Having not grown up in a two parent household, it’s a whole new experience for me to reflect on Ziya’s experience of living with both her mother and father. Understandings of how children connect to their fathers, which should be obvious to me, are only now part of my own learning as I observe the ways she relates to her parents and constructs her idea of family.
Her connection to me as her mother is intense and intimate, even overwhelming for us both. That has resulted not only from the kind of quality time I’ve consciously devoted, but also to from more than two years of continuous breast-feeding and, therefore, physical attachment. Yet, when we are reading books, and I point out the mummy lion or hippo, or when I tell her about my plans to take her on an outing, she’ll insist on looking for the daddy lion or asking whether daddy will be going on the outing too.
In her world, both mummy and daddy are present and necessary, and they are together. While she loves spending time with each of us, she loves spending time with both of us more. This isn’t the kind of daddy-struck adoration that seems to characterize girlhood. She’s invested in our nuclear family beyond the influence of socialization and even my own expectations of her capacity at two years old.
Dads are a vital and irreplaceable part of children’s lives, but some part of me thought that mummies could also be enough if they gave their all. Politically, I also don’t want to reproduce anti-woman views that argue that all families should have a mother and father living together, and that each must be playing some rightful role, for children to grow up fulfilled and functional. Heading their own household by choice or necessity, and with dads participating to various degrees, women have raised happy, productive and contributing members of our Caribbean. Dads can do the same too, on their own if they have to. Moms and dads don’t have to live in the same house to wisely cooperate for their children’s best interest. Even daddy-struck girls can figure out how to get on with life in the midst of separations, and how to renegotiate love across new family formations. Don’t doubt that they, we, survive and thrive.
Nonetheless, I see how Ziya would be confused, unsettled and heart-broken at the loss of having both parents with her. It makes me think back to myself at two and the complex, formative emotions that I forgot existed in me then. It makes me realise, not that break-ups are bad, because they can definitely be for the best, but how much adult partnerships define children’s sense of self, safety, stability and social space. When Ziya wants to know where the daddy hippo is or decides that two of any animal represents a mummy and a daddy, it’s a visceral statement that your relationship profoundly matters and is accountable to someone else besides the two of you.
Seeing us through her eyes has made me more greatly appreciate the role Stone has to play, whether we stay together forever or go separate ways. That role and its significance is his responsibility, not mine, to treasure, nurture and ensure. Still, I mature as a mother from recognizing that Ziya will have different feelings about and experiences of motherhood than I did. I improve as a partner from openness to learning anew about fatherhood and its value. Ziya is not the only one growing. She’s making us, as individuals and as a family, grow too.