I'm not the fun parent and I'm (mostly) okay with that

My kids love me and need me. But when it comes to who they wanna hang out with? More often than not, they're going to pick Daddy. And I think I know why.

Photo: iStockphoto

A few weeks ago, I was goofing around with my younger daughter, who’s four-and-a-half.  “Oh, Birdie,” I said, as our giggling tapered off. “I love being together. Isn’t it so fun?”

“But I like being with Daddy,” she replied, in her sweet little voice.

Ouch. Her sudden bursting of my love-bubble kind of stung. But honestly, it’s been that way in our family for a few years now. My two daughters (the older one is eight) pretty much explode with glee when Daddy walks into the room. What’s more, they’d be the first to admit that they often prefer to be with him over me.

I’m not so blind as to not know why. I’m the taskmaster, the parent who is much more frequently nagging them to putyourshoesonforcryingoutloudwearealreadylate.

   A little girl sitting on a bed playing with dolls    
   I never wanted my daughter to play with dolls, until this happened
I’m the one who drags them home from playdates (invariably much! too! soon!) and gives them a hard time when they’ve lost yet another pair of gloves.

I’m more often the clothes hamper-reminder, the homework eye-baller, the TV remote grabber and the clock-watcher—that is, the one who actually sticks to the bedtime we’ve set or turns off the iPad exactly 10 minutes after their 10-minute warning.

It’s no surprise. While both my husband and I work, I do much more of the day-in, day-out childcare stuff—doctor’s appointments, playdates, lunch-making, clothes-shopping, form-filling, etcetera. Couple that with my innate tendency to be more rigid and less patient, and it brings you to a place where Daddy is No. 1.

It’s the old “bad cop, good cop” thing—with one person sort of pushing the seesaw in the other direction so that the balance comes out somehow. Fun is had, but people still get to school, eat a vegetable now and again, and find matching shoes most days of the week. And the truth is this: I think he’s sort of allowed to be the fun guy because someone has to be committed to structure and consistency. Someone’s got to care that the homework gets done and the bedtimes happen, and that role often falls to…mom.

(A few disclaimers: 1. It’s not like he’s Mr. Not-a-Care-in-the-World or lets them run wild. Not at all. It’s more that I am much more rigid than he is. And perhaps that’s on me– have I made myself into the bad cop? More on that later) 2. Not that there’s anything wrong with a family in which both parents are chill, bedtimes are super-flexible, and shoes barely get worn. Or, a family where both parents are both sort of playing traffic cop and laces must be double-knotted and backpacks zipped and lined up by 7 p.m. You do you, etc etc.)

And sure, I could definitely loosen up about some things so my kids don’t always see me and think, “Run! She’s going to tell us to do something!” And my maybe husband could see that when he lets our eldest stay up to watch some absolutely.vital.sports.event for what seems like the umpteenth night in a row, not only does it leave her tired, but it makes it harder for me to get her to bed on any of the other nights he’s at a work event or traveling for work.

But I guess at the stage we’re at now, I’m ultimately more comfortable with being the person who pesters bedtimes and screen-times than not having those things monitored as closely. (And, I should defend myself a bit here to point out that I really don’t think I’m a dictator or Mrs. Bossypants McMommyson all the time, and as I already said my husband is not Mr. Goodtime Guy all the time either. But proportionally, those are the roles we fall into more often than not, and the ruts can get set in.)

And in the end, I know my kids love me. I know they need me, and at plenty of times, they crave me and only me. And I am there for them, no strings attached. I know these things will ebb and flow as our relationships change and they grow and change, too.

So, the most recent time when my little one gave me the “…but I love Daddy response, I simply replied, “Me too!” and carried on. (And, a few minutes later, I told her to brush her teeth—now, fortheloveofgod.)

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