There are things which at times we say to our children which perhaps, when we think of it later, may not have been our wisest moves.
Promising a host of activities for the weekend when you are feeling particularly energetic before the slump of a Thursday or Friday hits is one of them. As indeed is any promise, any time, to take your child to a soft play centre. (If hell is on earth, then it is surely amid the screaming, abandoned shoes and Fruitshoot slabbers of an indoor play centre).
Telling your child they can pick whatever bedtime story they want is not always wise either. It can be guaranteed on the nights you are exhausted and have a heap of housework to be getting on with (or just want to catch the start of The Great British Bake Off) your child will pick not only the longest book in the house, but also the most mind numbingly boring in their possession. (The CBeebies story book falls into that category chez Allan - a load of Teletubbies twaddle.)
Similarly I’m told ever letting the words “You’re my favourite” slip from your mouth is a complete no-no. (Reminds me of the time when I was asked on a book tour in Dublin, in front of an audience, if I had a book I liked more than any other and I replied, without thinking, that, ‘My books are like my children. Of course I have a favourite’. I was trying to be funny but it came out all wrong and I ended up coming across as the Cruella De Vil of mum-lit authors).
I try to be extra, extra careful with my children. I’m lucky to have one of each flavour as that minimises the potential for a self -confidence destroying faux pas. “You’re my favourite boy,” I tell the boy and, “You’re my favourite girl,” I tell my daughter.
In my mind, and I tell them as such, he is the best boy in the world and she the best girl. I’m grand, as they say, as long as I stick to the script. What I must never ever do, is deviate from the words I know so well. I must never leave off those crucial last words. I must never say ever, under pain of death, mention that any of them could ever, at any time, be my actual favourite.
I must not even hint at the fact - ever. Even when one of them is being a complete pain in the rear end and making me crave a quiet room in a hotel far, far away. Not even when one of them is being extra, extra nice and hugging and telling me I’m the most wonderful mammy in the world. I’m not allowed to mention favourites even when one of them sulks and slams doors while the other offers to help me out around the house. Because that would be bad - very, very bad. It might, perhaps at times, although I shouldn’t say this, be true but I still can never, ever, ever say it.
A Canadian radio presenter and blogger by the name of Buzz Bishop recently ignited a furore on the internet when he openly admitted to having a favourite child. He said he most definitely felt more of an affinity with his five year-old son Zaccharie than he did with his two year-old son Charlie.
To be fair to the man he said he loved them the same but he definitely preferred the company of his eldest. The shock across cyberspace was immense. Had a father actually said that? Out loud? Online? And not just in his head? Had he broken the all time number one parenting rule (actually, the all time number two parenting rule - number one being: Show no weakness).
The internet went beast - as we say here in Derry. “You can’t say that!!!” parents said (multiple exclamation marks and all). “Think of the emotional trauma you are inflicting on your poor two year-old,” others barked from behind their keyboards. But I suspect, if I’m honest, there were a fair few parents out there who simply thought “Sssh! Don’t let the secret out!”.
The truth is, if we are honest, there are times when we favour one child over another. And it doesn’t mean we love the other any less. As readers of this column will know (or I have failed in my mission over the last eight years), I love the very bones of my children - both of them; both the favourite boy and the favourite girl.
But there are times when I prefer the company of one or the other - when each becomes my favourite for a while. The boy - a wonderfully, witty and smart little boy is my favourite for exploring the world with, examining history, reading books, being silly with. The girl is my favourite for baking with, for snuggling on the sofa with, for doing girly things with and shopping with. At times I crave one-to-one time with each of them. At times one feels “easier” to manage than the other. At times one needs me more than the other - and it is sometimes nice to be needed. (Sometimes it’s a pain... ) It doesn’t make me a bad, evil mother to admit this - it makes me honest.
Never in those times - when one is easier or nicer, or funnier, or more loving than the other would I dare tell them they’re my favourite - but I’m not in the wrong to admit it. And I imagine that in their own wee minds, they sit from time to time wondering who their favourite parent is.