Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The preferred parent

It must be so hard to be the not-preferred parent.

All kids go through that phase of having a favourite parent. Sometimes it's Mom, sometimes it's Dad. Sometimes it's the parent they spend most of their time with because they're familiar, sometimes it's the parent they only see for an hour or two before bed because spending time with them seems like a treat. Sometimes it switches from one parent to another. Sometimes it's only when they're a baby, sometimes it's in the toddler and early childhood years. But all kids go through the phase of preferring one parent.

In our house it's always been Mommy for all three of our boys. They love my husband, obviously. They leap up into his arms when he comes in the door from work and start pestering him to play their favourite card game before he's even taken off his coat. They love helping him in the garden and playing soccer in the park and Middle Child coerced him into coaching his soccer team this year. But they're all Mommy's boys and always have been - when they're hurt, when they're sad, when they need help with something, when they want to snuggle, when they want to play, Mommy's the go-to.

For Baby, because he's still a baby, the difference is very pronounced at the moment. It's all Mommy, all the time. He gets excited to see Daddy when he gets home from work, running as fast as his chubby little legs can carry him to the the railing overlooking the front hall yelling "Hi! Hi! Hi!" and dangling his toes through the railing for a tickle. When we're hanging out playing in the same room he's just as happy playing with one of us as the other and will climb up on Daddy's lap with a book and a demand for entertainment just as often as Mommy. But if I make a move to leave the room - or even move a few feet away - he loses his mind, drops what he's doing, leaps off Daddy's lap or slithers off the couch and hurls himself at my legs begging "Up, up." When I run upstairs for a second to grab something he comes with me. When I go to the washroom he comes with me. When my husband is holding him - because I'm in the middle of making a dinner that requires two hands and proximity to a hot surface - he wriggles and squirms and reaches for me.

I love that my boys are Mommy's boys. I love that Baby wants to spend every single second of his life in my arms. But it's exhausting. I don't want to say no when he wants up - I know this time is fleeting, I know in the blink of an eye he'll be too big to pick up, I know he won't always want snuggles, I know he won't always want Mommy all the time - but there are moments of the day when I would literally do anything for five bloody minutes to myself. Anything. I have been known to hang out in the washroom for an extra five minutes just for the peace and quiet and alone time.

But I can't imagine how it must feel from the other parent's perspective. How does my husband feel when Baby pushes him away and stretches out his arms to me? I know, and I'm sure he knows, that it doesn't mean Baby doesn't love him or loves me more - it has nothing to do with that at all - it's just a phase babies go through. But it must still make him feel bad. No-one likes feeling rejected.

Being the preferred parent is exhausting - but if it were the other way around, if Baby ran to my husband instead of me or burst into tears every time he was placed in my arms, I think it would break my heart.

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