I’ve been letting this post simmer for a few days, wanting to be sure I could settle in enough that I was speaking more from resignation and acceptance than from anger or impatience. I’ve had a particularly trying week with RR and what’s especially frustrating is that I’m the only one having a trying week.
My daughter is playing favorites and I’m not it.
Maybe there are times that I am, but lately, if given a choice, she’ll pick D over me every single time. Really, without fail. Even the things we routinely do together – reading before bed, taking a bath – she does begrudgingly, as if to say, “You’ll do, mama, but I don’t have to like it.” For example, if I’m the first one to pick her up and console her after a fall, she’ll take it. However, as soon as my wife walks into the room, she’s ready for a transfer. Stat.
She does plenty of cute things when she’s with D. She also does plenty of obnoxious things, like pulling on her pants, demanding to be picked up, begging for hand-washing, pleading to watch Elmo. I’m not the recipient of any of them, cute or not. If I’m chopping fruit in the kitchen, she comes blinking sweetly to ask for a piece, but it’s my wife she goes to when she wants to eat. If I suggest she ride her rocking horse, she’ll hop on, but it’s my wife she wants to clap her hands and cheer her on. I’m an accessory to her wants and needs. And recently, I’m the barrier between her and what she wants most – my wife.
I’ve spent a lot of time telling myself it’s a phase. But the frustrating (and surely untrue) thoughts keep creeping in. She likes her best because she’s the fun mom who never takes away a toy or says she can’t have what she wants. She likes her best because D appears to love her more. She always picks RR up when she asks regardless of whether we’re getting dressed or trying to get out the door. She likes her best because D will go to great lengths to avoid tantrums while I brace myself for Tropical Storm R. And worst of all, I worry she likes her best because she’s the birth mom.
I can tell you that in two years and one month I have never really felt like my daughter loved me less because I didn’t carry her. And I can tell you that I’m heartbroken I feel that way now. The two years should be a tip-off. She’s two, after all. That’s what I try to tell myself. But day after day goes by while I watch her dole out rare affection to my wife, go to her for all of her basic needs, and reserve screaming, struggling and shouting for me.
My arsenal of coping skills is thin. I have the single (ineffective) skill I learned from my family which is to ignore tears and eventually they will stop. I have two or three tricks from camp counseling and babysitting: laughter, distraction, patience. I have an excellent spouse who does everything she can to encourage RR to try to embrace us more equally (not just for me, but for her own piece of mind as well). And I have the weak body of knowledge that says kids do this. That maybe, someday, it will stop.
Let me tell you, that doesn’t make it any better. I doubt myself: Do I show her how much I love her? Am I cold and unapproachable? There must be something wrong with me. Less than. So I try to express my feelings when possible on a two-year-old scale. But mostly that means being prepared to receive her attention whenever she wants to give it and maintaining a steady stream of unconditional love. Unconditional love. That may be the cardinal rule of parenting, but they never tell you how hard it’s going to be.