I’ve had this feeling repeatedly over Toby’s 22 months on this earth and now it’s rearing it’s head again. The feeling of sadness and constantly asking “Why does my child reject me?”. As a loving parent, it hurts and as much as I spend most days trying not to take it personally, all I want to do is spend time with my gorgeous boy and have a deep and meaningful bond with him.
Toby has never been a mummy’s boy, he didn’t even say the word ‘mummy’ until he was about 18 months old and had a vast vocabulary of over 30 words, including most farm animals, daddy, milk, a variety of foods and Mr Tumble. Yep, beaten by Mr freaking Tumble.
I breastfed, I babywore, I never let him cry without tending to him, I did the whole ‘attachment parent’ thing but Toby is not an attachment child!
His silent reflux played a part, I’m sure that the association of me and breastfeeding with the pain he was in must have contributed, but to be honest as a baby Toby simply did not gain any comfort whatsoever from physical contact with anyone. Yes he was at his most contented when in a sling, but that was less about being close to me and more about being upright where the acid couldn’t attack him as viciously.
Fast forward to Toby turning one and we have a much happier little man who’s no longer suffering the way he had been. Eating well, sleeping okay by Toby’s standards and really starting to embrace the world around him, he still rejected people frequently. We wouldn’t get cuddles, he would push us away when we picked him up and night waking led to screaming when we tried to comfort him. Yes, this was happening to myself, Phil, my mum, but all I could feel was that my own son didn’t want me.
Let’s fast forward again to 18 months old. Toby’s a walking, talking, mischievous toddler and we’re immensely proud of the feisty little boy he shows himself to be. I finally start having a name to him, after all this time I am Mummy. Yet it feels empty. Not because I don’t absolutely adore the sound of it, but because whilst Toby associates me with the name, he doesn’t seem to associate me with the relationship.
Phil, Toby’s grandparents, even our cleaner, are all often met with excited exclamations of their names when Toby sees them, not every time but frequently. Me? Well my mum will tell me that he was saying “Mummy” as he headed to the house to see me, but once presented with me he doesn’t acknowledge my existence. I don’t get cuddles, I don’t get my hand grabbed to be shown something he’s found and if I ask for a cuddle or kiss I’ll sometimes get them and sometimes be told “No”, followed by him getting angry at the suggestion and hitting out.
Don’t get me wrong, Toby is still far from the cuddliest child with anyone, but I’d be lying if I said that jealousy didn’t course through my body when other people are met with excitement and me with ambivalence at best. It gets to Phil, too. He’s seen what Toby’s rejection of me has done to me on the days when I just feel useless as a mummy. It’s heartbreaking.
In the final couple of weeks before Martha’s birth, Toby started to bond with me a little more and would come to climb in my lap, pull me off the sofa to show me things or dance with me (not easy at 41 weeks pregnant but I did it!) and we had some truly wonderful days. Since Martha has arrived, however, he will barely look at me. I know that I am trapped under a feeding or sleeping baby for much of the time and Martha actually is a through and through mummy’s girl so far, but whenever I possibly can do, I’m trying to fuss Toby, to interact with him and still be the best mummy that I can be.
In the mornings when Phil goes to get Toby out of his cot, I’ll often hear him say ‘mummy’, but then when he comes into our room he won’t look at me or say hello and attempts to get him to are met with “No!”. It’s the same when he’s leaving the house with anyone else, getting home again or going to bed if I’m not taking him up. I’m sure Martha’s presence is playing a part, but the fact of the matter is that Toby has always been like this with me and try as I might to be okay with it, it’s not okay!
It’s not like Toby has never cuddled me or never come to me, but I have never been his first choice and when I’m further back in the queue than all 4 grandparents, his uncle, my parents’ dog and the cleaner as well as Phil (which I can accept as he’s Daddy!) it just hurts.
I actually started writing this post several weeks ago, but then things improved slightly and I didn’t finish it. Now we’re right back at square one and if I’m truly honest it’s just never really felt like Toby and I have a strong bond, which is exceptionally difficult for me to say. I adore my son, I love him so purely and completely and I would die for him, but this is not about love at all.
If I was in a relationship with a man who treated me the way Toby does, I’d have left a long time ago. I wouldn’t stay with someone who won’t acknowledge my existence, who wouldn’t give me affection, who would hit me or shout at me when I asked for a cuddle or for him to say goodbye. But the relationship with your child is more complex than any romantic relationship ever could be. Your child is an extension of you, your blood, your genetics. You intuitively have to protect them, love them and nurture them so when they reject that from you, you can’t just walk away, you have time keep providing it no matter what.
Toby and I do have fun times, we do laugh and play, but just occasionally I want him to seem pleased to see me when I pick him up from nursery, I want him to call out “Mummy!” when he arrives home from some time with one of his grandparents, I want the sort of reactions that the other main people in his life get. I’m so sick of being told “No!”