By Stephanie Barnhart
My parents separated when I was very young. To be honest, I don't even remember them ever being together. This was a blessing and a curse -- there was no catastrophic moment where our family was ripped apart, yet I never experienced what it was like to have that all-American family life. Because of this, I put off having a family of my own until I knew I would be able to offer that for my own children.
But life doesn't always work the way you want.
My son turned three this month, and I've been home with him ever since he was born. For about six months I barely left his side. He was so portable that I brought him with me to see clients and attend meetings. He would sleep while I would talk business. As he got older, he didn't grow attached to me, he became strong and independent. I attributed this to the fact that even though he was little, he understood that even though mom might leave, she would always come back. He never cried when I left the house, and he was also never overwhelmed to see me walk back in -- it was as if he just knew. It was different with his father who left for work everyday. Max didn't really understand why he couldn't stay home with us and watch Thomas on the couch or take a walk to the park.
Once his father and I separated, I noticed that he'd get more upset when his father would leave. When his dad would show up, he would light up with joy and run to him. And then when he would be dropped off, he would cry and scream and not want to leave his dad. For a long time this really pained me. To watch your own son not come running to you -- like he does with his other parent -- can be a very bitter pill to swallow.
It took some convincing on my part, but as I've witnessed it more and more, I've come to some realizations that I want to pass on. It's not easy to be the second favorite parent, but you should take it as a compliment and here's why:
1. Realize it's not you
At first I took it really hard and really personal. I would actually cry in private after watching him run to see his dad when he would pick him up, and then not even want to come to my arms when he would return. Then I remembered how he used to also cry when his dad left for work. This is because dad leaves, and he knows that mom doesn't -- mom is always there and because of that, he's never afraid to leave me. It was hard to accept, but I realized that it was actually a compliment that he could leave me so freely. He wasn't worried or scared... he knew mom would always be there when he came back.
2. Kids are going to favor one parent over the other
It's inevitable that one parent will be more fun and one will be more disciplinary. Unfortunately, I am also the "less fun" parent. Look, someone has to lay down the rules, and I have accepted that's me. Since Max spends all day with me, I have to teach him things like how to share his toys, why he can't eat a box of cookies for breakfast, and how adults make the rules not him. I am the one who has to take him to get shots at the doctors, and I am the one who makes him sit still to get his hair cut. This doesn't always make me the fun parent. But I've accepted it. You have to remember that as a parent, you won't be able to always make them happy -- because happy to them might be to run out in the middle of the streets of New York City. Trust yourself that your decisions are made with their best interest in mind. You're the parent, not their BFF. The earlier you accept that there will be a few "I hate you" comments and slammed doors along the way, the easier.
3. Moms and dads often parent different
Dads are often thought of as the more fun parent -- they take kids out and overdose on ice cream or pizza and roll around in germ-infested ball pits (all while us moms sit back and sip our coffee and pretend to not have a focused eye on their every move). Moms can literally hear a knee scrape seconds before it happens and see a bike crash in slow motion. That's what makes us moms. Just embrace it and stop worrying so much. Picture yourself 20 years from now having dinner with your child for their 23rd birthday -- they've graduated from a great college, they're starting a career and moving on with their lives. And yet, they're still sitting here, with you, telling you about all the great things they've accomplished and how they're going to change the world. Did being the second favorite parent really ever matter?
Being a parent is extraordinary, awful, self-depreciating, full of joy and insufferable horror all at the same time. Just sit back and enjoy the journey.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Barnhart
This piece was originally published by Stephanie Barnhart on Mommy Nearest. Stephanie is writer and founder of Football Food and Motherhood.com and NYC Editor at Mommy Nearest. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.