I did not expect this to be happening this early. At 22 months, our daughter is fixated on daddies. We call ourselves Mama and Mommy, though she mostly calls us both Mama. I call my father “Dad,” but she rarely hears it, because we refer to him as “Poppie” to her, and she calls him “Pop pop.” Her grandfather on the other side is “Papa,” and she uses that with some regularity. We aren’t really around that many men who are “daddies” very often, though some are older fathers and others will be fathers soon. We have a few books in our house that probably refer to a dad, but really not that many – most of the books we read with her are pretty benign…Brown Bear, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, etc. Same with the occasional shows she’s allowed to watch – they rarely identify any kind of family structure.
The only thing we can think is that they are talking about it at daycare. Two of the kids have a traditional family – one with hetero parents and an only child (but they don’t speak a lot of English, so I kind of doubt the kid is walking around talking about his daddy), and one who has mom, dad, brother, and sister. I’m betting that this is where it’s coming from. Knowing this little girl, she probably shrieks and runs to her dad when he picks her up with great enthusiasm, so it’s probably caught a lot of attention. The third little girl has one mom, and no dad has ever been mentioned, but she is the oldest and most verbal, so our kid might be picking up some of what this girl is processing.
It’s manifesting like this: at the pool last week, a dad was playing with his kids and my daughter started pointing and saying loudly, “Daddy!” “Daddy!” I tried to confirm her label and then went on to label the Grandma in the pool with a kid, the other mommies in the pool, the big brothers, etc. She was just fixated on this one dad, and at one point said “My daddy.” Another way it has come up is these stupid fish toys she has in the bath. There is a red, yellow, and blue fish. They have no other real distinctions, and no gender indications. She’s had them for awhile, but yesterday, suddenly the blue fish became “Daddy Fish” and it was the only one she wanted to play with. I tried asking which one was Mama Fish or Mommy Fish, but she just ignored me and kept telling me blue was Daddy.
My wife is pretty bothered by this and wants to ask the caregiver if they’re talking about it at daycare. I don’t think there is any point to that, because I highly doubt it has ever occurred to the caregiver not to use a hetero-normative framework for language development and play. Of course we can try to guide her, and maybe we should reinforce that our daughter needs to be hearing about many family structures and not feeling like one is “best.” The caregiver is a divorced mom of two adult kids and 55ish, so I don’t think she’s really rigid about what family structure is “right.” She’s never given us any indication that she has any problem with our family, though she does happen to have a few Christian kids books around. I can’t tell if that’s because she bought them at church/yard sales, or because they are hers from when her kids were little. Until now I had figured that our daughter understood too little to really grasp the Christian themes, but now I’m starting to wonder.
When my daughter starts talking about “Daddy” I feel a pang of guilt because she doesn’t have one and she’s clearly intrigued by them. I know, logically, that she has two good parents and that’s more than a lot of people. I also know that as she grows, we’ll be able to have better conversations about it and let her know it’s okay to feel whatever it is she’s feeling, but we hope she knows she is loved by her parents. Part of me is glad we’re getting this out of the way now, not that it’s an open-closed kind of conversation, but rather that we’re all going to have to start navigating it together and not be thrown for a loop when she starts kindergarten and suddenly realizes her family is different from others.
When does this stuff normally come up? Is this early, or was I just not paying attention? How have/will you discuss genders and parents with toddlers? We always use very inclusive language and we talk about many friends who have varying family structures. Any insight is welcome!