The two headed parent: a lesser known final labour of Hercules.

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Is it possible I prefer spending time with my son than my daughter?

For 20 mins today I sat in a ball pit watching my daughter do nothing but alternate between trying to fit a red ball and a blue ball in her mouth. I was sitting there with two other mums and their infants, also having a similar dilemma about the tastiest ball. I introduced myself to the mums, learnt their kids names but that was the end of conversation as I realised the only thing we actually had in common was we each got laid within a few days of each other in June 2015. The next 18 minutes weren’t exactly riveting.

At that point my son showed up and wanted us to come play with him in the soft play section. We did. We played superheroes, ran away from dinosaurs, pretended to be alarm clocks and tried to see how many balls we could balance on the baby’s head. I was honestly disappointed when the session time came to an end.

Could it really be possible I prefer spending time with my son than my daughter?

Its nothing personal, it’s the phase they are at. They both require a very different parenting styles. I thought I already was a parent, I didn’t know I now need to be two.

Take my son as the first subject. He’s the easy one. All I have to do is be willing to be agile, to play and to listen to him. If I get tired it’s the same as getting tired on the treadmill, I just dig deeper and push harder. I can ask him a question and he’ll carry his side of the conversation for the rest of the car journey. He has 100 questions a day, some of them unbelievably profound. I can also “parent” him while maintaining a conversation with a friend or checking my phone or having one eye on the news.

My daughter is entirely different. Most of our interactions revolve around me trying to get her to go to sleep. Car journey conversations are fairly one sided and swiftly become us both just listening to Radio4. Any form of “play” while I’m doing something else isn’t really play for her, its more me repeatedly removing objects from her mouth.

At this stage with her it’s a kind of All or Nothing parenting. You have to commit and get lost in engaging her our it doesn’t work. I got lost at a party recently. I was holding her while my wife was helping my son play pass-the-parcel. I got lost making faces and giving kisses to my daughter to the point where, when I broke free of her spell, pass the parcel had ended, the circle dispersed and I had no idea where my wife and son had moved onto. I realised it’s an interaction I desire more of and need to make conscious effort to fit into the day in the same way I allocate time for doing the dishes or to fight super villains.

I think I imagined MANternity being endless days of superhero play, cuddles and makebelieve stories about pirates. That I can do, that I’m actually pretty good at. But I now realise how different play is with an infant.

I should clarify that these weren’t lessons I learnt the first time round. I missed 11 of my son’s first 18months due to work commitments. When I was at home it was only for dinner time and weekends. He went from breastfeeding/sleeping machine straight to walking talking dude. Makes me appreciate what my wife went through alone during that period, both the highs and lows.

I’m getting a clear view that my MANternity isn’t the equivalent to a mum’s early maternity period. I can see why new mums feel lonely or why they clearly love their babies but lust after some form of adult conversation. Babies are delightful but if you want to change the bedsheets, empty the dishwasher or read some headlines, it all has to happen in parallel to your parenting that day and no one likes to sacrifice parenting time.

Obviously I’m only at the beginning of my MANternity journey but the thing I’m most looking forward to is getting to really know and appreciate my daughter. To view her for more than the one I have to carry everywhere and not leave alone in the bath.

I can see in my daughter’s eyes that she is a warm, curious and special girl. I have the gift during these months of witnessing this girl flourish in front my eyes. She will most likely walk, maybe even say her first words. These are going to be epiphany events for both of us and I suspect, in ways I can’t articulate, we’ll both be learning as much as each other FROM each other.

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