My family was cruising along in our car the other day when my 6 year-old piped up, “Mom, are you going in to the office tonight or are you staying home with us?”
“Staying home buddy,” I replied.
“Yay!” he squealed with an enthusiasm that implied that I am never, ever home. Which is amusing since I am almost always home. “I want you to give me a bath. And read books to me. And put me to bed. Ok, Mom? Ok?”
“What am I? Chopped liver?” my husband chimed in. ”What’s wrong with me putting you to bed?” He was mostly joking. But he also had a tone of genuine curiosity that communicated, what exactly does your mom do better than me?
He didn’t get his answer. The conversation quickly moved to the cool red Mustang that was racing by in the fast lane. Undistracted by the sports car, my mind was left on the subject of favorites. I understand why my boys favor me when it comes to daily routines. I’m kinder and gentler… some would say a pushover. I gave birth to them. I breastfed them. I woke up with them in the middle of the night, over and over and over again. My body is softer, my tone is softer… I’m just soft.
Truth be told, there have been times when I’ve wanted to stand in the middle of the room and scream, “I don’t want to be anyone’s favorite right now! Hand’s off, people. Back away from the mothership. Fend for yourself. I need some space!”
When I start feeling that way, I know it’s time to schedule a meeting or a girl’s night, and excuse myself for a few hours. Turning on Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and doing a crazy, gyrating dance in the kitchen also does wonders.
My husband, Todd, takes our boys’ favoritism with a grain of salt. He is usually quite happy to say, “You want your mom? Great. I have things to do in the garage,” and saunter out of the house with a satisfied look on his face. Perhaps he shrugs off their requests for mama because he knows their opinions and preferences change as frequently as the Texas weather. He’s well aware that they switch allegiances when convenient, declaring their devotion to Daddy. Dad’s better at teaching us how to ride a bike, Mom. Dad lets us order root beer, Mom. Dad will be able to fix that when he gets home. Dad’s just better, Mom…
He really is better sometimes. There are days when I come home from work, and I notice the wide smiles. My three men have been out and about on some adventure and they did just fine. In fact, more than just fine. It’s those moments when I know the favoritism is fleeting and shallowly anchored at best. Our boys love their mom and dad equally and benefit from our unique strengths, even if they don’t always recognize it.
When you have a family of distinctive individuals (and not uniform robots) there will be a natural flow in the relationships. Sometimes your children will instinctively lean toward you. Other times it will be your partner. Sometimes one of your kids will seem like an angel flown in from heaven, who can’t do anything wrong. Wait a few days and that same child might resemble a demon, determined to make your life a living hell. Resist the urge to latch onto permanent labels such as “easier child”, “better parent”, “Daddy’s girl”, or “Mommy’s boy”. When we put ourselves or our children in these favoritism-tinged boxes, we limit our family’s ability to flex and evolve with changing circumstances. Instead of buying into favoritism, go with the flow and focus on simply loving. Your family might resemble lumpy, uneven cake batter at times, but with consistent love and warmth, everything will sweetly even out in the end.
Here’s to Sanity and Shaking It Off,