During dinner with a dear old friend, we wandered across the topic of liking our children. My friend looked at me earnestly and admitted, “I feel closer to Younger than Older. I feel so guilty saying this, but I actually like Younger more. Isn’t that awful? What do I do about it?”
“I don’t think it’s awful,” I reassured her. “It’s only human nature to enjoy some people’s company more than others at different points. I feel closer to one or the other of my daughters depending on the day.”
“Yes, but, I always enjoy Younger more,” she protested. “I love both kids, of course. I love them so much. But the truth is, I would rather be with Younger. She is so funny and full of personality and so easy to be around. Older is such a good kid, but she is more uptight and shy and totally OCD about everything, and I don’t like being with her as much.”
I love this friend of mine. I love her complete honesty, the comfort that comes from being with someone I have known for over thirty years.
I thought about her dilemma. I thought about how many parents secretly prefer one child but never talk about it. My guess is that for most of us, it is a temporary, ever-shifting condition. I have certainly experienced extra closeness with one or the other of my kids for various chunks of time.
I remember how worried I was during my pregnancy with Annie Rose, because I was tightly attached to Katie, and I could not imagine loving the new baby as much as I loved my older daughter.
And then Annie Rose was born, and I marveled at every minute of her life. A sunny, undemanding baby, I lived for her easy smile. I secretly wondered if I loved Annie Rose more than Katie, and then I had the horrible fear that if I did indeed love Annie Rose more, was it because she was my biological child? It tormented me.
For the first twelve months of Annie Rose’s life, I enjoyed virtually every interaction with her. I adored Katie, but there were times when I did not enjoy her. And then Annie Rose entered the toddler years and became more difficult, more highly strung, and I often preferred Katie’s less frustrating company.
With an immense amount of relief, I realized that I had simply been enjoying the fact that Annie Rose was a baby. It had nothing to do with biology and everything to do with the demands placed on me.
Annie Rose couldn’t yet talk back or fight or argue. She wore what I put on her. She left the house when I picked her up and plopped her in the car. She smiled at me when I looked at her, and she snuggled all the time.
Who wouldn’t enjoy that? It comforted me to remember how I had felt equally enamored of Katie during her babyhood. And then, just as Annie Rose became a cantankerous, moody toddler, Katie outgrew that stubborn, irascible phase, and she became an amazingly articulate kid.
This led to about an eighteen month period where I felt more attached to Katie. Even when she was upset, I felt more drawn to soothing her. I remember telling my husband, “Katie breaks my heart. When she cries, I immediately want to drop everything and soothe her. But for some reason, when Annie Rose cries, I am immune to it because she screams all day long, and I don’t have that same emotional response.”
Something shifted inside me about a year ago, and now, when Annie Rose cries, I do feel a physical pull to gather her in my arms and comfort her. It is mysterious to me, the inner workings of attachment, and I do not know why there are times when I yearn for one child more than another.
I remember how I cried when baby Cleo was five days old, because she looked just like Annie Rose had looked, and I realized how much I missed Annie Rose as a baby. I was not yet as attached to Cleo, and all I wanted was to have my Annie Rose back as a newborn. Within a week or two, those feelings dissipated.
For a while I thought that my level of attachment to each child was directly related to the amount of work she required, but now I no longer think so, because Annie Rose is an immense amount of work and I am as passionately attached to her as I am to Katie and Cleo.
Sure, I would rather take Katie or Cleo to run errands, because I can guarantee neither of them will launch a meltdown in the middle of Target, but it doesn’t mean I love them more. I would say I feel equally attached to the older girls these days.
And Cleo, currently cast in the role of easy, uncomplicated baby, receives my constant adoration. But this time around, I know it is because she is the baby, and it is not because she is my biological child. I see my friends favor their babies, and I know it is a fleeting time in our lives, this time where we have an infant clinging to us and offering up total, complete love.
It no longer worries me when I feel closer to one of the girls; I accept it, because I know that the pendulum continually shifts.
The one piece of advice I can offer my friend is this: spend some time actively thinking of the things you really enjoy about your Older. Stop thinking about Younger and focus only on Older. Pretend you have to give a speech about why you love her.
And then go home and tell her what you most enjoy about her. You will feel better. Give it time. You may always feel closer to Younger, but chances are, at some point, your pendulum will shift, and Older will be the one you prefer.