with three young kids, it’s rare to get a moment of quiet time, but getting a hug from a kid going through the mommy phase when the preferred mommy is in the room is as rare as a unicorn. The odds were and are not in my favor during these days, so if a hug is being offered, I’ll gladly take it.
Photo Credit: Flickr member Deni Williams