Bonding has been a bit slower for Wood and Nana, most likely because she came from a home with a single mother and needed time to feel comfortable with a male presence around all the time. She may also have some issues with male from early trauma but there is no way to confirm that. In any case, Wood seems like he is trying to fast track a bond instead of allowing it to develop naturally. He compels her to play with him – picking her up, tickling her, bouncing her, swinging her around. In some cases she enjoys it and laughs but in many cases, she pushes him away or tells him that she doesn’t want that. Unfortunately, he takes that as rejection instead of understanding that she may want to play, just not in that particular way.
One day Wood expressed his frustration with his “daughter” not liking him. I encouraged him to give it time but he questions, “when have you seen any child that doesn’t like me?” Besides Roly, the only children that I have seen him up close with are his nieces and nephews. And when I think back, his interaction with them is the same – picking up, swinging, tickling. The reactions vary from laughter and requesting more to squirming and pushing away. I’m positive they like him but I’m not sure they’ve ever had much of a choice in how to deal with him.
This week with Nana has given me some perspective on dealing with children – well, at least our child. I’ve gotten to spend more one-on-one time with a toddler than I have in my entire life. What I’ve learned is that she understands a lot. She knows the difference between “yes” and “no” and while she sometimes says “yes” or “no” to anything, for the most part, I can take her at her word. I’m learning that just because she is little doesn’t meant that she shouldn’t have autonomy over her body. So if she doesn’t want to be picked up, or hugged, or tickled, we should honor that. Of course there are times when we need to pick her up, but if it is just for our own enjoyment or what we think we should enjoy, she should have some input. This also means that we have to redefine “play” to not always focus on physicality. We, as a family, have to learn new ways to engage with Nana to show affection and to play with her.
Before Nana, I’ve never gave much thought to the best way to interact with children. Swooping kids up, swinging them around, making them squeal is how you play with them. The screaming shows that they are having fun. But if you’ve dealt with a toddler, you realize there are fun screams and then there are uncomfortable screams. I’m starting to be very uneasy thinking about all the times I’ve ignored the uncomfortable screams and pushing away, thinking that I needed to do more jostling, or swinging, or hanging upside down in order to make it more fun for them. The screams were letting me know that it wasn’t fun at all.
I realize that we as a family are up for some difficult conversations ahead. Both of us were raised in an authoritarian environment, where children were expected to do as told and not given choices. Talking to children may be seen as soft or “how white people raise their kids” and so I fully expect some growing pains even within our household as we navigate childrearing. I think we are up for the challenge.