Myson re­jects his mum and it’s driv­ing us apart

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - PARENTING -

?OUR son is 18 months old and over the past few weeks he has be­come needy for every­one ex­cept my wife, and cries al­most every time I leave or hand him off to her. It is dev­as­tat­ing for her. She is a stay-at-home mammy

IT can feel like a real, emo­tional, kick in the teeth when a child ap­pears to re­ject you. No won­der your wife is dis­traught at the way the your son is show­ing a pref­er­ence to be with you. She has been in­vest­ing hugely in be­ing avail­able to him and, as you say, do­ing ev­ery­thing for him, and so it must be hard to be pushed away in the evenings.

This phase of a child favour­ing one par­ent over an­other is very com­mon. There are sev­eral rea­sons why it might hap­pen.

For some chil­dren, the move into “in­di­vid­u­a­tion”, in other words their first steps to re­al­is­ing that they are a sep­a­rate en­tity to their pri­mary carer (your wife in this in­stance), can of­ten be to as­sert their new-found in­de­pen­dence by mak­ing choices.

In your fam­ily sit­u­a­tion, it may be just that your son, ex­per­i­ment­ing with be­ing sep­a­rate from his mum, turns to you when you are avail­able to him. He can af­ford to do this, be­cause in his ex­pe­ri­ence, his mum is still prob­a­bly an in­ter­nalised part of him, such that he has no fear of los­ing her. that does ev­ery­thing for him and shows love and af­fec­tion all of the time. Yet, he kicks her to the curb each time any­one else comes into the room. She is so down about it, say­ing that she is a bad mother and that we don’t need her. I have to tread on eggshells, as I’m scared to have fun with our son in case it up­sets her and it’s driv­ing us apart.

You may just be more fas­ci­nat­ing for him, right now, as he is so used to be­ing not just with, but psy­cho­log­i­cally part of, his mother.

Also, many tod­dlers will only be able to fo­cus on one thing at a time.

They ex­pe­ri­ence the world se­quen­tially, that is to say they en­gage fully with some­thing, or some­one, and then move, lock stock and bar­rel, to the next thing or next per­son, with­out a back­ward glance.

So, in your sit­u­a­tion, your son may not be able to fo­cus on you both si­mul­ta­ne­ously, and so when he is with his mum he fo­cuses on her, and when you are there he switches his at­ten­tion en­tirely to you.

I won­der how your son is with his mum when it is just the two of them? Is he lov­ing, af­fec­tion­ate and en­gaged with her, re­cip­ro­cat­ing the love and af­fec­tion she shows him?

If he is, then that it the true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the qual­ity of their re­la­tion­ship.

It is re­ally hard, though, for your wife not to have feel­ings of hurt that she is dumped in favour of you. Your feel­ings of guilt that you are the favoured one, just right now, are equally normal.

The key, how­ever, for you both is not to panic. Like I men­tioned at the out­set, this is just a phase. It cer­tainly is not worth let­ting it drive a wedge be­tween you, as nei­ther of you are do­ing any­thing wrong.

There are a few things you can do, to lessen the ap­par­ent seg­re­ga­tion. Do en­sure that in the evenings, when you are there to­gether, that you con­tinue to share the par­ent­ing roles. So, even if he de­mands only you, cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for your wife to con­tinue to pro­vide some of the care he needs.

In­deed, even do­ing things to­gether, as a whole fam­ily, not al­low­ing him to in­sist she is not part of things, shows your son that you feel his mum is an in­te­gral part of his life, even when other peo­ple are around. So, she might still do some nappy changes, or bed­times, or story times, or join in the play with you and him.

Most im­por­tantly, though, your wife needs to try to reg­u­late her feel­ings of hurt and re­jec­tion enough that she doesn’t show it in her in­ter­ac­tions with him. Some coun­selling may even help her to put all this in con­text.

If she ap­pears de­jected, or dis­ap­pointed, or re­sent­ful, it might pro­voke some anx­i­ety in your son as he may feel his re­la­tion­ship with her is dam­aged in some way.

Hard though it may feel, she needs to find the con­fi­dence that this stage will pass and to know that her re­la­tion­ship with him is al­ways as strong as it ap­pears dur­ing the day when it is just the two of them.

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