Maddie is going through a phase. I’ve been referring to it by its’ very scientific name – “The Tough Dropoff Phase.” Two weeks ago, she adored her daycare. She loves her teacher and her friends. She learns new words and concepts each day. Her true admiration is made evident by her brisk run into school holding my hand each morning then promptly dropping it to take the teacher’s as she walks through the door. I, as any good mother would do, used the hand she had dropped to pat myself on the back each morning for raising such a well-adjusted kid and choosing the best daycare environment for her. A classic mom mistake. Let this be a warning to you, moms. The instant you congratulate yourself on a job well done, things are bound to change.
And change they have for us. Tough Dropoff Phase has brought about a new attitude about daycare. An unwillingness to leave the house, tears as we pull into the parking lot, and heartbreaking clinging, wailing, and calling for me as the teacher pries her off of me each morning. My congratulatory self back patting has turned to deep, deep mom guilt. Of course I know that she is two and this phase is completely normal. It shouldn’t be worrisome at all. In fact, Riley went through the same thing at right around the same again. But, it feels different. Riley didn’t cling quite so much. She didn’t hide her face in a blanket and stare up at me with tears flowing down her face. She didn’t feel the pain quite as deeply as Maddie does. At least, not as visibly.
Each morning has been a rather loud and piercing reminder of how different they are. They are of the same genetic makeup and have been raised in the same environment but the way that they experience the word is vastly different. The way they feel loved is vastly different. Remembering that and responding to each one appropriately is my challenge.
While not a romantic by any means I’ve always been interested in the idea of love languages. I’ve not read the books but the psych major side of me cannot help but be fascinated and intrigued but this theory of connecting with people appropriately based on how they feel most valued. Further, to understand the differences between you and the person you are trying to connect with to avoid unintended non-verbal communication. In the case of mothering, I want my kids to know I love them. What if I’m miscommunicating that because I don’t know, or am guessing wrong about, how they feel most valued? Isn’t that how you end up scarring your kids?
The Tough Dropoff Phase and the healthy dose of mom guilt that has accompanied it have caused me to ponder the love language theory more than usual. Closing the door on her while she is crying and running for me triggers a string of mom-guilt-induced thoughts starting at, Does she know I love her? Too, how does she know that? Too, does Riley know? Too, do I show them both that the right way? And so on and so on.
Maddie is perhaps the easiest of my girls to understand when it comes to how she feels loved. Her love language is firmly rooted in physical touch. She’s my cuddler, and her affection for her blanket clearly points to the value she finds in touch. Riley, on the other hand, is much more complex. Like any good four-year-old, she is partial to receiving gifts and is happy to hear how well she does certain things or how smart she is. Neither of those things really move her though. She doesn’t cuddle. She also doesn’t openly communicate a lot of her feelings. Figuring out how she feels valued has been a long process, but I now firmly believe that for her it is quality time. Actual quality time. If you are not fully in the moment with her, she can sense it, but when you are, you can definitely tell how much it means to her.
Two different girls with two vastly different ways of feeling loved. Maddie’s phase will come and go. It will be replaced by a new phase with a new set of challenges. Riley will have new phases with new sets of challenges. Remembering to respond to each set of challenges differently and remembering how differently they both feel valued is my challenge. Not an easy one but one I happily accept.