“Where’s Daddy?” one of my three sons will inevitably ask, almost immediately after waking up.
I sigh. We've been through this dozens of times before.
“Daddy’s at work,” I’ll say. “You know that.”
“I want Daddy to be hooooooooome,” he’ll wail.
All throughout the day, I'll hear it, again and again, like a constant refrain: “When will Daddy be home?”
“At four o’clock, like every day," I tell them patiently.
“When we get home, will Daddy be home?” they ask. It’s noon.
“No,” I say. “Daddy will not be home."
“But I want Daddy!”
This happens all day, every day: the kids like Daddy better. They must have Daddy home. He’s the fun parent. When Daddy finally walks in the door, they yell in unison, “Daddy," as if they're on a sitcom. They squeal and run toward him. He gives them all hugs and they hang on him. Then he goes back to the bedroom and hands out dollar bills for them to walk on his back. Sometimes, he purposefully makes them fall off. This is apparently the height of amusement for all parties.
I’m the "mean mom." I’m the one who insists that they clean up before they move on to other activities. I'm the one who makes them carry their plates into the kitchen.
My kids like Daddy better than Mama. Daddy's just more fun. Mama is never sufficient. And it sucks for Mama.
This pattern of my kids preferring my husband to myself started emerging as soon as they started to wean. With the exception of my 3-year-old son, who hugs me even if I’ve just been running laps at the track or he’s just seen me five minutes ago, they just inevitably begin to prefer Daddy. Once the boobs are taken out of the equation, Daddy's just more fun.
My husband swears that when I’m gone, my kids pester him as to when I'm coming back, just like they do with me. He swears that they weep at my absence and beg to know when I’ll be home. And he says when I come in the door, they swarm me. But I know that's not exactly true. They don’t swarm me. In fact, with the exception of my 3-year-old, they barely look up.
I know one of the reasons why they don’t appear to miss me when I'm gone. It's because I’m the "mean mom." I’m the one who insists that they clean up before they move on to other activities. I'm the one who makes them carry their plates into the kitchen. And I'm the one who gives them water, instead of the juice Daddy doles out.
Daddy also does the fun things with the boys. Daddy takes them on bike rides. I go running while they do. Daddy takes them fishing. I don't want to touch the worm. Daddy gifted them the 8-bit Nintendo emulator. Daddy plays chess. He also doesn’t do some of the sucky things, like detangle their hair, or make them all line up and brush their teeth, or yell at them to put on the clothes I laid out for them. (I do both the laying out and the yelling).
The Daddy-centrism in my household sucks. It makes me feel less loved, when I’ve spent all day picking up after them and reading to them and playing with them and teaching them, not to mention feeding them and wiping their faces. I spend all day doing the fun parts, but I also spend all day doing the less fun parts, and I wish I got some kind of credit for it. I wish I got more than a cursory glance from my older two sons when I come in the door. People say you don't parent for the gratitude, but it's not gratitude from my kids that I want. It's the outward signs of love.
Once, I got mad and told my 6-year-old son, Blaise, that I’m sorry he likes Daddy more than me.
“You must feel very alone,” he said. Exactly, Blaise. I feel alone and sad that my kids don’t like me as much.
It would be nice to be the fun parent for once. It would be nice to play with my kids instead of making sure they get their schoolwork done, or getting hugs for giving them juice instead of water. But I know, deep down, that they don't actually prefer their father to me. They just get more excited about seeing him because Daddy’s special, and I’m everyday.
My sons get to hang out with me all the time. They give me hugs, and ask for books, and hold my hand when we go for walks. We have conversations. Daddy, on the other hand, is gone for most of the day, and only gets a few hours with them at night and on the weekends. They’re desperate for his attention, because he’s not around as often.
But damn sometimes if it doesn’t feel like they appreciate him more and want him more and, yes, love him more. Even though I know it's just a function of him being around less often, it still sucks.