Have you ever wonder why every parenting book use the term “primary carer”? The reason for it–as every new parent quickly learns–is that even within the same family, not all parents are created equal.

The term primary carer implies that there must also be a “secondary” one, and if your family is anything like mine, that’s just another word for “dad”.

I know I should not assume. After all, families come in all shapes and sizes. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your child calls you, if you are the secondary parent, your kid will soon let you know.

What you do is child play

Funny faces, OK. Chasing around the house, great. They’ll even let you kick a ball with them or play with their favourite doll. But when emotions run high, you’re out and you should make space for the pros, often known as “mum”.

If mum is nearby, in the same building, and at times in the same country, any effort on your side to soothe your child is going to be received with the same enthusiasm of a visit to the doctor during flu season.

But keep trying anyway.

Mum means mum

When you child wakes up in the middle of the night yelling “Muuum!”, what do you do? Sure, you could wait for mum to attend what is surely a serious emergency, like a pillow that fell on the floor or a teddy bear who went missing, but you want to be seen as willing to help, don’t you?

So, you decide to do the right thing and get up, even when you know all too well what will happen next. You drag yourself to your child’s bedroom, switching on the least amount of lights possible, and offer your child your full and undivided attention.

Your child immediately greet you by asking, “Where’s mummy?”. Now, the first time that happens, you may even assume he’s asking out of concern, “What happened to her? She normally comes when I call? Is everything OK?”, but the illusion disappears seconds later when he start chanting “I want mummy!”, crying, shouting, and throwing all sort of stuffed animals at you. What’s even more amazing is that the kid hasn’t opened his eyes once yet.

At this point, you normally hear mum getting out of bed, and that’s your cue, your job is done. All is left for you to do is to walk back to bed, repeating to yourself that it’s nothing personal and that it’s wrong of you to feel upset.

Children play the long game

A big holiday season finally arrives and, for two solid weeks, you spend every waking moment with your child: playing, reading, messing about. Things are going well, and you even start believing you are making up the lost ground. You’re already rehearsing your Father of the Year speech.

That is, until your child trips over his own two feet at the local playground and scratches his upper lip, only slightly. You’re less than three feet away, but yet he screams, “Mum!” in such a loud voice that you assume mum could have easily heard it, all the way back home.

In that moment you realise you could have spent the last two weeks fishing in Antarctica for the difference they’ve made.

You’ll be the last to know

The first moment you leave your partner at home with your child and go back to work will also be the last in which you know what’s going on around the house.

From there on, you’ll constantly play catch up with events that happened in your absence. Things will suddenly change place without prior consultation, because “they work better there”. For a while I thought my wife was doing that purely to wind me up, now I think it’s part of what they call “nesting”.

Every once in awhile you’ll get yourself all worked up because your child has done something new for the first time, or said something incredibly well. You turn to your partner, as to say “How amazing was that!?!”, and your partner after registering how happy you seem tells you, “Oh, yes, he’s been doing that for weeks now”.

Your advice is not always welcome

If your partner is the one spending all day with the children while you shoot away to the office, be wary of the amount of advice you offer.

Secondary parents often suffer from what I like to call “Insightful Eagle Vision Syndrome” (IEVS, you can add that to your list of acronyms). It refers to the fact that, as an external observer, you are perfectly placed to notice even the smallest mistake your partner makes, but it’s better if you don’t abuse your position.

Think of yourself as the commentator in a football match. From your comfy commentary box, with complimentary tea and biscuits, it might be plainly obvious to you that the player with the ball should have passed to a fellow player who was completely unmarked, and you might be tempted to criticise him for failing to do so.

But when the player with the ball is you, and two scary and hefty defenders come hurtling towards you, you are entitled to miss a thing or two.

So, be kind.

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