How do I make myself a good mother?
October 29, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm a crappy parent and my daughter doesn't like me--now what do I do?

I am a mother to a 14-month-old girl. I wrote a previous post about being overwhelmed with school, work, and motherhood. I recently brought my daughter to a developmental specialist because she wasn't walking yet. She observed her, and although the walking wasn't an issue, she was very concerned about the relationship I have with her.

My daughter doesn't say "mama". When asked "Where's mama?", she doesn't even blink an eye. She points and babbles, so the pediatrician doesn't think it's autism. My daughter is perfectly fine when I leave the room. I could leave for hours, days, and when I come back, I will be lucky if she even looks at me. She doesn't kiss me or hug me, although she is perfectly capable and does it to her toys.

She prefers everyone else over me. Sometimes, even a friendly stranger. She screams when I take her away from her auntie, my mother, or daycare provider. She will, when I am in the room, crawl up to anyone else except for me, and climb up their leg to be picked up. Even cling to their leg when I try to pick her up.

Even as a newborn, I've never felt she preferred me over anyone else. I never felt like we really, truly bonded.

I work full-time. I leave at 7:30am to drop her off at daycare, and she drops her off at 630 at night. I have to drive a little to get her to daycare, because I don't start work until 9. I travel for work about once every month or month and a half for 3-5 days. I have class one night a week (3 additional classes from getting my Bachelors degree). I am putting therapy on hiatus because I need to spend more time with my daughter.

I think I'm too quiet around her. I play with her, but doing a running narration of everything to interact doesn't come naturally at all. I feel like I lack maternal instincts. I am beyond clueless--I don't instinctually "know" anything at all. My daughter is resentful already and is apparently having attachment/abandonment issues. I feel like a complete failure as a mother. As a human being. I play with her, but I don't feel like I do it well, as I see other mothers do. I do silly things to get her to laugh. I try to be cuddly but she pushes me away (she is cuddly to just about everyone else).

My confidence is shot to hell. I feel like I should have given her up for adoption to a loving SAHM with a real family. Instead she has an overwhelmed, scatterbrained, unprepared ding-dong who had to be taught how to hold a baby. My schedule is so jam-packed that I've caused attachment issues in my daughter.

Deep down, I still don't truly feel like a mom. I'm bored crawling around my apartment for an hour, making silly faces to elicit a smile. I love alone time. When she is cranky, I am in the worst mood--I just think about running far, far away. When she is in a good mood, I enjoy being around her. But I just feel so rejected. FWIW, I've never hit her, and I rarely ever raise my voice. Maybe 2-3 times in her existence. I come off as a little cold and distracted sometimes (just comes natural) but I always try to make eye contact, smile alot, and cuddle.

What do I even do now? She has a great, loving, close relationship with her daycare provider, who is the one that watches her while I'm away. I was considering leaving my apartment, which I love, and living in some crappy apartments closer to her daycare so it will buy me a few more hours a week with her and cut down on travel. I love my job and I really don't want to leave. I just don't see myself quitting and living off welfare for the rest of my life so I can stay home. Do I find a crappy job that barely pays the bills so I can spend more time with her?

I know it's a loaded question, but I feel like a crappy parent in an unfit situation. I don't know one other parent (of an infant/toddler) whose child hates them. What do I do now? How do I bond with her? How can I get her to like me?
posted by andariel to Human Relations (49 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Please stay in therapy. You sound like you hate yourself; spending an hour a week working on yourself will absolutely be worth the time away from your daughter and probably improve your relationship with her in the long run.

And please try to be kind to yourself. You sound like a good person who really cares about your daughter.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:59 PM on October 29, 2012 [34 favorites]

I agree that you should stay in therapy. I think your daughter doesn't hate you at all and that you may be projecting your negative feelings about yourself on your daughter. Are there any housing options closer to the daycare that aren't so crappy?
posted by emily37 at 1:01 PM on October 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'm not a mother and I know next to nothing about parenting, but gosh, your child does not hate you. You are being massively hard on yourself. Have you talked to your therapist at all about the possibility of post-partum depression? Nobody is born knowing how to be a mother and it sounds like you are doing the best you can. Please keep seeing your therapist and I would also think it might be a good idea to find another pediatrician. It doesn't seem quite right that your current one is trying to lay all this on you based upon one doctor's visit.
posted by something something at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

This sounds like depression in YOU.

FWIW small children do pick up emotions in adults, especially their parents. And the good news is your girl IS attaching to her care provider, and other people, which means she most certainly can and will attach to you. Please don't drop the therapy-you need it.

You are doing the best you can in your situation. That is all ANYONE can ask of you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2012 [36 favorites]

Did your pediatrician give you any resources? He/she should have some recommendations of agencies or providers you can work with. You might also try contacting a Parents and Children Together (PACT) near you for help. Not everyone comes with the knowledge how to relate to an infant or toddler and they are very, very challenging.

And do keep your therapy. You have a lot on your plate and being a parent is so difficult. You need support for yourself so you can take care of your daughter.
posted by goggie at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2012

You're having a really hard time, and looking back at your previous questions, wow you've been having a hard time for a long time. It might be a good idea to take a break from school, at least for the rest of this semester, and replace that with therapy.

In the short term, if you have any vacation time at your job, take a week off to regroup. I was thinking it might be a good idea to invite the day care provider over in the evening to hang out so you can learn and observe what she does. Nobody is born knowing how to interact with kids.
posted by bleep at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

It may be that you are doing everything "right" and your daughter has attachment issues. It may be that you are depressed and exhausted and not really "present" with your daughter, and she has learned to look elsewhere for connection. It may be that your daughter is actually acting "normal" for her age and your stressors are making you feel things acutely that are not actually going badly. It could even be a combination of all these things, all of which can be addressed by professionals.

I know school is really important for your future, and you love your job, but if you could take time off classes for the short-term and/or see about downgrading your job responsibilities for right now (this is an emergency situation), I think that's what you need to do so you can get some help.

Therapy to find out what is going on and how to get YOU support and help is the number one priority, ASAP.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 1:08 PM on October 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Have you been screened for post-partum, and would it be possible for you to take a leave of absence from work or even work from home so you can bond with your daughter and assess what her developmental delays may or may not be? This all sounds so rough, and beating yourself up for it isn't fair to you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:09 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not a mother, but my sister is much, much younger than me.

I personally don't think you need to crawl around on the floor with your child to bond with her. You don't need to keep a running narration of what's going on. Spend time with her doing what you enjoy, and show her you are a happy person who's interested in including her, even if it would take a bit longer to do it. If you really want to just talk to her, just pretend that she's constantly asking you why you're doing what you're doing.

I think children are very tuned to the consistency of adults' reactions. If you're stressed out--and uncertain about your bond with your child--she can sense that. If you're reacting differently to what she perceives as the same situation, that is probably difficult and possibly frightening to her since she doesn't know what's going on. Example: If she asks for a hug today and gets told no, because you're tired or you're stressed or you just need alone time. But yesterday, you hugged her enthusiastically. It's natural for people to do this, but it's extremely difficult for children to understand.

Also, I don't think 'maternal instincts' are instinctive at all. Most people learn when they have to--either with a sibling or a niece/nephew or when they have their own children. Don't be disheartened and keep doing your best.
posted by ethidda at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of people are not into playing with their kids. It doesn't come naturally to me. I have two boys. There are things you can do to interact with your child and to spend time with her, without forcing things.

When she is down on the floor playing with dolls or blocks or whatever, get down with her and bring a book or magazine. Periodically ask her questions and comment on what she's doing. The mere fact that you are "present" most of the time is good enough.

Make bath time and bedtime fun and relaxing. While you are bathing her, talk to her. Point out body parts. Make shampoo horns in her hair. Scrub a dub. Sing a song. Blow bubbles in the bathroom. Things don't have to be silly. You don't have to make silly faces if you don't want.

Eat a meal with her every day if you can. Sit down, feed and/or help her, eat your dinner and keep one another company.

Read to her at night.

More bonding can take place on weekends. Narrating doesn't come naturally to me either but do try to label vegetables and groceries and such at the store. Chat when you think of it.

When she gets older find things to do together that you enjoy -- like cooking, taking turns reading aloud.

You're a good mother and you're doing a good job.
posted by Fairchild at 1:14 PM on October 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh honey, oh honey, oh honey. You are a good mother. You are not a crappy parent. I wish I could give you a huge hug.

I remember when my eldest was this age and I was working full time and every time I picked her up, she would scream. I dreaded spending time alone with her, because I knew she would melt down and I would get exhausted.


My darling slightly-older-mom-friend said serenely: "Of course she is. She knows you will never leave."

Toddlers are, sorry to say it, assholes, and one of their worst character flaws is this: they have a certain amount of bile they need to express each day, through screaming or elsewise, and they will tend to dump it on the person or persons they feel safest with. It is vile and it destroys your spirit and it is absolutely normal, and many many moms have been through it.

All the advice about self-care is spot on. Take a break, call your therapist, be kind to yourself. It is also very useful to start finding things you and your daughter can do together that you both enjoy. This need not involve playing on the floor, especially if doing so drains your will to live (it did mine). I remember at that age taking a bath with my daughter would help calm both of us down. If snuggling up in front of Boohbah or modern equivalent is less distasteful to you, do that and fuck the APA guidelines on TV. Do you cosleep? Cosleeping was so good for us.

What makes a parent a good parent is so simple: you have to show up. And you have already done that. My mantra is: "Don't just do something, stand there!"

Things got so much easier when she was about eighteen months old and could communicate her needs more clearly - I am overeducated and hyperverbal and as soon as we could have CONVERSATIONS things were much less strained.

But please, please, please be kind to yourself. Raising a kid is by far the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do, and it's so easy to go down the rabbit hole of terror; and it is almost always unnecessary, because children are crazy resilient and forgiving and as long as you show up, almost everything else will work out fine. You are fine. You are a good mom.
posted by rdc at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2012 [105 favorites]

My daughter doesn't say "mama". When asked "Where's mama?", she doesn't even blink an eye.

I apologize if this is a weird question, but do you call yourself "mama" when talking to your daughter? Do other people refer to you as "mama" when interacting with her?

I ask, because this is the only behavior you refer to your pediatrician being concerned with. The rest, about your daughter seeming to prefer others over you, it seems to me, could easily be depression, all-or-nothing / black-or-white thinking, confirmation bias, and whatever else, messing with your head.

And, my mom stayed home for a year after my sister was born, and she hated it. She missed her job and her independence, and was totally miserable for that year. Probably that year was not a "win" for us kids. Don't quit your job if it makes you happy.
posted by BrashTech at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

My first son was a 32 week preemie. I returned to my night job by his original due date. Four nights a week he stayed with my inlaws. He was home with me during the day and I slept when he did. I'm sure I was not the most captivating, energetic mother. Much the same as your daughter if there were others around, he went to them for comfort or cuddling. My only explanation at the time was that they were all "fluffy" where I was not. That dynamic didn't change until he was three. I hadn't changed jobs, he never went to daycare, he just decided one day that I was a cuddle person too. Coincidentally, that's when i was pregnant with his brother. That had not been explained to him or anyone else at that point though. He's ten now and still very physical with me. It may be that she is so sure of you that she feels safe separating from you to interact with other people.
posted by Talia Devane at 1:24 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Kids are freaking hard.

If you don't talk a lot when you and she are home, though, that might be something to start doing. Just narrate what you're doing. Cooking dinner? "Ok, so now we put the corn in the bowl, and then the bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes..." (That is, if your daughter's in the room.)

Also, as she starts to talk, I found I do a lot of repeating back. (I still do this, and my kids are 4 and 7. And if i'm not careful, I do this to my students as well, and they're in college...)

[Not your question, but I would go totally batshit insane if I were a SAHM.]
posted by leahwrenn at 1:30 PM on October 29, 2012

There are three things I'd like to say:

First, as others have said, stay in therapy, and definitely work on you, because children model their parents' behavior. If you're cold, detached, and distant, your daughter could be the happiest child in the world and still act that way towards you, because she's modeling you. As you learn to love and trust yourself as a mother in therapy, you'll change your behavior, and she will model that. So focus on you.

Second, I just heard a story from a father that I consider the king of all fathers, about something he did that made him feel like a terrible father, and this happens every day that I talk to mothers and fathers. This is hard. Don't think that other parents have it easy, because they don't; even when they're the best parents, some days are painfully hard.

Third, the more time you spend with your kid, the better off your kid will be, but that doesn't mean you have to be there all the time. My kids sure seem to love me and their mom, even though nannys and daycare were the norm for both of us. And yes, my kids have said "I hate you" to me and to their mom, and they don't always like me or their mom, but remember: your job isn't to be liked, or even to be loved. Your job is to keep your child safe, keep your child healthy, and model the behavior you want them to learn. Everything beyond that is gravy, and you can raise the most amazing kid in the world in the best way possible and yet fail to have a kid that responds to you the way you want. That's just parenthood. Don't be so hard on yourself.
posted by davejay at 1:31 PM on October 29, 2012

oh yeah, and supporting the view above that if you don't do the running commentary, she won't emulate you verbally as much -- that is, if you don't call yourself mommy, she won't strive to call you mommy, even if she knows you're mommy -- and her language skills may be delayed (not in a "oh no you're damaging your kid" sense, but in the same way that language skills get delayed if your home is bilingual; it just takes longer, and you don't get the pleasure of hearing them speak as quickly.) The sooner you start talking to her, narrating your co-existence, the sooner she'll start talking to you, and the happier you will both be (except on those days when she won't stop talking about Monster High or something.)
posted by davejay at 1:41 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're single, right? This is so very hard for one person to take on. I think you're doing a great job. My daughter's first "word" was Dada. I don't think she knew she was saying anything but we really reinforced it -- "look, it's Dada!" Then for a long time, she knew who Dada was but she also called me Dada. I started to get a little frustrated and I noticed the frequency with which I encouraged my daughter to talk to her Dad and the infrequency with which he used the word "Mama" to refer to me. So, I asked him to start calling me "Mama." Eventually, it stuck. So, for that, I don't necessarily think you can ascribe too much meaning if the word isn't getting reinforced in her limited vocabulary.

I don't do a "running narrative" on life with my daughter though it has gotten much more chatty now that she has lots of words herself but one thing I like to do as we're getting ready for bedtime or when we're driving in the car is to talk about the things we were just doing. A recap of the day's adventures. I know her little friends names at daycare so I say things like: "Did you play with Sally today? Did you run and jump on the playground? Did you and Paul put on hats?" She thinks about it and she usually just says, "Yeah!" to anything I suggest. Now, at 22 mo, she's starting to tell me short stories. If we went to the playground in the morning, later we talk about what we did and saw. I think it makes her feel like she's having a conversation (she is!) and it's not just stuff that I have to make up out of whole cloth (well, not really).

I think the idea to invite over the daycare person or to spend a few hours in that environment is a good one. See how they talk and interact. Find out what songs they are singing (she will know them and be surprised when you know them, too!). And find a play group where you can observe other moms. I find it so helpful to watch other moms interact with their kids -- so many things others moms do that I would never think to do. It doesn't all come naturally.

And this:

My darling slightly-older-mom-friend said serenely: "Of course she is. She knows you will never leave." so great. It's making me tear up actually. Keep in mind, your daughter will go through phases, independent then clingy, cuddly then rejecting. It's part of the process of growing. It can be so, so hard.

I think you should figure out a way to get more time for you daughter and yourself. And, yes, keep with therapy. And why not seek out a behaviorist? I think it would give you reassurance and tools to work with. Ask your (not-so-helpful) pediatrician for a recommendation.
posted by amanda at 1:43 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you have been given great advice so far. It sounds as if you are being too hard on yourself. I believe that a good parent is someone who cares about doing the right thing for his/her child. You qualify.

If you are not doing this already, read to your child. Make it a regular thing.
posted by annsunny at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I could be totally off about this, but does she actually hear the word "mama" applied to you very often? If not, it's not strange that she wouldn't associate it with you.

Would it be possible to arrange a few complete days of time spent with her together with someone else you feel she has a good relationship with, like her daycare provider or your mom? Observe them, and ask them to observe you. See what kinds of interactions she loves. Are there any nursery rhymes she's attached to? Jokes that she likes? Also, I may be talking out of my ass here, but at this point she does spend a lot of time with her daycare provider; it's possible that having the three of you spend time together, and having her see that the daycare provider likes you and trusts you, will help her get over whatever stage she's going through now. And if not that, then at least you'll get a chance to talk with them about your parenting and how you feel about it, and get their advice.

Doing a running narration really does get old. Some things you can try are "reading" to her (don't expect her to actually sit still and listen at this age, but you can point to things on the page and talk about them, make up stories, and so on). Try to get a few rhyming books that you actually like, and repeat them often. Sing, not just baby songs but any songs that you like. Try repeating those a fair amount too. Nursery rhymes with hand motions are good. You can pick some simple vocabulary to start teaching her (like body parts or toys) and make it a ritual to ask her about them (where's Mama's nose? Where's baby's nose? Yeah!) and so on, pointing to the correct place after you ask. (If there are words she's been learning in daycare, start with those since they'll be familiar to her.) You probably won't get much response to any of these at first, but keep at it. Repetition is good.

For what it's worth, I think babies go through stages like anyone else. Some kids have great relationships with their parents when they're infants, and those relationships become very difficult a few years later. I see no reason to think that just because right now she's not as attached to you as you'd like, you won't ultimately have a strong relationship as she grows. Also, it's often the case that babies are more attached to one parent than to the other, with the inevitable result that the neglected parent feels hurt. It feels like you're in that role now. It's not abnormal or anything; it's just the way it happens sometimes, and eventually it passes.
posted by trig at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's lots of stuff about parenting that doesn't seem natural, but do it anyway. I kept up a running narration, with lots of my own weird humor thrown in, and my husband did it all with weird accents, and neither kid has any trouble speaking plain English today. I wasn't a big "player" on the floor, but I'd sit down with a book or newspaper and just let the kid babble at me, and I'd read to him/her, which must have seemed odd to any bystander. If you don't feel right talking, read to her--read at meals, read at bedtime, and any other time when you can't figure out what to do.
I think you sound stressed, and I'd think about dropping school if I were you, because it seems like you don't have much time to just be with her, rather than dashing to get someplace or do something useful.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:51 PM on October 29, 2012

You do seem to be in a very difficult place. Thinking your daughter hates you sounds to me like depression. Sometimes after having a baby, all the things that were difficult in our relationship with our own mother start hitting really hard - it's like a depth charge or a booby-trap for new mums who had difficult childhoods. If this applies to you, which I have no idea of, please try to get professional help.

You don't have to struggle on your own and you really shouldn't feel guilty: you have been handed a very difficult situation and there IS help for it. Please continue therapy but also specifically seek out a referral to a specialist in postnatal depression. You are working so dreadfully hard and it also sounds as if you are on your own. Your daughter doesn't hate you: but it sounds as if you have long-standing issues of guilt and inadequacy that have snuck up to overwhelm you because you are exhausted.

Best of luck. Please seek the help and support you deserve. Ask your employers, ask your school, ask your doctors, see what's available. It's not any kind of weakness, it's an acknowledgement you're doing THREE difficult and valuable jobs at the moment.
posted by glasseyes at 2:07 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my nephew was very young, he preferred to spend time with me instead of his dad.

When my daughter was very young, she seemed to feel closer to her nanny and babysitter than to my wife.

Once they got older, all of that changed. You may not be the best naturally suited for playing with a 14 month-old, but you might be great with a 3 year-old or a 5 year-old. So don't worry, you'll still have a chance to shine as a mother.
posted by Dansaman at 2:11 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think maintaining that hour a week in therapy will be beneficial for you in the short and long term. If anything, it will be that time away where you can freely discuss your fears and ask questions. It also might be good to be screened for post partum depression. Talk to a doctor or any local counselor you have. While it sounds like you have help with your daughter, what help and support structure do you have in place? Do what ever you can to find relationships with other parents - single parents, working moms, going to school parents. Find parents of older kids who have 'been there' and let them imbue you with some perspective. The first five years are the worst and then you realize that time is flying by.

What you are feeling is natural - as terrifying and awful as it is. Kids are hard. Babies and toddlers are very difficult. My initial response to your description of how your daughter treats you when being dropped off or around others is that she's messing with you. Meaning: she is trying to get your attention using guilt as a motivator. It appears to work on some level as you feel tremendously guilty but it's going squishy because you are pulled in so many different directions. Your guilt, if left untreated, will just eat you up from the inside. If you think it would make you and your daughter happier/less stressed to not spend so much time in transit, then move. But, is that quality of life change better? You won't be doing this in 5 years. (It'll just be something entirely different.) It's worth noting that some kids are just not very emotive and aren't autistic/spectrum disorder. Or you have some kids that are so emotive, they don't know how to express it so it comes off as cold and distant.

Talking in your apartment just for your daughter to hear you sounds like you find it irksome - and she probably does too. Talk to her - and any kid - like she's a human being. Sit with her and watch what she does - not feeling like you have to step in or talk.

Lastly, that you make this anguished post - it means you are mom.
posted by lostinsupermarket at 2:18 PM on October 29, 2012

Just how crappy are these apartments going to be? I am totally all for cutting down on travel time and commutes. Beyond any extra time to spend with your kid, it's just less stress. As long as you aren't living in a total shithole.

As for running narrative - I suck at that. Big time. So our daughter was not so great with speech until my partner and I switched roles and then read Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and changed the way we spoke. She went from a kid with less than twenty words (counting signs) at 18 months (but able to follow a two step direction) to more than 200 at two years old, and using sentences. It isn't just about a wall of words, it's about responsiveness. So when she babbles, ask what she's saying, respond like she used words, ask her questions. My daughter didn't reliably call me Mum until she was close to two. She picked up dad first, and duck, and water and milk and animal noises and so on. And in the two years I was working she cried once when I left. Once. And that was right near the end of my job, when I was upset when I went to work, and the whole house was affected by my depression. You daughter knows that you always come back, so why would she get upset if you duck out of the room?

You are trying, as hard as you can, to make this life good for you and your child. She has a daycare provider she obviously engages with well - this is kind of how it works for most working parents. I agree with the others that there's a pretty big chance that your kid doesn't hear things about you as mama, and that's something you and the daycare provider can work on.

But I just wanted to comment to say I hear you. And I understand. It's hard, it is really really hard, but please, when you do things that are helping you, rejuvenating you, live in those moments and the same with being with your child. Don't think you should feel guilty for enjoying time alone, or 8 hour blocks of sleep. Those things are AWESOME. But if you are always wanting to be elsewhere, spending those rejuvenating times wanting to be with your child (or guilty about not wanting to) and then spending the time with your child wishing for rejuvenation and feeling guilty, you will never really benefit or enjoy either time. Take that time to connect with what it is you are doing, rather than what someone else thinks you should be doing, or wanting.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:18 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with all of the suggestions for treatment for your depression. DO NOT stop therapy. Your mental health is an important part of motherhood.

But something's got to give in your schedule. You sound exhausted. Any way you can work from home a few days a week? And under normal circumstances, I would never suggest this, but in light of you current stress levels: can you wait on finishing your degree? It seems like that's the most expendable aspect of your life right now, not work, and not therapy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2012

Can you list three things you do that go Over well with your daughter?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look into Parent Child Interaction Therapy - there are resources out there for therapies to help moms and babies bond! There are experts in this who can help you. Meanwhile, everyone else who's telling you to be kind to yourself is 100% correct.
posted by namesarehard at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, this is not going to be a popular answer, but is there any way you can ask to stop traveling for work as a single mother? You have been, from the infant's perspective, disappearing for lengthy periods of time. It can be traumatic for an infant. This isn't to blame you, but it's understandable that this would adversely impact your attachment with your child.
posted by namesarehard at 2:42 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Culturally, there is a huge amount of pressure on mothers, especially single mothers. When I was growing up, my father was kind of a mystery to me - it seemed like his main function in my life was to tell me that I wasn't doing well enough in school. The thing is, my dad isn't great with little kids. But when we were a little older and could talk about what we wanted to be when we grew up, he wanted to give us advice and hear how it was going. My mother was wonderful with little kids but less so with older kids.

I guess my point is that it's okay, in my opinion, if you don't feel like you have that special relationship now. In some ways, little children are boring. They don't do much and they're self absorbed. Your daughter is clearly able to bond with people, she just hasn't bonded with you to the extent that you would like, yet. I think that's okay, as long as neither of you get discouraged and push the other away.
posted by kat518 at 3:06 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know how much I can add beyond what's already been offered except that: I've been there. I too had (have) to work full time, and my baby girl never seemed to notice or care whether I was home or not. She wouldn't say mama (or anything else). She screamed all the time. She never wanted to cuddle. She only wanted her dad ever. Sometimes she would walk up and hit me in the face and laugh; just straight up laugh after hitting me. wtf.

I was convinced she hated me, that I ruined her, starting right around a year or so, and going all the way till oh about 22 months (when she started talking). Look, every baby is different, and some of them just mess with your head. At some point they are going to be their own little person and you just have to set aside expectations of "normal" and "should" and just roll with it.

(As an aside, to speak to my own experience: I'm a speech pathologist. Who had a toddler with a wicked speech delay. Supposedly I was doing everything "right". Talk about feeling like a failure in every capacity. I did the running commentary thing all day long and it made zero difference. It seems that you have a different interactive style. Own it. It's pretty hard to intentionally mess up a kid, and there are plenty of cultures out there that don't do child directed parentese whose kids turn out fine.)

I'm curious about the specialist who had "concerns about your relationship". Depending on who it was, I'd take that with a huge grain of salt. I mean unless they spent several hours over a few weeks with you and the babe, I doubt they - no matter what specialty or how experienced - can make that kind of judgement.

That said, there are studies which have shown more attachment issues and maternal depression in kids with developmental differences. Having been one of those parents with one of those kids, I can tell you some kids are just harder. Especially when you give and give and give and they are giving you nothing back. I can promise you, it does get better as you figure each other out.

(also everything everyone else said better than me about therapy for you. it seriously saved - is saving - my life).
posted by lilnublet at 3:07 PM on October 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I apologize if this is a weird question, but do you call yourself "mama" when talking to your daughter? Do other people refer to you as "mama" when interacting with her?

This. Also, ask your ped if she or he can recommend a play therapist. Or start simple - take a Saturday Mommy & Me class, or music for tots, or swimming, or something else where the two of you interact. It's OK to need to learn how to play. Also, it's OK to have a packed schedule, but make sure that when you have tasks (bath time, bedtime) you are attentive to her in what you are doing instead of focused on the next task. Get in the bath with her and pour things out of containers. Read to her at bed time. Talk to her about what you're doing - oh look at the water make a big splash, there goes the water down the drain, oops we dropped the towel, etc.

Different people excel at different stages of parenting. It's OK if this isn't yours, but you need to fake it until you make it.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:08 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your developmental specialist thinks your daughter has avoidant attachment? Did they give you any resources for addressing this problem? I would strongly encourage you to talk to them about that if they haven't given you any advice.

It is good news that your daughter is able to form attachments with other caregivers. Maybe your specialist told you that attachment style in childhood has a lot of influence over the quality of their relationships as adult. The important thing to remember is that an avoidant attachment style with the mother may not turn into a problem for her as an adult, if she has other securely-attached relationships with other caregivers. It sounds like she has that, but for your sake, you probably want to be an important part of her life and develop a securely attached relationship.

It's also important to remember that this isn't because you are a "bad mother". As a parent, your behavior is influenced by your attachment style, which you learned when you were a child from the way your parents interacted with you. If the daughter has attachment problems, it often means the mother or father is insecurely attached and also need help.

Attachment Parenting International has a ton of resources to help parents. There tends to be a lot of focus on baby-wearing, extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, which is not necessarily feasible or applicable for you, and sometimes I find their advice to be a little extreme. But it sounds like what you are missing is a model of the kind of mother you want to be, and painting that picture is something that they are great at.

I recommend this book which I think could be really helpful for you: The Attachment Connection.

I also can't resist recommending this book - some people might be put off because there's a little neuroscience and psychology, but I think it's a great book that everyone should read and well worth the effort:
Parenting From the Inside Out.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:43 PM on October 29, 2012

I'm sorry, attachment issues are hard.

What happens when she's sick or hurt at home and it's just you? Does she turn to you or expect you to take care of her? She may simply be a sociable child who has decided that you are The Serious Mama. My baby rarely smiles for me and often walks right past me towards a stranger because they are new and exciting. I can make her laugh maybe once a month yet her older sister who she sees for an hour or two a day makes her collapse in hysterics with funny faces. I confess it still gives me twinges when I see her light up for other people so easily, especially when she's wriggling out of my arms to go to them.

You have made sure she has lots of people who love her and that even though she doesn't respond to you with the same enthusiasm, you're still modelling loving dependable parenting for her. That is seriously good work. It's easy to love a cuddly responsive baby. It's a lot harder to do the same to a baby who thinks you're about as interesting as the sofa right now. So I think you're actually doing *better* as a parent.

Does she have a favourite activity that you can reserve for just you and her? So only you read her favourite books to her, or you're the only one who plays bubbles with her?

A play therapist is a great idea - they can give you targeted games and explain what's going on inside that tiny head to you. I agree with above - a single in-office session with a developmental specialist is not enough for a diagnosis, especially of attachment issues, only a "hmm, this could be an issue" warning.

I have kids through adoption with attachment issues. When they were sick or hurt, they wouldn't think to come to me for help. They would fake affection, but it was a huge relief when they started getting crabby-angry with us, not just boil over and explode, because it was real emotion and meant they felt safe enough to be annoying.

One thing that often works for adopted toddlers with attachment issues was babywearing. If you could put your daughter in a sling or baby carrier and go for walks or just wear her around the apartment, that physical closeness is very soothing for them and encourages connection but frees your hands to do stuff.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:44 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I was in this scenario once, but I was the nanny. The kid was the same age as yours, and honestly, I bet if you talked the mother now, she would have a great deal of empathy for your situation. She had lingering post-partum depression, was overworked at her job, and dealt with some anxiety issues that worsened once she had another person to care for.

I don't know everything that's going on in your life, but I know that the mother of that little girl worked a LOT, and she felt extremely guilty about leaving her daughter in my care for 12 hours at a time. I don't think her kid resented her for the long separations, but she definitely picked up on all that guilt and sought me out instead, preferring to be with someone who wasn't beating herself up all the time.

It's a powerfully self-perpetuating cycle you've got going on; you're clearly struggling with issues of self-worth, depression, guilt and worry, which your daughter picks up on and thus seeks out other people's attentions, which makes you feel worse, etc etc. And honestly, I don't blame you for feeling awkward when you're getting down on the floor to play with her, because that can frankly bore any sane adult. I really like the suggestion of including her while you do things you enjoy - gardening, cooking, dancing in the kitchen to music.

Another important thing that really helped the kid I nannied for: her mother kept on showing her unconditional love even though the little girl screamed when her mother tried to pick her up or take her away from me. Each time I left the apartment, I knew the mother was comforting her daughter, even though her feelings were terribly hurt. That told her that her mother loved her even when she pushed her away.

I updated in that thread, but here's what eventually turned their relationship over: the little girl got sick with bronchialitis, and it was the mother, not me, who sat with her in the ER for over a day, offering comfort and a safe lap. Then the family went on vacation (without me, again), and when they came home that kid was alllll about Mommy. Suddenly our situation was reversed, and she cried when the mother left. And everything was all right again.

Attachment is very important for psychosocial well-being, but it's not permanent and you still have time to bond with your daughter. If you can take time off, spend a week with just her, I think you should do it. Show her that you love her even when she pushes you away. Don't panic about being a good mother - it's an ongoing, ever-evolving identity that has high points and low points. It's not a static role.

The little girl I used to take care of is 4 now (wow! time flies!) I'm still extremely close with her, and we are always thrilled to see each other, but she absolutely lives and breathes for her mother, and vice versa. They're doing wonderfully.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:54 PM on October 29, 2012 [17 favorites]

Hey there. Those feelings of hopelessness you and despair you have? Every parent feels like that at times. However, their prevalence indicates to me that you may have post-natal depression. It is likely an illness that is making you feel this way, and one that can be treated very successfully for most people.

You are being very hard on yourself, way way too hard. And seriously this:

Even as a newborn, I've never felt she preferred me over anyone else. I never felt like we really, truly bonded.

Is like a textbook statement from someone with post-natal depression. You have bonded, trust me.

You are working so hard to look after your daughter and her future, what are you doing to look after yourself? Please don't put therapy on hold; by all means try a different therapist or doctor (I'm kinda thinking you should because honestly, it sounds like you're in a pretty bad place here and they haven't been giving you tools to feel better), but think about putting university on hold, or other commitments that will give you more time - and don't be afraid to take advantage of that time on "lazy" things. If you're not looking after yourself, mentally, physically, then it will impact your parenting. Sometimes, being a good parent means putting yourself first.

Also, are you a member of a parents group or have a circle of friends with some babies? I think you will find if you spend some time with other parents, your feelings will be more common than you think. This might be very comforting to you. Other parents will understand, sympathise and may have strategies they have tried to cope with the same worries and anxieties that are plaguing you.

You are not alone in this, OP, and there is lots of help out there. Make sure you give yourself permission to seek that help. You don't have to feel this way all the time, and you sound like a wonderful mother who cares for and loves her daughter so much (if you were truly as uncaring as you say, lack of connection etc, you wouldn't even be asking or worrying about this stuff). Your daughter is happy and healthy. You are doing a great job. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 3:58 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

My Mom was similar. She's now my best friend. I think after I was 7 or so, she really started to bond with me. We laugh about all the pictures we have where she looks uncomfortable with me as a baby. Dad and my aunts and uncles were the ones who.played with me and "gah gah'd" me. I was definitely a Daddy's Girl. Mom also worked full-time, was young and shy.
So, I think it will all work out. Therapy and trying to slow down life doesn't hurt, either.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am an introvert and being an introvert is a particularly tough thing to be when you're the mom of a small child. I feel less incompetent now (four years in) then I did when my daughter was fourteen months, but I'd describe myself as feeling really pretty incompetent for quite a long time. I went through the motions, and I had to eat the emotion of feeling like pretty much everyone was doing a better job of mom-hood than me. I was acutely aware of sort of sucking at it and I'm kind of control freaky and it was very hard for me to just feel at sea with something so big.

I guess I would nth 'seek support', be kind to yourself, and if you feel like you're generally an introverted person remember that it is really fucking hard to be *on* all the time in the way that having a small child requires you to be on. Get the motions right, get the actions right as much as you can, be forgiving with yourself, and remember that despite claims to the contrary that: first, there are many different ways to be a mother, and second, we're not all going to shine at every stage of development.

I tell myself that I'm going to be the rare awesome mom of a thirteen-year-old some day (just let me have my delusions, people.)

I hope you feel better.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, the whole 'keep up a narration' thing is something I could never do. Sometimes I'd talk to her and the dog, like, 'I don't know about you guys but I sure could use a cigarette!' just dumb things that only amused me.

God, the pressure to be constantly awesomeing up the parenthood stage. To be honest, I think a lot of us are kind of guilty about how much we're away from our kids, and I think it makes people kind of super-prescriptive in order to compensate, and it makes people, women especially, feel even more inadequate than many of us already do.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:52 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ok, I am not a parent, but I know a lot of parents, and basically everything you've said sounds totally normal to me. Being exhausted? Not feeling like talking babytalk or trying to act like a children's entertainer on tv? That's totally normal. There's a reason that children's entertainers get paid to do what they do; and remember that they don't have to do it constantly. By the same token, when you see mom-friends with their kids, you are seeing them at their best. Everybody puts on a game face when there's company. And every mom I know hates kid's songs with a fiery passion and most of them just want their kids to GO AWAY most of the time. It doesn't mean they don't love them, it means that this job is fucking exhausting and exasperating and that "twinkle twinkle little star" gets old really fast when you're not a child.

I know you don't feel like your daughter is bonding with you. But I mean, I don't think there's ever a guarantee that things will be like that. You might find that you and she bond better when she's older and can converse like an adult. You might be the one who gets along with her teenage daughter while all your friends' teenagers are slamming doors and yelling "I hate you" at their parents.

As for not knowing how to hold her and stuff, all I can say is that the only people for whom this "comes natural" is people who grew up taking care of young siblings or otherwise having babies around. There are entire classes dedicated to teaching new moms how to hold their kids and bathe them and breastfeed! It doesn't "come naturally" for most people! This is totally normal! Humans need to be taught how to do basically everything, including how to care for our young. Why do you think there are so many books and public health fact sheets and community centre classes and visiting nurses? I'll give you a hint: it's not because this is easy.

I think the fact that you are so worried about your performance that you're thinking you should have given your baby away proves how much deeper your bond is than you realise. It might not be the lovey happy bond you see in commercials, but that doesn't mean it's not real. I thought I hated my mom for a long time- like, I thought I wouldn't be sad if she died. I thought that because I was a kid, and it took me until I was an adult to realise how amazing she is and how much of my life had revolved around trying to impress her. Parent-child relationships are complex, and it sounds to me like the only thing you're doing wrong is being way too hard on yourself. Part of the reason I'm hesitant to have kids is that I know it's fucking heartbreaking to have them.

Practically, I'm sure that there must be community resources in your area to help strugggling parents. Hopefuly some mefites can (or have- I didn't check-) direct you towards them.

You sound like a strong and amazong person and I'm positive you're doing a great job. I just wish I could sit with you for a cup of tea, a hug, and a good cry. You can do this.
posted by windykites at 5:09 PM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, this breaks my heart.

I have been raising my daughter alone since her birth almost ten years ago. I also suffered terrible post-partum depression and PTSD. It's fucking hard.

I have a few suggestions: first, keep up the therapy. If you can, shift the focus of your sessions to parenting. Second, if you can find a child focused family therapist, do it. Maybe you would have to put your individual therapy on hold for a few sessions, or maybe you could alternate for a little while.

My daughter was a little older than yours when I went through a particularly bad point. The mother of a good friend of mine happens to specialize in family therapy, particularly with toddlers and even infants. I had a couple sessions with her and it made a huge difference. It was just a small intervention, but it helped me change direction in a way that I still feel today.

FWIW, I never play with my daughter and pretty much never did. I just straight-up refused to play pretend anything and won't even look at the Barbies. I did a lot of stuff with her, but it was stuff I enjoyed, we make a lot of art, she started going to movies really young, we walked around a lot, went to museums. But I never spent any time crawling on the floor. She also called me by my first name until she was about 4. I did talk to her constantly, not so much a running narrative as a one-sided conversation (I was happy to have an alibi for talking to myself, frankly), but could never bring myself to refer to myself in the 3rd person or as mama, despite all the good literature saying I should. She just didn't hear me referred to as mama much. This might be what's going on with your daughter, too.

She also spent more time with her caregiver than she did with me, literally only once in all the years of daycare and school has she ever cried and not wanted me to leave, and she has never, ever, come running across a playground to greet me at the end of the day. That stuff does a number on your head, for sure. But I also cultivated a certain independence in her from the get-go. I left her with my mother for several hours when she was a week old, and she had a babysitter every week after. As a single parent, I thought it was important for her to know how to be comfortable with other people, too. Some of the attachment parenting experts will say that your child being able to leave you is actually a sign they they are very securely attached.

On the other hand, and not to be alarmist, it is also possible that you guys didn't have optimal bonding. But the good news is it's never to late to work on that. A good family therapist can help.

I can give you info to get in touch with my friend's mom, if you'd like. It's unlikely you happen to live in the same town as her, but she could probably recommend a therapist near your or resources that might be helpful. Memail if you're interested or if you just need to blow off steam.
posted by looli at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

My daughter is 18 months old and just started talking a few days ago. Her first word was Dada and her second (and only other) word was "paja" (which means pacifier). I stayed home with her for over a year, and her first word was Dada! (I am her mother).

But it's ok. She knows I'm her mother and it's ok. Your child is attached to her daycare provider; this is a great thing, you want this. My daughter's childcare provider states this (attachment to them) as their goal. It's good when a young child can attach to someone. I'm sure your child is attached to you too, but you're not aware of it. You are overwhelmed and don't like to do a running narrative. This is ok. Billions of children have been raised over the millenia in a bunch of different ways and most are ok - yours will most likely be fine.

14 months old is a hard age - I mean, the first 3 or 5 or more years are hard. But the 1-3 year old is especially hard. I wouldn't worry. Take care of yourself. That's the most important thing. Everything else is gravy.
posted by kirst27 at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2012

AlsoMike has the best answer in this thread. What you're describing is avoidant attachment. It is a worrying situation, and not easily dismissed with reassurances about how you're doing everything right. To be frank, and I'm sorry to have to say this, while there are some attachment issues beyond your control, most of it is your responsibility. Attachment describes the state of the relationship between you and your daughter, and you're describing something that is not good and that will have lasting impacts on your daughter's life.

The good news is that attachment therapy is a going concern. You could get in touch with the folks at the ATTACh conference who might be able to point you to some resources. You could also look into attachment parenting, which even some attachment therapists think is kind of hokey as a matter of course, but might be perfect for your present situation.

Best of luck. Feel free to email me if you want to talk further. My wife is an attachment therapist, and I'm a therapist, although not an attachment one.
posted by OmieWise at 6:18 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, shoot, here's the ATTACh conference link.
posted by OmieWise at 6:21 PM on October 29, 2012

I am sorry. That must feel awful.
I want to say that I am also a parent who does not enjoy playing. I get around it by (1) doing it only in limited amounts (eg 15 minute shots), but *really* trying to commit to it when I do, and (2) finding ways to incorporate her in things I DO like to do (nature walks & arts & crafts usually).

The thing about kids is, at that age, they litterally don't care what you do for an activity, as long as you do it with them. So keep her in your company, and make a point of having it be just the two of you. Don't give her the option of crawling off to Memaw, but also don't worry if she wants to do things not-with-you while she's there.

I'm not a professional, so I'll leave it at that, but mainly I wanted to say that being a play-averse, neeeeeeeed-time-to-myself, overworked, harrassed single Mom is not a death-sentence for you guys figuring it out: I know because this describes me to a T. But you MUST spend time with her to fix this problem. Handing hrr off because "she'd rather be with _____" will only make things worse.
posted by Ys at 7:17 PM on October 29, 2012

I am a mama of a 22-month-old. I think you are depressed as shit. I GUARANTEE you your kid doesn't hate you. A 14-month-old is NOT old enough to experience that emotion.

Listen, 14-month-olds are boring as hell to many of us. Sorry, but they are. I am a full-time working mom, and I found that up until my son was around 18 months, I didn't really look forward to even the somewhat-limited time I had with him, because the things I was "supposed" to do were so dull. I can assure you that it will get very much better, and probably in only a few months. My son is super fun now (although toddler care certainly has its share of drudgery), and I find that things come much more naturally now than they did 6 months ago.

Get yourself some psychological/psychiatric care, and don't feel bad. You don't sound like a bad mom to me at all. You sound like you are doing your best. It will get better, I promise. I didn't think my son liked me either. I was so wrong.
posted by feathermeat at 7:16 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just keep being with her when you can. Involve her in things you do (naps, sleep, shower, baths, television, walks, music, phone, internet, shopping) as much as possible and make sure your mother and sisters are watching her as much as possible.
posted by pracowity at 7:39 AM on October 30, 2012

So my older son, at that age, treated me much in the same way. Screaming, crying, sobbing whenever I took him away from Grammy (who watched him during the day), but didn't if Daddy came to get him. That lasted from about 1 year till closer to 2, it killed me every day. I have said I am a crappy parent to myself and others multiple multiple times, you are not alone. He to this day (3 years old) is much more screamy/fighty with me than anyone else, and it is totally a comfort thing. He pushes against me because he knows I'll always be there (plus I actually set boundaries unlike others (read: Grammy)). The other day he informed me that he didn't love me and didn't want to hang out or do anything fun with me.

That said, every time we get to a boiling point (which is what I think you may be at), I try to step back from my other commitments (that aren't work related) and set up some special him and I time where we play together. It is rough trying to get through dinner and bed time and everything on work days, but set aside specific time that you won't do work, won't watch TV, etc, and will only play with her (say 2 hours on a weekend day, or both weekend days). You don't have to do anything fancy, let her guide what you are going to do if she's that communicative, otherwise just paint or color or play with dolls. You don't need to keep up a running narrative, but ask her about what she is doing, etc so she knows you are interested. You may have to drop something to do this, I don't know that therapy is the right thing, but something and just in the short term until you see if this gets better.

And don't worry about the mama thing, as others said, if you aren't using the name with yourself, then she won't pick it up, my oldest still often calls his Dad by his name instead of daddy, just because I use it more.

However, if you are really concerned about attachment issues, talk to your therapist, or to your child's pediatrician and see what the recommend, 14 months is not too old to fix anything, you haven't broken your child, I promise!
posted by katers890 at 7:47 AM on October 30, 2012

I'm agreeing with everyone else that you sound depressed and should get back into therapy. That said, here are some things that have taught me how to play with my kids:

Floortime with an occupational / physical therapist -- the high point of our week.

A parenting clinic at a local university. They taught us how to do narrative play, which feels so awkward at first ("You're picking up the red block. Oh! You put it on the blue block! What will happen now? Ooooh, they fell down, crash!") but then comes naturally with enough practice and kids love it. It grew into this program, The Incredible Years.

Co-op preschool with a great teacher.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:10 PM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Aw, I am sorry you are feeling so bad. Really, the mama thing is normal. My son is just the same age as you and he has a favourite toy, called Snowdog. we thought he was awfully clever because we would say 'where's Snowdog?' And he would go and pick the toy up. But then we tried 'where's mama?' And 'where's dada' and he STILL went and picked up snowdog. Cos toddlers, you know, are idiots. She knows you're her mama and as others have said, she knows she can be a rotter with you because you will love her no matter what. And the cuddling and kissing is normal too, not all babies are cuddly (girls often are not) and she is too young to understand the whole going away thing. But I second whoever suggested cosleeping, if you can do it safely. My son this morning woke up, saw my face, uttered a little chuckle then went back to sleep again. It's a really nice thing to do. :-)
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:57 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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