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.

15 responses

  1. I appreciate how honest you are willing to be here. While I was reading this an idea came to me about how you could possibly reframe this experience for yourself. Because when osita was a baby didn’t you constantly feel like you could do better? Of course you’re more comfortable with monito because you already know how to mother a baby. And osita is the one who taught you that. And now she’s teaching you how to mother a demanding toddler. Which will make mothering monito as a demanding toddler much easier. Step back and see that she is your teacher, and learn. Does that make sense? Much love.

  2. I’m sorry to have been so silent, WordPress dropped you from my reader again!!!! And I naively thought you were not posting. I like the comment above. Treat yourself kindly and gently about this. You are the best mother for your child. Hugs.

  3. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. I’m starting to feel like this with my son too. He’s almost 3 and is starting to challenge me on just about everything. Being pregnant and tired means I don’t have the patience that I did before and I find myself being short with him. Thanks for sharing your situation. I know it will probably get harder for me when my baby arrives too.

    I agree with the comment above too. Patenting a toddler/preschooler is tough and it’s new to us. We’re learning and will get through it. Your daughter loves her mommy and she knows you love her too.

  4. Oh sweetie, I just want to fly across the country and give you a big hug right now. Thank you for posting this, and for always being so incredibly honest. I am dealing with similar feelings right now- not exactly the same situation, but a lot of the same guilt. Parenting Charlotte right now is just so much fun- watching her develop, I am constantly amazed at what she can do and the speed at which she learns. And then there’s Grayson, who I feel such intense love for, but no real connection. I take care of his physical needs and keep him comfortable, but beyond that…he’s not “fun”, there’s no watching him progress, only trying to prevent regression. I feel a lot of guilt for enjoying C so much but not G- even to the point where I try and balance the amount I post on my blog about each kid. Sigh. I know you feel like you have nothing left to give O, but I think love just has to be enough for certain times and certain situations. Both your children are so blessed to have you as their mom- truly. Sending love and hug, my friend.

  5. I could’ve written so much of this! When I actually am able to respond to J with patience and kindness, it helps sp much. But I feel like that happens very rarely. I don’t think we can possibly be expected to be perfect mothers all the time. You just do your best, and sometimes (if a baby is napping and an older one watching TV), you try to focus on your own needs.

    There are moments, though, when J is behaving and I see how grown-up he’s becoming, that I am filled with such an intense love for him. He’s a person, with a personality and accomplishments, and I know him, whereas I don’t always feel like I really know C yet.

  6. First of all, I commend you for writing this. This is the bravest post I’ve read in a long time from anyone, and maybe ever.

    I am going to disagree with you quickly and say that I don’t know that you have a favorite child, you have a favored situation. I think we all have favorites eventually, or rather a child we relate better to, but it’s too early to know that right now. You just favor being with the easier child, and who wouldn’t? 😉

    Yes, it is true, we dislike most in others what we dislike in ourselves, and monito will have qualities you dislike too. But don’t be hard on yourself. You love Osita, she knows it, we know it, and you know it. You dislike the hard parts no more than she does too. This is a rough time.

    I yell at Matthew more than normal, and I’m a patient mom. Its just harder when they’re at the end of their ropes and we are too at the same time. Yelling, or crying, or just walking away does not equate to less love or favorites, my friend!

    Much love to you!

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

    • “A favored situation” is a brilliant way to put it Courtney.

      As you know E, I love babies and excel at taking care of them. And as you know, I sucked at parenting age 3. Like, really really sucked. I imagine the feeling of failure would only have been magnified if I were parenting both at the same time!! That’s tough.

      Who my children are now is so not who they were at age 3. It’s hard to know that when you are in the midst of that age, dealing with a major transition. But she won’t be like this forever.


  7. WOW, I am feeling the exact same way about Aiden. He’s 27 months and we have hit the “Terrible Two’s” big time. Everything is a fight, and I feel like most days I’m tiptoeing around him to make my life easier. I have a post similar to this sitting in my drafts right now, because I was worried I’d be judged for not “liking this phase” right now in my life with him. My husband and I were talking last night about how we both just want a vacation from him sometimes, then immediately felt bad/guilty for feeling like that. Being a parent is tough, but I think some phases are harder/more exhausting than others. We’ve been reading the book “Happiest Toddler on the Block” and one of the biggest things we’ve picked up is to “feed the meter.” In other words, whenever your toddler is acting out, or just periodically during the day, sit on the floor, play/interact with them one-on-one for 15 or so minutes. Often that attention is enough to end the negative behaviors and refocus your child, then you can get a few things done around the house. You aren’t a bad mother, you are a terrific one. Thank you for having the courage to admit you are struggling, I don’t feel so alone now! Best wishes for a smooth day! 🙂

  8. The Dance of Interaction is a fantastic book by Jeanine Fitzgerald talks about lots of things that would interest you, but one thing that jumps to mind is First Hour Needs…often times, if you can figure out what your child wants for that first hour of the day and if you meet those needs, the day goes MUCH smoother. Each child is different, I have 4 very diff children, but often if I meet their needs first thing, it makes for a much better day for everyone. Check it out!

  9. I just want to tell you, you’re not alone – at all. There are many times I feel like this…and then comes the guilt…and the tears. I must say, what these women before me have written are such beautiful words of wisdom. I highly agree with them and all I can say is…you’re not alone.

  10. It’s such a tough place to be.

    Do you remember my post on my Fall from Grace? As the oldest child, I can remember it being so difficult when I went from 100% of my parents’ world to only 50%. The emotions can be huge when the reasoning and articulation skills are still developing. I have witnessed this fall-from-grace phenomenon in other eldest children I’ve observed, and many in that post’s comment section concurred.

    So it’s not all you. It’s just how things are. One of the best pieces of advice I received when I became a mom was that my child also had come into this world with a template, with things to work out, knots to untie, things to experience. This helped me to be gentler with myself. Most of the time I’m doing my best, and most of the time that’s enough. It’s got to be.


  11. Thank you for sharing your feelings. I think my husband, who stayed at home with our daughter when I returned to work last year, is experiencing this too. I really like Mo’s perspective on the situation. It makes a lot of sense. Don’t be so hard on yourself. *Hugs*

  12. Oh E, lots of hugs. I’ve been waiting days to get a chance to jump in and comment on this because I so relate. 3.5 is just a tough age I think. There were many days when G & I flipped coins to see who would deal with B (who would scream/hit/throw things anytime we asked him to do ANYTHING, from peeing in the toilet, to taking a bath, to getting dressed for the park) and who would deal with the happy-go-lucky toddler.
    Add to that the changes in your family, and I can imagine Osita is going through a lot in her head, and putting you guys through the wringer. Its really hard parenting a “spirited” child, and even harder when you’re sleep-deprived and physically/mentally/emotionally exhausted.
    I agree with Mo, and I have a tiny bit of experience proving that its true…you’re learning how to do this with Osita. Its new, its scary, you have no tools and you don’t know when it’ll end. When Monito goes through the same phases, you can reach into your bag of tricks and defuse the situation or just laugh and realize that “this too shall pass”.
    Parenting a newborn IS easier, that’s why they come to us that way…and I’m sure parenting a toddler or preschooler is easier than a tween or teen…we are learning as we go. Its OK to admit that its hard to deal with Osita and easier to deal with Monito—you’re not saying that one child is your favorite, just that you favor some aspects of that phase of development at this moment (or…what jjiraffe said). At this point, with a toddler and a preschooler, I go back and forth as to who I’d prefer to deal with…sometimes its nice to be able to reason with my 4 year old, and sometimes the constant talking/questioning/pushing back make me yearn for the simplicity of a 2 year old temper tantrum.

  13. I feel this way many times as well… thanks for sharing so openly. Those battles of wills are so incredibly draining and frustrating!!!
    You are not failing. I have no doubt that your love for her is a strong foundation underneath the current craziness.
    A friend of mine recently commented that her son treats nobody as badly as he does her, his mother. There’s deep security in that relationship, I think.
    Hang in there…!

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