Well, I had a pretty good run.

With two sons, I had a lot of years being number one. They always adored their dad, but the mommy show was definitely prime time during their early years. The consoler-in-chief and fun times brigade, their eyes lit up the brightest for me, without a doubt.

I’m reminding myself of this now that I’m nonexistent to my 15-month-old daughter as soon as her daddy enters the room.

Parent-child relationships are complicated and varied, and every one is unique. But there are certain stereotypes about the mother-son and father-daughter bond I’m learning are based on very real fact.

My husband is a wonderful father to our boys. He wrestles with them, plays any number of sports in the backyard with them (saving me from having to feign an interest in this), and transforms into daddy monster while they squeal with delight.

But I’ve never seen him come running like he does when our little girl calls out to him.

I see how she curls into him, laying her head on his chest, patting his arm. A move I can only hope for in the wee hours of the night when she’s sleepy or maybe a bit under the weather.

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I find myself thinking little girl, please. I wrote this playbook. I understand that without quite knowing why, you restrain yourself, give affection begrudgingly and sparingly, and make me really work for it while the floodgates open for Daddy.

I’m pretty sure I know where this is heading, too. Toward some teenage mother-daughter hell years. Eye-rolling, snide talk, and sarcasm city. I remember my mother grabbing my arm tightly, hissing a reprimand between clenched teeth, after another in a long line of snide comments. I remember I could see in her eyes how badly she wanted to slap my eye-rolling, sass-talking face. We laughed about it years later. I think she deserved a mom of the year award for never giving in to that urge.

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Admittedly, by about age 17, the tide turned. I suddenly realized my mother was kind of fabulous. That her insights on friendships and boyfriends were spot-on. That she was a font of knowledge about literature, art, politics, and women’s rights. She was fun-loving, and funny, and maintained deep friendships with a range of interesting people. How did I miss that for so many years? Why did I bristle at any suggestion from her on any topic–even when I began to realize she was usually right?

It was always easier with my dad. He was firm when it was called for, and I generally accepted any reproach or advice without question. I suppose, at heart, it’s a simpler, more complementary relationship. And when my mom got sick, an illness that would take her on a slow, torturous decline, Dad and I worked like a well-oiled machine to manage her care: doctor’s appointments, caregiver shifts, hospital stays, difficult decisions. We often understood each other, without a lot of explanation. We share a common passion for classical music, an outlet that helped sustain us during the years of her illness. And helped us heal, together, sitting side by side at symphony performances, sometimes both choking back tears after she died.

So whatever may come, little girl, I know you love me just as much.

And I know you will need me even more than you need your dad at times. I’m grateful for the special bond I see burgeoning between you and your father. He’s pretty amazing. I also have a strong suspicion that down the road, I’m going to master the subtle art of arm-grabbing, just like my mom did.

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I’ve taken to telling her, as she arches away from me in a desperate lunge for daddy, that I understand. I love him, too. (And I claimed him first.)

Previously published on Sammiches and Psych Meds

Joanna Owusu

Joanna McFarland Owusu is a freelance writer and editor. A federal government analyst in a former life, Joanna now spends her days wrangling two tween-age sons and a preschool daughter.