By TALIBAH MBONISI
I loved nursing my son when he was a baby. I had a deep satisfaction knowing that beyond the physical benefits I was providing, that somehow through this process, we were forming a bond that no one else could ever know. Only I, his mother, could give him this and somehow that underlined the fact that no one could love him as much as I, no one could know him more deeply than I, no one could care for him better than I.
Well, thing is, he has a father who was often sitting right next to me as I nursed. And, well, eventually, I started to have moments when being the sole source of sustenance and never being able to go anywhere alone for longer than two or three hours became unrealistic. It was time for Daddy to learn to feed the baby.
I can now admit that during my pregnancy and for some time after my son’s birth, I was, well, slightly neurotic. I read everything. I planned everything. And, then, I obsessed.
So, when it was time to teach him to take a bottle from his father, I had done all my due diligence. I knew that there was a chance that this would be a miserable failure, or at least a really difficult process. I lectured his father about how to talk soothingly to him. I demonstrated the correct nursing positioning which he should be held. I did everything I could to prepare his father for either eventual success or complete failure, but mostly for the certain disappointment that was sure to result from my son’s inevitable and understandable reaction to the fact that, well, he wasn’t me.
Short story long, that little boy took that rubber nipple in his mouth and never gave me a second look. I, of course, ran to the bedroom the second I realized that he was nipple and feeder agnostic, threw myself across the bed, and wept for the loss of my position at the center of his universe.
OK. Rewind, a couple of months. Back in September, my son announced, “Mommy, I think that I should start spending Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with Daddy and Thursday through Sunday with you.” (My son’s father and I split up four years ago and have been co-parenting since.)
“Um. OK. Daddy and I will talk about it.”
And, we did. He explained that while he had nothing to do with our son’s suggestion, he did want to increase his time with the little guy. This confession was actually something I had been waiting a long time for. In fact, I’d even suggested it on more than one occasion. But, plagued with a series of, shall we say, unreliable transportation situations among other things, he never made that happen. And, frankly, he seemed satisfied that the one or two days he’d get our son on the weekends were enough. So, this was new, and it was good.
But, it has at times left me a little lost as to what to do with the extra time. I have found myself feeling a little less useful to my son. And, in response, I have periodically looked for evidence that our mid-week switch was not providing the stability that a six-year-old requires. It certainly has disrupted mine, anyway.
Fast forward to last week. My son earned a pretty bad behavior report on Wednesday. When his father, my co-parent, arrived to pick him up, he firmly lectured our six-year-old, as the little guy sat there, lip quivering, eyes wide and fixed on his father’s, all the while secretly rubbing my hand for comfort. When his father ended the speech, my son replied with a simple and humble, “Yes, sir.”
I was floored. I had never seen him like that. He’s not really that kid, at least not with me. And, in that moment, if in no other, it became painfully evident to me that just like that day when he was traitorously willing to substitute the flesh of his own mother’s breast for a rubber nipple held awkwardly by his father, my son was expanding the center of his universe to include his father in a way that he hadn’t seemed to need to before.
I guess I was preparing myself to deal with this when he was older, but he needs his father now. And, I see the difference this additional time makes. When he comes back from his father’s house, I often see glimpses of the seeds being planted outside of my control. There’s an emerging maturity and increased respect for me that seems more evident when he comes back to my house. Once, he even said, “Yes, Ma’am,” when I told him to take his shoes to his room!
This weaning myself off of my exclusive centrality (or at least my self-important perception of exclusive centrality) in his life isn’t easy. I will admit that. But, I know that it is necessary, if I truly want to give my son my best.
About Our MyBrownBaby Contributor:
Talibah Mbonisi, a mother of one, is on a mission to incite a Black co-parenting revolution. She is currently working on her first book, a guide to co-parenting for African-American mothers and fathers, as well as an online community called WeParent.com. She muses about co-parenting and other life adventures on her blog, The Mama Spot.