The other day on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour…I should address that right there before I go any further. Yes, I am a lover of Woman’s Hour. I’m happy to admit to liking a program that clearly declares my age and sensible nature. I get great pleasure from putting it on while the children nap as I prepare the evening meal. It makes me feel strongly connected to my grandmother, as she always listened to the ‘wireless’, as she called it, while pottering about the kitchen. She would love that technological advances mean we can listen to programs whenever we want now and never miss a thing. And better yet, pause and rewind when the phone rings.
Anyway, I digress. The other day on the program they were talking about parental favouritism and if it’s really possible not to favour one child over another. I have to admit that it struck a chord with me and it’s been on my mind a lot since.
The past couple of months have been really difficult with Sun. He’s three and just started playgroup and, as I wrote about recently, his transition to being in a group environment without me around has been, err, interesting. He’s been aggressive at the playgroup and that spilled over to him beginning to be very aggressive at home. All of a sudden I went from having a happy, sweet little boy, to having to keep Shine at my side most of the time for fear he would donk her on the head with one of his toys or push her over. His aggression was also aimed at me a lot of the time too. He lashed out and tried to hit me on a number of occasions and I lost count of the times he would tell me, ‘Mummy, you’re not my friend anymore’.
I felt really guilty that until now he had always been cared for by me or Bird and that maybe that had had an impact on him being able to socialise with other children without us around to police him. I also saw reflected in his bad behaviour my own failings and it became really difficult to be around him all day every day as he battled through his angry feelings and frustration. It was so painfully sad and at the end of one particularly bad day he said to me, ‘Mummy, I’m lost’ and I later sobbed as I thought, ‘yes you are a bit lost at the moment and I’m struggling to help you find your way again’.
I can hand-on-heart say that I have definitely favoured Shine the past few weeks. She is almost 9 months old and I am really enjoying spending time with her at the moment. Her reflux has finally improved and she’s much more content and smiley. She’s starting to move about and interact a lot more and is constantly babbling and trying to communicate using her voice. It’s really, really sweet.
Maybe I’m finding this all the sweeter too because I feel I know what I’m doing with a 9 month old and I feel all at sea dealing with an aggressive preschooler. I’m not sure, but they are scary, strong feelings. The sort of feelings that we are taught to be ashamed of and hide. It’s not cool to declare that you really like one of your children more than the other. No, no, no.
I’m even more acutely aware of the feelings I’ve had over the past couple of weeks because my mother didn’t heed social norms and was quite happy to tell anyone who asked that I was her favourite child. I’m sure that my brothers resented me for this and it caused all manner of problems in our family. It still does if I’m to be brutally honest.
In an effort not to allow my feelings to impact on Sun or Shine, I made sure I forced myself to spend time with Sun and read him stories and tickle him and tell him how much I love him. I say, ‘forced myself’, because it was, I’m sad to say, a bit of an effort. My instinct was to carry on cuddling Shine and distance myself from Sun. I thought about it though, and the Woman’s Hour program touched on this too, and I realised that if I acted on my instincts he would feel there was a reason that he wasn’t as lovable as his sister. That he wasn’t worth loving as much as her. At that point in the program I did have a little cry. Sometimes hearing it said out loud really hurts.
Thankfully, things at playgroup are getting better with every session and so are things at home. In fact, Sun is being (almost suspiciously) ultra loving towards me and his sister again. I can’t help but wonder if, despite my best efforts to hide my feelings, he was onto me and he sensed he needed to up his game. I hope not. I never want him to feel that he’s not as loved, or lovable, as his sister. Of course I love them both equally, passionately. It’s just sometimes I don’t like them equally.