Failure and Favorites
Yesterday morning my in-laws came over to pick up Osita so that I could have a little break. But when they got here, she refused to go. She wanted to be with her mommy. Not even the promise of movies and ice cream could sway her. So finally I suggested they take Monito with them instead, so that Osita and I could have the day alone together.
As they were leaving, my heart sank. I realized that I didn’t want to be left alone with Osita, that I felt an incredible amount of resentment that she had refused to leave and I was forced to give up my baby boy instead.
I realized, horrified, that I don’t really like spending time with my preschooler right now.
And that I adore being alone with my baby.
I have a favorite child. And it’s not my daughter.
I spent most of the day feeling horrible about this. Even though I understood why I might prefer my two month old to my 3.5 year old, it didn’t make me feel any better. I felt like a horrible mother, one who had betrayed her first born child.
Osita is having a hard time right now. She is not very pleasant to be around. She whines constantly. She has absolutely no patience. Her response to every request is to be contrary. She melts down at the slightest provocation. She wants to be with me but is angry with me when I’m around. Nothing we have to offer is ever good enough. She doesn’t want to have to pee in the potty, or put on her clothes, or take another bite of lunch, or sit at the table, or do ANYTHING that she is required to do. Everything is a battle. Everything is a fight.
It’s easy to blame her behavior when I try to rationalize why I don’t really like her right now. It’s easy to point to all the obnoxious things she does and explain it away. But the truth is much more messy and much harder for me to face.
The truth is, I don’t like being with my daughter because she’s a constant reminder of what I don’t like about myself. Being with her is like holding a mirror up to my mothering; it defines–and even magnifies–all the ways I’m failing my first born child.
What my daughter needs right now is patience. She needs understanding. She needs consistency. She needs consequences. She needs reassurance. She needs structure. She needs redirection. She needs love.
She needs lots and lots of love. Love without prerequisites. Love without restraint.
She needs all of these things. And I can’t seem to give them to her.
Instead her needs are met with frustration and annoyance, anger and resentment. I can’t be there for her in the ways she needs me and so she needs me even more, and I fail her to ever greater degrees.
And we both become more and more miserable.
On the other hand my baby’s needs are manageable. I understand what they are and I know how to meet them. I feel capable when I’m with my small son. I feel like a half decent mother. I like being with him not only because he’s soft and snuggly and smells oh-so-good, I like being with him because I like the mother his meager needs allow me to be.
I don’t like being with my daughter because her needs feel immense and unmanageable. With her I feel incapable, doomed to disappoint, destined to fail.
It’s hard to be so certain that you are failing your children. I know, in my heart, that I’m not giving my daughter what she needs. This transition is so difficult. It’s clear she feels threatened. With every scream, with every whine, with every tantrum she’s begging me to reassure her, to make her believe that she’s still loved. And with every misbehavior I reach deep down and find nothing there to give. My reserves are depleted. I’m running on empty. I don’t have what my daughter requires.
I try to make up for it later, when she’s quiet, when she gives me some time and space. I tell her I love her, a thousand times, but I know it’s not enough. Those words don’t make up for all the times I spoke to her in anger, when my words were fraught with frustration. Saying I love you doesn’t put a bandaid on all the thousands of hurts I’m making on her fragile heart.
My poor, poor girl is not getting what she needs. And I’m the one who can’t give it to her.
It’s hard to write this–the tears stream down my face as I type these words–but it’s even harder to live it. Every day, every hour, I feel like I’m failing my girl. Every day, every hour I cringe at the mistakes I make. Every day, every hour, I wonder how we’ll make it out of this time alive, let alone still capable of loving each other. Every day, every hour, I am shocked by how bad I am at this, how epically I’m failing at this one role I wanted more than anything.
Becoming a mother was a hard transition, but becoming a mother of two feels impossible at time. I’m so glad I read so many books about this change because otherwise I’d be going crazy thinking I was the only one who felt this way. I know that I’m not. I know that other mothers have struggled adjusted after their second child. I know that other mothers have been horrified to realize they have a favorite. I know that other mothers have reached their lowest lows in the first year of their second child’s life. And knowing that makes it the teensiest bit better.
But it’s still hard. Incredibly hard. Impossibly hard.
And I still feel like I’m failing.