Sunday 25 February 2018

Dear David Coleman: My two-year-old seems to be allergic to me!

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David Coleman

David Coleman

Clinical psychologist David Coleman offers parenting advice in his weekly column.

Q. I have a two- and-a-half- year-old girl and have had three miscarriages since she was born. I'm now seven weeks pregnant, on steroid medication, and have been advised to take things very easy. Hence my husband is doing all of the physical parenting with our daughter, picking her up if needed, dressing her and so on. But it's like she has now become allergic to me - she never wants me to do anything for her or comfort her in any way. This is very hard for me, as I miss our closeness. She goes to crèche five days a week. What can I do?

What a difficult position you find yourself in. I can only imagine how upsetting and challenging it must be to have had three miscarriages in such a short period of time. As a result, you are probably very conscious of the risk of further miscarriage with this pregnancy.

Naturally, that means you have to be protective of yourself and the pregnancy by giving your body every chance to carry the baby to full term. Practically, that means you can't be as involved in the physical care of your older daughter as previously.

Unfortunately, your daughter may not fully understand that there is a perfectly good reason why you have pulled back from her over the last number of weeks. Indeed, her experience may simply have been that you don't seem to want to be helping her in the way you used to.

You know that you can't physically help her, as it might be too dangerous for the pregnancy, but she may feel that you are just rejecting her. If that is the case, then her response of rejecting you back is equally understandable.

Her withdrawal of emotional reliance on you matches the withdrawal of a physical reliance on you. It might feel emotionally safer for her to not engage with you, as it leaves her less vulnerable to further perceived rejection.

She is still very small and will really only have instinct to guide her. At the moment, her instinct says to keep you at arm's length so that it doesn't hurt too much when you can't do what you used to do for her and with her.

While this may explain her behaviour, it won't take away the upset and distress that her apparent rejection of you causes. It might help, though, not to feel that her pushing you away is a personal thing.

She isn't pushing you away because you are you - she is pushing you away because it is psychologically safer for her. It is a self-protective coping strategy, rather than an attempt to make you feel bad.

Unfortunately, until the pregnancy feels more established for you and the risk of miscarriage reduces, you may continue to be unable to physically care for her.

Your goal, then, might be to see if you can balance out this missing aspect of your interaction with her by increasing your opportunity to be emotionally available for her.

So, while her dad is dressing her, for example, you can be present too and can be chatting with her about the day to come, the fun she might have, the tasks she might face, and so on.

You can ask her about how she is finding crèche, taking the chance to soothe the distresses she might occasionally feel, or highlighting the positives that you know she enjoys.

Even if you feel a bit of a push-back when she might say, "No, Mammy," or, "Daddy, do it," or, "Go away, Mammy," try to avoid lingering with the emotional hurt it may cause you, and focus instead on staying with her and staying emotionally connected to her.

So you may even say to her, using warm and understanding tones, that you could see how she might feel upset or sad that you can't help her and that it is great that her dad is still able to help.

You could connect, too, with how she may miss the closeness with you. Remember, this is an unconscious, instinctive thing for her, so she may miss your closeness as much as you miss her.

With luck, this will be a temporary thing that will resolve with your patience and understanding and a resumption of full motherly duties when the pregnancy stabilises. You can then return to physically caring for her as well as minding her and nurturing her in all the other ways you probably still continue to do.

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