On Being the Second-Best Parent

My kids prefer their father. Both of them. Always have, probably always will.

When my first son was very young, he went through a major Daddy phase and it absolutely broke my heart. I don't think I've ever experienced anything as painful as my little boy rejecting me in favor of his dad—I mean, he would actually run from me, crying, with his arms held up to my husband. It tore me up, made me feel unlovable. It caused all kinds of raging self esteem issues to come rising up from the murky depths of my soul and I felt like my son could see what a bad person I truly was on the inside. It made me feel like an utter failure at the most important job I'd ever have.

It was hard, is what I'm saying. Very, very hard.


He grew out of that stage, though, as everyone told me he would. My second son, thank God, never went through anything that extreme.

Both my boys are happy to spend time with me, and they're very cuddly. They love hugs, they run to the door yelling, "MOM!" whenever I come home. We have a good time together. But oh, I am most definitely not Daddy.

My oldest basically thinks Daddy can do anything. Daddy can fix anything, he knows everything, Daddy hung the moon and the stars in the sky. Riley will eyeball me critically while I'm wrestling with a broken toy or whatever and say, "Hmm, maybe we should wait for Dad to get home." He wants to be a builder when he grows up, "like how Daddy can build things." He loves camping with Daddy, wrestling on the floor with Daddy, and the other day I got him to take a bite of a muffin I'd made by telling him Daddy had cooked it.

My youngest loves to step his tiny toddler feet into his father's shoes and go clumping around the house like a pint-sized walking talking metaphor. He too loves wrestling and roughhousing and all those Daddy things he does so well. When Dylan's sick, there's nowhere he'd rather be than stretched out on his father's chest, both of them covered in his tiny blanket.

While nothing's been as difficult to deal with as Riley's rejection phase, it always made me feel a little bad that I've never been the preferred parent. I eventually stopped taking it so personally—realizing that of course my kids love me too, and that I also play an important role in their lives—but the twinges were still there. Especially after a long crappy day at work when I wasn't as engaged as I could have been and my oldest pitched a tantrum because it was my turn to put him to bed, not Dad's.

In the last few weeks, this ongoing sense of imbalance seems to be righting itself. It's a little hard to describe, because they're still a couple of Daddy's boys through and through, but I feel like we're connecting in ways we weren't before. Now that I'm home with them, I get their undivided attention all day long. I get the reassurance that they like being with me, and they don't just view me as that one lady who fixes the snacks.

When my husband comes home and they rush to his side, I don't feel resentful or like a fourth wheel—I just feel happy. I feel like we're a strong, loving family unit.

I guess it's really about me, not them. It's about my confidence as a mother, and how it's improved since I've started working from home. It's about being okay with not being the favorite parent, because really, it doesn't matter. There's more than enough love to go around.

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