She’s a daddy’s girl, through and through. Our three-year-old could not possibly love her father more: shrieking in delight and breaking out into a happy dance when he walks through the door. When Daddy is home, mothering becomes more difficult, as she refuses most of my attempts to connect, opting to let “daddy do it.” Her preference for daddy is real, undeniable, and if I’m honest, quite humbling.
The bedtime rejection once Daddy walks in is a slap in the face, after a full day of trying to connect and build into our relationship. And while I know that she is a preschooler—whimsical and capricious— and I can’t possibly take her preference for her father as an evaluation of me as a mother, I still falter and struggle to find my footing, as I reframe my identity once again. Maybe it is easier to let the opinions roll off me when we have more degrees of separation: the curious onlooker, the other mom in a play group, a distant Facebook friend. But when my own daughter—my flesh and blood—screams for Daddy after I’ve enforced a boundary, and cries “Yuck, Mommy!” when I attempt to comfort her, I can’t help but feel rattled.
If I’m not careful, armed, and prepared, I will quickly fall into negative headspace, questioning who I am as a mother and as a woman. Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Maybe her reaction to me is because I lost my patience yesterday. Is she scared of me? Maybe I’m just boring—no wonder she prefers Daddy. Am I too strict with boundaries and expectations? Do I not play with her enough or share enough joyful and fun moments? But all these maybes and all of these doubts lead me to the same implicit conclusion: I’m not a good enough mother. And my fear of sharing this struggle with other moms reinforces this message, as I am embarrassed—surely other children actually want to be with their mother.
But the truth is, my identity is not grounded in my performance as a mother or as a wife. I am not who my three-year-old thinks I am (this morning, tonight, or tomorrow!). I am not the sum of my mistakes—or of my victories, either, for that matter. Her preference for Daddy actually says nothing about me as a mother, but rather is a beautiful connection: don’t I want her to love her father and have an excellent role model of what a good and godly man looks like?
When I can free myself from her opinion—her reactions and preferences—I am able to step away and celebrate the relationship my husband has built with her. I can cling to the truth that I am a child of God, and I am valued; this value has nothing to do with my (lack of) Pinterest-worthy crafts, snacks, or recipes. Moreover, the fact that I make her giggle less, am less goofy, and have stricter bedtime routines, does not change my intrinsic value in any way. I am able to freely accept her kisses and cuddles, squeezing her tightly when Daddy is at work. I can savor her spontaneous outbursts of “Mommy, I love you,” without clinging to them, unfairly asking her to support me and form my identity as a mother. When I can root my identity in biblical truth, I can liberate my daughter from the burden of carrying my identity on her shoulders. No one—especially not a three year old!—should have to bear that weight.