From a very early age I knew that I wanted children, and made life choices (college major choice, career choice, spouse choice, etc) always keeping that in mind. Then I became a wife and trying for a baby wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped (read: My Journey To Motherhood). Then I had my daughter Chidera, who I desperately prayed for, and I had to learn how to deal with her choosing her dad over me.
We went from her only wanting (and needing) me to nurse for the first two years of life to sometimes barely even acknowledging me when I walk into the house now.
We went from her being my shadow to coming into my room in the morning and instead of greeting me properly asking “where’s my daddy”. (Don’t worry I shut that down with the quickness).
We went from her choosing me to preferentially choosing her dad.
And at first my feelings were hurt.
Now I know this may sound silly and sometimes I have to even laugh at myself for tripping about something so trivial, but I’m here to to keep it real. Now, it’s never been a competition between me and my husband, but the sense of rejection from my daughter stung a little bit. This feeling of frustration, slight envy, and even a bit of sadness has very promptly been replaced with relief, gratitude and appreciation.
But it took a little bit to get to this place where I am now. Mastering these encounters with my toddler has actually translated to some of my adult relationships as well.
And here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
1) Understand that people have varying levels of emotional intelligence
Chidera just turned three, so the way she reasons will be age appropriate and I had to come to terms with this.
She doesn’t wake up thinking “I want to make mommy sad by implying I love daddy more” but rather “daddy is fun and kind to me, and he makes me laugh, so let’s play”.
I can’t expect my toddler to have a grasp on complex concepts like empathy, reading a room, and the impact her words have on others. But I have started teaching her.
Instead of getting frustrated I checked myself and met my child where she is. I used these situations as teachable moments not only for her, but for myself as her mom. Even though Chidera is advanced for her age, she still is three and the idea of her thinking like an adult is silly on my part.
From this, I’ve learned the importance of giving people grace to move at their own pace and to realize that your unmet expectations may be more of a reflection on you than them.
2) Reframe your perspective and switch to gratitude
My husband and I were both very blessed to have great relationships with our fathers and we are very aware that this is not the case for many people. So to see the incredible bond between Jeff and Chidera is something to be celebrated above any (misguided) feelings of envy. I checked myself on this swiftly.
I shifted my focus from her showing more excitement when Jeff comes home from work to gratitude that she knows how much she’s loved.
I shifted my focus from her wanting to always be cuddled by Jeff to gratitude that she feels protected in his arms.
I shifted my focus from her wanting to see him first every morning to gratitude that she knows her dad is a present and constant figure in her life.
This theme is true not only in motherhood, but in life in general. If you allow your focus to be on the negative, that’s what you’ll attract, and the opposite is true as well.
Choosing to live my life centered around gratitude has equipped me for when challenges arise, and enabled me to have a deeper appreciation for the happy moments.
3) Appreciate alone time and be grateful for your support system
The Tiff of today laughs at the idea of not taking advantage of the increased freedom and flexibility that I have now that Chi wants to be under daddy as much as possible. Long gone are the days of having the overwhelming urge to rush home from a quick store run with the irrational fear that my nursing infant would starve after only 15 minutes.
Now when she only wants to go swimming with daddy, I happily welcome it since it allows me well deserved free time. You’d be surprised how useful those quick 35 minute breaks can be, and how they can improve one’s mood.
I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am to have such support so the idea of not taking full advantage of this “me time” is criminal. And I refuse to take it for granted.
If there’s one thing that life has taught me, it’s that curveballs will be thrown and it’s key to manage them properly.
And parenting is no different.
The irony of it all, is that when Chidera was a newborn, Jeff revealed to me that he was frustrated and felt “useless” since she was exclusively breastfed. The tide has shifted drastically, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it does again. I’ve learned the art of pivoting, the power of adjusting, and the importance of adapting.
There’s no manual on how to parent, and even though that can be intimidating initially, there is beauty in finding your own groove and figuring out your unique rhythm that’s specially tailored to your child.
So as I’m teaching my toddler what emotional intelligence is, I’m learning to meet her where she is, reframe my perspective, stay centered on gratitude, and check myself along the way.
Let’s strive to look inward, have honest conversations, and evaluate why expectations are unmet the next time we are frustrated with how someone is treating us. Even if that person is a three year old trying to figure things out.