Newsletter, Issue 18
This summer our 4 year old son wanted to spend time with daddy; in the mornings, evenings, at weekends, on holiday, just about any time he could! He acted up more when daddy wasn’t back before bedtime or left early for work and regularly told me he missed daddy. This wasn’t totally new, but it was far more consistent and obvious than ever before, and both my husband and I felt the shift.
So why is it suddenly all about daddy?
In the first 2-3years of a child’s life, as long as mummy is around, it is normal for their focus to be on mummy and to need her much of the time. As boys grow older, they start to seek daddy, or a male role model, as they need to know what being a boy / man is about and what it looks like. Given that most men work and are out of the home for much of the week, this can be a challenge. It helps dads to know that they are needed so they can choose to be more available when they are around.
What a father can teach his son about his physicality
As our son has got bigger and stronger it is my husband who does all the rough and tumble play. My husband knows there is a danger that he can become ‘fun time daddy’ and has realised we need to keep aligned around discipline and ‘the rules’, although to be honest we both find this hard to talk about at times. It is my husband who has taken on teaching our son most about respecting his and other people’s bodies, and understanding physical boundaries, from learning about the pain of misplaced knees in daddy’s groin (Ow!!!) and that women are not as strong as men and it’s not appropriate to be as rough and physical with mummy. If as a woman you notice a reaction against children learning that women are physically weaker, just consider a boy who has not been bought up to change his physical behaviour around women and how he might behave in relationships in the future. To reduce domestic violence in this country we need to start giving boys a clear message. Where a dad isn’t around, it is worth thinking about where you can create opportunities for bonding with male role models and to learn about physical boundaries, whether with family members and friends or through sports clubs and activities.
“I’m learning how to let go, whilst also staying present…”
As a mother and I speak from personal experience, it can be hard when daddy suddenly seems to be the answer to every question or need. The bond with my son continues but it’s changing, albeit in a healthy way it is still an adjustment and I am learning how to let go, whilst also staying present! He still needs and wants me, but he also needs more space on his own and with his dad. It is another step in separating to be his own person. The old adage “if you love someone, let them go” definitely applies here. The hardest part I find as a mum is working out what to insist on and stay around for in relationship with my son and where and what to let go around. I trust my instincts and try to notice what works and what doesn’t. I try to remember that sometimes when he says “shut up” or “go away” he is not testing my authority, but saying “please give me some space” or “please stop overwhelming me with words” in the only way he knows how in that moment. If I can hear these needs of his, maybe I can show him it’s OK to ask positively for them. I’ve had mixed success so far as it’s easy to get hooked into purely focusing on him being respectful and holding boundaries around testing behaviour, and not always considering what needs there might be behind the behaviour.. but writing this it is becoming clearer, so I will keep experimenting.
Hearing and relating, not just telling
I am also learning to pick my moments to chat to my son about important things; when he’s not too tired, hungry and often when we are doing something together or are in the car. But it’s hard! I still just want to sit him down and ‘tell’ him on my terms; even though I know it’s pointless if I don’t first hear where he is, connect and check he is in a place to listen. It’s similar to my relationship with my husband where I still have a tendency to launch into ‘telling’ him things without really hearing him – old habits, however painful, die hard… I am gradually learning. For example, I am better at being vulnerable and sharing how I feel and the impact of certain actions on me rather than ‘telling’ him what isn’t working or needs to change. The former creates a place where as adults we can listen, explore our different needs, have compassion for each other, find a solution together and enjoy our relationship, whilst the latter takes us down a cul de sac of blame, resentment, battling and isolation. It’s helpful to notice our patterns in how we relate to others, as it gives us the possibility of changing our experience and the quality of our relationships. As a parent there are additional benefits for our children. After all the reality is that I am the first opposite gender relationship our son has had and, like it or not, it will shape his relationships with women in the future, as it does with girls and their dads. So any learning benefits my son as well as me.
What about daughters?
You may be reading this and wondering how this relates to your daughter, having probably noticed a similar interest in daddy around the same age. The difference is that usually a girl grows up knowing what being a girl / woman means and looks like, as mummy has been there to copy. As she starts to become her own person, she is seeking daddy’s attention to know she can separate from mummy; to feel special and acknowledged as different to her mummy. We all know girls have the potential to wrap daddy round their little finger, so holding boundaries and being aligned around discipline are still a key part of daddy’s role here too.
It’s normal for our children’s relationship with us to change
As parents we have the relational challenge of working together as a couple through our children’s shifting needs for us as individuals and in our different gender roles. Naturally it can trigger hurt and jealousy at times, misunderstandings or emphasise the differences between us. However it can also bring us a shared purpose and much joy. I hold onto knowing it is normal for our children’s relationship with us to change over time and part of healthy development, and that we only learn through our mistakes!
Thanks to my husband for his input into this article – we share a wonderfully challenging and fulfilling common purpose in parenting our son and he continually teaches us more than we ever imagined was possible.