Do I have a favorite child?
When I asked my sixteen-year-old to take out the trash the other night, a task she has done many times before, I did not expect what came next. It caught me off guard and left me shocked. I’m still grappling with the aftermath.
She got closer and whispered in my ear, “Why don’t you ask (my nine-year-old) to take out the trash? She can do it.” She did not want her little sister to hear her asking me. I looked at her like she had gone mad, and I was about to ask, “How could she do such a thing? She is too young, too little. She is a baby.” As if she read my mind, she quickly said, “You don’t let her do anything I used to do when I was her age.”
I don’t know if I couldn’t respond at that moment or if I didn’t want to respond, but I sensed that I was accused of having a favorite child, and I wasn’t going to take it. I already struggle with feeling mom guilt all the time. No matter what I do, I feel it’s never enough, or I should have done more or done things better.
I immediately went on defense mode and proceeded to explain how profoundly wrong she was. But before I said anything, I realized she was right. She helped me with loading and unloading the dishwasher, setting the table, putting the folded laundry away, and taking out the trash regularly from as early as seven years old. She’s been making her bed and doing occasional chores since she was four. I’ve made a point to teach her to be self-sufficient, helpful, and independent since she was a toddler when putting away her toys and taking her plate to the sink.
So, she became interested in helping me around the house and even helping with her baby sister later on. At only six, to my delight, she practiced on a doll how to change diapers when I was pregnant despite being told that she wouldn’t be changing diapers.
One night when she was eight, I must have disabled the baby monitor by mistake, but I got up hearing noises to find that she had already changed her baby sister’s diaper and tucked her back in the crib. I was moved to tears that night. I never wanted her to have the burden of having to mommy her little sister while she was still a little kid herself. But that shows the kind of child she is.
She has been always an old soul. She grew up so fast, never gave me trouble, her pregnancy and birth were a breeze, she learned to read at two and was reading books by three. In kindergarten, she was already reading chapter books. So smart, so mature, so talented, and so emotionally intelligent. Now I realize I did not treat her as her age. She would not let me even if I wanted to. She was always said, “I’m not a kid,” and she surely did not act like one.
So, yes, I felt confident to assign chores to her at a young age knowing she would do just fine. I have a piece of paper in her kindergarten handwriting assigning herself chores I didn’t even ask for or expect.
When she said that remark about me not assigning any chores to her little sister, it came not from blame or shame but love for her sister and me. She wants her to be as self-sufficient and as helpful as she is. Thinking ahead and being considerate of me as always, she said, “What are you going to do when I leave for college?” That will be in less than two years.
But this situation led me to think and search deep inside. Do I favor one over the other? Do I have a soft side towards my younger one? Do I let my younger child get away with things I didn’t allow my older daughter to get away with? Am I fair? Am I harming my younger one by not teaching her basic life skills? Do I have a favorite child?
The direct answer is no. I don’t have a favorite. The long answer is, I made sure to teach my older daughter all those skills, and I was strict about it because I thought she would be my only child. I was told I would not conceive again, and with poor health, I always needed help. And while I have stepchildren, they didn’t live with us full-time, so there was no direct sibling influence in her early life. It was only me, and I wanted her to be fully prepared for what life had in store for her.
My older daughter made me a mom and grew up too fast. I feel I should have savored the time when she was younger more. Now, she is more of a friend to me, my right arm, and my confidant. There’s also the fact that she had my undivided attention for almost seven years.
During my surprise second pregnancy and childbirth, I had complications that we feared for the baby’s life. So, we were beyond grateful when she fought for her life and survived. I still see her as this tiny, fragile creature we almost lost. I always feel the need to hold her tight and protect her at all costs. She has many challenges, so, yes, I’m a bit softer, and more lenient with her at times, but not always, and I do accept less of her because I know that’s all she can do.