What It's Like When You're Not The Favorite Parent

by Mike Julianelle
AleksandarNakic / iStock

My son likes my wife more than me.

Yup, he’s a bit of a mama’s boy. I know it’s normal for young kids to have an attachment to their mothers. After spending nine months living in someone’s body and then another year or so relying on that body for sustenance, you’d get attached too. Besides, he’s not even 2, so I’m not super concerned that he’ll develop into some freaky Norman Bates type guy—yet.

So I understand why he likes Mom more than dear old Dad, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally hurt my feelings.

Except when it works to my advantage.

Parenting is a team sport. All kids require—or at least benefit from—having all hands on deck. As a parent, it’s always better to have backup, especially with a toddler. They can’t do anything by themselves. They always need an adult to help, always, and if only one person is expected to handle all the parenting, things will get ugly for everyone in a hurry. My wife and I are lucky that we have each other to share the burden that is raising our son, and we do our best to share the burden.

When it comes to the day-to-day tedium of raising a healthy, well-adjusted, not-walking-around-with-greasy-hair-and-a-diaper-full-of-dump little boy, we switch off the daily duties. One morning I’ll get up with him, even if he’s crying for Mommy instead (which he is, every day). The next day, Mommy will, even if he’s throwing me a bone with a half-hearted cry of “Daddy” (any port in a storm). This time she’ll change his diaper. That time, I will. I’ll handle one bath, she’ll handle another, and so on. It’s a rotation, and it works.

But as he gets older and is able to express himself slightly better, he sometimes makes it clear that he will only allow one person to brush his teeth, and one person only. Nine times out of 10, the person getting such preferential treatment is Mom. When it’s my turn, and I go to pick him up to start the bedtime routine and he reacts with a backpedal and a scream, it’s not the best feeling in the world. It hurts.

Yet, despite the slight hit my pride takes in these situations, there’s a silver lining. Because you know what is the best feeling in the world? Cracking a beer without a crying baby in sight.

So it’s fine with me if my wife is the one who gets dragged into the bedtime routine; I’ll just go relax. Oh, Daddy’s not good enough for you? It’s all good; I’ll just sit here and watch a few innings of the game while Mommy brushes your teeth, and Mommy reads you a story, and Mommy lays you down to sleep. Maybe I’ll crack a second beer to wash down my hurt feelings. Yes, my pride is bruised. I love my son, and I’m a good dad, and I deserve recognition for my parenting contributions, dammit! Then again: Fuck pride.

You’d think the flip side of this—me, relaxing while my wife gets called in from the bullpen againmight annoy her. And you’d be right. But we both realize that this is just a phase, that there will be nights when only Daddy is allowed to carry him to his room, only Daddy can soothe his fickle nerves with a bedtime story, only Daddy can be there for night-night. At which point Mommy will pour herself a healthy glass of wine and stare at the wall with the glazed eyes and silent contentment of a woman who can’t remember the last time she sat down in silence, let alone with alcohol in her hand.

So for the time being, the same way that I shrug off my slightly bruised feelings and manage to take advantage of a few extra minutes of idle time by relaxing with a drink or a book or five drinks, she shrugs off her annoyance at being the go-to guardian for some of the most annoying rituals of parenting, and instead relishes the extra cuddles it affords her—all the while adding yet another sacrifice to the ledger, inching one step closer to earning some over-compensatory gift of flowers, or a back massage, or a few episodes of Downton Abbey, from a guilty husband.

It’s parenthood, and we’re a two-person team (as opposed to NBC’s Parenthood, where every night there is a family reunion and everyone pitches in!). We take the good with the bad, even if the bad is an ungrateful toddler’s arbitrary decision to refuse his father’s touch for a few nights in row. Mommy gets some extra love that occasionally curdles into irritating over-dependence, and I get a brief reprieve that occasionally sours into feelings of being unwanted.

Together we help each other through, trading off when we can, secure in the knowledge that if we can just hang on—for another 10 to 12 years at most—our sweet little guy will no longer play favorites.

He’ll hate us both equally.