Saturday, January 4, 2014

Playing Favorites

We hear about siblings claiming their parents have a favorite child. But what happens when a child has a favorite parent?

Young children are known for having a preferred parent. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from a friend or read in another mommy blog about a little one who hero-worships his mother and utterly rejects his poor father. It happens in my own home! There was a time when my little guy couldn't even bear to watch my husband give me a hug. He would turn away in horror, shielding his eyes from this threatening sight. His possessiveness has improved with age. Now that he's four years old, he still prefers that I brush his teeth, bathe him, put him to bed, and just about anything else that involves one person spending time with another; but things are sloooowly changing. Now there are times when my son gently and sweetly (so as not to hurt my feelings) asks me to leave the room so he and his fun-loving dad can properly play trains. And he'll accept it, mostly without incident, when I'm attending a school meeting and my husband has to put him to bed. (Although he still requires fair warning.) Basically, I can see his progress toward opening up to the idea of having two parents.

How does my son's intense attachment make me feel? Loved and flattered, of course. But also exhausted. I can feel the crushing weight of his expectations, my total lack of freedom that comes with his need for my undivided attention. Then there's my husband's feelings. I'm lucky on that front. My husband's patience is admirable. He is very understanding about this stage of our son's life; he knows that eventually our son's world view will change.

My little guy's entree into our family has also affected my daughter. There has been a shift in my relationship with her. It used to be that I was her world, too. She was almost as mommy-centric as my son is now. Once he came into the world, he took over with such force that she was cast out of that role overnight. She was six at the time, so she had enjoyed a long reign, but the change was swift and permanent, my guilt palpable.

But there's something more.

It's no surprise that my unavailability forced my daughter to search elsewhere for the attention she needed. She developed a relationship with my husband that has grown into something more than she and I had shared. As father and daughter have spent more time together and our daughter's persona has developed with age, they've become close. Rather than the snuggles and baths and trips to the playground she and I had shared when she was small, she began to share discoveries, thoughts and opinions with her dad. They found that their personalities were similar; they are both reserved, meticulous observers. With so much in common it has become clear over time that they are kindred spirits.

I am grateful that my daughter has found someone in this world who understands her so well. It's great that she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings with her dad. It seems so rare that a father is able to relate to his daughter on such an emotional level. What a lucky thing for her to grow up with that solid presence by her side.

This is not to say that I've given up being close with her myself. I want more than anything to be her best friend! I long to be the person she comes to when she argues with a friend, the shoulder she cries on the first time someone breaks her heart. I feel a surge of ugly jealousy when she has lengthy conversations with my husband about her day at school. She and I talk about her day, too, but somehow she seems to delve deeper when she talks to him.

Time will likely change the dynamics in our family again and again. That's the nature of things: they change. Still, it's possible that my daughter has found a connection with her father that she and I may not achieve. Our personalities may just be too disparate for her to feel comfortable coming to me. The thought frightens and saddens me, at the same time, I'm so happy for her that she has him. So many girls grow up looking for love from the daddy who was never there for them. That will never be my daughter's fate.

Meanwhile, my son is still very young, but his personality seems to have more in common with my own. As he matures, I'm interested to see what type of relationship we'll develop. I'm still chugging along down this mysterious and confusing road with my daughter. She's on the verge of adolescence, so I'm thinking things will get worse before they get better, but I haven't given up. All I can do is wait and see. And keep trying.