When Your Child Has a Favorite Parent and It’s Not You
This is a common developmental occurrence. Child prefers one parent to the other. It can vacillate, or it can seem like a perpetual stream of “dadadadadadadadada” or “mamamamamamama” to infinity and beyond. Here’s how this plays out in our life, and how we handle it.
1) Encourage love of the other parent.
I’m with SuperBoy and SweetPea all day long. When AA comes home, I want to encourage them to be excited, clap, hug, go wrestle him/leap into his arms. I practice saying “da da da da da” all day long with our almost 8 month old daughter. I’d be delighted if it was her first parental address, as it was SuperBoy’s. It’s not a competition.
Conversely, AA encourages SuperBoy to take a break during their evening playtime to come give me a hug, talks up how much he loves me, hugs me in front of him, and always backs me up when I issue an executive maternal order (No, you may not eat the lotion.).
2) Don’t take it personally.
SuperBoy adores his father. A-DOR-ES him. The world stops when he comes home at night, and he wants him to put him down, look at his baseball cards, help him eat dinner, brush his teeth, and read him a story. Yes, there is a little daylight’s worth of room for me in there, and it’s not as though he expressly shuns my company (sometimes), but the majority of it all is dada-centric.
It’s been this way for about a year and a half. If he’s sick or injured, he wants me. If he’s happy and playing, he wants him. I long ago mourned that I-who-birthed-you-without-pain-meds-am-not-your-end-all-be-all. And besides, his dad is my favorite person too, so I get it. And when it’s neither of us, it will be a rock band, or a motorcycle, or a girl in the 10th grade (let’s hope for no early romance!)
Try not to take it out on the other parent. Try to get them on your team and understanding that it’s not any sort of competition. Get them to participate in number 3:
3) Promote desirability of the other.
“But I WANT Mama!” and “Don’t tackle Mama; I’m going to!” and “Mama is the BEST at cards and reading!” and “Don’t hug Mama because I’m going to hug her forever.”
After verbal affirmation, sometimes the child just has to go with the unfavored parent. Sometimes there’s just kicking and screaming. Sometimes this is because I can divert his attention sufficiently to get through a quick prep-for-bed routine so that AA can spend quality time with SweetPea.
Also, sometimes the unattainable is more desirable. Let your child come to you. Don’t always be the initiator. Do an activity that elicits genuine interest. I’m grateful that our children are thrilled by their father’s presence and love him so much. It’s healthy and wonderful to all involved. I just try to keep it all balanced out with a team effort on our part.