Sunday 4 December 2016

Smug married: When being liked is more flattering than being loved

Absence makes the heart grow fonder but it can also divide our children's affections, says Aine O'Connor

Aine O'Connor

Published 27/03/2011 | 05:00

From the time Number Two was a baby, I've gone on little jaunts, with friends or alone. The whirligig in my brain just needs a rest sometimes, a place where all I have to think is "What page am I on?" and "What will I eat?" By and large, the jaunts last from two to four days.

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Apart from resting the whirligig, the jaunts mean the children see me as a person, not just a ma, and Beloved gets a chance to try out the whirligig. I organise for the school collections and afternoons to be covered, but otherwise Beloved steps in. Beautifully. It's great, but frankly I think that a man who leaves his woman to come home to a messy house and piles of laundry needs a good kick in the head. (In case you're worried about him, Beloved travels and socialises a lot for work, he and the lads also take off on little "golf" outings -- "we'll rent the clubs over there".)

If Beloved and I both go away, I pine for the children more. Even though they're in the loving care of my parents, I worry that they are finding it hard out of their comfort zone, for very often all my presence actually means is constancy, routine, a touch point. When they are at home with their father their touch points remain much the same and I pine less.

Recently, however, I was away for a full week -- my longest trip in a long time. Beloved was at home with them, all was well but I got these little tragic texts from our 10-year-old, "I'm missing you so much my heart is sore, in fact I think it's ripping."

And it dawned on me that for the first time she actually missed me. Not having me around, or having me pick her up from school, but me as an actual person. When they were very little, they would punish any absence, either through dirty looks and distance or slightly brattish behaviour. I'd so look forward to seeing them but instead of big cuddles they'd be a right pain in the face. It was my punishment for upsetting normal.

When bigger, they would both profess acute suffering in my absence, but upon my return look expectantly at my suitcase for gifts and promptly toddle back to whatever more interesting thing they were doing.

When Number One was around 10 and his sister five, there was a stark contrast between them for he seemed to have started to genuinely miss my presence, while she still hadn't got there. Now pushing 15, Number One says he misses having me around because me being around is comfortable, normal, safe, but he has lots of his own stuff on so the heartache doesn't exactly keep him awake.

Number Two, though, has entered the zone of actually missing me. Another of her tragic texts announced that she had had "a little weep" for me one night (I said "weep" because I thought it sounded less sad than "cry").

It's funny to see how the relationship evolves from need-love to conscious-love. Or is it simply "like", that underrated but vital ingredient? In lots of ways a child's "like" is much more flattering than its love. Unfettered by convention, they either do or they don't, as their parent they will love you even in extremis, but they won't necessarily like you, and as the relationship evolves perhaps that's the most important part.

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