Daddy can care for you too!

I began to well up with tears watching them reconnect with each other through simple eye contact.

“Just Momma!” my daughter would cry. “Momma do it!” During the toddler and early pre-school years my daughter would cling to me for dear life when all I wanted to do was take a shower in peace. While this wasn’t an every day event, it was still enough that it limited both of us and created tension in our lives.

These feelings of needing mommy really flared around the time she was 3 1/2. We had recently moved across the country, leaving friends and family, and she had started a new pre-school where there wasn’t space for a teacher to hold her for the time she needed to cry about separation. All of these things may have contributed to her pushing dad away more.

During this time my daughter’s dependence on me was high and I was needing a break from always being the “go-to” parent. My husband and I really wanted to help her release the fears she was holding on to so she could see that her dad was available and ready to listen to her too.

One morning our opportunity came when she burst into tears over a torn pancake. She ran from the kitchen to the bathroom where I was getting ready for the day. Instead of following the same pattern of Mommy doing the Staylistening, I checked that my husband was feeling okay with listening. He was, so I told our daughter I was going to finish getting ready and that Daddy would take care of her while I wasn’t available. Her dad took her out of the bathroom and told her that he loved her and would take care of her. She cried and cried for me to come out.

I knew the best way for my daughter to work through her separation anxiety and fears was for her to be able to show, by crying, fighting, and trembling, how hard it was for her to be away from me while I was actually right there next to her. So as soon as I was finished getting ready for the day I came out and sat by them.

My husband held his arms gently around her waist as she cried to get out of his lap and into mine. It felt awkward not to just take her into my arms. But I remembered whenever I did bring her close for comfort, the hard feelings just stayed stuck inside. After comforting her I noticed she would shut down for awhile and retreat back into herself. She would often whine and cling or find some other pretext to cry about.

We were taking a “leap of faith” in listening to her tears all the way through. My love and warmth were right there available to her, but by not taking her into my arms the feelings were able to pour right out.

I sat on the floor right in front of her and held her hands. I told her I was right by her, that I wasn’t leaving and that Daddy could take care of her. She fought and cried at this suggestion. She told me I was “Too far away!” Even though our knees were touching and we were holding hands.

“Daddy can do it,” I told her. “Daddy can take care of you.” We knew she did know this on some level, since he has taken care of her since she was a baby and they often spend hours together going fun places or just hanging out at home. Her dad repeated that he loved her and would take care of her.

We listened to her cry for me all the while gently reassuring her and staying close. Her crying slowed until she lay trembling in daddy’s arms. In a slow and gentle voice I listed all the things Daddy did to care for her, from playing to feeding to helping with pottying. I told her when she was ready she could look in our eyes and see that everything was OK, and that we loved her. She looked in my eyes first (oh, those sweet brown eyes!) and then bashfully started peeking at Daddy’s eyes. I began to well up with tears watching them reconnect with each other through simple eye contact. She smiled and it felt the cloud had lifted.

Once we were all reconnected, we decided to have Special Time together for 15 minutes. She asked to play “little girl” which means she plays the mommy and I play the little girl. Not surprisingly, she guided the play to where she had to leave me “the little girl” with Daddy. I protested and cried while Daddy gently held me in his arms. She reassured me that Daddy would take care of me and even began to list all the things he knew how to do. When the timer beeped we ended the game and I told her that Daddy and I needed to talk about the day. She simply said, “OK, I’ll be in my room.” and happily went off to play on her own.

Listening to our daughter’s feelings about needing mommy has been an on-going “emotional project.” In practicing Parenting by Connection, space is made so she can show us how hard it is for her and then feel the tremendous relief once those feelings are released. Her natural confidence always reappears after a “session” and I see her thinking well again and remembering that Daddy can care for her too.

~ Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her Building Emotional Understanding course beginning March 14th.

4 thoughts on “Daddy can care for you too!

  1. It seems like time and emotional maturity would accomplish this same goal. You mentioned that it felt “awkward” not comforting her when she needed you…I think that feeling was a true instinct. I don’t think as moms we should force our kids to ignore their instincts. I think we should help them feel and follow what is right for them. I’m guessing she is your first daughter. These things come in stages there is a lot if mommy needing in the early years, then daddy needing and eventually they don’t need either as much.

  2. We’ve had a similar dynamic in our household and I admire my husband’s capacity to remain open to our daughter (now 5) when she has so often been so rejecting of him despite his love and play and support. So hard!

  3. Such a great example of what a difference it makes to hang in there where it got “uncomfortable’. It would have been so much ‘easier’ to just go and pull her onto your lap, but that wouldn’t have helped her undo those feelings that she was stuck with… Such a courageous team you two are!!

  4. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts. In reply to the first comment, there is something to be said for time and emotional maturity! 🙂 I know my husband loved when, at the age of 5, our daughter suddenly started running to the door to greet him. That was something she had never really done before.

    In regards to your thoughts on instinct, I have to say the awkwardness I felt in not taking her straight into my arms for comfort was not an “instinct” for me. It was just what I had always done whenever she was upset, so it felt awkward not to be doing the same automatic soothing I had been doing in that situation.

    In that moment my instincts were actually to support her in feeling all the feelings that were there, to let her express them until they cleared and she could see the safety of the current situation. During this time frame particularly, I noticed she could be playing happily with her dad, and then the moment I went to do something for myself, she would run to me and cling. Soothing her difficult feelings wasn’t helping her to be free of them. And, as much as I love being so available to her, I needed her world to open up a little and to see that others could care for her too.

    I do completely agree with you that we should not force our children to ignore their instincts. In that moment though, her instinct to cling to me and grab on wasn’t about the present moment. She had a loving, caring dad ready to be with and listen to her about her torn pancake and listen to her about needing mommy. She didn’t need only me just then.

    I will add that now that my daughter is 6 she guides this process much more. She notices how she feels before and after receiving listening time. She can tell me how hard it feels in the moment and how much better she feels after. Recently, after a listening session, she came back to me and said, “You know, I’m glad I stayed with you in the office. I feel like I really worked something out.” And, in setting up Listening Partnerships I see the benefit of this type of emotional release for myself.

    Here’s an article by Patty Wipfler that explains in greater detail how this type of listening helps with separation: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/44/64/Separation-Anxiety-Recovery

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