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when you aren't the favorite

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


photo by Jesse
"I like Dad better than you," my son says conversationally, never looking up from his breakfast.

"Oh yeah?"  I respond casually.  "Why is that?"

"Because he takes better care of me than you do."

Now he had my attention.

"Do you really think that's true?"  I say, my tone a little less casual this time.

"Yeah.  He takes me to the bike park and he likes to wrestle and I like him better."

I stand in the kitchen, silent.  Thinking.


After a minute I respond.  "You are so loved and cared for that it's just a part of your life.  You don't even notice when it's happening.  Because buddy, I take care of you all day long, every single day of your life."  I realize I'm not angry or upset.  I already knew I wasn't the favorite.  

For the first time he looks up, and it occurs to him maybe he's made a misstep.  He starts to backpedal.

"You take care of me too," he says. He runs over and hugs my waist.  "Dad just does it better."

I hug him back, still lost in thought.  Then I go to the pantry and pull out a piece of blank paper.  On the floor, my daughter's markers are still scattered around her coloring book, and I pick up a red.  I offer the paper and marker  to my son.

"I want you to do something for me.  Every time I do something to take care of you, I want you to draw a heart."  

My son grins.  A behavior chart for parents.  He likes this idea.

"We'll start right now," I say.  "Who made your breakfast?"

"You did!  You get a heart."  He draws a little heart carefully in the middle of the page.

"Who helped you find clean jeans?"

"You."  Another little heart, unevenly planted beside the first.

"Okay," I said.  "For the rest of the day, it's your job to notice when I do something for you, and give me a heart."

"When your page is filled, do we get to go on a date?"

Now I grin.  "No, when the page is filled, you will be more aware.  That's our reward this time."

True to his nature, he took his task very seriously.  A heart for pouring his drink.  One more when I located a missing Lego.  By 9:30, the page was already full, and it worked.  That day, he was more grateful for his mom.  

But in general, I am not his favorite.

I make him finish his math assignment and rewrite his copy work when he gets in too big of a hurry.  I am the one telling him to put away his shoes, plate, laundry.  Brush his teeth, be kind, have self control.  I am the mom.  

I am not the favorite because I make him do the things that aren't fun.  But I know I'm a good mom.  I know just how to make my hot-tempered child laugh, diffusing a fiery moment, and help my introverted child find the time alone he needs, even in a full house.  The homemade muffin he's eating for breakfast has extra Greek yogurt to keep his blood sugar even throughout the morning.  Shoes and jackets that fit, someone to lean against when he's hurt or embarrassed, check-ups and dentists and shirts from the one store he likes best.  

He doesn't notice these things because they are just the stuff of his daily life.  Love is so woven into every detail of his day that he can't conceive of a life outside of it.  It never occurs to him to be thankful because he doesn't realize a childhood could be any other way.

And that is just how it should be.

I'm not the favorite, but mothering is about so much more than recognition.  It is my way of living out my faith.  The details that nourish my children's bodies and soul are my very best reflection of the image of God.  And if I am willing to see it, they are my best chance to recognize the traces of love in my own life, the tiny graces that fill my own days with ease and depth.  

I spend my life nurturing my children, and I hope that daily, consistent nourishment will give  them a framework for relating to a loving God in the future.  They will understand love because it was their first experience, the groundwork for all others.

And that means more than any heart my son could draw.  

14 comments:

  1. I wrote something like this a few years ago, except I was much less accepting than you are. I wrote that no matter how much it sucks to have him prefer his dad, it's my job to love him anyway. You said it much nicer...

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  2. Ah, perfect! I once sat and had this beautiful moment with myself when my children were upset they had to do the dishes, because I thought, "THIS is what makes you feel miserable. I'm OK with that versus the alternative." You're doing amazing work, Stephanie! <3

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    1. EXACTLY.

      And thank you. You are too. =)

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    2. Oh, Angela, good point. Love you!

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  3. Wow Steph, you handled that so well. I think I would have been tempted to be angry or hurt. I also see in this picture how much I have done this to God at times, or my husband. Thinking that I can better take care of myself. Looking at things from a skewed perspective. Sometimes I need to back up and write out all the ways that my God and my husband take care of me =) Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I too agree with the kindness upon which you tackled this subject. I have been pondering this ALL day long before responding to your post, and even now, not sure that I will be able to show the respect that you have shown regarding this subject. I am coming to this topic from the viewpoint of the "step-mother" and it is very clear that I can do AWESOME things, and do those AWESOME things on a regular basis, and not get any public recognition for all that I do accomplish to make their lives better, however, they can be living with me (and us paying all of their expenses, rent, groceries, cell, auto insurance, entertainment for them and their friends) and yet, when their mother sends them $50, she receives accolades galore on FB, Twitter and instagram about what a great and generous mother she is.... and so I have to have a talk with myself at these times. I have been a stepmother since I was 19 years old, with four different children and two ex-wives, so I come with experience, the experience of hard knocks. We have provided lots of "adventures" for the boys, and their mom has not given adventures, but has provided cash for them in the past. We've caught a bad rap on occasion for not providing new tennis shoes, but instead have provided trips - (once in a lifetime kind of trips) on more occasions than I can count.. how much is too much, and how much is too little. Finding a balance in parenting is HARD. I appreciated your words, and the words of Melinda Crouch asking how many times have WE (have I) done this to God... take the blessings, with out thanking, or acknowledging, or praising what has been given to me.
    Last night, I was thanked profusely and even got a great big ol bear hug from my 22 yr. old bonus son for putting together a party for his friends for the National Championship Game. His friends thanked me for the dinner, offered to help clean up. Part of me was sad that I did not get the "I love my Step-Mother" posted all over FB, instagram and twitter, but quietly in my heart of hearts, I know that he loves me and appreciates me, it's what I have always done, and probably what I will always do (that hospitality gift God gave me) however, there is a pang of hurt when we don't feel like we have been seen or heard.. I think we all want to be acknowledged for what we do. By God's grace, we are loved for who we are, and not just what we do. As Mothers, and step-mothers - we are given a huge task of loving... in good times and bad. For the record... I would give you an encyclopedia full of hearts... thank you for continuing to bless me with your words.

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    1. Ann, you have such a gift for showering others with love and support ... I would imagine that your bonus boys, just like my little ones, are so accustomed to your unconditional love that they don't even notice it.

      But they will.

      As they hear stories of other families, or as they have families of their own, it will become more and more evident what a gift you have been in their lives. I certainly had this experience myself with my own step-parents. I too had the gift of a step-parent who surrounded me with the very best of what he had to give. But it wasn't until I was an adult that I fully appreciated how much he changed my life, and how different my life would have been without him.

      Step-parenting is hard, hard work. God gave the task to someone well-equipped for the job, but all the same. It is a difficult place to live.

      Thanks for commenting, and sharing your thoughts. Peace to you friend.

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  5. I'm expecting my first child and have already wondered if I will struggle with not being the "favorite." I will be staying home full-time while my husband goes on with his career and I know having daddy come home at the end of the day will be way more exciting than spending all day every day with mom. The last two paragraphs touched and challenged me the most and I'm planning on saving this post so I can come back to these words when I need to be reminded about what really matters. Thanks so much for your words!
    Kari

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    1. Yes, dads are more fun. But there's another side to it - when they need comfort, they want their mom. In many ways it's frustrating to pour your soul into another and not get recognition, but in other ways it's so incredibly rewarding to realize you have created this canopy of love and safety under which they find comfort. Of course, when they are throwing up in the middle of the night you WISH they'd find more comfort in dad for once ... alas.

      Thanks for reading. First baby! You have so much to look forward to. Congratulations, and peace to you (and when the baby is 3 months old and you think you're going to die, email me, please! I've been there!!).

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  6. Love this! Thanks for sharing :)

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  7. I love this. David would too. He'd draw me lots of hearts. Haydn, on the other hand, would hear that part about awareness as a reward and possibly scream about how he hates me. How very different kids can be.

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  8. You put this so eloquently! I love you for it! Sometimes my children love me, sometimes they hate me! I like when they love me because it shows their appreciation, but I love when they hate me because it is my time to appreciate them. Afterall, I am mom. I can't be wrapped up in how they feel about me or else I won't be doing my job right. Love to me is not a feeling, but a doing. When they are grown and living life like they should be, (lovimg God, their families, and others), then I will know they love me. Favorites change, like ice cream flavors.

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