I’ve never understood why abused women – or men, I guess – all too often remain in relationships with their abusers. What is it that makes them accept that kind of behaviour? What could possibly possess them? Why would they stay somewhere they are being treated so appallingly? But, the last six or so months of motherhood have given me a glimpse into the mind of an abuse victim, a hint at understanding their reasons.
It’s 3am, the early morning silence (and my sleep) is shattered by Fletcher’s distressed cries from down the passage. He hasn’t been sleeping well lately and we haven’t quite nailed down a reason. We think he’s exhausted – he doesn’t nap well (or at all, really) at school and consequently is completely broken (and disgusting) by 5pm. We fly through bath and bedtime routines before he gets over the hump and crashes down the other side into over-tired. If that happens, it’s hours before he finally winds down and it’s a generally unpleasant experience for everyone. But this tired, over-wrought brain of his means he has trouble switching off and really winding down for a good night’s sleep. Consequently he wakes anywhere between two and six times a night, and sometimes it takes us over half an hour to settle him again. It’s like having a newborn in the house…
I sluggishly pull myself from the bed and stagger into his room, he’s crying on his bed. I sit carefully on the edge of his floor-level bed and quietly ask, “What’s wrong, my boy?” “Eeeeeeee!” – and more insistent crying – is the only response I get. I try again, extricating his banda from under his pillow, untangling his blankie and pulling up his duvet to cover him; trying to gently sooth him out of this disturbed patch. He immediately throws his banda across the room, pushes his blankie away and kicks his duvet off, yelling, “no!” and making some more “eeeeee!” noises at me.
I try everything I can think of to placate him – ask him if he wants to come to our bed, offer him a nice warm bottle to settle him again, nothing works. Eventually, Becs drags her exhausted self through to his room, having heard I’m having no joy from him. I move so she can sit on the edge of his bed. Although he’s still crying, he manages to explain to her that he wants a bottle. I go through to the kitchen to warm one, while Becs supervises a toilet wee in the darkness.
I get back to his room and try to hand him his bottle, but he turns away and says, “other mama!” This is the norm in our house these days. I’m not allowed near him. When I get home from work, he wants nothing to do with me – I can’t talk to him, I can’t feed / bath / change / read to him, nothing. It’s the same in the mornings and during these nighttime visits. The other day, he’d come to our bed in the middle of the night, Becs had an early start, so she went to sleep in his bed for a few hours. When he woke up, he told me to get out. Of my own damn bed!
Don’t get me wrong, I know parental favouritism is a normal phase, I’ve read a bunch of articles about it. Some give helpful tips about changing up the routine, swapping activities so the “non-preferred” parent has more time with the kid. Others tell you to hang in there, don’t pull away, but lean in (fuck, I’m over hearing that expression!). Others still claim it’s a sign of cognitive development, and say he’s pushing me away because he feels safe enough in my love for him, that he knows he can do that and still be welcomed back (great!). One even went so far as to essentially tell me to grow up, that it’s not a child’s job to validate a parent.
All the articles though give sound advice and let me know that I’m not alone, but honestly, I do crave that validation. I desperately want him to let me do things for him the way he lets Becs do them, to cuddle me the way he cuddles her. And when he does… oh, the ecstasy! This is when I glimpse into the mind of an abuse sufferer, when I begin to understand their motivations. He pushes me away at every twist and turn, he uses me as a punching bag – literally and figuratively – he shouts at me, he throws things at me, he breaks my heart. But, when he curls into me, or comes to me with his “eina”, my heart swells with love and joy and gratitude, and hope!
Mostly, it’s the hope, I think, that keeps people coming back. The hope that he’s changed his mind about me, that I’m not a second-class citizen anymore. The hope that he loves me as much as he loves Becs. The hope that he’ll stop pushing me away and just bloody well let me love him! It’s generally short-lived unfortunately, but all the articles do agree on one thing: it’s a phase and it will pass. So, I guess, I just have to hang in there. Doesn’t make it any easier though.
What’s your experience with parental preferences? Let us know in the comments.