This evening my eldest threw a massive tantrum about the fact that it was my turn to put him to bed. His father and I do alternate nights, but Eldest always likes to claim it’s Daddy’s turn, every single time. Youngest is exactly the same. No one ever wants it to be Mummy’s turn. It’s a fate worse than having no Star Wars time.
You may wonder what can be so terribly lacking in my putting-to-bed skills. I wonder myself. I run Matey-filled baths, dole out beakers of tepid milk, read the same Horrid Henry stories again and again, but still it appears I’m useless. I’m just not the same as Daddy. Daddy is ace and I’m not. Daddy’s the favourite and Mummy – well, in a good mood, we’ll humour Mummy, but in a bad one we’ll just scream and scream and scream.
I can’t even claim there’s some great gender inequality underlying all this. It’s not as though I’m at home all day, having to lay down the law, while Daddy breezes in of an evening and is instantly perceived to be “the fun one”. If anything, “the fun one” should be me, as I’m the one who spends more time out at work. But I’m not fun. I’m just tired.
If I’m really, really honest, I can see that there are ways in which my partner out-parents me. He has more energy, more silliness. He always reads a book when our children ask him to, whereas half the time I tell them to look at the pictures while I get on with something else. In the back of my mind I can always think “it’s okay if I don’t do this bit of parenting ’cause Daddy will make up for it”. But then at other times I get annoyed. Why does Daddy have to set the parenting bar so high? Don’t I get a say in this? Why can’t we both mutually agree to be mediocre? I can’t be as brilliant as Daddy is – and my children deserve him to be brilliant – yet the selfish side of me finds this all a bit much. He’s making me look bad!
The truth is, I want to be the favourite, for a little bit at least. I have only ever been the favourite for a very brief time, once, three years ago. Yes, it was uncomfortable and guilt-inducing, but it was way better than being the loser parent. It was when my partner had tonsillar quinsey, which made him unable to speak properly. Our eldest found it frightening and clung to me for a long time after that. Obviously I can’t just find ways to impede my partner’s speech in order to make sure I’m top of the parent pops. Or rather I could, but I haven’t tried. I suspect it’s difficult to find ways to impede people’s speech on purpose, and it’s probably illegal, too.
It shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t, not really. I have beautiful, happy children, and it’s not like they actively hate me. But still, I just wish my partner would give me a chance. I wish I could overtake or at least be level with him without having to up my game. Just how well does one have to read Horrid Henry and the Pirate Party for the forty millionth time? Can’t my kids at least give me an appraisal? Tell me that while I’m not parenting employee of the month, I’m making steady progress? After all, I did the pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding bit. Couldn’t I be allowed to coast on those achievements for a little longer?
Perhaps Daddy will always be the favourite. Or perhaps when our kids hit their teens, I’ll come into my own because putting me first will appear really radical and alternative. Or perhaps they’ll do the expected thing and just hate us both. In the meantime, though, I’m not going to stomp about feeling resentful about not being Parent No. 1. Well, not much. Perhaps just here. It’s selfish and immature, I know. My partner’s first place is merited. But aren’t kids meant to be more fickle and random than that? Why can’t I come first just because?