My son’s first word was “Dada.” His first sentence was “I want Dada.” His second sentence was “Where’s the Dada?”
He insists that Dada builds his towers of blocks and reads his favorite book about the truck. Only Dada can give him a bath and put him to bed. Dada is the first person he requests when he wakes up in the morning and the last person he wants to see before he drifts into that blissful sleep that only toddlers can achieve.
I can’t quite pinpoint when my son’s obsession with my husband began. I do know that the older he gets, the more he prefers my husband to me. And the more rejected I feel.
It feels terribly unnatural to be the mother and not be the one your child requests when he falls down and scrapes his knee. Apparently Dada’s kisses on boo-boos have magical powers; mine do not. Mine induce even more tears. Dada also elicits bigger smiles and gigglier giggles.
On my good days, I find this all incredibly endearing and I couldn’t be happier about the unbreakable bond my son and husband have formed. They are best buddies, amigos, troublemakers, always cracking each other up, and playing silly made-up games where I’ll never understand the rules.
On my bad days, I cry myself to sleep and consider talking to a shrink about the complex I’ve developed over feeling like a second-class citizen in my own home.
When I tell my mom friends about my family dynamic, they all claim jealousy:
“I would love it if my kids preferred their father over me. I never get a break.”
“Count your blessings. My 18-month-old clings to me 24/7.”
“Ugh. All I hear is ‘Mooommm.’ For once I want them to chant ‘Daaadddd.’”
These comments don’t make me feel better as I’m sure they were intended to. In fact, they make me feel worse. They make me feel like the only mom who ever lived who isn’t the center of her child’s universe. I feel like a failure.
I know my child inside and out. I know that he will only eat his grapes if you cut them in half, horizontally. I know that the only guaranteed way to get him to nap is to put him in the car and drive up and down the coast, with the windows cracked open so he can hear the waves crashing. I know he absolutely hates to sleep with socks on. I know it takes him a little while to warm up to kids he doesn’t know so people assume he’s shy, but he’s actually just observant.
And I know, I really do know, that he loves me.
He lived in my body for nine months, and then he ate from my body for six months after that, and then he was strapped to my body until I started to get judgmental looks from strangers because he was clearly busting out of the baby carrier and I was wearing him more for my sake than his. We are connected in a way that only a mother and her child can be.
When it’s just the two of us, we have the best time together. We have our own special rituals, like going to the local bakery for bagels every Sunday morning to give my husband a break from the little person constantly affixed to his calves. We laugh and sing and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
However, when we get that precious family-of-three time together, it’s abundantly clear that when given the choice, my son chooses my husband. Every. Single. Time.
To my husband’s credit, he understands how deeply upset I am over being “The Reject Parent” (my label, not his). He always encourages my son to go to me. When my son walks over to my husband with a book in hand, my husband will say, “Why don’t you ask Mommy to read you that book? Her animal voices are much better than mine.” He never takes the bait, my husband inevitably ends up reading him the book, and I sit and watch with a fake smile plastered on my face while my hearts breaks just a bit more.
Like everything else in a child’s life, this is probably just a phase. I’ve discovered motherhood is really just a series of unbelievably wonderful and simultaneously difficult phases. And just when you think a particular phase is going to actually kill you (like the cluster-feeding phase or the cutting molars phase), it’s over and replaced by something life-affirming (like the first gummy smile phase or the long-awaited self-feeding phase).
This, too, shall pass. My husband can’t wait and neither can I.