My son turns two today, and at this magical age he’s growing more verbal and confident in his language every day. He’s talking in complete sentences and making his iron will known at all times. Part of asserting his will involves drawing surprisingly clear and strong boundaries with me when I get overprotective or crowd him.
I try not to take it personally but it’s hard not to when your favorite little dude in the world is regularly telling you, through both words and body language, that he’d very much appreciate it if I backed off. This is particularly true since this drawing of clear boundaries with me has been accompanied by an even more intense connection to his mother.
As a dad, I suppose I’m kind of human training wheels for my son. I exist to steady him when he’s wobbly and uncertain, to save him from the harm and injuries that can—and often do—come when we streak out on our own for the first time.
And part of my son asserting himself involves letting his dad know in no uncertain terms when he can ride on his own, metaphorically speaking, and doesn’t need Dad to look after him like a fretful mama bird, terrified that he’ll hurt himself on one of the roughly seven billon safety hazards littering our world.
I’m not going to lie, it bruises my ego a little bit.
When I'm hovering too close, forever ready to swoop in at a moment’s notice and save him from harm, my son is never afraid to forcefully thrust out his arm and firmly say, “No, Daddy!” And I know all too well what he means by that gesture and those words. They mean that my assistance is not wanted, or welcome, and I best stop helicopter parenting or my son will speak to me in an even more forceful tone of voice.
But while he’s bellowing, “Daddy, no!” he’s repeatedly and fervently affirming his bond with his mother. When I try to read him a story about trucks or push him on the swings at the playground, he’ll often say, “No, Mommy read!” or “No, Mommy swing!” My wife has assured him that I was equally qualified to read him a bedtime story or push him, but he remains unconvinced.
I’m not going to lie, it bruises my ego a little bit. It’s wonderful that he has such a great, close relationship with his mother, and deservedly so, as she is a fantastic mother, but I can’t help but feel like at least a little of that whole-soul adoration he has for her comes at my expense.
My wife, who is a preschool teacher and consequently an expert in these matters, assures me that our son’s stubbornness towards me is a product of his age and that if this persists when he’s four or five, then I should be concerned. But if my two-year-old's “No, Daddy!” is someday replaced by a prickly 36-year-old’s aloof, “I know you would like to have a close, loving relationship with me, and while in many ways this is true, I do, in fact, prefer Mother’s company to yours,” I reserve the right to be seriously hurt.
But until that day comes, I'll keep trying to keep him from life's harms and hope the no's turn to yes's one day... soon.