Sunday, November 23, 2008

Do You Have a Favorite?

A friend, who shall remain anonymous, and I had a conversation about having more than one child. She's doing "two under two" too, and her second child is just 5 months old. She asked me, half expecting me to think she was a horrible person, if I have a favorite child.

Immediately, I knew where she was coming from. A five month old is a demanding creature, and other than a few smiles, they give little in return. Meanwhile, Mom feels so guilty that she can't spend the time she wants to, the time she used to, with her oldest child. She misses the oldest, and it's easy to begin to resent the younger child. It's easy to think that you love the younger child less.

"You've known your oldest longer..." I said, and watched relief wash over her. "When your youngest is 2, and you have known him as long as you've known your oldest, you'll feel the same way for your youngest that you do for your oldest right now."

I was listening to a podcast I recently found (thanks Brandon!!) called Radiolab, and they were talking about the self. They hypothesized that who you are is really an unfolding narrative that you tell yourself - you are a story. And so, if you tell yourself that you love one child more, or that you are a bad mother for loving one child more than the other, or even that it's necessary to quantify and measure the amount of love you feel for each child and keep it even - you will make that your truth. You'll obsess over it, and you'll drive yourself crazy trying to keep everything even, lest someone find out how horrible you are for having a favorite to begin with...

Don't tell yourself that story. It's normal to have moments when you like one kid more than another. One will drive you crazy while the other is being a perfect angel. One will be in a phase while the other is having an easy period. But don't confuse "like" with "love." Like is what you feel when they're easy, when they're calm, when they've done something extraordinary, when you're so proud of them you don't know if your heart can take it... Love, I think, is different. Love is what keeps you from losing your mind when they're throwing up on you for the seventh time. Love is what prevents you from giving in to a tantrum, even though you know it would be easier to just give in, because you want them to be good people when they grow up.

"Like" is easy. If I make you cookies, rub your feet, and give you $100, you're probably going to like me. But if I take your cookies, make you step on my toys, and cost you money, and you take care of me anyway? That's love.

We love our kids the same. Very few of us take care of our children to different standards - I'm sure there's some sick person in the world who treats one of her kids like Richie Rich and the other like dirt, but most of us sane people take equal care of our kids - if one gets PB&J, the other gets PB&J. We stay up late taking care of both (or all) of them when they're sick. We do equal amounts of laundry. Love is what we dip into so that we have the strength to do the work of parenting. Love is how we get up and find out why they're crying, quiet them, and go back to bed, even when we haven't slept, ourselves.

Anybody can do "like." And I think "like" comes and goes, it ebbs and flows. But love is constant. Since it's Sunday, I'm going to go all Biblical, and say:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13)
Did you know that in some translations, they use the word "charity" instead of love? When I think of charity, I think of selflessly doing something for someone else. That's what love is. Selflessly doing things for someone else, patiently and kindly, and so on... And it doesn't end. And you can't quantify it or compare it.

It's ok for the "like" to ebb and flow. The love underneath is strong enough to endure.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite?


Anonymous said...

I admire your optimism. I've been told (and have reason to believe) that unequal love of children is fairly common.

Baby Bunching said...

I have favorites for different reasons. In the beginning, I felt bad for my oldest who was only 16months when my daughter came around. Later on she became the "easy" child so it was easy to love her. Then she became less easy and super spunky. My son appreciates different things than my daughter does. So we really try to focus on them individually as much as we can. Do I have a favorite? Sometimes I can.