Remember the episode on Friends when Frank Jr. brings the triplets to Central Perk and expresses his exhaustion-inspired desire for Phoebe to take one of them? One by one, she asks which one he would be willing to give up, but Frank Jr. can’t do it. Each child has a specific quality that is endearing and not worth sacrificing: Frank Jr. Jr. is funny; Leslie can burp the alphabet; and Chandler is his “little genius.” Frank just wants–needs–a break. He says, “I mean, you know, they drive me crazy, but they’re my babies.”
I do know, Frank. At any given point during the day, I don’t like at least one of my children. And when that happens I can safely say I like another one better. But I really couldn’t ever pick a favorite kid.
My three kids all have three very unique personalities, and these personalities go hand in hand with how it feels to parent them. I have a very easy child, a very difficult child, and one who is often both on any given day. My ex-partner and I often say, “Can you imagine if we only had Easy Child? Even just Easy Child with Fluctuating Difficulty Child would be cake.” Or, “OMG, do you get the impression Difficult Child would love to be an only child?”
Before you get all worked up, I don’t really call them this. And their ability to be parented in a way that either makes my head explode or not isn’t a prerequisite for my love for them. Nor does it mean my most difficult child is my least favorite.
Two of my three kids are very social; they love to spend time with friends and usually prefer to go to someone else’s house to play. This is smart because when a buddy of theirs enters our house of bonkers there is usually sibling rivalry and a jealously-fueled ambush on said playdate. That jealous sibling who can’t get their shit together is the child I don’t like all that much in that moment. But then on another day, that same ragey child will be called a delight by someone who just benefited from my child’s best behavior while at school, a birthday party, or a friend’s house.
Well, sure. Each one of my kids is pretty great one-on-one. Undivided attention without the need to fight for physical or emotional resources is a commodity they crave and don’t get enough of. I have an unlimited supply of guilt over this. I wish I could give my kids more individual attention, but I am barely managing to juggle all of life’s responsibilities without putting unnecessary pressure on myself to be “perfect.” I also need to give myself some grace here because studies have shown that the number of kids that cause the most stress is three. I am at critical mass.
I do the best I can. Their needs are met. They are healthy, happy, and more or less clean. When it comes to spending time with them, I try to focus on quality, not quantity.
But I also call them assholes under my breath. I very much dislike my child when he lashes out at me for not getting the Scotch tape I didn’t know he needed. I remind myself that I will like my child again when she is done telling me she hates living here because I gave her a new toothbrush. And I can’t stand my daughter when she screeches in frustration and anger when a Lego project goes awry. But when two or all of them are simultaneously acting like feral animals, I am not ashamed to admit I am drawn to the child who not throwing themselves into tantrums of despair. Nor am I above telling you that the first one of the three to “turn it around” becomes the most likable child.
When I am upset with them, my kids will sometimes pull the lower lip out and declare that I don’t love them. This is pure theatrics as they try out the victim role to get out of the trouble they landed themselves in. I am quick to mention that I always love them, but I don’t always love or even like their actions.
“So you don’t like me?!”
“I didn’t say that. But do you like ME right now? It doesn’t seem like you do.” I will ask this question partly to deflect and partly to show them it’s okay to not always like one another.
“Well, I still love you.”
Sometimes we just have to walk away from each other. I love them all with an equal fierceness, but I don’t always like them.
And sometimes I like one child better than the other, but this isn’t always because the others are out of their mind with crappy behavior. I am reading the Harry Potter series to my oldest daughter and in those moments together I really like her. My son loves music and tends to like the non-Top 40 stuff I pick out and play when it’s just the two of us. I can’t help but love his need to dance when the music comes on. My younger daughter, and my son’s twin sister, has confidence that has no bounds. She spent all summer on her Razor scooter at the skate park, daring herself to try as many ramps as possible. My heart burst with pride every time another parent told me how good she was. She is my bravest and I really like her too.
I don’t have a favorite. They drive me fucking nuts, but that’s how love works. And any time another parent offers to take one of them off of my hands, I think about it and then say, “Nah, they’re the good one.”