As I continue to recover from my recent surgery, I have realized in the last week how important my partner’s role is for our son’s development. Of course, I have always known that my son needs his daddy, but when your partner works offshore and you are the one running the household, often raising your child alone, it is easy to forget. My partner has always been a great hands-on dad, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of caring for our son, I have always been the decision-maker. Everything is run by me — his routine, his meals, his sleep times, his feeding times. You name it, I have it down pat.
But with my recent endometriosis crisis, my partner was forced to take charge while I was in the hospital. This meant that he would spend his first time alone with our son since he was born almost a year ago. Wondering how he would handle having to get up all night for our son who still doesn’t sleep through the night, I felt anxious for my boy. He wasn’t used to being way from me, how would he react? Unfortunately for my partner, the day that I had been admitted to hospital was also the day that our son developed a high fever and was diagnosed with tonsillitis. Our baby was at his worst, and with me not there to calm the situation, my partner had to do his best to soothe our son on his own.
Anxious to get home and see how my baby was doing, I was taken aback when for the first time ever my son seemed to prefer being in his father’s arms instead of mine. What was this? Surely he hadn’t forgotten me in two days? But as the day progressed, I noticed that he seemed to be more independent than usual, and instead of feeling joy and relief, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach. Does this mean he doesn’t need me anymore?
Have I gone from being his No. 1 to his No. 2, or worse? Despite months of moaning about how clingy the baby was to me, when he started to show signs of becoming more independent, I hated it. But aside from my feelings of rejection, I noticed something that I had never seen before, a calmness and silent understanding between by son and my partner. It was clear that their relationship had risen to another level, and I could see in my son a confidence he had not had before. They had bonded.
Of course, they had bonded before. Gabriel knew who his Daddy was and was always eager to play with him whenever he arrived home from offshore, but this was different. It was as if the absence of me had paved the way for them to connect with each other on a deeper level. Without me being there, my partner had had to step up and care for our son in a way he had never done before, showing him that he was not just a fun toy to play with but that he was also a parent, capable of loving and caring for him just like Mom.
When I arrived back from the hospital, I have to admit I struggled. As happy as I was to see this positive change, I found it difficult to let go. As a mother, my life is now centered around my darling baby — I carried him, breastfed him, woke up every night for him, did everything for him. I didn’t want to step back. I didn’t want to be put aside.
After a few days with me back in the house as I eased back into my routine, things seemed to adjust between us. Going to pick him up from nursery school, I wondered if his usual reaction when he saw us would be different given his newfound confidence. But as soon as he saw us walk through the door, he cried and made a beeline toward me, covering me in baby kisses and cuddles just like he always does. I felt elated and special again, but as I tried to pass him over to say hello to his father, he refused to even acknowledge him, and I felt a sadness for my partner. His dad was yet again nonexistent, and for the first time, I felt and understood the pain it must cause him.
All those times when our son clearly preferred me to his daddy — how he would only sleep after having one last cuddle with me, how when he was unwell or out of sorts he would come straight to me for comfort — all those times I took for granted. I was unaware of how painful it can be to be parent No. 2. Instead, I thought it was normal. I am his mother after all. But as I think back over the last few days, I can’t help but ask myself if I had unknowingly hindered my partner and son’s relationship. I have always been there in the background ready to sweep in when necessary, never really giving my partner an opportunity to take hold of the parenting wheel.
As mothers, we often, and rightfully, resent the pressure to be super mom especially when we are are exhausted from being with our children all day and night. When we have a loving, engaged co-parent by our side, we need to step back and learn to let go a little bit — for our babies and for ourselves.
Now I have seen how important it is for me to let go and let my partner take over once in a while — not only for him, but also for our son who has learned to see his dad as a parent. I know as a mother that it is hard to let go, but we also need to allow our partners to feel that special connection we have with our children.
So go out tonight, mamas. Take some time to yourself, or organize a weekend away with the girls. It will truly benefit your whole family.