My baby was taking a bath with her dad, when she reached for the hot water knob and tried to turn it. I knew of a boy who had scalded the bottoms of his feet in the sink, so I said, “No, don’t touch. Hot! Ouch!” She tilted her head, looked at me, and did it again. Her daddy laughed, thinking it was so cute how she defied her mama. “What a spunky child!” he thought. “Look at her independence emerging!”
But, I saw it as nothing special. It is normal developmental behavior to try again. For example, if they don’t try again to walk, after falling, they will never learn to walk. But, you, the parent, are supposed to teach them how to do what you say when something is dangerous. So, I pushed her hand away, and said in a stern voice, “No. Don’t touch. Hot!” When she did it a third time, I slapped her hand, and stared at her. It didn’t hurt her, because she didn’t cry. She just looked startled. She looked at me, looked at the hot water handle, and before she could even make the good choice, her dad began yelling at me, “Why did you do that?! Why did you slap her?!” At first, she understood me, “Oh! It must be danger. Mama slapped my hand away and has never done that before.” But now, she learned a whole new game. She learned, “If I disobey Mama in front of Daddy, he laughs. And then, Daddy pushes Mama away with his words and energy. And I get all of his attention.”
Whenever she was with me, she would not touch the handle. If she was with us together, she would turn the knob. We couldn’t even have a conversation anymore during bath time, because, whether it was in the sink or the tub, she would reach for the hot water handle. This stopped our adult conversations, as he repeatedly had to gently move her hand away, explain to her that it was hot, and try to distract her with a toy. She had learned how to prevent us from talking to each other, and to just focus on her.
If I could discipline her without starting a big fight, I would have quickly ended bath time. By now, she knew the rules. If she defied them, I would have scooped her out, drained the tub, and without a word, dried her off, and put on her pajamas. But with him there, I had no power to teach her. She was in charge when daddy was around. He was creating the queen of manipulation right before my eyes.
One day, he headed out on a walk, pushing her in the baby buggy. He walked slowly, waiting for me to catch up. When I ran up to them, excited to get some fresh air and exercise together, she reached out of the baby buggy, and hit me. I was shocked, but her dad went into hysterical laughter. I was so hurt, and most of all disturbed. What were we creating here? A child who divides two people who were best friends? It’s not her fault—he could have stayed united with me, by saying, “No, we don’t hit mommy. Mommy comes with us on the walk.” And then, he and I could have discussed how to arrange more one-on-one daddy time, because clearly, she wanted him alone.
I think it is good for kids to be away from their moms. Too often, they are always with their mothers, until a divorce happens. Only then, do most kids get to experience the independence of being alone with their dads.
But we never got that far. He continued to laugh at my expense. She saw that daddy was pleased with her, so she did it again. She screwed up her face, made a fist, and punched me in the leg. As he wailed laughing, I knew that this was becoming a sick dynamic very quickly.
It’s never quite true, when you hear people explain why they got a divorce, because it’s always more complicated than that. But one of the reasons that I walked away, is that I was not about to raise a spoiled, rotten kid. He was turning my magical baby girl into someone who could play people against each other in order to get her way. And I had already seen that he was like that in the world of business. I brought her into this world, and it was my job to shape her into an amazing person. I took this job very seriously.
So, I chose my child over my husband. I knew that I could never teach her as long as he was in my home, undermining my every move. It was more important to me to shape this soul that I had brought into the world, than it was for me to keep the family intact. I left him, so that I could raise her to be the incredible person she has turned out to be.
Kids are cute, and the things they try, can be hilarious. As parents, you can laugh together about all of these moments, later. It can be so much fun to go to bed, and tell each other the stories of what your kid did that day. But never forget, that your job is to raise them, guide them, and teach them. If all you see is how cute they are, you will ruin your child. You will be the only person in the world who thinks they are cute. No one else will even like them.