7 Things to Do When Your Child Prefers One Parent

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It is common for a child to prefer one parent over another, but being rejected hurts. Find out what you should do to manage your emotions and survive this difficult phase.

when one child prefers one parent

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 was a gamer) when 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.

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. For example, birth of a sibling or a job change (all the sudden mommy is working full time instead of staying at home) are significant events that could alter the family dynamics. All the sudden your child may find that mommy is not as available as before and chooses to spend time with the parent who can give him more attention.

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.

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 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 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!

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 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 prefers to have both daddy and mommy around rather than just daddy alone.

You got this.

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!

child-prefers-one-parent

32 thoughts on “7 Things to Do When Your Child Prefers One Parent”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. I’m the reject parent in the family, haha. My son, 22mos old, loves his daddy. And yes I am so glad they are bonded and my husband is a great father, but it is soul crushing to hold your baby at the end of the day while he screams for daddy to put him to bed. I have to try to find balance during the day to have fun, as opposed to cleaning and cooking and being the disciplinarian. It’s hard! Your tips are realistic and doable and hearing your story made me feel so much better. Thank you!

    1. Aw I am so happy this article helped you! It’s so hard being the rejected one, but you know that your kid loves you no matter what. I have a much better relationship with my son now that I find time during the day to just let go and have fun with him. Dance party!!!

    2. My daughter loves to play with me (daddy) during the day after work but she seems to like her mommy more wen it comes to sleeping her, sometimes i am able to sleep her but other times she prefers her mom and it sometimes gets in the way of her finishing her college homework but i know reading this article and these comments i can get good feedback….. sorry if its only for moms just looking for info to help out

      1. Would it be possible for mommy to study elsewhere at night so she is kind of out of sight out of mind? It might take a few nights for your daughter to get used to not having mommy for the night but after realizing that daddy is just as good at night she will be okay with you putting her to bed. Then you can go back to perhaps alternating mommy and daddy so that she is not dependent on just one of you?

  2. This hit home! I am the one that is away all day at work and my husband works from home so he is home with our 8 month old.. there are many times I notice he prefers dad over me and I have been trying to work through it.. thank you so much for sharing these tips!

    1. Aw that’s so hard to be away from your kid all day! Remember your son loves you no matter what and I am sure he would love to spend more time with mommy!

  3. So hard when this happens!! My kids have taken turns preferring each of us but it’s always hard to be the “least favorite” but also exhausting when you’re the current “favorite”.

  4. These are fantastic tips! My daughter is 1.5 and already a daddy’s girl, and I know its going to get worse as she gets older. I joke that since hes her favorite, he can change her diaper and feed her then.

  5. I think I’m only the preferred parent because my baby girl eats constantly and does not allow for pumping. My husband always steps in when he can and I love that. He knows she loves him, they just have a different bond.

    1. Aw sounds like your daughter is still very young so probably not at that stage yet. My daughter just started being more with daddy around now and she is almost 3. Before she would cry when I leave the room. My son is all about daddy haha.

  6. I am the Mother of a wonderful 8 year old miracle child. I gave birth to her at age 41 after years and years of trying to get pregnant. I went back to work after my maternity leave was over. At that time, my husband was working. Then, right before I went back to work he left his job and it was decided that he stay home with her since I was earning more money than he was. It would take all of his salary and more/plus part of mine to put her in daycare. I did not have to worry at all about her health or safety while at work. This is still the case now. I work Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week. He works part-time, mostly on the weekends, and holidays, when I am at home. When one is working the other is home with her. However, she prefers her father and she says that I am the “mean one” sometimes. By the time I get home from work, make dinner, and eat it is time to go to bed and start all over the next day. He has more time to be with her, teach her virtually, and play than I do. The only time I have is the weekends, if I am lucky. I work to keep the house clean and organized. Of course, he helps but this is a full-time job by itself! I always tell her that she is my “miracle child” (only about 4 people thought I could even have a child and go through child birth) and that I love her so much but she still prefers her father. I love my husband and daughter so much but my heart just sinks when she says “I want my Daddy” when I am with her. I guess he spends more time with her, he knows her better, and she gravitates to him. Her name means “father’s joy” and we did not even know this until after we picked her name. Any suggestions to make her love us both equally?! I am glad that I am not alone but the other children being referenced by others are much younger than mine. Thank you for this article and for your time in reading.

    1. Aw I am sorry Kara it’s so hard to be called the “mean one”! I would ask your husband what he does with your daughter and try to even out the fun between the two. Can your husband take on more chores and “not so fun” stuff with your daughter and give you more just fun time when you are alone with her? You are definitely not alone and favoritism happens at any age! I hope the situation improves, I know it’s not easy, both of my kids prefer my husband but they are getting better. They have learned that going outdoors and have fun is better with daddy, but mommy is better at arts and creative fun. So maybe play to your strength and exaggerate it so your kid can really have lots of fun with you? Thanks so much for sharing your story, feel free to reach out anytime!

  7. I’m the preferred parent and i know it’s a phase and I’m here reading the post because my husband is taking full advantage of the situation and giving excuses like “he prefers you anyway” whenever I needed help. How do I make my husband understand that it is tiring being the preferred one? We’re both holding full time jobs, 40 hours per week.

    1. Wow hats off to you for having a full-time job with your kid! I think it’s a matter of sitting down with your husband and making him understand that 1) you need help because you are tired, and 2) it’s just a phase BUT his current attitude will prolong this phase. I definitely recommend getting him one-on-one time with your kid with you just… somewhere not available (out of sight out of mind) and have him 100% focused on having fun with your kid, and do this as much as possible. Hopefully he will find the bonding experience rewarding and want to keep doing it!

  8. Love these articles but still I feel torn since his dad and I are no longer together and haven’t been since he was born basically. But he’s with me 5 days of the week , only Monday and Tuesday bc that’s all his dad wants and says he can make time for. While I work and run my own business, single mom and do it all!! So when he goes there all my parenting and having my son on a healthy schedule goes out the window! Can eat and drink coke as much as he wants ( he’s not allowed at moms, he even told the dentist that..which I’m happy for! 😅 )
    But his dad likes to play a dirty childish game and hates when my 4 year old is a little “ mommy “ when he leaves me … so when he comes back it’s all negative and only want dad. I know how his dad is and unfortunately low enough to put things in my sons head.
    I’m just torn !

    1. Aw I am so sorry to hear about your situation. That’s so difficult with the dad like that! I am not sure of your relationship so I don’t want to give too much advice. I would perhaps talk to your son about why he wants just dad. What he is doing is short-term and what you are doing is giving your son a healthy and happy life long-term. He is learning more valuable skills and knowledge with you, like knowing that coke is not good for his teeth. If he says “dad lets me drink coke whenever I want” then I would just tell him the fact of why coke is bad and perhaps even do a fun experiment with him to show him why coke is bad. Stay away from saying anything bad about the dad (you don’t want to play tug-a-war with your kid) but stick with the facts. Also, since you are with him more days of the week, you tend to be not the fun one because you have work to do! Just make sure to focus on work when it’s time for work but when it’s mommy and son time, 100% focus on him and be EXTRA fun. It’s not about how much time but the quality of the time you spend with him.
      Good luck with everything! I am here if you ever want to just vent! <3. It's an impossible situation and you are doing your best for your son!

  9. Hello, I have a very smart 4 yr old who says he does not LIKE his mother, he willing says he loves her. But he absolutely has no interest in being with her at all. He frequently talks down to her and makes her feel low and cry. I do not speak that way to my wife so its perplexing to both of us.
    Additionally im the strict disciplined one who also does the punishing.
    My wife takes him(and our younger son) out for fun activities often and he says he has fun but still doesnt like her.
    The tips we have either already been doing or dont apply since my wife is the fun one.

    1. Hey Joe!
      I am sorry to hear about your situation. Is your wife the one spending most of the time with your kids?
      I am in the same situation now with my 4 years old daughter (when I wrote this post it was for my son, who is now 6). I spend the whole day with them and I take them lots of fun places and do lots of fun activities with them. But when it comes down to it, my husband is the one who goes crazy playing tag with them and does more adventurous stuff with them. He is the strict one and also loses his temper more than me, but he does the “crazy” stuff that sometimes makes me cringe but the kids love it. My fun is more quiet fun and though the kids enjoy it, they prefer my husband playing with them much more.
      My 4 years old also tells me that she doesn’t want me and wants daddy. She even says that it’s okay if I die because they have daddy (imagine my face when she said that!!!).
      The thing is she is my second. I have been through this with my son and I know this is just a phase, so I laugh off her “insults”. At that age they can’t control their emotions and will say things to get what they want, hence putting down your wife. The best thing you can do is continue trying with your wife, never lose temper or give up, and as much as possible, tell your wife don’t take it personally. I know it’s hard, I cried a lot with my son.
      But I am here to tell you that it gets better. He will get over it. My son at 6 years old (and even at 5 he was a lot better) is pretty happy with either my husband or me. And he was A LOT worse than my daughter when he was 4.
      Hang in there. If your wife wants someone to vent to feel free to email me at [email protected]. Sometimes it helps to just let the frustration out!

  10. Hi! I loved the article! It truly helped me.
    I used to be the preferred parent until 2 years old and I admit it was a little tiring but now that she is 2,5 months she prefers my husband and she even pushes me away saying no mommy! Very hard and sad…
    just wants this phase to go away quick!
    I think that now that my husband has been more around the house and travelling less for work and I’ve been taking a little advantage and having more “me” all the sudden she started rejecting me.
    Now my husband is going away for 15 days, although is gonna be hard I can’t wait to have mommy/daughter time and go back to being the fun one!

    1. Aw I love how you are so positive about all of this! Stay strong and this phase will pass. It sounds like you are taking great steps to bond with your daughter <3

  11. This is a good read but what do I do if my son is preferring his father and we live in separate homes. His father has a girlfriend and his house is the fun house. Meanwhile, I’m pulling double duty and trying to make my 2.5yo happy. This is heartbreaking and unfair especially since he left us when my son was a newborn and I haven’t had time to find someone new because up until recently the father was barely around.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your situation. It’s definitely not easy and you are being so strong for your kid. Unfortunately, we can’t control everything, so focus on what we can control. When you have your kid with you, being 100% focused on playing and having fun with him. Remember this is a phase for kids, and they will grow out of it.

  12. Hello Betty,
    Thanks for sharing your experience and methods. I’ve been down lately because my daughter 2.3 years old has expressed her preference over my husband. She used to stick with me until last week when papa has been called for. She clings to him for comfort and hug when she is afraid or scared (used to be me…). She loves to play outside, and papa can serve that role well while I’m busy breastfeeding another daughter and cooking. Our family is bilingual; she can speak my husband’s language since we live in his country, but not mine. So she talks mostly to Papa 🙁 I will try to cheer up though and follow your suggestions.

    1. I hope the situation improves sooner than later, but I do think the trend of having this happen around 2-3 years old is very common. We are a trilingual family and we used to have the opposite happening, where my husband was jealous that my kids would speak Chinese to me more than they speak French to him. But that changed as they learned more French and now they know both languages equally. I think the fact that you are breastfeeding a baby also causes your older one to cling to papa. The same thing happened to me. It’s just that we always have the baby with us and that’s not fun for the older one, whereas papa can play with them without other distractions. Think positively and I believe things will get better as both of your kids get older!

  13. Hi Betty,
    I confess I was so relieved to read this! My daughter is 2.5yrs old and she just will not have me! All I hear is “go away mommy”. It’s been like this since she was about 1 and just getting worse now she can communicate better. It’s a ton worse now I’m expecting my 2nd as I can’t physically do as much as I could before (I’m now 36bweeks pregnant and HUGE!). She’s also an exclusive toe walker so needs to be carried much more than a toddler usually would, which I just can’t physically manage now. Sometimes I really struggle with the rejection as she just keeps telling me she just wants daddy and loves him and not me, but it’s reassuring to hear that it will get better! We share the parenting responsibilities fairly equally (we have one day each with her a week), but since lockdown my days have turned into torture as she knows daddy is in his office at home and so she can get to him! I just hope number 2 isn’t like this or I’m not sure my poor nerves will stand it!

    1. I can’t imagine being pregnant and having to handle a toddler who is all about daddy during the lockdown! Stay strong, it is definitely a phase and it sounds like you and your husband are dealing with the situation well. Kids always want what they can’t have (well, adults too right?) and having daddy in the office at home doesn’t help. I will have to say that #2 might also go through the same phase, but hopefully not as badly because they do have the older one to play with instead of just mommy and daddy! Good luck with everything!

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