My Daughter Loves Her Dad More Than Me Right Now & I'm Struggling

daughter kissing her dad on cheek
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"Hello, Dumpling," she says, sitting in his lap and slithering her arms around his neck. Where did she learn to use a romantic, coy voice? 

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This is, after all, my 5-year-old ... talking to her father. 

"Hello, Cookie Crumb," she whispers into his neck.

"Cookie Crumb?" I say, surprised yet amused.

She scowls at me, angry at the interruption. "Well, Natalie always calls Corey 'Cookie Crumb,'" she says, referring to two kindergarten classmates. Slight pause. "What's a cookie crumb?" she asks, pure innocence. 

"It's a little piece of cookie that falls off," I say.

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She doesn't get it. There is so much about love she does not know. But she certainly loves Daddy aka "Dumpling." Otherwise known as Cookie Crumb, Dada, and, occasionally, Steve.

Last summer, when we were on vacation, she watched my husband and me hit tennis balls back and forth. Amy gloated whenever I missed a shot. "Mommy's no good at tennis," she said gleefully. "Daddy's much better."

My daddy, she likes to call him. My daddy is great. My daddy is handsome. My daddy's the best, the tallest, the smartest. My daddy is perfect. 

I'd heard all about the Oedipal phase. A psychiatrist friend has assured me that my daughter's behavior is entirely developmentally normal. Who knew how much it would bother me? Who knew how much I'd miss my baby, who used to shriek with joy when I came home from work? As exhausting as the toddler years were, I still felt lavishly cherished, because she usually demanded Mama over Dada.

Now if I sneeze, she says, "Ugh! Disgusting!" But when her father sneezes, she sing-songs, "God bless you, dear Daddy." 

For the past two years, she has made it clear that she wants to marry him. "But he's already married to me," I'll remind her.

"Okay." Grudging voice. Sore loser tone. "Then, I'll marry a stranger."

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At summer camp, she proposed to two boys. They are both tall for their age and athletic, like her daddy. Gentle, kind, nice boys. Her father is a good role model. I should feel grateful. So, why am I still jealous of her affections?

Five years ago, we created a baby out of love, extending our twosome to a family. Now, we are a triangle.

Recently, one weekend, she said, "Mommy, Daddy's taking me swimming today." She caught his eye, and murmured, "Right, Daddy?"

"Great idea," I said. "I'll come too."

"No, you don't have to come," she said. "Don't you have work to do? Or shopping? Don't you want to sleep? Take a nap, Mommy. We'll see you later." 

Alone, I watch my daughter leave with my husband, holding his hand.

Sure, I should have just used the free time to read a book, take a nap, catch up on errands that never get done. Why couldn't I relax? 

I thought to myself, Aren't I supposed to be more mature than this?

The following weekend, Steve insisted I come along. He firmly told Amy it's not nice to leave people out. She frowned all the way to the park. My feelings were hurt. I'm not beyond acting like a 5-year-old myself sometimes. Sulking, I separated myself from them, choosing a bench way on the other side of the park.

When Amy noticed I was missing, she ran over to me. "Why are you all the way over here?" she asked.

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"I thought you didn't want me around," I said.

"Don't be silly, Mommy. Why wouldn't I want you around?" She sat very close to me and rubbed my arms. Out of the blue she said, "I'm afraid to go to sleep away camp."

"That's many years away. By that time, you'll be older, and you'll want to go."

She shook her head adamantly. "No. I'd miss seeing you."

"You would?" I replied, surprised to sound surprised.

We shared a few moments of silence. Unspoken love. It's not the smitten, puppy-dog infatuation she flirts around with her father. I'm not the prince she dreams about.

But in our silence, I realized how much she depends on me. How she cries out for me in the night when she's scared. How she shares her innermost fears and awaits my advice. How she hugs me when I give her medicine to make her well, resting her feverish head on my cheek and whispering into my ear, "Mommy, you're the best." Maybe it would feel better to be blindly adored, but I know our relationship is about much more. I may not be her "dumpling," but it's still spectacular to hear "Mommy, you're the best."

Suddenly, she jumped up. "Let's go on the swings," she cried. "C'mon!" Then, she demanded that Steve and I both push her. He takes the front while I push from the back. She squealed as she goes higher.

"Mommy! Daddy!" She could barely catch her breath, she was laughing so hard.

The very next morning, she served her daddy orange juice while my place mat remained empty. I thought, I will never get used to this. I had no choice but to get my own orange juice. My husband beat me to it, rushing to serve me a glass. A gesture so small, yet it felt monumentally kind. We toast to our family.

"To Daddy Dumpling," Amy said, and when she noticed the disappointed look on my face, she quickly added, "And Mommy too."

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