My daughter was 22-months-old when I wanted to become a single mom. I felt as though it would be easier than what I had been enduring…
For the first year of her life, my husband was chopped liver to my daughter. I knew this was normal – all of my other mama friends were the center of their baby’s universe, too; however, I was told that soon she would be obsessed with her father. It would get better.
It didn’t get better. It slowly got worse and worse. She went through a spell after her first birthday where she was scared of all men; yet, after a few months of that, she started to come around – to all except her own father.
She’d scream at him when he’d try to pick her up, change her diaper, check on her at night, play with her, and even when he’d just say goodbye to her in the morning. He kept trying and she kept repelling. She also would get upset when I’d show him any sign of affection and vice versa. She didn’t want him to be near me either.
My husband wanted to be very involved with her. He wanted an equal partnership in parenting and wanted to show her affection. He could have been the gold standard of a father, if she would have let him.
Apparently, this was only really an issue when I was around. I went to plenty of “mom’s night outs” and kept up with my friends, and she was always fine. The solution seemed to be that I just needed to disappear.
As she started to inch toward the age of 2, I was fed up.
I was fed up with having to sweep in to do damage control anytime he’d upset her (which was constantly – he couldn’t even sit near her without her screaming “no!” at him and crying). I was fed up having to do everything for her and not being able to take advantage of a break when my husband would offer it, because it wasn’t worth it with how upset she’d get. I was fed up with having to talk him off the ledge and deal with his frustrations, as well.
I was already acting the part of a single parent – I’d rather just officially be one than have to deal with the drama in the house. I felt like I was really finding my groove as a mother with her, and his presence was just making it harder. Furthermore, he and I were regularly fighting every night after she went to bed – about anything we could find to argue about. In my head, I started to work out the details of a separation.
But something in me felt like this could be fixed. I felt as though the source of my resentment was her refusal of him. If he could help out, it would be less weight on me. Furthermore, I’d actually feel like he should have a say in matters concerning her. His presence wouldn’t be a burden and we could feel like partners again.
I sought the advice from an early childhood development professional first. She helped me step back and look at our situation through my child’s eyes. To her, I represented safety. So, if I was swooping in every time she was alone with her father, it told her that she was in an unsafe situation. Me coming in to help calm the situation was telling her that, indeed, she had a reason to be upset and here I was to rescue her.
Also, we had been making the mistake of fighting in front of her. We’ve always underestimated her abilities and her comprehension, so we still believed that she was totally unaware of our conversations. If I was arguing with her father in front of her, it was reinforcing her idea that he was a “bad guy.”
Additionally, because I was her everything, what was there for him to offer? She didn’t need him. I would provide her with everything and if she was away from me, even just in another room, she believed that she would miss out on her basic needs. This was evident with how, when she knew I was out of the house, she would allow him to be the one to meet her needs.
Finally, I would scold her for her reactions to her father. That was also reinforcing the association she had of bad things with him.
We whipped ourselves into shape.
We stopped raising our voices and started to show more affection to each other in front of her. We stopped scolding her negative reactions to him and just ignored them as we continued doing what we wanted to do. If he wanted to sit in the same room with her, then he did, despite her protests. On his end, however, he gave her more space. He’d sit down on the ground to play and she could join him if she wanted to; but if she didn’t, that was okay. We took the pressure off of forcing positive interactions.
We also just pushed through the tantrums, as he stepped in to do more of the daily grind. Despite her displeasure, he started getting up with her and feeding her breakfast. He’d change her diaper. He started to do one special outing with just the two of them each weekend. They’d get ice cream, go to the store, or go to a park together.
To our surprise, things improved quickly. A mere month after I had started planning our separation, she was happy with him to do anything that I would normally do. She enjoys their outings and tells me “bye, bye” without any hesitation. I’m still her favorite and she calls for me first; but, she doesn’t have a panic attack if it’s him that shows up. She kindly says “bye” to him as he leaves for work and greets him when he returns. Gone are the days of her scrambling up into my arms and sobbing when she heard the door unlock, which signaled his arrival back home.
We didn’t believe that we had the power to change what our household had become. We didn’t believe it would ever improve. But with just a bit of work, we made change happen. We refused to accept our situation, put our foot down with our child, and saved our marriage. Finally, we felt like a family.