“My favorite child is the one who needs me most.” This quote has long been attributed to my husband’s grandmother. I cannot be sure she actually said it, because I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but she did have 15 children, so it seems like a solid decision to take a parenting tip from her now and again, whether she actually shared them or not.
When children are little, it seems nearly impossible for a parent to focus on any one thing, much less a favorite child. You are mostly just trying to make it to the end of the days with everyone intact for bedtime, so focus is solely on survival.
As kids get older, The Grandmother’s Philosophy of favorites who need you most, seems to come more naturally. At any given time, one child in a household has a time when it becomes clear they need the most and therefore they get parental focus. If you get lucky, then the other kids in the house catch on and take a step back in turn.
Of course that is the best of times. In the worst of times, which I have lived through myself, every single child can need mom and dad at exactly the same time and it is usually when mom and dad are particularly wrung out by their own needs.
It is easy at this time for mom and dad to feel like they are failing every single person in the house. Sometimes the parental human emotions tank is full and you just can’t carry any more-yours or theirs. It is these times we are most vulnerable and prone to the piling on of guilt that leads to questionable behaviors. We yell at our kids. We snap at our partners. We berate ourselves. We just want to quit the whole darn job because we don’t think we’re doing it particularly well anyway.
So, what to do? Well, step one is to be more kind to yourself. It may seem counterintuitive that when you’re lashing out at others, you should be more kind to yourself, but it works. Trust me. I remember once someone saying to me as a young woman, if you’re worried about being a bother, you’re not a bother. As a parent, you are likely always thinking about how to do the best job of parenting and that is a sure sign that when you mess up, or lose focus, it is not catastrophic, nor does it undo all the previous good you have done.
You are human. You cannot do all things (try as you might). Parenting is a full-contact sport and the rules feel like they change with each passing milestone and inch of a child’s growth. So, be patient with yourself. Forgive yourself and know that your best is the best for your kids, even when your best doesn’t feel good enough.
Step two is simply just to slow down and listen. When we really listen, not just nod along to stories while we also check our email or fix dinner or throw laundry in the dryer, but really listen, the results are cumulative. WHen children feel heard, all the rest becomes much less difficult for them.
The truth is, often the “favorite” child is the one who needs you most and sometimes that may be every one of them at once. Listening is the best thing you can do. You can’t do it all, but you sure can try and often, the most love is in the trying and kids feel that every single time.