Everyone knows that as a mom you're not supposed to play favorites with your kids. You're supposed to love each child exactly the same, showing no preference, and keeping everything perfectly fair. If you absolutely have to admit that there might be any variation in how you love them, you are supposed to go with the standard "I love you all the same amount, just differently" line. I'm not even positive what that means, but it seems to work. And let's be honest, middle children will always feel they were neglected no matter what you do, and the others will all declare that you love the baby the most anyway.

But now that I'm the mom of three kids, I can assure you I most definitely have a favorite. No shame. The trick is though, who that favorite is, changes...sometimes by the day. It's a simple system, basically if you let me sleep in: you're the favorite (points for my middle kid here. She's the sleeper in the family, and wins my heart with that every time). If you listen to me the first time I ask you do do something: you're the favorite (my oldest earns this one the most...but when your competition for best listener is a spunky two-year-old, it's not exactly the most noteworthy achievement). If you don't sass me: you're the favorite (pretty much just the baby at this point).

My kids are still so little that their personalities and preferences haven't yet been fully formed. So right now my favorite is determined generally on who is the easiest to care for. I know I'm supposed to see the best in their stubborn streaks, to value their strong spirits, and determined attitudes, but most days I'm exhausted, so it's much easier for me to appreciate compliance, quiet, and independent play.

I know soon enough, these little humans will develop into actual people, with their own likes/dislikes, styles, and then we'll start a whole new phase of favorites, and I suspect that I'll have a tough time not naturally leaning towards the kid who's most like me. Or perhaps that will actually be my biggest struggle -- being forced to deal with a mini version of all my quirks. But, because I'm human, I know no matter what, my love will be imperfect and imbalanced. It will be easy to appreciate the parts of my kids that I identify with and natural for me to support the activities they choose that I also enjoy. But as much as I joke about having a favorite, I desperately want my kids to know I love them unconditionally. Not because they've earned it -- either in trait or deed -- but because they're worthy of it, always.

Recently we participated in our church's baby dedication with our new son Miller. As a part of the ceremony I was invited to share some thoughts. Here is a snippet of what I wrote to my boy:

I pray your father and I always love you not for how you are, but for what you are. I often find myself hoping you get the good traits of your dad, or worrying you may get the worst bits of me...and as the third child, you're bound to get a lot of comparisons to your older sisters. I have a lot of dreams for how you will turn out. I want you to be hardworking, and smart, and kind...Part of our job as parents is to encourage those traits in you. But the vow I make as your mom is to love you no matter what. Even when you're difficult. Even when you're nothing like me. And above all, I promise to remember, and teach you that the most significant and true part of you is what you are: a child of God. Your dad and I were specifically chosen and trusted to be your earthly parents and it is our biggest and most sincere prayer that you always know that you were wonderfully made by a loving Father. Your value lies in whose you are. How you are is already pretty great but what you are is perfect.

In this moment, my oldest is my favorite for her caring spirit, and the middle is my favorite because she cracks me up, and my youngest is my favorite because he lets me snuggle him as much as I want. But they're all my favorite for a thousand reasons far beyond what they do. Being their mom is my favorite, because it's a gift I don't deserve from a God who treats me like His favorite.

Courtney is a mama to two wild girls and a sweet new baby boy. You can connect with Courtney on her blog, or instagram.

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