Monday, February 27, 2017

Choosing Favorites - On Parenting

Sensi is my favorite kid at meal times. He eats most of what we set before him. He complains little and talks less, taking seconds (and thirds) before clearing his dish. Meanwhile, my daughters peck at their food like birds. They mumble about mashed potatoes. They groan about green veggies (except for broccoli). They eat meat sparingly, mostly when it's breaded and deep fried.

"Sensi is my favorite child right now," I tell them at the dinner table. They roll their eyes.

But Sensi is not always my favorite child. For a nominally verbal child, he makes tons of noise. He smacks his gums and stomps his feet. He crashes his toy cars and slams bathroom doors. "You're too loud," I tell him. "You're... too... loud," he parrots back.

In the early mornings, Claire is my favorite because she shows responsibility, exudes confidence, takes risks, and encourages her siblings. "Claire is my favorite," I tell them on the way to school. They roll their eyes.

But Claire is not always my favorite child. She does not lose gracefully, gives herself first choice of the cinnamon rolls, and struggles to follow through with goals. "Finish strong" I say. "I'll finish you strong," she replies in her head.
In the evenings, Margot is my favorite because she persists through a challenge, manages her emotions, cracks a joke, and shows tenderness to her brother. "Margot is my favorite," I tell them at bedtime. They roll their eyes.

But Margot is not always my favorite child. She drags her feet, whines about school, and hides in the shadow of her big sister. "Look for the good," I say. "Uuuuugh," she replies.

Children are a complex of their parents best and worst traits. We favor them when they reflect what we love about ourselves. They frustrate us when they mirror our deficiencies.

I watch my kids with awe and horror. They nurture my sensitivity, test my patience, and remind me of the unfailing love my Heavenly Father shows me. These children came from me (most of them). They reflect me (all of them). They give witness to my appetite and volume, my confidence and compulsion, my wit and withholding nature. Each one is my favorite... some of the time.

But I must be careful. The folly of choosing favorites plays a prominent theme in Genesis. Successive generations of parents select one child to the exclusion of the others. Abraham chooses Isaac over Ishmael. Rachel chooses Jacob over Esau. Israel chooses Joseph over the eleven others. A recurring cycle of sibling rivalry and parental despair results.

Every child wants to be chosen; feeling second-rate leaves deeps scars. Such wounds trace their way thick into the foliage of the family tree. Listen to the rustling leaves: Choosing favorites is bad parental practice!

So I should stop the ruse. I should tell my kids that they're all my favorite all the time. (And everyone gets a trophy.) In fact, this is exactly what my mother-in-law told her daughters. They all turned out pretty fine. But one of them is my favorite.

Inspired by reading through The Story with my daughters this past January.

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