Playing Favorites

Playing Favorites August 17, 2011

Since I began blogging, I keep waiting for another (more honest) mother to write about this one subject that has plagued me since the birth of my second child. But no one has. So now, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps it’s just me, and maybe I need therapy to prevent doing all kinds of hideous psychological damage to my children. But since we can’t afford a therapist and the Ogre doesn’t believe in therapy anyway, I’m going to blog about it.

This isn’t Twitter, but you get the idea
Here’s the thing. When I was pregnant with Charlotte, as the pregnancy wore on I became increasingly jealous of my time with Sienna. So much so that I would often read to her until she fell asleep, then cuddle up and fall asleep with her myself. The Ogre would usually wake me up when he went to bed and I would move, but sometimes I just stayed in bed with her. 
I never really wondered if I would be able to love the new baby as much as I loved Sienna. I could not have imagined the kind of love I felt for Sienna before she was in my arms; I had no doubts that my emotional connection to the new baby would be just as inexplicable and just as complete. 
But I did worry that I wouldn’t have as much time to devote to Sienna. I worried that our bond would suffer. She had been my only child for three years. We did everything together. How would we adjust to a whole new person, one that required constant feeding, changing and caring for? 
What I was not prepared for, what I had not even considered as a remote possibility, was that the way I felt about my eldest would change
But it did. 
I fell immediately in love with Charlotte. The first week was wonderful. It snowed (in Vegas!), my mom came to help, Sienna and the Ogre played in the snow, and I cuddled with my sweet newborn daughter. Sienna was delighted with her sister, always wanting to bring me diapers and help hold her. It seemed that everything had worked out beautifully. 
After the second week Charlotte developed colic. Horrible, screaming-all-the-time colic. She spit up everything she ate, making her both frantic to nurse constantly and constantly pushing me away, screaming and drawing her little legs up against her chest. A reflux diagnosis and medication made things better, but only slightly. After Christmas was over the Ogre went back to work. My family left. Our help petered out. 
And Sienna wanted her mommy back. She began to clamor for my attention. Whatever energy I had leftover from dealing with a particularly difficult newborn generally went into half-hearted attempts at cleaning and making the occasional dinner that didn’t come pre-packaged. I had no time to give to Sienna. 
But worst of all, I didn’t want to give her any time. I was irritated with her. She was constantly whining, pleading, begging for my attention, affection, and time. She back-talked, disobeyed, and pouted. She required so much more mental energy than the little newborn. Charlotte just needed food, comfort, and relief from the pain she was in. Sienna wanted her life back the way it was before her sister was born. And I resented her for it. 
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved my daughter. I loved her fiercely. I just found myself not liking her very much during those days. 
At the time, I was a little alarmed. I began to genuinely worry that I was going to turn into one of those parents who plays favorites. The kind that damage their children irreparably by loving a sibling more. 
So I made a point to take some time out for Sienna. I got back to reading to her at night and having tea-parties with her during the day. I tried to include Charlotte so that Sienna got used to activities including her sister. It helped, a little. Sienna calmed down, at least, and began to find peace in our new life. It took a while, though, before the newness of the baby wore off and I began to feel the same affection for my eldest that I had felt before the baby was born. 
The same cycle repeated itself when Liam was born. As my pregnancy wore on I grew extremely protective of my time with Charlotte, and then after his birth I suddenly became exasperated, even infuriated, with her neediness. She was still nursing, and each nursing session with her was like torture. There were a few times when I physically disentangled myself from her and left her crying in a chair while I walked out of the room, breathing deeply and trying to calm myself enough to calm her. 
Again, I responded by intentionally trying to make more time with her. It wasn’t as easy as it was with Sienna; Charlotte has always been more sensitive, emotionally fragile child than my other two, and I think she sensed the shifting of my affections. She responded by being increasingly demanding of my time and attention, but also by attaching herself to the Ogre when he came home. She no longer wanted me to tell her goodnight or give her baths. She no longer wanted to sit with me at Mass or brush her hair. 
On the one hand, I felt a little relieved by this. When the Ogre came home he was on Charlotte duty, and I was able to focus fully on Liam and Sienna. But I felt a horrible twinge of guilt and remorse at night, when Charlotte lifted her chubby arms to wrap them around the Ogre’s neck, covered him with goodnight kisses, and turned her face away when I leaned in for a kiss. For a while she refused to even hug me at night and only said, “goodnight, Mommy” under the Ogre’s strict orders. 
I knew that it was my fault, yet I found myself unable to control the way I felt. It wasn’t that I loved them any less; I know, because I was constantly laying awake at night, examining my own conscience on the matter. I still felt the same deep, abiding, complete love for the children that I always had. I just didn’t feel the same immediate, emotional connection to them in those periods. 
Since then, I’ve paid more attention to myself and have noticed that this actually happens fairly regularly, albeit on a much smaller scale. Sometimes I feel especially affectionate toward one child in particular. Often this happens when that child is going through a vulnerable time, or when the other children are going through an annoying phase. But sometimes it happens for no particular reason whatsoever. Sometimes I’ll linger over one little forehead longer than the rest when I check on them in their sleep; sometimes one will get an extra prayer at night and a sweeter smile in the morning. 
I don’t really know what to make of this phenomenon. This isn’t something that they teach you in the classes, that they write chapters about in books, or even that anyone talks about at all, as far as I can tell. Strictly speaking, I guess it is favoritism, since at any one time you could ask me “which is your favorite child today” and I could probably give you a pretty honest answer. But if you asked me “which one is your favorite child overall” or “which child do you love the most”, well, those questions I could never answer. They are unfathomable. You might as well ask me which lung I like to breathe from better or which chamber of my heart means the most to me. They’re all essential. They’re all priceless. They are all absolutely, unquestionably the most precious things in the world to me, outside of the Ogre. 
What about you guys? Have you ever felt this way about your children? Has there ever been a time when you suspected that you might, in fact, be playing favorites, and if so, how did you handle it? 
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