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The daddy dilemmas

The daddy dilemmas
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First Published: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 08 17 PM IST

Patterns : Most children are more attached to one parent.
Patterns : Most children are more attached to one parent.
Updated: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 08 17 PM IST
I am a 36-year-old father of a three-year-old daughter. My wife works in a shift job, so she keeps odd hours. I stay with our daughter all day and work from home. I am worried that she is more attached to me than her mother and misses me much more when I am away. Will this affect her emotionally when she grows up? Will she and her mom be short-changed?
Most children do lean slightly towards one parent. And since you are currently the hands-on parent, it is quite natural for your daughter to be more attached to you and dependent on you. While her mother may spend less time with the child, if she is fully there for her when she’s home, this should not be a problem. This is assuming that there is no lack of warmth from your wife’s side for the child. If you think that some kind of disconnect is developing between the two, you need to address this. Perhaps you should give them time to themselves and stay out of the equation for a couple of hours every day.
Patterns : Most children are more attached to one parent.
Encourage your wife to be physically there for the child in a reassuring way—meaning that there is ample touch, cuddling, playing, even if it is for a small spell during the day. See if you can also find a time when the three of you are together, enjoying each other’s company, so that there is a “complete” experience for the child, at least a few times in the week.
This way, the sharp distinction between the two of you as “main” caregiver and “subsidiary” caregiver may blur a little.
Socially and emotionally it is more common to have a working, sometimes remote, father, and a constantly available mother. Hence your situation may be at times inviting comment or seem unusual, and as your child grows, she may pick up on this and think there’s something “amiss” in the arrangement.
It’s important that both of you as parents continue to feel that this arrangement works for your family, and that no one needs to be or feel “short-changed”, as you term it, in the process.
I come from an abusive and broken home and grew up in a sort of foster care from when I was 12. Maybe because of this, I am just unable to be a strict father to my four-year-old. My wife and I have many fights about this, since she expects me to be stricter and I expect her to be kinder. Our daughter, I realize now, takes advantage of all this. She has started ignoring my wife’s words, and comes running to me, knowing I will let her off the hook. I see this pattern and am unable to break it. Please tell us what to do.
Yes, the way we grew up does dictate what kind of parents we become, but there is scope for change if the situation requires it, surely. Parenting requires more of us than simply a) being all that our parents were not, or conversely b) all that our parents were! It means that decisions, reactions and responses to your child cannot be dictated merely by what you suffered during your childhood.
In your case, you seem to have made one thumb rule based on the abuse and discord from your childhood: “I will never correct my child and show her any displeasure.” Little wonder that you’re the good guy and your wife needs to be the yeller and punisher almost all the time! On top of it, her position is undercut by your passivity. The more evasive and wishy-washy your response to discipline issues with your child (in the name of being kind and caring), the more your wife is forced to be even more harsh and strict with the child. This cannot be good for any of you.
As you point out, your child is already taking advantage of this situation. You need to work with yourself (perhaps with the help of a counsellor) to tackle past issues and sort them out as best you can so that they do not remain dynamic in your life, especially as a parent. Once you do this, you will not feel so knotted up and helpless (a shadow from your past) in disciplining your own child when required.
Showing a four-year-old her boundaries is not tantamount to being an abusive or neglectful parent—this is something that you will need to learn and experience.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Jul 22 2011. 08 17 PM IST
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