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I'm Not the Favorite Parent But I Don't Mind

Photograph by Kristina Wright

I hear the bedroom door open and glance bleary-eyed at my phone. 1:35 a.m. The door closes and little feet shuffle across the floor and around the bed to where my husband sleeps. I hear a small voice say, “Will you come sit with me until I fall asleep again?” My husband stirs, aware of the little person by the bed, though he probably didn’t hear what he said. I repeat, “He wants you to sit with him.” My husband gets out of bed, picks up the warm little boy and carries him to his room and I go back to sleep.

My sons have always preferred my husband for certain things—most things, in fact. He is their playmate and the one who helps them build things. He is the one they most often go to during those middle-of-the-night wake-ups. In a choice between doing something with their father or with me, they most often choose him. And I don’t mind. Really.

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“Don’t you hate it when they want their father instead you?” a friend once asked me. I just smiled and shook my head. I’ve heard it before from other friends. I try to explain. I’m with them more than my husband is, they see me more, have to rely on me more for day-to-day things, so the fact that they prefer him over me when we’re both around doesn’t seem all that surprising—or upsetting. In fact, I feel like it reflects what a good job we’re doing being partners in parenting.

There’s no room for ego or jealousy when I see just how happy and well-adjusted my boys are.

From making breakfast to resolving technical issues in Minecraft to bedtime stories, my husband is the go-to guy when he’s home. And not only do I think it’s a good thing, I also think it gives him a sense of what my day is like when he isn’t around. The constant questions, the requests for juice and “Bubble Guppies” and arts and crafts sessions—he gets to handle all the things I have to handle by default on the days when it’s just me and the kids. There are never any questions of, “What did you do all day?” because he knows what I did, and he knows how hard it is to get anything done.

Having a preference for their father when both of us are available gives me some time to breathe after a long day of childcare. And during those times when I simply cannot be available to them—as was the case last year when I spent nearly a week in the hospital—I have peace of mind in knowing they feel they can turn to my husband for anything. I never get texts asking me where something is or what to do with regard to a parenting situation. I never have a child clinging to me as I walk out the door to go to the grocery store. When their father is around, all is well and the three of them do just fine without me.

And the best part is hearing, “Mama, we had fun, but we missed you,” when I get home. That feels like a parenting win to me.

There are a few exceptions when it comes to the preferential parent treatment. The kids come to me when they’re hurt. I am the one who applies the bandage, plucks the splinter or applies the cold compress after they’ve vomited. And I am usually the one who handles the bath duties at night. (Maybe because I allow for longer, more leisurely baths with toys and bubbles while my husband is the more efficient bather of the two of us, getting them in and out without the frills?) So, boo-boos and baths—that’s my domain when my husband is around. Everything else … that’s him. And it’s a good thing.

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My husband recently made a career switch from the military to teaching and this is the first summer he’ll be home as much as I will. It will be interesting to see how the family dynamics change—or if they do. I imagine there will be a little more equity in the requests when the kids have us both in a concentrated dose. But I won’t be upset if they still choose their father for most things. The important thing to me is that they have a strong and trusting relationship with both of us. There’s no room for ego or jealousy when I see just how happy and well-adjusted my boys are, knowing they have two parents who love them and are there for them, no matter what.

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