It’s common for a child to prefer one parent over another, but being rejected hurts. Find out what you can do to manage your emotions and survive this difficult phase.
I will always remember 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?
And if you think that’s bad, there is more.
Fast forward one year. I was driving my 3 years old daughter, and she was throwing a tantrum about how I wasn’t handing her food fast enough. Frustrated, I exclaimed, “You have to be patient because mommy has to focus and not crash the car!”
She responded, “That’s okay. If you crash the car and die, we still have daddy!”
Talk about a sharp dagger to the heart! But at least this was not my first rodeo. Even though her statement still hurt, I handled it a whole lot better because I already went through this phase with my son.
If you are feeling devastated and overwhelmed with grief like I was, know that you are not alone. According to a poll conducted by Parents.com, more than 90% of parents felt their child has preferred one parent over another at some point.
Let’s talk about why you shouldn’t take it personally and what to do when it happens.
Why a Child Favors One Parent
Preferring one parent over another is actually a healthy part of your child’s emotional and cognitive development. He is exercising independence by choosing the parent who is best suited for what he wants at the time.
Also, when your child favors one parent over the other, he is also showing that he feels secure with you and knows that even if he spends more time with the other parent, you will always love him and be there for him.
There are other factors that may play into your child playing favorites. Sometimes, a preference is due to a change in the parenting roles and family dynamics.
For example, the birth of a sibling or a job change may mean that mommy’s time is taken up by the infant or the new job. All of a sudden, mommy is not as available as before.
In response, your child may choose to spend more time with the parent who can give him more attention. After all, watching your mother breastfeed your baby brother or sister is no fun in comparison to playing hide-and-seek with daddy.
Whatever the reason is, being rejected by your child hurts. Here are helpful tips for surviving this difficult phase while maintaining a good relationship with your child.
Tips for the Non-Preferred Parent
1. Empathize with your child.
Trying to change your child’s mind about who they prefer may lead to tantrums and meltdowns. Instead, emphasize with your child when he or she demands the other parent.
When my son screams for daddy, I tell him, “I know you love daddy and want to play with him, 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, you are listening to him and acknowledging 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 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 show them how much you love them 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 daddy’s strength … 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 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?
Think of it as an opportunity for you to get some “me-time” and go get a massage or go shopping! Once your child is past this phase of preferring one parent over another, you may find that alone time is not easy to come by.
5. Manage your feelings.
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.
While it’s okay to share your feeling with your child (“I feel sad when you tell me to ‘go away’”), you should keep your voice nice and calm. In addition, you should express to your child that he or she can play with daddy, but you will always be there for them when they are ready.
6. Talk to your spouse.
If you are the preferred parent, recognize that your partner may be feeling jealous and hurt. If you are the non-preferred parent, recognize that your partner may be frustrated having a kid clinging on to him all day long.
Work out a schedule together where the preferred parent can step away so that the non-preferred parent can spend some quality alone time with your child.
7. 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 but channel their intense happiness fully on one parent and totally push aside the other.
On the other hand, when a toddler doesn’t get what he or she wants, he or she will probably throw a tantrum. This is when they say things they don’t mean, such as “I hate you,” or “I only love daddy” to try and get what they want.
As they mature, this extreme favoritism dynamic will subside. At 4 years old, my son started to ask for me a lot more and preferred to have both daddy and mommy around rather than just daddy alone.
Now at 7 years old, my son is mature enough to appreciate both parents equally. While he would always want to go to the lake or play tag with daddy, he would also ask to do fun science experiments and explore nature with mommy.
Final Thoughts on Child Favoring One Parent
Being the non-favored parent is heartbreaking.
Just remember, it is common for toddlers and preschoolers to go through phases when they show a strong preference for mommy or daddy. It’s part of your child growing up and maturing.
Think positively – 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? Tell me in the comments!