Around the time I was getting ready to go back to work with my eldest, my husband lost his job. In the following 7-8 months while he was unemployed, we pared my son’s daycare hours to a minimum (which was ~25 hours/week), and my husband spent considerably more time with him, and provided considerably more childcare, than I did. Not surprisingly, Abba soon became Eldest’s favorite parent – a situation that lasted well into toddlerhood. It’s not like I was entirely chopped liver, but I didn’t stand a chance if Daddy was nearby. I admit to being unhappy and more than a little jealous – after all, I was The Mommy. It seemed that all those early nursing and bonding sessions didn’t make one whit of difference regarding my darling son’s current affections.
Getting internet access later that year (1998) only worsened the situation; I found the Mommyboards. I’m talking about so-called ‘mainstream’ mommyboards (thankfully, in their pre-siggy and blinkie stages), where all the babies were crawling by 5 months, walking by 9 and talking by 12. The majority of moms were SAHMs of varying crunchiness who boasted how “attached” their babies were to them, even to the point where even Daddy was Just Another Stranger. While I didn’t exactly want that, either, I missed being The Parent in my son’s eyes*. And yes, I wondered often if my husband wasn’t doing what should have been my job.
Hubby reminded me of that phase 10 years ago when he IMed me this article: Why moms get jealous when dads bond with kids. I found myself nodding reminiscently at the bolded passages below:
One reason we’re possessive of the parental crown may be that, although society’s changed, we still get traditional messages about women’s roles. “A lot of our mothers, our workplaces, our TV shows still tell us that moms should do most of the childcare,” says Liz Park, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist with three kids in Crownsville, Maryland. We moms can be good at taking such messages to heart.
“For women, no matter how far along you are in your career or no matter how much of a feminist you consider yourself to be, at some level you’re coming from an assumption that women are caretakers,” says Heather Gerken of New Haven, Connecticut, a law professor and the mother of Anna, 6, and Ben, 2. “When Anna was a baby, I would feel guilty about the time away from her,” she says…
…For some moms, like me, what hurts is a deep-seated notion that we should be better parents than our spouses — more instinctive, more inventive, more in tune with our kids’ needs. D’Anne Gleicher of Alameda, California, finds herself battling this idea when her daughter is sick. Because she can’t get paid time off from her job as an attorney, her husband is usually the one to stay home with Ava, 8. “I know he’s very capable of caring for her, but I want to believe I’m better at it than he is — even though I’m not. I think it’s the whole ‘I’m the mommy and I can fix anything.’ It’s almost like a savior thing.”
It was rather easy for my husband to replace me as favorite parent: he was at home alone more with Eldest at the time, I wasn’t nursing once I went back to work (when he was 5 months old), and he was just as capable as I was in the bathing/feeding/diapering department – and maybe, maybe just a bit more fun than I was, too. (We won’t discuss his clothing color-coordination skills, as my daughter – who has been choosing her own clothing since she was about 18 months old – seems to have inherited the trait from him. Oy!). And truth be told, it was something of a relief to be able to do things on my own, knowing my son was safe and feeling secure with Abba. All I needed was to let myself go of the old-fashioned idea – and disabuse everyone else of the notion! – that only Mommies can do it right. it took some work, but it was so worth it…
Which is why our subsequent two children, even though nursed for longer than Eldest (and by the time our daughter came around, I also returned to work only part-time), always had lots of Abba time. And still do.
*As time went by and both of us went back to full-time work, this imbalance in my son’s affections corrected itself – and no, it wasn’t the daycare lady he preferred. Eldest now has a unique, and qualitatively different, relationship with each of us and I think he loves us both in equal measure – except when one of us has to discipline him, of course 😉 .
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