Motherhood & Words

anti-mommy: more than a phase

Stella has always preferred D. to me. I’m not being modest or anything. She was born a daddy’s girl. Even in those early, horrible months when she refused to nurse, and I’d be pumping and try to get her to calm down, I couldn’t. I would coo and rock and sing until finally D. showed up and would rock her for a minute. She’d calm immediately. (Or that’s how it seemed to me. There were, of course, those weeks when she’d been crying all day and he would get home from work and she would continue to cry for a couple of hours as he paced our small living room, exhausted and irritated.)

Oh, I’m so glad we’re doing this again.

At three years old, Stella would say, regularly: “No mommy, you can’t come. I’m going with daddy.” She’d say: “Mommy, you can’t play. I’m playing with Daddy.” She’d say: “I love you, but I love Daddy the best.”

Stella is now almost 4 ½, and things haven’t changed much.

The truth is I’m jealous. Why can’t it be me she loves most of all? Why can’t I be the one she chooses?

I tick off reasons that she prefers D.: he’s not home as much as I am; he’s more fun, throws her five feet into the air on the front lawn, lets her jump into his arms from the high climber at the park; he lets her chew gum every time she rides in the car with him. (I impose more limitations, and certainly now I’m not much fun at all: I can’t run or jump or go sledding or participate for more than a minute in a dance party. I have to take naps regularly.)

But though I try to justify her daddy preference, sometimes it makes me so frustrated I want to scream and cry. A couple of times, on days I was spent and tired, I actually did cry.

I’ve talked to friends about it. One of my closest friends, a psychologist who doesn’t have children yet, offers support. “That would really hurt my feelings,” she says. “How do you deal with it?” She gives me permission to feel bad, which I do. But I usually feel as though it shouldn’t bother me. This is just part of parenthood right? The whole Electra thing? This is normal.

I try a combination of cajoling and guilt with Stella: That hurts mommy’s feelings. Do I talk to you that way? How would you feel if I said that to you? I guilt her into loving me, and this makes me feel like a horrible parent. Toughen up, I tell myself. This is how it’s going to be when she’s a teenager. But this thought simply heightens my dread.

The holidays have been horrible in terms of her daddy-love. D. was around for almost two weeks straight and I was told to go play in the other room. I was subjected to screaming tantrums on my nights to put her to sleep. Her favorite, repeated, line was: “I’m going ice-skating with my daddy, but you can’t come.” Then she would pause and smile slightly. “You can’t come because you don’t have skates and because of the baby.” Tricky little shit. She was right on both counts—I don’t have ice-skates and I’m not about to get on the ice at 7 months pregnant.

I actually found myself being bratty and petulant right back at her—an example of my fabulous mothering skills.

But then something happened. On Wednesday, D. had to go back to work, and I had the whole day with Stella. I had agreed to buy her some special stickers because she has begun falling asleep without one of us lying down with her. (I know, this should have happened um, two years ago. Whatever.) So we went out to run some errands for my grandpa, and I let her pick two sheets of Barbie stickers. (What, does this sound like a bribe to get her to love me? Nonsense.)

We took the groceries to Grandpa, chatted and ate doughnuts with him, then headed home, where we discovered that if we pressed the stickers together, they made sparkly Barbie coins. (If you want to try this at home, note that you need, as Stella says, “stickers that are both puffy and hard.”)

We proceeded to play (for two hours) a very intricate trading game in which Stella ended up with the most sparkly of the sticker coins, and I ended up with the small square and rectangle ones. When D. got home, he played one round with her, but then she said, “You know, I think I want to play with mommy. It’s more fun.” Hallefuckingluiah!

I gloated. I preened. I’m totally immature.

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. lintofpocket on January 4, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    It’s a huge part of mothering, but one that is largely denied; being loved first. I am glad you got some much deserved first-love. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll. I added you to mine.

  2. elderflowerpressee on January 4, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Loved this post. Partly because your experience is so close to mine, with almost literal echoes, in some cases. More importantly because of the honesty and clarity of your writing. As you said in your last post, you’re not afraid to make yourself look bad. And this is what’s most valuable about this post, which I at first read as freakish coincidence (wow – *my* daughter once told me she loved Daddy but not me; *my* horrible pregnancy with her sister prevented me from playing with her, driving her into Daddy’s arms, *I too* was petulant and tearful!) But as I read on, it occurs to me that this situation is normal and common. As mothers, as people, we’re human and flawed; our children, even in their young innocence (ha!) can hurt us and make us behave badly. And we don’t deal with this hurt in the cool and clinical fashion prescribed by child-rearing experts. Sometimes we want to hurt back! Sometimes the hurt makes us into children ourselves. And we need to talk and write and be honest about this, because the alternative is to perpetuate the facade of perfect motherhood that’s more than ever demanded of us, and that we try at all costs to preserve in front of other mothers. So, thanks!

  3. Lana Gramlich on January 4, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Reminds me of my own childhood. I saw my father very infrequently & loved him dearly. Evidently this made mom jealous & angry. Unfortunately I didn’t know this when dad died when I was 9. Nor did I know that mom was an abusive alcoholic. All I know was that that was the start of a decade of horrible physical & emotional abuse. Strange how an adult’s insecurity turns into a child’s hell…

  4. Lisa on January 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    This post made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time. I love your honesty about this. A friend of mine, who is having issues with her 20 year old daughter told me recently that children bring both more joy and more pain into your life than you ever imagined possible. But there’s nothing like a great Barbie coin moment, is there?

  5. coarse gold girl on January 4, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks for this post, as elderflowerpresee commented the honesty and clarity of your writing is powerful. My eldest daughter was born a daddy’s girl too, so your post touched a lot of the same issues that I had in those early years.

    I have horrified myself this past year in moments when I have caught myself being jealous of my husband’s love for her! She’s almost ten now so you’d think that just as she has grown up I would have too! But you know, hubby comes home from work tired and exhausted. Too tired and exhausted to bother being pleasant to me, but my daughter launches herself into his arms and he lights up.

    I just can’t stop myself from thinking bitter little thoughts like, “why can’t I get some of the sparkle and warmth too?”

  6. *camerashymomma* on January 5, 2008 at 12:37 am

    this is a wonderful post kate. i love how you write these emotions. it is so true and real and hard to work through. this actually gave me perspective on how my husband may have felt for the first 2.5 years (we have the exact opposite situation though with my son only taking comfort from me and having nothing to do with daddy until very recently and only in very small spurts). i used to hear the stereotypical ‘daddy’s girl’ and ‘momma’s boy’ and think it was all hogwash, but there is truth to it, any way you look at it. and it’s hard all the way around, for everyone. my best friend had a similiar situation to me with her son and when her second child was born, they all had a really difficult time, he had never shared her. so in a strange way, as hard as this is emotionally for you (for all of us) it may ease the transition for you becoming a mother of two. and perhaps the balance will swing back with your next baby girl. but i say, relish in those barbie moments!

  7. Katie on January 5, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I love your writing. Sometimes I feel lucky I have two boys, hoping I get a bit of the opposite sex parent favoritism, =P It will make me crazy if these boys favor their daddy. Its great to hear your stories, the frustrating parts and the triumph. I can imagine how you felt!

    Thanks for connecting me with all of this.

  8. kyra on January 8, 2008 at 7:11 am

    yay! what a sweet sticker love story!

    i think this is how my husband must feel. fluffy’s been telling him he loves me best ever since he started talking while in the womb. poor guy. but the tide is beginning to turn and it must be sweet for him too, at long last!

  9. ta on January 8, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    Your post was so timely for me. My son has been going through a serious Daddy phase. Not quite so bad, but it was driving me insane. My husband just started working from home, so that didn’t help. My son would ask for him every 10 minutes or so. I felt like saying “Didn’t I carry you around for nine months and then nurse you for another 12? Doesn’t that count for something?” It’s true though, I think you need to find things that you do together that are different from the other parent. My son will not play ball with me outside, even though I think I’m just as fun as my husband. We look at the flowers in the garden and go for walks instead. On another note, you say in your bio that you had severe pre-eclampsia is that the same as HELLP. I developed HELLP syndrome at the end of my pregnancy. I read in your post that you are having another child which is wonderful. We want very much to have a second child, but we’re also a little or a lot scared to depending on the day. Congratulations!

  10. Mardougrrl on January 8, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    I loved this post so much, because I had similar feelings, especially when Madam was younger. It seemed that Daddy had the magic touch, which made me feel like I was missing some sort of maternal gene and she could sense it, or something.

    There is something particularly excruciating about being loved “second” especially by someone you would literally give your life for.

    And of course, this is written so well. How is it that you can write so honestly and creatively while raising a child AND being pregnant? Spill those secrets!

  11. kate on January 9, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Thanks, everyone, for these comments. I’m so glad I’m not alone.

    One other cool thing we discovered you can do with Barbie coins: play spoon hockey on the wood floor. The things fly! Good times. Good times.

    ta, I’m so sorry that you had HELLP. HELLP is a severe form of preeclampsia involving elevated liver enzymes and lowered platelets. HELLP Syndrome most often affects the liver, causing stomach and right shoulder pain. Severe preeclampsia is characterized by a systolic blood pressure greater than 160 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure greater than 110 mm Hg and the presence of 5 g or more of protein in a 24-hour urine collection. (Sorry to get all technical.)

    I know how scary it is to contemplate another baby after HELLP, but if you developed it late in pregnancy, your odds of NOT getting it again are better, I think, than if you had developed it late in your 2nd or early 3rd trimesters. Scheduling a consult with a perinatologist would be helpful in sorting out the chances. I’m wishing you luck!!