It was bound to happen eventually. When the Queen and I had met my son was on the cusp of turning five years old. For the prior year it had been only me; there had been no significant other in my life, no ‘this is daddy’s new friend’ and never a strange lady who just happened to stop by the house for a visit. The only memories he had from my dating life up to that point were snippets of drama caused by a previous long-term ex’s daughters. Occasionally he would, out of nowhere, blurt one of their names and proclaim how mean she was or what crybabies they both could be.
Because the Queen and I had chosen early on not to live together the bond she and I have with the other’s children has taken much longer to develop. Often our only time together, the six of us, is the random Sunday afternoon following church or a Friday night barbeque. And because our visitation schedules are almost identical, we can go weeks without laying eyes on the other’s kids.
Last year I started noticing a quiet distress in my son anytime he discovered the Queen and I were together. What one moment was jubilance and over exuberance at my being there quickly turned to despair and crestfallenness, as if a balloon had been popped. For the next half hour my typically energetic football playing, kung fu fighting, sword yielding boy stayed in the corner sulking as if a bully had just taken his favorite toy. His attitude would then turn to an almost resentment as if trying to get someone back. The problem was easily recognizable – he was jealous.
At the time the Queen and I were experiencing a similar phenomenon from her tween-aged daughter. Normally a sweet and kind-hearted kid with one foot in childhood and the other in teen-hood, the moment she realized I was in the same room she reverted to a toddler in constant need of her mother’s undivided attention. It seemed the girl’s sole purpose in all of this was to ensure I showed mom no physical affection – and by firmly attaching to her mom’s hip I couldn’t steal her away to some tropical destination.
I want to begin teaching him now that the more he fights what he doesn’t understand the worse it will become.
When the Queen’s daughter first exhibited, in ways different from my son, signs of jealousy we agreed there were only two ways of handling it. We could both choose to walk on eggshells in her presence trying to quench the girl’s fiery sentiment or we could maintain the status quo and help the child process what she was going through. Much like trying to walk underwater we wanted to impress upon her that the more she fought these new surroundings the harder it would be. Any attempt she made to take her frustrations and confusion out on us through her dramatic and unexpected behavior wouldn’t change reality. She must learn to accept what she can’t control. We also knew that if she could come to grips with her new surroundings she might actually find them more enjoyable than before.
This attitude hasn’t changed now that the problem is with my own child, and as far as I’m concerned I simply cannot allow myself and my actions to accommodate his baseless feelings, even if he is only eight years old. Setting that precedence is a slippery slope with no end in sight. It would be very easy to blame his age and with the best of intentions do what we can to be more sensitive to his feelings, but from my point of view that would make him the parent, not me. Besides who hasn’t met adults who see things that simply aren’t there but are too immature to logically deal with and talk through them? I want to begin teaching him now that the more he fights what he doesn’t understand the worse it will become and the tension he’s feeling ought not be avoided by running away, moping around, or trying to exact some form of revenge. Instead these feelings should be embraced and talked about without the fear of making daddy mad. Because if he isn’t able to embrace and deal with the discomfort of things he can’t control as a child what are his chances of doing so when he’s an adult?
I realize all of this may seem too tough love for some. That as a father I should be much more sensitive to my child’s feelings and tiptoeing around them is necessary and proper. He’s just a boy, they might say. But I also know that boys eventually turn into men and as his father it’s my responsibility to make sure he gets there without drowning first.