by Judy Dutton
I've heard many little kids prefer their mommies over daddies, but my daughter really used to rub it in. "I love you a lot," Indiana would say to me with a sweet smile, then turn to my husband Jason and say, "I love you a little bit."
Hearing this, Jason would typically roll his eyes, then pepper her with sloppy raspberries. But once she was asleep or out of hearing range, he'd confess that her stark preference for me hurt. I'd pat his knee and say patronizingly, "She'll grow out of it."
Then one day around her fourth birthday, I woke up and realized that this mirage-like "daddy's girl" I'd assured my husband would arrive was indeed emerging ... and you know what? I was jealous.
It all started when my husband took our daughter to Florida to visit his mother for a week. I couldn't go because I had to work and was very worried my daughter would freak being away from me for so long. I cried effusively the day they left and had made Jason promise to Skype soon after they'd settled in.
But even Skype made me nervous. Once when I was traveling on business when my daughter was 1, the sight of me smiling on a laptop screen made her scream. At that age, she was probably wondering, Why is mommy inside the computer? Now that she was 4, I assumed she wouldn't flip, but I was still nervous that the sight of me might make her beg me to fly down and be with her.
My daughter, seeing me on screen, smiled. "Hi Mommy," Indy said. Then she nonchalantly wandered off to chase Grandma's cat.
My daughter was fine ... and I was a mess. Yes, I was relieved to see that she was content to hang with dad. But it also felt like I'd been dating someone for four years, bending over backward to make that person happy, then abruptly gotten dumped.
After that trip, our daughter continued warming up to her father. He taught her to swim, took her kite flying. He became the "cool parent" of us two, while I got to feel what it was like to be the third wheel and taste the rejection my husband had endured for years.
I've heard it's normal and healthy for daughters to go through a stage where they idolize their dads and diss their moms. Still, this does not assuage the fact that such shifts in allegiance can feel devastating when they happen. It's a reminder that kids change, gain confidence, and move on.
"Some day she'll hate us," my husband jokes. I know it's true. I also now know how my husband must have been feeling for the past four years: sidelined not only by his daughter, but sometimes -- OK, often -- by me. He handled it like a trouper, at least most of the time. So now, it's my turn to grin and bear it when she grabs her dad's hand rather than my own. It's the first of many heartbreaks I anticipate I will feel as I watch her grow up.
Is your daughter a "daddy's girl"?