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Mom Talk: When Dad Becomes The Favorite

Written by Sky England

Photography by Tobi and Temi Adamolekun, Photographed By Maria Del Rio

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Sky England talks navigating those tough moments when her son began to reject her in favor of her husband. -JKM

Bedtime. My husband, Dan, and I snuggled under our covers, our two-year-old, James, wedged between us; the baby asleep in his room. I opened up the Little Critter anthology and James cried, “No! Daddy read it!” I began to read anyway, but James insisted, “No! Daddy!” I handed the book to Dan and walked out of the room. “Sky!” Dan called after me.

“It’s fine!” I huffed, running down the stairs. But, of course it wasn’t fine. I was hurt and sick of giving what I felt was everything a person could muster only to be rejected by my kid. Sleep deprivation didn’t help the matter, either; practically everything made me cry.

Before I had my second son, Charlie, I heard many stories. Stories about children asking when their baby siblings would be returned to the hospital; saying funny/nasty things about the new arrival; potty training regressions. But, no one—not one single person—had mentioned that my son might actually adore his little brother, while growing increasingly resentful and angry with me, his mother.

In retrospect, it made sense. Before Charlie, we orbited James like the sun. We responded to every request, tumble, giggle, and tantrum. Suddenly, home with two little kids on maternity leave (I’m an American living in Canada, where we get one year maternity leave), I couldn’t. For example: The zoo playground. I thought James could play, while I nursed Charlie. Without a playmate (me), he got bored. Then, he said he had to poop and I frantically gathered the exploded backpack, put my boob away, scooped up the children, ran like a mad woman for the bathroom, lay the baby on the disgusting bathroom floor, only to have poop tumble out of James’ pants. We’d be playing outside and Charlie would squall over the monitor, and I’d have to bring James in, kicking and screaming. Again and again, I would have to say, “Not now, James, I’m feeding Charlie.” “Not now, James, I have to put Charlie down.” Every day, I disrupted his play, let him down, failed to meet his needs.

Sometimes—both kids crying, cinnamon spilled all over the kitchen, dishes and toys everywhere, four loads of laundry to do—I would step onto the porch, pull at my hair, and silently scream, “What the fuck am I supposed to do!?” Meanwhile, when Dad got home, he and James could run off and have it be exactly as it was. James rejecting me—at bedtime, for comfort, for everything—only confirmed what a crap job I was doing.

On a walk with another mom of two, I confessed all of this. “Oh yeah,” she said. “That happened to me, too.” She said it so lightly, as if she had already forgotten. “But, it’s better now. Beniot got over it.” I wanted to believe I would utter these words to some other poor mom a year from now, but I was also pretty convinced that James and my closest days were behind us.

But, I was wrong. Things have gotten better. Charlie no longer needs to be fed 24/7. He’s sturdier, and I can safely hold them both in my arms. I know how to make them both feel loved in the same moment. And, I think James has pretty much forgotten he was ever the only one. Perhaps this is the beginning of the complicated relationship we all have with our mothers, I often think. The ones we believe to have all the answers, every remedy, eight arms, the ability to be everywhere at once, and pocket full of magic dust. When really, what we have are two human arms, and hopefully enough wild love to make up the gap.

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