When I returned to work after maternity leave and for much of the time my daughter was a baby, I fretted over how my working would impact her bond with me. Being a baby, she was unable to tell me that she loves me or misses me. I could only go on confidence and assurance from my husband..with some logic mixed in…that she loved me deeply and cared whether or not I was there. But I still was always left with doubt.
What if she didn’t feel attached to me because I was gone all day, five days in a row?
What if she loved the nanny more than me?
Some days this bothered me more than others. Usually I was most fraught with concern by Fridays, feeling like it had been way too many days since she’d had me for a full day by then. I was never sure if she was feeling the dis-connect or was it actually me that was feeling too dis-connected from her by then?
I just wanted to hear her tell me she loves me, I thought. I just can’t wait for her to let me know she missed me, I told myself! Then it will be better! Then I will know that I am #1 for her and I can go off to work care-free (well, not quite, but you see where I’m headed).
(NOTE: In case there are any KT newbies out there, I feel compelled to remind you that this is NOT about mommy guilt. I hate mommy guilt. Quit wasting your time. I’m talking about a little bit of insecurity mixed in with a baby’s inability to clearly communicate feelings verbally, mixed in with the ways that motherhood calls everything into question, whether you are working full-time or not.)
In all of those scenarios, what never occurred to me was the reality of verbal skills. Apparently they’re a two-way street and can change on a dime.
So now, I’m the mother of a 2 year old. She tells me she loves me every night, after she wishes me “Happy Halloween” when she’s going to bed (honestly, loves that holiday more than anything). She says “bye bye, daddy, miss you” when my husband leaves every morning for work.
This is the stuff I imagined, right? All of you out there with non-verbal sweet babies, your hearts are just a-flutter, this is what you are waiting for, right?
Not so fast.
Because as I learned, seems that the little ones don’t necessarily come running to the door with their arms wide open, exclaiming “mommy mommy! I missed you!” when you return home from work.
I don’t know about your house, but in my house, the opposite is actually the case.
At first, it really hurt me. I had to hide my tears and avert my eyes. Now, I’m used to it and view it as a chance to get upstairs and change before I’m wearing darling daughter’s dinner on top of my dry cleaned suit.
Here’s what happens when I come home: my daughter barely lifts her eyes from her toys and when she does make eye contact with me, she shouts “No No No!” and runs towards the nanny.
Still feeling warm and fuzzy?
Still wishing your sweet angelic babe could whisper sweet nothings in your ear?
The thing is, she does the same thing to our nanny in the mornings. She shouts “no no no!” and runs to cuddle up on my lap.
So what do I think? I think toddlers don’t like change. I think the books and the experts are right and toddlers thrive off consistency and the same every day. I think it throws off her mojo when someone else enters the house and alters her routine. I also think she realizes the pattern of the day and what happens next.
In the morning, she knows I’m leaving and she’s sad. In the evenings when I come home, she knows she’s going to bed soon, so the clock is ticking on her playtime. (You don’t really think I could stomach that she’s pissed off that I’m home, do you?)
Bottom line is this, with the wide open expanse of verbal communication comes a free-flow of feelings out of the toddler’s mouth and the complexity of heading out the door each day has not dwindled. It has just gotten more knotty.
Hearing your child express frustration that you are leaving her again is way harder on me than her saying nothing because she doesn’t know how too. Hearing her anger that you’ve arrived home is certainly not what my past self imagined when she was a sweet little fat 6 month old.
It’s just a double-edged sword.