For the record, I used to be her favorite parent. I remember her reaching for me whenever I was nearby. She’d spot me from a hundred yards and start kicking and reaching and, as she got older, tumbling over to me as fast as she could. Upon reflection, I realize now that it was likely because I breastfed her and I was the walking, breathing equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner in her world.
That season didn’t last, of course. She actually weaned herself and never “needed” me that way again. And with rare exception, I haven’t been her preferred parent since that day. My five-year-old daughter adores her daddy. He can do no wrong—except “abandon” her every weekday when he leaves for work.
If I were more insecure in my mothering abilities, I’d be concerned. But I know I’m a halfway decent mom. I keep her and her older brother alive every day. I faithfully make her her favorite kind of macaroni and cheese for lunch, I let her “help” fold clean towels, and I read to her…sometimes. (I didn’t say “perfect.” I said “halfway decent.”) But the fact that my hard-working husband has to go to work every day to make a living seems like a personal slight against his biggest fan. She talks about her day in terms of “when Daddy gets home.” I have long since given up trying to be the favorite parent. I finally realized my best efforts were in vain when, on a whim, I decided to serve the “Daddy Special” for breakfast this summer: vanilla ice cream straight out of the carton. Nothing changed, except she was significantly more hyper that day, asking ten times an hour when Daddy would be home instead of only two or three times per hour.
In talking with other moms of daughters her age, I have found I’m not alone in this struggle. As it turns out, we moms are all the “villains” in our daughters’ ongoing saga of “The Mean Mommy Who Makes Daddy Leave Me Every Day.” They actually take it as a personal affront that we stay home with them while their daddies go to work. The fact that we care for them and about them, and spend the majority of our time painting their toes, doing their laundry, hosting epic dance parties with them—none of that seems to matter all that much. Yet. And I’ve slowly begun to realize that, deep down, I’m okay with it.
I’m thankful my daughter has a daddy she can adore and who adores her in return. He’s predictable and trustworthy, and he’s showing her what a good man looks like by the way he lives. He loves to spend time with her too, and none of that makes me feel left out. It makes me feel blessed.
Because I used to be a little girl too. And my daddy was my favorite parent too. There were years, of course, when neither of my parents were my favorite. But I still watched my dad like a hawk. In spite of his very human flaws, I married a man who is a lot like my dad. And now the man I married is the daddy my daughter adores.
But that’s not where it ends. You see, my mom was there all along, the constant in my formative years. She stayed at home with us for the majority of the time I was growing up, always there when we got off the school bus, ready to put dinner on the table every night. She wasn’t perfect either, but she was there, quick to encourage, first to offer to help us study for a test, and eager to lend a listening ear about our day-to-day struggles. We somehow made it through my teen years when we (I) yelled more than talked. She cheered me on in everything I did, even when I didn’t want to acknowledge it. She gave me solicited and unsolicited advice.
And then I went to college, got married, and moved away. I think I called my mom every single day during those years. I talked to my dad a lot too—but there was something about my mom. I knew instinctively that she would be ready to listen, just as she had while I was growing up. She helped me navigate those early years of meal planning and decorating my first home and living in a new city. Like always, she offered a shoulder to cry on (often through the phone) and a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas. She never changed. Except, what we developed then was more than a mother-daughter relationship. It became a friendship that has lasted through cross-country moves and babies and job changes and countless seasons of uncertainty.
So I won’t worry about being my little girl’s favorite parent. She will likely despise us both when she learns what a curfew is. But I’ll be here for her just the same: listening, loving her, and cheering her on. Because I know I’m not in it for the sprint; I’m in it for the marathon. One day, when she’s grown and gone, married or not, she’ll call me just to talk. And I’ll know then that I’ve won a prize more precious than the title of “favorite.” I’ve won friendship.