“I like Dad better than you.”
Well, she said it. My fear had materialized in a single statement, and you know, the context of these things matter. I had thought she’d say it in the midst of a lecture, or when I was asking her to do a Not Fun thing that perhaps Ken doesn’t ask her to do. I had thought she’d say it whilst brushing her teeth.
She did not. She’d said it while I was giving her my all, while I was cross-legged on the dusty rose rug playing a Doc McStuffins memory game for the 88th time, a game that holds little satisfaction because the pieces are missing (Bernie’s cage, Bernie’s under-the-bed-lair, Bernie’s stomach) and few matches remain.
I did not react well. I dropped my cards and left the room, partly to collect myself but also partly, in all truthfulness, so she could feel my pain, so she could see that her words carry a deep weight that sometimes push others into a tide you didn’t intend.
And then I came back in and I shamed her.
That is a terrible thing to say to someone. I would never tell you that I like Dad better than you, would I? Dad would never tell you that he likes me better than you, would he? Do not ever say that to me. It hurts my feelings. You hurt my feelings.
After five minutes and five hundred tears, I knew what I’d done. Sure, I’d taught her remorse for her actions, consequences for her speech, but what else had I taught her?
I had taught her that this home is not an environment in which honest communication is valued. I had taught her that tiptoeing around my insecurities are more important than speaking her truth. That she should smile through a lie so I would not cry from the truth.
I had taught her that her words are not safe in my ears.
There is something to be said for respect, for balancing kindness and truth, for speaking from your heart in the gentlest way you can muster. But this takes time. This takes skill.
Toddlers have not been offered enough time to master this skill, and instead of teaching her how to tell the truth, I taught her not to tell it at all.
I had taught her that I would rather her be nice than be kind.
I want to be the best. I want to be the favorite parent, the one to which her eyes light up, the one in which she runs toward in a crowded room of a hundred people, a thousand people, a thousand more.
Who wouldn’t want that? A toddler’s adoration is the sweetest song.
And yet, last night, I was not the best.
I was also not the best I could be.
This morning, over eggs, I said my apology. My feelings were hurt by how you said it, and we’ll work on that. But you felt it, and you said something, and that’s a good thing. Honesty is always a good thing.
She listens. She eats. She pauses. Can I say another good thing? she asks, fork in hand.
Sure. I brace myself.
I like Doc McStuffins better than you AND Dad.