I don’t often give parenting advice. I feel like parenting is a messy business and that most of the people in my little social world seem to be doing a great job, even though many of us have wildly different styles.
However, one thing that gets me a little, I don’t know, fired up, is when I run into a “rejected” parent online somewhere who seems genuinely put out that their kid sometimes pushes them away. The context is usually a non-birth mother in a lesbian couple (which is what I am), and I chomp at the bit to tell them how to cope with it. This little essay is me giving in to that impulse.
I have a lot of experience with rejection from my son. A lot. He’s three, and he’s still (very minimally) breast fed, and it so happens when I am writing this essay, I am in the middle of another period of extreme rejection, probably caused by the fact that his birth mom also carried him practically everywhere when we were on vacation a couple of weeks ago. Moments ago, he explained to me that I wasn’t allowed to play Legos with him tonight because he was going to play Legos with his other mom. I was supposed to go cook dinner.
Which is to say that I have some experience in this area. Three years of it, to varying degrees. I am here to share my limited wisdom with you. I really don’t claim to know any capital-t truths about parenting, but I might know a couple of small-t truths. Here are a few things I sort of know.
- Your job is not to be loved by your kid, your job is to love your kid. That’s where your focus belongs
- You cannot take it personally.
- Seriously. You can’t. Your infant is a small, weird animal who doesn’t even think yet. He or she reacts to smells and heartbeats and familiarity. Your toddler is a bundle of hormones and chaos and nonsense. Rejection from a small child is essentially meaningless, unless you imbue it with meaning.
- This one deserves some extra hedging, but I have found that the best way to get my kid past one of these phases is to spend a whole hell of a lot of time with him. I take him out alone. I sit on the floor with him whenever I get a chance. I pay attention to him and not my phone. Doing this consistently, really engaging with him, helps a lot. Almost always. This can be especially important with the smaller children who are still breastfeeding a lot, because it is inevitable that a breastfeeding infant will spend more time with the parent with the magical boobs, and that time spent matters. Sometimes it is going to be hard to have alone time, because you have to get through a lot of fussing, but surely, certainly, you can think of ways to get your child past the fussing, rather than just giving up and going, “Well, he just hates me, that’s why.” Babies don’t hate anybody. Babies like the sound of rain and breezes and songs and textures and silly faces and rhythms and, god, you know all this, don’t you? Put in the energy. You have to make up for the lack of magic in your boobs.
- Play the long game. Sure, your kid might tell you that you’re not allowed to play Legos with him at three, but when he’s older he will remember that you cooked him a million dinners and patiently got him dressed most mornings and went out of your way to pick him up early from school. This really just goes back to number 1, up there. Your job is to love your kid, not worry about how much he or she loves you. You’re in this forever. Act like it.
- Sometimes, at the end of a bad day, your kid is going to go, “NO GO AWAY” when you try to sit down with him or give him a hug or otherwise spend time with him. And you might burst into tears and have to retreat for a little bit to cope. That’s normal, or I hope it is. The sadness will pass. You can complain on Facebook or eat some ice cream. I understand. Believe me. It’s okay. I’d never tell you not to feel this way now and then.
That’s the sum of my advice, based on my three years of periodic rejection by the world’s cutest kid. Maybe it’ll help a little, or maybe you’ll roll your eyes and go “she thinks these little monsters aren’t manipulating me? she probably doesn’t believe in gender essentialism, either.” But that’s another essay.