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Playing Favorites

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.


22 Responses

  1. This made me sad to read, i can feel your sadness. I’m sad for all of you, really, because I can imagine that it feels just as hard for D to feel like the ‘favourite’ one, and to see you feeling a little dejected. You guys need no advice though, I know that. I have every faith that this will be a small hurdle that will soon be long forgotten, that together you will have the answer, that this is indeed, as you suspect, a phase.

    • Thank you for that. We aren’t in a position where we can soak up lots of sympathy from older, wiser relatives, so I’ll take what I can get! 😉

  2. You know the truth in your gut. It’s not because you aren’t the birth mom; it’s not because you are less than. You know that it probably stems from something that actually has nothing to do with your child, but as you stated, possibly family dynamics regarding being on the same page with the parenting stuff you mentioned. You and your wife will work this out. Don’t let the lies cloud your gut insight.

    • I think you are absolutely right. We’re working on some of the parenting discrepancies. I’m grateful that this is the first time we’ve had to deal with this. Two years isn’t bad!

  3. This is hard. I am gearing up for this for sure, because I know it will happen one day. Everyone I know who has had a 2 year has talked about the playing favorites. It definitely seems to be a phase though, which means it will end at some point!

  4. I feel your pain. The little guy is crazy for Baker, like, SUPER crazy for her…. Every last thing you described, is what is happening in our house. Playing favorites suck, having to be the one to say “no more gummy bears” sucks, having to be the one pushing along the bedtime routine or they will drag it out for an hour past his bedtime sucks…. I feel like chopped liver half the time. The good news is that since I am the birth mom, I can fully guarantee you that she hasn’t picked D because she was the birth mom. Trust me. It’s just these little ones seeing how much they can toy with our hearts, I swear.

  5. I’m my son’s gestational parent…and my wife is the one he swoons for. He’s been in a “mommy” phase for a couple of months now–so much so that this past week I kind of delighted the day that he was a complete PIA for her 😉 Over the past 2 1/2 years he’s definitely gone through mama and mommy preference times…and they always blow over, or change. I totally get the pain of it, we try not to take it personally as well–and psychiatrist google reports that this favoring is really, really, common. 1st time/2nd time had a blog post about this at one point or another–and their strategy was to basically make sure that their kiddos preferences were not indulged (so, if you want to read a story, it’s mama or nothing kiddo). That seems to work in our house to shorten the spells a bit…
    Here’s the post:

  6. As the non-birth parent, I worry about this. At 8 months old, our daughter clearly prefers her birth mom. We both breastfeed, but my wife produces much more and is the primary breastfeeder. Just as important, she was the primary parent while I finished law school and studied for the bar. I will be the one working outside the house starting in a few weeks, and it’s so hard knowing that this pattern is likely to continue. I am glad for you that you got the two years of relative equality, and hope that things shift back for you soon.
    My rabbi once told me that parenting is a series of shifts, that as soon as you get used to one thing it changes, and that at different periods the burdens and joys of parenting will shift between parents, too. I try to remember that.

    • The best thing we’ve been able to do is to continue to set-up opportunities where she really is only with one of us. I take her to music. I read goodnight stories. I run while she chases. We watch bumblebees and butterflies in the garden before school. She may even love you more when you’re around less often!

  7. *hugs*

    Two is freaking HARD.

    I don’t know. I know n plays favorites all the freaking time; it goes back and forth even within a day. But we definitely have days/weeks where one mom is the only good mom (and the other mom is ON FIRE). I do think that it’s probably easier for me as the bio-mom, since I know obviously my relationship with her isn’t at risk. I don’t know how J feels about it, though, and I worry sometimes, and try to remind her of the times when I am on fire, as it were.

    (Which is plenty. For the last two weeks, every morning I’ve gotten her up, she’s thrown her head into her pillow, sobbing. “NO. MAMA. I NEED MAMA. I NEED TO SEE HER.”)

    And I know I went through phases as a pre-teen and teen where I told my step-dad he wasn’t my REAL dad. Mind, he totally was, and is my father in every real meaning of the word, and we have an amazing relationship now. But when things get rough, kids will cling to whatever they can do to throw in your face and push your buttons, and I do dread that.

    • This means so much as we have watched you as role models as n grows! She’s like our kid alarm – look what cuteness is coming! Now that you mention it, I distinctly remember playing favorites with my own parents and my sisters. It will pass, now…to just get it to stop sucking!

  8. We have been through “favorites” at our home too. Our DD is also 2 years old. My wife has taken things pretty hard when she’s pulled this intermittently over the past 1 1/2 years. She found it helpful to be a part of a non-bio mom group on FB. Our daughter hasn’t been too bad lately. In fact, when I’m not around, she is a perfect friggen angel with my wife, add me to the mix and the devil seems to come out. I’m sure she’ll fluctuate again, I just try and stop things and redirect her as much as I can. If you are interested in joining the group, email me and I’ll have my wife get you in. Good luck!

  9. Oh, this stuff is so hard. My son is 3 1/2 and has done this kind of thing off and on. I agree with all of the folks above that this is totally normal. Part of being 2 is experimenting in order to figure out what kind of control she can have on her environment. And since you guys are around her the most, you are the lucky ones who get experimented on the most. It sounds like you’re doing lots of great things already–setting up one-on-one time, finding ways to be more on the same page in terms of rules and limits, and finding ways to not take it personally when RR pulls this stuff. I totally get the temptation to take it personally and to imagine that it’s about all of my failings as a parent, but it’s definitely not about that (or about being the non-bio mom).

    • Taking it personally is the number one thing I have to watch out for! The note about control though makes a lot of sense. Of course she’s experimenting on us. She’s like a tiny little raging einstein. Or…maybe that’s just her hair.

  10. Hi,

    I’m the birth mom, but I’m really the dad and we all know it at our house and I’m the one who works outside of the home 42 hours per week. Our 2.5 strongly prefers her other mother right now. It’s killing me, too. I have no great words of wisdom. Just…it isn’t probably about birth mom / non birth mom.

  11. Critter hasn’t hit Two yet (and to be honest, I’m more scared of Three), and he hasn’t done *much* favoring so far, I don’t think. Not exactly, anyway.

    I read somewhere that with very young children there’s a tendency for there to be a “food parent” and a “play parent”. In our household, both by happenstance of biology (PB gave birth to and nurses Critter; I didn’t and don’t, although I did and do feed him sometimes) and inclination, PB is the food one and I’m the play one. She’s also the one who generally spends all day with him while I’m at work. When we all get home in the evening, she likes having the time alone to make dinner, and I enjoy having the time to play with Critter.

    This works for us for the most part, but sometimes I definitely feel like the auxiliary parent, and I think sometimes she feels like boring parent. The truth is that neither of us is unnecessary or uninteresting, but… it can be easy to fall into ways of thinking, you know? If you and D can make sure you’re on the same page about parenting behaviors, so that you *know* that you’re not actually being the enforcer all the time, at least it might help you feel a little better about it. Maybe?

    I don’t think it’s about the biology, I truly don’t. I think it’s the Two. It’s hard. Parenting is hard. The unconditional love is hard, harder than it sounds. “I love you” when you come running over to give me a giant hug is easy; “I love you” when you just responded to my request not to throw an empty bath cup at my face by throwing a bath cup full of water at my face is more challenging. (Not that something like that happened this very evening in our house or anything… Ahem.)

    All that said, I think the best thing I can say is something similar to what you said to me a while back. Keep breathing, and remember that this too shall pass.


    • About the bath cup? Do I ever know what you’re talking about! Thanks for your perspective – it definitely helps. Also, I’ve heard monstrous things about 3. As in, everyone I know with a 3 saying, “Two is NOTHING. Wait until she’s three (eyeroll and getting pale)!” Yikes. I can only hope she’s getting it out of her system now!

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