The problem is that my son, Benjy, doesn’t want to play with me–he wants “somebody else.” And that somebody else is mommy.
While I certainly wouldn’t mind going back to sleep and handing the morning duty to my wife, I feel somewhat emotionally sideswiped by my son’s announcement that he is desperately seeking somebody that’s not me.
Staring at the ceiling at 5:15 a.m., I start to ponder Benjy’s attachment to his mother in its many permutations:
– Whom does he call out for in the middle of the night?
– Whom does Benjy want to sit next to at dinner?
– Whose hand does he reach for when we cross the street?
You guessed it: mommy.
Does his preference for mommy matter? Does this constitute a referendum on fatherhood?
These questions keep me awake as the sun begins to rise.
What concerns me most about Benjy’s insistence for “somebody else” is, deep down, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s a statement about his love for me. If Benjy wants his mother so intensely, then is something lacking in our relationship?
Pondering further about being dissed by our 3-year-old, I recall that my older son Joseph went through a similar phase. Everything was “Mommy, mommy, mommy,”until one day he wanted to spend more time with daddy. Actually, as soon as Benjy was born, Joseph and I became BFFs as we shared lots of “big boy and daddy time.” Joseph never realized how much he likes the Red Sox until then.
Since our oldest son’s daddy boycott only lasted three years, I figure we are right on schedule with our youngest. Any day now I am sure that he will want to swap his “Mommy’s Baby Boy” t-shirt for its “Daddy’s Big Boy” counterpart.
At 5: 30 a.m. I get up and am sipping a cup of morning java watching Julie and Benjy play together. Seated on the floor, Julie is fully engaged by their game and clearly enjoys it as much as Benjy.
Suddenly it hits me why Benjy prefers “somebody else.” When we play together, I simply put out the toys and watch him do his thing as I check my email on the iPhone. What usually follows is that within five minutes he wants to watch TV. I always considered this our system of parallel play, but at that very moment I learn that it’s not working for Benjy.
The epiphany is that Benjy doesn’t just want someone to watch him play. He wants someone to play with him.
Now I’m working with what I call the “on-the-floor-and-fully-engaged-approach,”and thankfully it seems to be working for both of us. In the last few weeks there have been fewer demands for “somebody else” and even a few direct requests of, “Daddy, play with me.” Benjy’s 5 a.m. wake-up call could not have come at a better time.