Nineke: “’How nice, finally a girl’, cried those around us when our men’s household was expanded with Mare. The gender didn’t matter to me, we just wanted a third child and just hoped it would be healthy. Everything with Thomas and Zane had gone smoothly until then; pregnancies, births and subsequent periods. They both slept through quickly, cried little and were easygoing. My friend Ramses and I also became relaxed parents. We just fit well together, just the four of us, and a fifth family member was more than welcome.
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Daan was one and a half when his sister was born, but Thomas was quite aware of my pregnancy. He was looking forward to the baby’s arrival, he was just a little concerned about whether a girl would want to play with the garage. “Sure,” I soothed, “girls love cars too.” Otherwise, eager to raise a strong, tough woman, I’d take care of that.
A fair estimate, as it turned out a year or two later. Although everything had gone differently than I was used to – Mare broke her collarbone during childbirth and cried continuously for the first year – she had one obvious and recognizable passion: her brothers’ toys. Nice of course, that saved us the dreaded pink invasion at home. And Thomas and Daan had always loved playing with it until then.
But it soon became apparent that Mare had a little more trouble sharing. A matter of age, we thought at first, but it has not changed to this day. A joint bag of candy from grandma for all three children, the toys from a savings campaign from the supermarket; Mare wraps her arms around it and never lets go. The Mister Potato Head picks that I bought for the kids together during the lockdown, I found hidden in her pillowcase the next day. Of course we teach her that that is not neat, that we share all common things in our house and that everyone is of course entitled to his own things. But it just doesn’t matter, it’s not in her character.
Mare had an unfair start. Because of her broken collarbone and, as it turned out, a displaced cervical vertebra, she had a lot of pain the first year of her life. That’s what shapes you. At the nursery she was often at odds with other children. ‘She is a bit bossy and heavy-handed,’ the leaders sometimes said. Yes, she often unceremoniously yanked toys out of the hands of another child, but to what extent is that problem behavior in a toddler? The health center called her at most ‘temperamental’ and with friends – all with small children – there was always something to play with. I wasn’t really worried yet.
That changed when Mare went to group 1 and was almost immediately out of the group. The teacher found her ‘predominantly present’ in the classroom and when she joined a game in the schoolyard, it turned into crying by default. She just has to get used to it, I thought at first. But when her behavior had only worsened by the end of that first year, I scratched my head. A five-year-old shouldn’t be so calculating, right?
From group 3 she followed a variety of training courses. ‘Rock and water’ to improve her social skills. Performance anxiety reduction training. One-on-one conversations with the school social worker and the internal counsellor. Each time she took steps forward, but her behavior continued to provoke resistance – also with me.
We are currently seeing a remedial educationalist, who tests her for various things, such as AD(H)D and giftedness. From a kind of family constellations with farm animals that represented her classmates, it became very clear recently that Mare has a large inferiority complex, combined with a strong fear of failure. Not surprising, if you’ve been outside the group your whole life and it broke my heart to hear that. But if I’m being very honest, I think I contributed to it myself.
big puppy eyes
For Ramses, Mare is his princess. What they say about the bond between fathers and daughters is just right. The same goes for mothers and sons, maybe that’s why things run smoothly between the boys and me. Meanwhile, it bothers me more and more that Ramses seems to have a blind spot for Mare’s difficult behavior. Where no simply means no when it comes to the boys, Mare always knows how to get her way with Ramses. Then she puts on her big puppy eyes, crawls on his lap, asks in a baby voice ‘pleeeease?’ and I can already see Thomas and Zane rolling their eyes. Ramses yields without exception. I find that bloody irritating – from Ramses and from Mare. When the boys have to go to their room as a punishment, Ramses has them sit out the time to the second. In such a case, Mare comes down ten more times, after which he says: ‘Come on, come to Daddy then.’
To compensate, I may sometimes correct Mare more often than necessary, or more firmly, making it seem as if I, in turn, favor my sons. When Thomas or Daan knocks over a glass of milk at the breakfast table, I say dryly: ‘Get a cloth.’ With Mare, my first instinct is to get out of my mind and yell, ‘Damn, don’t interfere with others and focus on what you’re doing.’
When I hear a fight upstairs, whether it’s between the brothers or with friends, I usually think: oh god, what has she done now? And when Thomas had been given expensive wireless earphones for his birthday that had already been lost the same day, I secretly thought: Mare has of course pushed them back. Which is usually right. When one of the boys has been given candy or a nicer toy than her from the children’s menu in the pancake house, nine times out of ten it has disappeared that same day and is eventually found in her room. Now it turned out that the ears had simply fallen behind the cupboard, where Thomas had displayed all his gifts.
Whether I say it or not, Mare naturally senses my irritation. Where I automatically grab my boys a few times a day for a cuddle, I really have to commit myself to that with her. Her brothers share my feelings. I once dreamed of how they would take care of her, in practice they prefer to stay as far away from her as possible. It sounds a bit like Cinderella, and of course it’s not that bad.
Most of the time we have a great time together as a family. We watch The Voice and music movies together, romp on Sundays in the woods, and while the boys spend hours building Legos, Mare can have a great time with my old My Little Ponies, without making a sound. But it’s the everyday little irritations that pile up. And in response, she seeks attention in a negative way. At home, but also at school and with her friends. All this leads to tensions between Ramses and me, which the children pick up again. And so we are in a vicious circle with the whole family.
My annoyances say nothing about my love for Mare. I love all my children equally. It helps that I can trace most of her behavior. Fortunately, I still feel a lioness instinct when I have the teacher on the phone again – at least every other week – because Mare has been too intimidating to a group of girls or deliberately interrupted a game. The criticism is often justified, but now my daughter also carries a stigma: a child is crying, so Mare must have done it again. The dynamics in the classroom, in which she is the ‘difficult’ child, cannot be changed. How teachers deal with this is very important. And that is difficult, when they too are clearly disturbed by her.
Mare will have biweekly sessions with the remedial educationalist in the coming months, after which a number of family sessions are planned. We look at family dynamics, where they come from and how we can adjust them. I am convinced that this pattern is reversible. Besides, but that’s my psychology of the cold ground, I think girls are often different in education than boys.
Thomas and Daan are the greatest treasures there is, but they are well off. They allow themselves to be leaned in a lot and if one of them is angry, he slaps it and it’s over two minutes later. If they do something they shouldn’t, they accept a scolding, shrug, and move on. Primitive, but effective. With Mare, annoyances fester much longer under the skin and are then expressed ten times more violently. It works the same for me, maybe that’s also a reason that we collide more often. Ramses also sometimes finds me complex and overreacting, while I can get annoyed by his apparently lax attitude and lack of interest.
Our once harmonious family now consists of two camps about half the time, and that regularly keeps me awake. I will never regret that we went for a third; I love Mare with all my heart and soul. I think that many parents feel a preference for one or two of their children, structurally or per phase. I cling to the situation of a friend who never really got along with her daughter, but whose situation changed when her daughter started secondary school and suddenly needed her mother desperately with all kinds of adolescent issues. They suddenly seemed to understand each other completely. For the same money Thomas and Daan suddenly turn into infernal teenagers and they are more attracted to Ramses and Mare to me.
Every family is subject to dynamics. And while I sometimes gently say to others that I’m annoyed by my child, I don’t ever want her to hear this. Our life is much nicer with Mare around and most of the time we have a great time. When I look back on my time with young children later, I want it to be positive, both for me and the rest of the family. With the right help, we’ll get there. The strong foundation is there.”
This article can be found in Kek Mama 06-2021.
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