The Familial Serengeti (Why My Kids Love Me Less)

The official T-shirt of my two kids...

So the past few days have gotten me to thinking about the dynamics of a family – the way the members interact with one another and how each interaction in turns shapes the character and destiny of the family as a whole, and each member individually. It’s essentially an emotional ecosystem, if you think about, a very carefully constructed little biosphere where people get the emotional sustenance they need in order to survive and perpetuate the ecosystem. A family, in other words, is like the Serengeti or a Brazilian rainforest: something to be treasured and protected.

And like all ecosystems there are complexities that color and shape the outcomes of events. A family can be, at times, downright Darwinian: only the strong survive.

Case in point, my family for the past week. The absence of Rachel created a vacuum in our familial Serengeti – let’s call it a drought, or at the very least an arid season – whereby the three remaining members (me, Jon, and Ella) were left to fight over scarce resources (like love, common sense, emotional stability and chocolate ice cream). We each needed something from the others to make up for the void created by Rachel, and we were wildly different in our approach to getting our fill. It was SURVIVOR: Family Edition, only we didn’t have Jeff Probst. And it didn’t take me very long to realize that I was going to be the first one voted off the island.

Ella’s gamesmanship has been well documented, as has Jon’s, and I have to say: getting outplayed, outlasted and outsmarted by your preschoolers is a painful thing to experience (and admit). Now, with Rachel’s return, it has become painfully clear that my position in the ecosystem has been forever altered. I think the week alone with my kids has shown them that I am not the dominant predator in the house (not that anyone who knows us ever believed that anyway) and, more to the point, that I’m not even really a threat. They now know, without doubt, that it is Mommy who rules the roost, and I have become safely ensconced as the official chauffeur and designated wage earner.

It’s a weird thing to suddenly realize your own obsolescence. You go from the idea that you contribute significantly to the ecosystem to the crushing truth that you are there just to keep others happy. But there’s freedom in that realization; not that I ever assumed it was my role to dominate and dictate to my family, but sometimes that is the impression you get as a dad – that you should be the loudest, meanest and final voice on all matters. Understanding that your role in the ecosystem is to provide delicate balance to the other members is to understand that you are the foundation upon which your family is built. In a weird way, it’s understanding what Jesus taught: if you would lead, you must serve.

With Rachel home, I’m free to embrace that truth. For me to truly lead my family, I must first provide for their needs, give them the freedom to be who they are, and love them unconditionally. If I can do those things, my voice then becomes valued and listened to in the important matters, even if it gets ignored in those matters I find less important anyway. Sure, Rachel may be loved more by the kids, but that doesn’t mean my kids don’t love me at all – it just means they love me as they should.

And I’m okay with that.

Plus, if I embrace my role as my family’s support system, that means I get to spend less time in the octagon fighting for supremacy. Which means my chances of surviving increase exponentially. Which means that I may just outplay, outlast and outsmart them all…

5 thoughts on “The Familial Serengeti (Why My Kids Love Me Less)

  1. I must say that I am depressed after reading this. I don’t want to think my kid or kids will love Jeremy more than me I don’t think I can accept that they will love me “just as they should”. I guess Elizabeth is still to young to know what our dynamics will be, I think currently sometimes I to feel I’m just there to keep the other two happy. Sometimes I feel like all I do is bring in the stupid money and I freaking hate that.

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    1. In honesty, Diana, the kid(s) will love you more than Jeremy because you’re their mom. Moms always get the best love from their kids, because that’s just the way the genetics work. 🙂

      I do believe that kids love parents differently, but that doesn’t mean those differences are value judgments on/against the parents. It just means that each parent brings something different into the life of their child, and the child responds.

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  2. I agree that kids love their parents in different ways. I love my Mama but I absolutely LOVED my Daddy more. It might have something to do with the fact that I look and act JUST like him!!

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  3. I appreciate your humor and openness with your family interactions. I think this kind of communication is healthy in both directions (you writing and us reading).

    As for the children’s affections, it reminds me of our situation. We have two little dogs that are like our children.

    When “daddy” has been gone for a few days, they rejoice when he returns and instead of sleeping in my bed, they sleep in his bed. (to explain the two beds, we live in a travel trailer) But once the novelty wears off, it’s back to mommy’s bed.

    My husband, like you, accepts this. He loves our dogs so much that he doesn’t hold anything against them and I can imagine it’s the same with a loving father like yourself. You don’t hold it against your children for being “closer” to mommy. It’s totally normal because, just like with my “children”, mommy is the one that is there 24/7. They don’t love you less, they just feel that (for lack of a better word) psychic intuition that mothers have that keeps them tuned into their child’s every mood.

    I am so glad I found your blog and, believe me, you won’t disappear into obscurity after this. I’m going to tell my Facebook buddies and the word will get around fast. – God bless you and your dear family and thank you again.

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