Yesterday when I got home from work JB held Riley up to the window so he could see me as I got out of my car. I waved, and I could hear Riley’s excited squeals—”Mommy! Mommy!”—but when I came inside he clung to his father’s leg, begging to be picked up.

“Give Mommy a hug,” JB said, and Riley shouted Nooo, Noooo, want Daddy, want Daddy, Daddy up, Daddy UP, and as I approached my son he ran from me, crying and wailing and shouting NO, WANT DADDY.

Oh, a thousand knives in my heart. A million.

Riley has always shown a preference for JB, and I guess I’ve gotten used to it as much as a lesser-wanted parent can be expected to. In the last few weeks, though, things have been—well, what? What’s the word for it? Things have been weird, things have been sad. My boy has been clinging to his father and rejecting me on a daily basis, and it hurts so badly I can barely think about it without tears coming to my eyes.

There are big, painful moments, like yesterday’s refusal to allow me to touch him or approach him, or the never-to-be-forgotten horrible meltdown at the Christmas tree farm where I dared to hold him while JB put the tree in the back of the truck, and there are countless small moments that cut into me over and over and over: the way he instantly asks for his father when it’s my morning to get him up, but when it’s JB’s morning he never asks for me once; the way he climbs into his father’s arms at a moment’s notice but often has to be coerced into mine; the way he will hand a toy to his father but refuse to let me touch it; the way he curls against JB’s body in a way he never does with me; the way he follows JB all over the house, begging for “up, up!” until I think I’m going to scream.

I know my boy loves me, and when we’re alone together everything is usually fine—although I doubt he asks about Mommy when he’s with JB as often as he asks about Daddy (“Daddy working?”) when he’s with me. I also know how blessed and lucky we are that his father is here and present and that he has such a strong bond with JB.

But. I just don’t understand why things are so off balance. JB and I share parenting duties fairly equally, we both dole out discipline when it’s necessary, we both do baths and diapers and bedtime stories. I don’t think there’s anything I could be doing to improve the situation, and yet every time Riley rejects me it feels like I am failing in the most critical of arenas, it feels like I am the most colossal fuckup on this planet and that I am doing every single thing wrong.

It makes me feel ugly, unwanted and unneeded. It hurts me in a way that is deeper and more painful than anything I’ve ever experienced: it’s like being fired, and broken up with, and grudgingly accepted last in the schoolyard pick, all at the same time, over and over.

I find myself thinking despondent, sorry-for-me thoughts: why can’t you love me as much, oh god what is wrong with me?; I find myself thinking immature, angry thoughts: I have given up everything for you; I find myself thinking the kinds of thoughts that are hard to confess to: You don’t want to be around me? Fine. You know what, I don’t really want to be around you either. In fact, I’d rather be reading a good book, or going to a movie, or a doing any fucking number of things other than sitting here trying to play Legos and hearing you whine for Daddy.

Sometimes, after we’ve had a particularly Challenging Moment, and my face is full of pain and I can’t smile, he looks at me and say, “Be happy, Mommy”. I don’t know what to think about this. Does he know it hurts me when he rejects me in favor of JB? Does it matter?

I’m so afraid that things will get worse with a new baby in the house, that he’ll cling to JB even more, that the scales will never, ever shift in my favor and our relationship will always be one of second-best. I’m afraid of the exact same scenario happening with my second boy. I’m tired of feeling sad and resentful.

Things are not always bad. Things are very often good. We play together, we read books, he randomly chases me and grabs my pantleg and yells “I GOT DA LEG!”, he shows me he loves me too. This is not an every-moment-of-the-day problem. And maybe there are some easy explanations: I’m cumbrously pregnant and I can’t roughhouse the way his dad does, I’ve been sick and not feeling like myself, I stay home with him part time so maybe I am taken for granted a bit.

I just wish it wasn’t like this. And I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about it.

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