Have I ever told you that all our dogs have loved J. more than me? We’ve had several dogs over the years, and each dog has chosen J. as the favourite parent. Even Grover, whom I brought to the relationship, came to prefer J. What am I, chopped liver? Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m Jewish, after all, and I grew up eating the stuff.
Jelly, who bears my last name, doesn’t dislike me–she’ll even wag her tail and howl for me on occasion–but she adores J. I come home and Jelly greets me briefly, then runs past me excitedly in search of Mother Superior. Her disappointment is palpable if I’m the only one home. When J. arrives, Jelly’s high-pitched squealing and loving licks can only mean: “I missed you, I missed you, I missed you, why did you have to leave me with her for so long?!”
As the stay-at-home parent, I am Jelly’s primary caregiver: I’m the one who takes her to see her friends at the park in the mornings, who keeps her company during the day, who comforts her and cleans up after her when she’s sick, who takes her to the vet (no wonder she doesn’t like me), and who helps her with her homework. Despite my undying devotion, I remain an inferior facsimile to Jelly’s favourite mommy. I have begrudgingly and somewhat resentfully come to accept this reality.
How often are parents told not to play favourites with their children? But has anyone talked to the kids about this? How do parents cope when their children clearly prefer one parent over the other? How do they not take it personally? I do.
I abandoned our pack with my recent hospitalization. After being away for 5 sleeps, I wondered whether Jelly might be happy to see me when I came home. “Happy” is an understatement; she was ecstatic. She moaned and cried with joy when I entered the house, climbing all over me to kiss me and welcome me back. For a good five minutes, I was the object of her affection, just like J. is every day when she gets home from work.
Within minutes, Jelly had returned to traipsing around behind her favourite mommy, leaving me in her wake. She had greeted me and, now that our pack was reunited, she put J. back on her parental pedestal. Oh well, five minutes of adoration is better than nothing. At least Jelly noticed I was gone.
I know what I need to do to become Jelly’s favourite, other than return to the hospital. I’ll get down on the floor and cuddle with her like J. does, even though it will take me half an hour to get up. I’ll let Jelly up on the couch more often; I can be a pushover like J.
But then it struck me: J. normally feeds Jelly, and all dogs care about is kibble. J. even throws in the occasional bit of chicken skin or beef gristle with Jelly’s dinner; I could do that too. Come to think of it, I imagine Jelly would love chopped liver. She is my daughter after all.