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I had a beautiful and unexpected realization during my kids’ bedtime tonight. My seven-year-old, strong-willed daughter taught me that, without me even realizing it, she needs and receives my tender love every day.

From birth, she’s preferred to be physically independent. After a feeding, she loved settling into her vibrating, bouncy chair. I did carry and wear her as a baby. But when I had my other two children, and I could compare her to them, I understood that her physical separation from me was more pronounced than theirs. As a toddler, she refused to hold my hand 100 percent of the time. No exceptions. I had to keep her safe by holding her sleeve, collar, or hood when we crossed the street.

With my five- and four-year-old, I hug, kiss, and snuggle them at every opportunity. But with my eldest, there’s very little physical affection. When I try to touch her, she dismisses or rejects my touch. She fervently pushes my hand away when I try to stroke her long hair or quickly wipes away the moisture left from my lips on her forehead when I attempt to steal a kiss. Each time she pulls away, I can’t help but feel slighted. Over time, I’ve learned to respect her preference not to be touched, and I’ve limited my physical affection towards her.

But, tonight, I gained a vital awareness of something. Every night, since my daughter was an infant, I sing the lullaby Hush Little Baby. I don’t even sing it properly, but I sing it in a way that my eldest expects and loves. When I tuck her in at night, I wait quietly as she smooths her hair behind her ears, adjusts her teddy bear in the crook of her arm, and pulls the flannel blanket tightly around her. My voice cracks softly as it finds the right volume and tone, and my eyes focus on my daughter.

Most nights, she closes her eyes, feigns sleep, and listens to my rhythmic whispers. If I’m lucky, some nights, she looks back at me, and it’s as if we’re the closest we can be. Our eyes lock, and we peer into each other’s connected souls.

She can’t go to sleep without her lullaby. She needs it, like my other kids need a goodnight hug and kiss from me. It’s her way of absorbing my tender love.

Until tonight, I grappled with why she didn’t want to be close to me. Why she didn’t need my loving touch—but now I get it. She needs me in a different and valuable way.

The same way snowflakes are infinitely unique, each child’s way to feel love is different. Although my kids have the same mother, it’s my duty to adapt my love to fit their individual way to feel it. For my eldest daughter it’s through song: a soothing lullaby that I’ll continue to sing to her at every bedtime until her way to feel my love melts into something new.

Molly England

Molly England perpetually attempts to simplify her life. She aspires to be a decent mother, wife, daughter, and friend. Meanwhile, she processes the daily chaos and beauty by jotting down her thoughts. Molly’s writing is featured on The Washington Post, HuffPost, Scary Mommy, Salon, Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine, Sammiches & Psych Meds, and more.

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