Preferred Parent Status

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BY: JONATHAN CRISWELL

Have you ever been called on to urgently wipe one of your kids’ butts as you pull a flaming dinner out of the oven while your husband stands there empty-handed?

Have your kids insisted that you dress them RIGHT NOW even though you are carrying two loads of firewood in from outside, icicles dangling from your earlobes while your wife peruses the latest breaking news on Facebook?

Have you ever rushed to your child’s rescue as they’ve fallen off the whirling desk chair again, only to hear a meek, tear-and-snot-filled voice emerge from the wreckage advising: “No, I want daddy.”

Then congratulations, Mom and Dad. You’ve just won (or lost) Preferred Parent Status. Wait a miiiiiiinute…ok you’ve just lost (or won) it back.

Preferred Parent Status is the usually inexplicable phenomenon where kids trust only one functioning parent to solve a predicament, big or small, at a given point in time. “Usually inexplicable” because there are a few instances, mostly involving my daughter’s hair, where the bias is perfectly explicable.

But the rest of the time, there is absolutely no reason why Dad can’t button the top button of the shirt. There’s no reason Mom can’t get your head out of the banister rails. There never seems to be any rhyme or reason to it.

If there were rhyme, it may sound like this:

Yes, I see you’re busy

But I really need to whiz, see

And even though Dad is just on the Wii

I really, really want you, Mommy.

So there’s barely a rhyme, but definitely no reason. No transparency into the decision-making process. Does it have to do with prior bad experiences? Did I yell at her the last time I tied her shoe? Did I tie it too tight? Was I chewing too loudly, or rambling on politics or religion? Does Mom sneak her a lollipop every time she ties her shoes? Or give her money?

I’m sure there is a child psychologist out there who can explain this behavior in a neatly packaged, 200-page thesis. My wife and I will not read that paper, though, opting instead to spin the PPS roulette wheel and see what happens. We both constantly live in the altered reality that “it’s gotta be your turn next.”

But it’s not necessarily a back-and-forth thing. You may get on a lucky (unlucky?) streak where you’re the Preferred Parent six or so times in a row. When I realize I’ve been on the short end of one of these streaks, I begin to think that maybe my kids forgot who I am or don’t like me anymore, only to hear “Da-ddy, I neeeed you!” at 3:18 AM.

“Honey, I think she’s calling you…zzzzz.”

“No, pretty sure I heard her say Dad…zzzzz.”

“Zzzzzzz.”

“Zzzzzzz.”

<15 minutes later> “Daaaa-deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee?!”

“Hunh? See? I knew…I knew she…she was calling…zzzzzzzzz.”

“Fine.”

And with that, the Preferred Parent Pendulum has swung back my way. Maybe one of the stuffed animal militia has fallen out of the bed. Or a bad dream. Perhaps a bad dream that a stuffed animal fell out of the bed and never woke up. These are all serious matters that only Dad can fix. Until next time, when only Mom can fix it.

As the kids get older, the number of these unpredictable assignments decreases but the magnitude increases. Our latest such incident involves swimming lessons. My wife accompanied our two-year-old “guppy” into the pool for the first lesson, because I was at work. After that, he informed us that “I want to swim with Daddy” from now on.  Only he knows why. We didn’t ask…except rhetorically when in December the temperature got to around 30 degrees and I’d forgotten a change of clothes. Preferred Parent Status may have its privileges, but with that privilege comes great responsibility. Remember your clothes when you go swimming in December.

There’s a code programmed into each child, but there is no sense in attempting to crack the Preferred Parent Status code. A bunch of Mommy/Daddy decisions crunch like zeroes and ones and just spit out random results. Every time you think you have it solved, another baffling decision comes up, when the parent currently on the phone haggling over the cable bill is the only person on earth who can get the Saltine crackers down from the cabinet.

Sometimes the kids just have to “get over it” and let the less qualified parent handle it. We hope they can get over it  without wiring out.

So who has Preferred Parent Status in your house this very minute? What’s the most ridiculous Preferred Parent moment you’ve had? Do you enjoy being the Preferred Parent or rather your spouse? The answers to these questions and more may change by the time you’ve finished typing, so type fast!


Jonathan Criswell is the preferred parent in his house....until next time, when he won't be. Originally from near Pittsburgh, he now lives in Delaware with his wife and three kids who are his life. He's an accountant by day to pay the bills and a parent all the time to ensure a meager discretionary income. In whatever spare time is left, he and his wife document all the typical parenting tribulations over at the very minimalist site www.letsplaythree.blogspot.com, where nothing gets taken too seriously, especially Web design and standard "Blogging" conventions.