When you’re not the favorite parent

It happens, it’s temporary, and boy does it ever suck.

It’s a phase.

It’s a phase.

It’s a phase.

I’ve found myself repeating this mantra a lot lately. This phase is like the sharp prick of a needle. The sudden heat of a finger against the stove. The automatic flinch in the body, the tightening in your muscles, when you hear screeching car brakes.

This phase is one in which I am not the favored parent. Me! The one who carried my daughter for a zillion months, the one who gave birth to her, the one who lugged the pump to and from work every day! I thought those things would buy me a little more time, but alas.

There have been so many small things that added up to my feeling the tiniest bit banished from her kingdom. There was the time she fell, and wailed not for me, but for her dad. I picked her up and she sobbed harder, begging for Dada. Finally, at bedtime my daughter would fling herself dramatically out of my arms and into Patrick’s. “Dada, hug Dada!” she’d squeal, lunging away from me like I was made of lava, wriggling from my arms, presumably forever.

Growing up, I used to play this idle game where I would walk around familiar places and pretend I’d never seen them before, that this was the first time I’d ever experienced that park, that street, that room. I still do it sometimes, looking around and trying to compare my first impression of a place with my current one. Did this room always feel this way to me, or has it changed? As places become familiar to us, they shift, settling into our bodies and routines, like cushions on a couch slowly sinking imperceptibly until there’s a dent and the pillows have all begun to drown.

That’s kind of how I’ve been dealing with the not-the-favorite phase. Oh, she wants me to read the book about Dada, that’s sweet. Oh, Winnie wants to hug Dada last and not me tonight, that’s something different. Kiddo wants to ride on Dada’s shoulders but not Mama’s? Alrighty, that is a choice between two equal options and she picked one of the two! Chocolate or vanilla! Rainbow sprinkles or chocolate? They are both valid!1

I try to experience the small sting of preference as a single thing that I haven’t experienced before, rather than one that I have. In doing so, I hope I’m not allowing the feeling of hurt to become familiar, to settle into my body, my sense of self. It’s not a perfect solution, but I found that by re-angling my focus, by tilting my head a little and trying to experience the preference as a new single thing rather than a continuation of a larger thing, I was able to dodge some of the hurt over time.

It’s hard though. It seems so silly, to let a toddler hurt my feelings. But I do have feelings! And even if she’s not intending to hurt them, it still stings to feel her wriggle from my arms at night, refusing to let me be the one to kiss her goodnight. Sure it’s her showing healthy attachments to people by doing this, but I want her to exhibit her healthy attachment to meeeeee, the person who carried her around in a little baby backpack until it started hurting my back! That carrier was supposed to prevent this, wasn’t it?!

It’s so easy to wonder if her preference is because my husband cares for her solo a good deal of the time. My profession is Saturday-heavy; we have an arrangement worked out where some weekend mornings I go off to write while they run errands together; he’s the one to get her dressed in the morning.

I could tally up the figures, run the numbers, come up with a statistical reason for why this is, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t think it matters how much or how little one parent does in this type of phase. The heart wants what it wants. Her heart right now wants her Dada.

“She talks about you all the way home,” Patrick assured me the other night. “It’s Go see Mama! See Mama! the whole ride.”

That helped too.

  1. In the name of truth in journalism, this is not true; vanilla with rainbow sprinkles is superior. 
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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