Parenting

When your child prefers the other parent

Ian learns to live with his position as the "second-favourite parent" in the Mendes household.

One of Lily's special messages for her mom.

On Monday afternoon, Sonia and I were getting ready to leave the house to drop Lily off at her kindergarten class.

As she was putting on her winter boots in the front entrance, Lily announced, “I hope Mommy never dies.”

It was one of those “awww shucks” moments that only a mother and her five-year-old daughter can share.

I stood there — feeling like a third wheel on a date — when I decided to pipe in with a question for Lily. “What about Daddy? Do you want me to never die?”

Lily simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

She pondered the question as if someone had just asked her if she wanted peas or carrots as a side dish. Clearly, eternal life for her father was not a thought that had ever crossed her young mind.

On the surface, you would think I would be devastated. After all, our child — who just wished for my wife to have immortal status — had a shoulder shrug of indifference when the topic of my lifespan was brought up.

Sonia quickly tried to correct Lily by telling her that it was very mean to say that to me. But I tried to defuse the whole situation. Seriously, forcing a five-year-old to apologize is the most painful thing ever. There’s no point in saying to her, “Tell Daddy that you want him to live forever too.”

What is she going to say? “Okay Daddy, you can live forever too.”

Honestly, we all know the truth in our household — I’m the number two parent for Lily. Most kids play favourites with their parents and that’s totally normal.

When Lily draws pictures in art class, it’s always of her mom. Sometimes I have to ask, “Hey — where’s Daddy in that picture?” Then she’ll grab a brown Crayola marker and hastily draw a stick figure in the background. In the end, nobody is sure if that’s me or a poorly-drawn tree in the picture. But the point is, I only appear on Lily’s artwork after a guilt-trip. Even the cat has moved ahead of me on the artwork depth chart in our house.

Lily often leaves little notes for Sonia around the house. In fact, on our dry erase board on the fridge there is a note that says “I Love Mom.” For the record, that dry erase board was supposed to have our grocery list on it, but instead it has transformed into yet another canvas for Lily to express her love for Sonia.

But honestly, I don’t mind being the second-favourite parent in our house. In fact, it has some major benefits.

Whenever there is a meltdown involving Lily, I get to defer to Sonia. After all, when Lily’s screaming “I want Mommy!”, who am I to argue? When Lily wakes up in the night and can’t go back to sleep, guess who has to settle her into bed? (I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the brown stick figure from the drawings).

I even milk the situation for my own benefit. That same day we went to drop Lily off at school this week, it was cold and blustery here in Ottawa. We drove her to the school and I cheerfully asked Lily, “Who do you want to walk you inside the school — Mommy or Daddy?”

Without hesitation she replied, “Mommy!”

I have to admit, I enjoyed watching Sonia freeze on the icy walk to the school, while I stayed inside the nice, warm car, checking Twitter on my phone and listening to REO Speedwagon on the ’80s Lunch.

Other times, I’ll even use my second-favourite status to get some alone time. “Hey Lily, do you want to stay at home with Daddy while he watches football or do you want to go out grocery shopping with Mom?”

She will inevitably choose the outing with Mom — which will get me an icy stare from Sonia as she walks out the door with Lily and three grocery bins.

Being the second-favorite parent may not come with immortality, but you can certainly enjoy this life — if you play your cards right.

Do your kids prefer one parent over the other?