By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
“Okay guys, it’s time to get ready for bed,” one of us says.
“Is Mommy going to take us?” one of the Okapis has begun asking.
“Is it night time? Who takes you to bed at night?” one of us responds.
“But we want Mommy!!” They cry out in unison as if they had planned it earlier in the day.
“You know Daddy takes you to bed at night. I already took you to bed today,” Gem will say.
“But we really, really, really, want Mommy to take us!” the boy will respond in his most desperate pleading voice as if me taking them to bed is akin to certain kinds of torture outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
Why do they not want me anymore? I can’t help but wonder.
This is not the first time I have been through this. Heck, it is not even the second or third time, sadly. In fact, you can read about several of those other times if you want (Part-time Daddy, Second Fiddle, Mommy Do It!). But this is different – even if the pain still feels the same.
It is clearer to me than it ever was before that this is not about me. In the past, when my Okapis have been like this it has been more like a test, a challenge to see if I was really up to the task of being their Daddy (thus why I call it the “Mommy Do It Test!”). Could I do the job as well, if differently, from Mommy? With my constant absence they needed to know if I would stick around when things got rough and when I did, the “Mommy Do Its” disappeared. Now they are back, but not because of something I have done or not done. They are back because they miss their Mommy.
Our Okapis started camp a couple of weeks ago and all of a sudden, after having spent 3.5 years with Mommy and only Mommy, three hours a day, three days a week they are without her and they miss her (who wouldn’t really?). They already have to leave her three mornings a week and then to have to “leave” her again at night (when they go upstairs with me) is too much for them. This is, I believe, where their calling out for Mommy stems from.
One of the things to help them deal with camp and the three days a week concept was to explain that they have a four-day weekend. They know I have a (ridiculously measly) two-day weekend where I don’t have to go to work. Now they have a four-day weekend where they don’t go to camp. I’ve started referring to the Mondays and Fridays that they don’t go to camp as Special Mommy Days – days where they get Mommy all to themselves. Actually, when I told them about it last night they immediately started to feel better (I know, I know, marketing is 75% of parenting, that’s what I’m saying). This way their extra long weekend includes two Special Mommy Days (of course, when they start pre-school in the Fall they will lose one of those days, but we’ll worry about that then). Gem and I have also started trying to figure out if maybe she should put them to bed on Mondays and Fridays (to end Special Mommy Days) or Sundays and Thursdays (to start Special Mommy Days – we are Jewish after all and days begin at sundown the night before in Judaism). Thankfully, my wife understands how important taking them to bed is for me and my relationship with them and she doesn’t want to upset that in any way. It certainly makes it easier to balance all of the competing issues – their needs, her needs and my needs – particularly my losing the only special time I have with them.
Right now I put them to bed at least 6 nights a week and several of those nights can be very challenging to say the least. But last week, Gem put them to bed on Sunday night. When I put them to bed the following night, there was a sense of excitement in them, a pleasure at having Daddy take them to bed again, as if the one night respite renewed their appreciation for me guiding them through our nightly ritual.
Before I was a father, I had no idea how complicated it is being a parent. Just when we get into a routine, we realize that we need to make adjustments so it better meets their needs (or ours). Constantly having our feelers, our sensors monitoring how they are doing, how we are doing and then determining what our sensors are picking up (an aberration? a bad day? something more than that?) assessing if/how we need to handle it and then figuring out a solution if necessary. No wonder parenting is so exhausting.
If we make our adjustments and I end up losing a couple of nights with my Okapis, but the nights I do have become more special, more intimate, that’s totally something I can handle.
Especially if it means they feel better connected to both of us.