When our daughter was two years old and very talkative, I was bound and determined to teach her to say, “I love you.” We bought cute books, practiced baby sign language, even had an Elmo video that talked all about saying it. I thought it was going to be this adorable and heartwarming milestone that I would get to relive over and over. And this is how it played out for the very first time.
My husband was holding our daughter right before heading out the door. I walked over and did the sign language as I said, “I love you Cameron!” And she got the cutest smile and, clear as day, said right to my face:
“I love Daddy!”
Then there was the time that she wanted us all to pretend to be characters from The Little Mermaid. My beautiful redhead had to be Ariel of course, and Daddy would get to be Prince Eric. “And you can be the ugly Sea Witch, mama!”
There was also a time when my middle son was looking at pictures of my husband and me in our younger days. He was happily pointing at Daddy and then pointing at him in all the photos. When my husband prompted him by asking, “And who is your Mommy?” he responded by pointing to me with a deadpan face and said, “That lady.”
And just so you know this isn’t an issue that only happened to me years and years ago, just this past May, I looked up from where I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes to behold my entire family happily enjoying pieces of my “Happy Mother’s Day” cake without me. (They apologized and were genuinely just unaware that I was no longer at the table… Our mealtimes can be a little chaotic!)
Sometimes, it can be hilarious to be the Second Place Parent. Sometimes it hurts just a tiny bit.
Anybody else feel like the Second Place Parent? When you have to be the disciplinarian and the caretaker and the mean one who forces them to take medicine? Or maybe when you are the source of literal life-giving breast milk but your husband is the one who gets all the giggles and sweet cuddles? Or perhaps you are just the one who is home more during this stretch of the year and you can only fend off so many bedtime requests for the one person that just can’t be there? Yeah, that’s when you feel like it is a big old Silver Medal kind of day.
I remind myself often that there are always reasons why your child may be really clingy to one parent and then a shift happens. Right now, I am holding steady with my youngest son by giving him extra bedtime cuddles. Sure, my children practically form a spirit line of cheers and jumping up and down when Daddy walks in the door right now. But perhaps when my children are a little older and start spending more of their waking hours running around with Dad, I will suddenly become the cool one who wants to take them shopping!
I promise I am not wallowing in self-pity over here. I know my kids love me a ton, and it is a great source of laughter when these funny memories come up. For now, I hold tight to the thought that my husband always thinks that I deserve First Place, and there are always things to be thankful for. Here are a few reasons to celebrate as the Second Place Parent:
- It means your partner is an awesome parent. My kids love their daddy because he is funny and silly and loves them a ton too.
- There are certain things that you may not be good at or enjoy—and you can let those memories happen with the First Place Parent. In my family, these include baiting the fishing hook or riding so many roller coasters that I might barf. I also cannot be my daughter’s Prince Charming date to the ball or help my kids slam dunk a basketball. Daddy for the win!
- You get to enjoy the moments. I truly love getting to capture pictures and videos of my family. I want them to have lots of evidence of how much they were loved and enjoyed growing up. Being even just a tiny bit more in the background gives me a chance to grab my phone and catch the fun in the moment.
- It may come in handy some day for blackmail when your kids are older (e.g., “Oh, now you love Mom so much? Now that you need me to help proofread your college essays? You are going to have to butter me up big time!”).