When Your Child Favors One Parent Over Another
Just the other day, I was chatting with my 4 years old son Alex while driving him to gymnastics class. Out of nowhere, he exclaimed, “Mommy I love you!” I know, so sweet and adorable. My heart swelled up with happiness and a huge smile formed on my face. Then he followed his declaration of love with, “BUT I LOVE DADDY MORE.”
OUCH. Just punch me in the stomach why don’t you? I was quickly reminded of the Mortal Combat game (yes, I gamed quite a bit in college) when the character Kano ripped out the heart of his opponent to finish him off. That’s probably the perfect way to describe how I felt at the time.
Let’s back up here. Daddy wasn’t always the preferred parent with Alex. Before 2 years old, it was all about Mommy. I remember my husband would try and take care of Alex so that I could get some alone time, but Alex always fought him because he wanted to be with me. However, a couple of months before I gave birth to Alex’s little sister, my husband and I deliberately slowly pushed Alex toward Daddy so that it would make the transition of having a newborn pretty much always stuck to Mommy easier. Well, Alex all of a sudden discovered that Daddy is FUN! He totally did a complete 180 and wanted Daddy for everything. When Daddy was stuck at work and couldn’t come home in time to put him to bed … you would think that the world had ended based on epic tantrums Alex threw. When he got up in middle of the night crying and I went in his room to comfort him, he cried louder and harder until Mommy got out of the room to get Daddy. When he was sad, he wanted Daddy. When he was happy, he wanted Daddy. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. He wanted Daddy and Daddy only, and I felt myself slowly dying inside.
All of this rejection, from the child I nourished in my belly for nine long months, without caffeine even when exhaustion hit me like a tractor trailer or medicine when I was as sick as a dog; the child for whom I went through 12 hours of labor in pain so excruciating that I felt like my insides were getting squeezed and pulled out of me; the child who I spent countless sleepless nights with in my arms, latched on to my nipples and insisted to be held. My beautiful son, who was just a part of not only my body not that long ago, no longer wanted Mommy and pushed me away for Daddy. The pain was unfathomable, and I could not tell you the number of times I held my tears as my son told me to go away so that he could spend time alone with Daddy.
Overwhelmed by grief and confusion, I wanted to just run away every time my son rejected me. However, if I step back and look at things objectively, I notice a few things:
- I am with my son all day, and my husband only gets to see my son for an hour maximum on the weekdays.
- When Daddy is around, he spends the precious time he has with Alex playing and having fun.
- My husband is just more fun. Heck, when we go to birthday parties, he is like Pied Piper of Hamelin and all the children just love to follow him around and laugh at his jokes and play games with him.
Under these circumstances, on top of the fact that my son was only 2 and had not yet learned to deal with his emotions properly, it’s understandable why Daddy was the favored one. Therefore, even though it hurts, we need to make sure to manage the situation properly so that we can maintain a good relationship with our child and restore the balance between the two parents. Here are some tips:
1. React positively.
Oh, the number of times I just want to roll my eyes and yell “FINE, BE THAT WAY!” to my son when he chooses Daddy over me. Or just retreat to my room and binge eat ice cream by my lonesome self. However, I know that acting out or pulling away would further push my son away from me, so I try to react instead calmly and empathically. When he screams for Daddy, I tell him, “I love Daddy and would love for him to be here too, but he can’t be here right now. I understand that makes you angry and sad.” Show your child that even though you can’t give him what he wants (aka Daddy), you are listening to him and understand his feelings.
2. Take turns being the “fun” one.
Being the mom, you are responsible for making sure the kids eat each meal, their clothes are clean, they take baths, etc. Then Daddy walks in at the end of the night and it’s PARTY TIME! When you think about it, it’s not surprising the kids prefer Daddy when Daddy’s presence means all play and no work. Therefore, make sure your husband also spends time doing the “non-fun” things and that you make time every day just playing with the kids and nothing else (put down that vacuum, woman!).
3. Play to your strengths.
One day, I asked my son, “why do you like Daddy more?” He said, “because he is stronger and can throw me higher!” Well, I can’t compete with that … unless I spend every day at the gym training for bigger guns. But my son’s response made me realize that he doesn’t love Daddy more – Daddy just has more traits that lead to more exciting playtime. So pick something you are better at than your husband to do with your child. For example, my kids prefer me for arts and crafts because Mommy can actually draw … Daddy’s stick figures just can’t measure up.
4. Focus on the good.
Hey, I know it sucks that your kid wants Daddy all the time, but look on the bright side – your husband is a wonderful father. He spends quality time with your kid and makes your kid’s life so full of laughter and joy. What’s wrong with that?
5. Remember that it’s just a phase.
Toddlers’ frontal cortex is still developing, so they have trouble regulating their emotions. Thus, when Daddy gets home after all day with Mommy, they can’t help it but channel their intense happiness fully on one parent and totally push aside the other. As they mature, this extreme favoritism dynamic will subside. At 4 years old, my son now has started to ask for me a lot more and prefer to have both Daddy and Mommy around rather than just Daddy alone.
Being the non-favored parent is heartbreaking, but hey, look at all the freedom while Daddy takes care of the kids! It’s not easy being Daddy either because the kids cling on to him so much that they even squeeze into the bathroom when Daddy needs to take a leak. Meanwhile, Mommy gets to kick back and relax a little. Your kids are happy because Daddy is around, Daddy is happy to play with the kids, and you are happy because you finally get a chance to drink that coffee you made this morning. Life is good.
Are you the preferred parent or the rejected one?