It’s not that I have favorites. Really, I don’t.
But the truth is that my daughters are different people, and so of course, I have different relationships with each of them. And yes, they are still little, and their personalities will change. But any parent will tell you that babies aren’t born with a blank slate; you get a sense for their temperament from the very beginning.
My toddler and I get into it. Fairly often. She mouths off at me, I snap at her. You’re probably thinking it’s because she’s 2, and part of her developmental job right now is separating from me. I suppose you’re right, but that’s only part of the story. The bigger issue is that she is me–smaller, cuter, and less competent on the potty, but other than that, she’s my little clone. Having a mini-me isn’t quite the ego-boost one would hope for. It’s actually incredibly irritating to have all of your neuroses and short-comings paraded in front of you on a regular basis, even if they are wearing a pink tutu and Hello Kitty underwear.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Her OCD-flavored tendencies (courtesy of yours truly) have a unique and highly effective way of getting under my skin. As much as I can relate to them, I can barely tolerate them. Yes, I understand to the depths of my soul why she can’t bring herself to taste the vegetable du jour. I get it so deeply that I often don’t harass her about it. And I also totally relate to her need not to have that pea on her plate, even if it isn’t touching the rest of her food, but it still irritates the crap out of me that she can’t just suck it up and leave the pea there. I know that she’s experiencing a similar internal conflict; she desperately wants to be a good girl (and usually is), but leaving the pea on the plate is fundamentally unacceptable to her. I get it all. Nonetheless, it drives me nuts.
The saving grace in all of this is we are incredibly close. I often know what’s going on in that still-developing brain of hers, even when she doesn’t have the words to describe it herself. I remember once when she was lying on the floor of her bedroom, clearly incredibly frustrated. She wasn’t talking yet, so she had to resort to waving her arms frantically in the general direction of her dresser. Josh was baffled. I took one look and knew immediately what was wrong–one of her drawers was just barely, almost imperceptibly, open, and that was just not acceptable. My husband had no idea how I figured it out, because he would never notice such a thing, much less be annoyed by it. I, on the other hand, spend way too much of my time closing drawers and sorting toys into the right little plastic bins. I just can’t help myself. But when I’m with my little girl, I don’t have to.
Like Father, Like Daughter
On the other hand, there’s my younger daughter. Actually, she’s her father’s daughter. (I know, it’s biologically impossible that all of my genes would have ended up in our first child, leaving my husband’s genetic material for baby #2, but somehow it happened.) She has his beautiful blue eyes, his thick, straight brown hair, and his happy, steady personality. Our daycare provider has described her as “simple, sweet, and refreshing.” (I know by “simple” she didn’t mean stupid–she meant straightforward and uncomplicated, much like my husband.) But don’t let her barely-toothy smile deceive you–not unlike her father, she’s smart and determined and once she sets her sights on something, she’s not easily distracted. She can play alone happily for extended periods of time, she’ll eat almost anything, she loves music, and she’s a terrible napper. I gave birth to my husband, but in baby girl form.
I rarely find myself getting frustrated with the little one, and it’s not just a matter of her not yet hitting the Terrible Two’s. I remember getting so irritated with my big girl when she was the same age, just over a year. Perhaps not surprisingly, my husband has endless patience for our toddler. I guess it all makes sense, really. He wanted to marry me, so clearly my crazies don’t really bother him, whether they’re coming from me or our firstborn. And I chose my husband as my life partner, so of course I find his Mini-Me to be absolutely delightful.
Biblical Parents to the Rescue
I am close to both of my girls, but I worry (of course) about how these complicated family dynamics will play out as they get older. (I’m terrified of the teenage years. Can anyone recommend a nice Jewish boarding school? I’d prefer one within two miles of our home.) I know that I have a good relationship with my girls, and I know that they know that I love them. But of course, this isn’t about love. It’s about the bigger picture of our relationship, with all of the constantly evolving pieces that we each bring to it. I feel like I should have endless patience for both of them, and that I should respond to each of them in exactly the same predictable, consistent way. But it just doesn’t happen, and I stress about it.
When I really start stressing about my parenting flaws, I try to remind myself that no parent treats their children in exactly the same way, or even the right way, all the time. We Jews are no exception. Think about the stories in the Torah, going all the way back to God. He (She?) plays favorites with Cain and Abel, and we end up with the first murder. Abraham picks Isaac over Ishmael, resulting in thousands of years of animosity between nations. Rebecca tricks her husband into giving his blessing to their younger son, Jacob, instead of Esau, who became so enraged that he tried to kill his brother. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and his jealous brothers detested him so much that they threw him in a pit and left him for dead.
Thank goodness for our deeply flawed ancestors. Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are thought to embody Godliness, and the whole point of studying their stories is to learn from them. But just as Martha Stewart’s dinner tablescapes seem so beyond my skill level that I don’t even bother trying, if our ancestors got it right all the time, well, I’d probably just give up now. But they weren’t perfect, and they didn’t always make the best choices. If they can have such deeply flawed relationships with their kids and still be Godly, well, maybe I have a shot in all of this. And as long as the girls don’t kill each other, or even try, and as long as no one ends up in the bottom of a pit, I guess I’m doing just fine.