I reached a new parenting milestone today when my nearly 3-year-old daughter declared that she didn't like me. These words stung me like a knife through the heart—it was the first time in my life as a mama that my child made me feel like an inferior human being. I'm embarrassed to admit that my feelings were hurt by a toddler, but they were. I love that little human more than anything on the planet.
I love her even when she doesn't like me.
Let me set the stage for what led up to this moment. I had just picked her up from her second week of dance class—a new activity that we added to our routine that she and I (a former dancer) could share. I am also four months postpartum with my second child; a baby boy who has delighted and enriched our lives in countless ways while also inevitably becoming a roadblock in the unlimited one-on-one time my daughter and I used to share together. It's not lost on either one of us that her baby brother demands more of my attention, and despite every effort on my part to carve out quality one-on-one time with her each day, I am not able to deliver the same amount of excitement and fun that my husband can right now.
So when we got back to the car from dance and she asked if Daddy could take her to dance next week, I got a little irked but didn't let it show. And then when she asked whose night it was to put her to bed and I replied, "Mine, Sweetie! I can't wait" her disappointment was noticeable. She persisted that she wanted Daddy to put her to bed, and when I stupidly asked her why, she declared, "Because I don't like you, Mama."
I pulled out of the parking lot in silence letting the words stew. I worked through how to respond, and meanwhile, so many thoughts started churning in my head while eating away at my Mama soul. I wanted to scream out loud, "I get it, Hunny, I like Daddy more than me right now too!"
I love that your daddy had all the energy in the world during the height of a global pandemic to keep you entertained with bike rides and trail runs in the stroller while I sat nine months pregnant nearly crying every time I had to stand up because my tailbone hurt so badly. I love that in my exhaustion of working full-time (in crisis communications, no less) and carrying a full-term baby that he was able to be the reprieve we all needed in the day.
I love that a human child isn't dependent on Daddy to be his main source of food every two to three hours. I love that he can leave and adventure with you and that you come home with a huge smile on your face and tell me about how much fun you had with Daddy.
I wish it were me who brought out that joy in you right now, but I am thankful Daddy gets to share in this season with you.
I love that your dad can bounce you high on the trampoline without peeing his pants and entertain you while I watch another Netflix show and nurse your brother.
And in all seriousness, I love that when you and Daddy are together, I know you are really happy. This helps me to be fully present with your brother and give him what he needs to grow, thrive and be happy, just like you.
But darling, there is a lot that I hate, too.
I hate that I'm not that one who rocks you to bed every night like I did for your first two and a half years. I hate that just months ago I was the preferred parent, the one you wanted to be with 24/7. I hate that I have to respond to so many of your requests to play with, "Yes! But let me feed your brother first," or that you have started to ask me to "hold you with both hands" because you don't like it when I hold you and your brother at the same time. I hate that I feel more torn than I ever anticipated and I hate that for the first time your words hurt me and reminded me of all I hate about myself right now.
But I shook these thoughts off, and a couple of minutes later I pointed out the cranes that she loves to spot on our drive and sang along to another round of Down by the Bay. I also made a mental note to call my mom and apologize profusely for every rude thing I have ever said…
When we got home, my husband poured me a glass of wine and made dinner (see, there is A LOT I love about him) while my daughter played and our baby napped in the bouncer. Moments later, we heard the sound of my daughter's feet (still clad with her ballet tights) running down the hallway followed by the unmistakable sound of her falling smack on the ground. As she cried out, "MOMMY! MOMMY! HOLD ME!" I ran and scooped her into my arms as fast as my legs would carry me. While I calmed her, my heart joyfully held onto the fact that in the moments she needs comfort the most, she still calls out for mommy.
Your baby needs grace as much as you need grace, Mama, I reminded myself. And even now, just hours after my daughter told me she didn't like me, I somehow love her even more than I did before.