Q. My daughter seems to like the day-care provider better than she does me. As a mother, I’m happy that they have a good relationship, but I’m still jealous.
A. A Russian proverb notes that, “Jealousy and love are sisters.” The powerful love that you have for your daughter has led you to begrudge another positive relationship in your child’s life. But, at the same time, you are happy because you long for the best for your daughter. Your awareness of the ambiguity of your feelings is the first step in resolving your mixed emotions.
Reframe the relationships. Your question indicates a sense of insecurity when comparing your relationship with that of the day-care provider. Instead of thinking of yourself and the care-giver as competitors for your daughter’s affection, begin to visualize ways that you are partners with similar goals. Love is not a limited commodity. A person who is happy and secure is likely to share that sense of well-being with others. During the early years, a key aspect of development is building a belief that the world is trustworthy because parents, extended family and other caring adults are there to provide support. The fact that your daughter has a warm relationship with her day-care provider shows that you are providing a safe and loving environment during the times that you cannot be available. Give yourself a pat on the back for making a good choice!
Remember, secure attachments don’t mean identical relationships. J. Clasien De Schipper and her colleagues in the Netherlands point out that secure attachments toward day-care providers are based on the sensitivity of the care-giver toward the group of children. The attachment involves interactions that are positive within the group setting. Your interactions as a mother involve an attachment based on sensitivity toward your own child. The provider loves children and is responsive to your daughter as such. But your daughter will get older, and other children will replace her in the loving day-care group. Your daughter will always be an irreplaceable member of your family.
What do you feel that you are missing? Take time to consider what you feel that you are missing in your relationship with your daughter. Those jealous feelings might involve specific activities that are important to you. Is there a way to increase the frequency of those experiences that are high on your list of priorities?
When you feel insecure and jealous, take a moment to pray for guidance and insight. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Phil 1:9-10)
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.