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When Baby Plays Favorites

Aug20

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I’m a huge fan of your website and during my pregnancy, loved the pregnancy calendar. Thanks for the honest truth with a lot of fun thrown in! 

I am now the lucky mom of a gorgeous almost 10 month old baby boy. He is our first baby, and I really had no idea what was in store for us, how hard it could be. Also, since my parents, sisters, aunties and best friends all live abroad and my family-in-law are not that involved, we had very little help which made it harder still. But so far so good and not counting his night-time antics, our boy is a very easy-going baby, he’s healthy and he’s happy. Even though my husband is a big help with our son and does his bit around the house, I still find myself doing the biggest chuck of the chores, as moms do I suppose. We have cleaners that come in every two weeks (bless them) but in between weeks the house needs tiding up, I do the laundry, I fold the laundry, I iron (some of) the laundry, I cook,  wipe,  sweep,  wash, change the sheets, do the grocery shopping, organise doctor’s appointments, make sure the gas and daycare bills are paid and so on. Although life is pretty busy (don’t know how moms with four children do it!) I try and spend as much time as possible with our baby, especially on my day off work each week – we go for walks to the park, we spend time in the garden watching the birds and I show him the flowers, I sit and play with him and we cuddle and kiss, tickle and giggle. I know that these special moments count heaps more than a tidy house and folded laundry. 

So, here’s the conundrum ~ over the last 3-4 weeks the boy has become besotted with his father. He totally prefers his dad to me. When I pick him up from daycare, he’s happy to see me but the carers say the times that dad came through the door he almost freaked out from excitement. He squeals with delight when my husband comes home from work and cries when he leaves the room (even though I’m sitting right next to him). When I hold him and we’re near dad he’d stretch out his arms and kick his legs to go to dad. When he’s in dad’s arms and I’d tickle his cheek for a smile, he’d turn his head away. 

My husband is very gracious and sympathetic and I understand that it’s not personal, I love that the two get along so great and that dad’s his hero but I can’t help but feel a little deflated….

My hope is not that next week or next month he’ll prefer me rather than dad but that it’ll even out at some stage and I’ll feel a little more special. Please tell me it’s normal and some advice on how I should handle the situation would help a great deal!

REPEAT AFTER ME:

Normal normal normal phase phase phase.

Seriously, this is perfectly normal, typical — and above all, TEMPORARY — behavior. That’s not to say that it doesn’t sting when you realize you suddenly aren’t your baby’s “preferred” parent, but it’s not really so much of a rejection of you. It’s more that your son recognizes you as his constant, the parent who is always there and always will be, while his dad is probably someone he’s only recently really noticed in the past few months and has thus designated him as “special.” He’s taking you for granted because he knows he can, because he’s bonded with you in a healthy, meaningful way. He can pull away from you because he’s confident you’ll still be there when he wants to reach back.

If that makes sense.

What also tends to rear its ugly head around this age is separation anxiety, and for some babies the whole “having a favorite parent/caregiver” thing is a manifestation of that. They cry when their preferred parent leaves the room, become distraught or clingy at the door/daycare dropoff, or get super particular over who puts them to bed at night. And I’ll be honest, from experience: As crappy as it feels to not be the favorite, it can be exhausting and frustrating to be the preferred parent as well.

Luckily, it doesn’t sound like your son is taking it to that level. So for now, two things: Remind yourself that this is a TEMPORARY PHASE and his preference will very likely even back out soon, or even swing wildly back in your direction. (Babies are fickle little things.) I can all but guarantee that your little guy will absolutely go through an extended “mommy phase,” in a big way, at some point. Probably toddler through early preschool years, I’d bet.

But for now, the second thing: Take advantage of the daddy/son bromance and GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. I sense you feel taken for granted in a larger sense as well, and are maybe running yourself a little ragged in your quest to be the perfect working mom who has and does it all. So let the boys entertain each other and go see a movie. Get a pedicure. Get drinks and dinner with your girlfriends. Go shopping for yourself — try shoes on in peace and let the nice people at the cosmetic counters put makeup on you and compliment your skin tone. Let your husband take your son to the park and show him the flowers and don’t feel even the tiniest bit guilty about chores or errands or taking time for yourself. You’ve more than earned it.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “When Baby Plays Favorites”

  1. K Aug 20 at 6:24 pm Reply Reply

    Oh THIS. I love Amalah’s advice – definitely do go get a pedi or do something else that you haven’t done since you became a super mom :) And I second that this is temporary. Our toddler still goes through phases where he prefers one parent over the other, but for the majority of the time I have been the preferred parent. Seeing my husband’s face fall when our infant insisted on being held only by me was terrible, but now the shoe is on the other foot! Our son worships his daddy, and always reserves his “special” toys for playing with daddy. Don’t feel bad about feeling a bit heartbroken for a moment (it’s okay!), but do remind yourself that you are mommy and will always have a special place in baby’s heart no matter what, and that in a few short weeks or months everything will change again and you’ll have new things to contemplate!

  2. Myriam Aug 20 at 6:39 pm Reply Reply

    It is exhausting to be the preferred parent, especially to a toddler. Mommy this, mommy that, no only mommy do it!!!! When you just want to sit down for a minute, eat your dinner still warm, or pee by yourself. Indulge in alone time, because later on, your alone time might include a screaming toddler in the background while your husband dares give the baby a bath!

  3. Melissa Aug 20 at 7:45 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going through the same thing with my son. When our baby wakes up in the middle of the night from teething, it’s his daddy that can calm him down and get him to sleep. It used to frustrate me but now I just enjoy it and roll over while daddy soothes baby. 

  4. S Aug 21 at 2:33 am Reply Reply

    I think a preference is normal, some kids are just a little more obvious about it! I can’t agree that it’s THAT temporary though. My two-year-olds have each shown a preference since they were infants and it doesn’t look like they’re growing out of those preferences anytime soon. They’ve certainly never switched to opposite parents. I’ve seen the same in many of my friends’ kids, as well. We’ve spent time with each kid, and mixed it up, but at the end of the day, they just each have their favorite parent. I guess what might change over time is your reaction to it. At this point, it just is what it is. We encourage great relationships all around, but babies eventually turn into little people and it makes more sense when little people show preferences for anything at all, be it a brand of cereal or their favorite parent.

    • Lex Sep 15 at 5:31 pm Reply Reply

      Agreed. Both of my kids (ages three and nearly two) prefer their dad. Sometimes I think my only role in the family is maid and personal chef, but lucky for all of you, I think my situation is rare :(.

  5. Angela Aug 21 at 7:37 am Reply Reply

    this is a wonderful piece by Ask Moxie about the motherhood chores: http://askmoxie.org/blog/2012/09/more-on-free-but-not-cheap.html

    i find that re-reading it helps when i’m feeling resentful about the relationship that my kids have with their father.

  6. anh Aug 21 at 8:18 am Reply Reply

    this is going to change about a million times over the next few months. Right now my little girl is ALL about mama, but a few months ago she rarely wanted anything to do with me.

    I did start to notice a trend where we both came home from work and Daddy played with her while I cooked dinner. I worried she associated him with fun and saw me as always doing work and shooing her away. so I made sure to set aside some fun time just for the two of us

  7. Claire Aug 21 at 9:12 am Reply Reply

    I’m currently the preferred parent and it is exhausting. And the perfectly bonded thing Amy said has actually worried me, cause yeah, we had a rough time of it and she was not an easy baby.
    But it is a phase. I know it is. My dad harps on all the time about the daddy rejection we all went through (all 5!) and how hard that was. So yes, normal. Normal normal normal. But so is how you feel about it.

  8. liz Aug 21 at 11:52 am Reply Reply

    Please also cede more of the chores and doing to Daddy. I know he “does his bit” but his bit could and should be bigger if it’s not equal with yours. 

    • Lindsay Aug 21 at 4:37 pm Reply Reply

      The “does his bit” part stuck out to me as well (as did the “is a big help with our son”). It sounds like you feel that the entirety of the house and kid are your responsibility and that your husband is assisting. I’m sure this is an oversimplification, but sometimes the words we choose without thinking say a lot about how we really feel. Dad needs to step up here! The house and kid are the responsibility of both of you. If you’re too frazzled, which it sounds like you are(!!!), you need to readjust some tasks!

  9. Carolien Aug 21 at 12:03 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s quite right re the preferring dad thing, they do have their little phases! However, what jumps out at me is that whilst you say dad ”does his bit”, you then list what you do, which appears to be… everything, more or less.
    Yeah. It’s not what ”moms just do” actually, unless they agree to it, which you seem to be doing, tacitly, by you know, doing it. Time for a bit of a shake-up. Maybe have a chat with your husband and explain how you feel things should go re division of labour. I do see that you have a day off work each week, but everyone needs a break sometimes. Your husband does of course, and so do you. Maybe decide together what’s reasonable and implement a plan NOW to stop this becoming you turning into the frazzled martyr into perpetuity!

  10. MR Aug 21 at 1:21 pm Reply Reply

    No matter the special relationship your son has with anyone else, YOU are always going to be his mother, and that is a special relationship no matter what! Daddy may be getting the squeals, but YOU are who he wants and NEEDS for comfort, cuddles, those quiet moments that you already know mean so much.
    You already know that being mommy is special. You are the best mother he will ever have. Nobody else can ever replace that.
    I wonder if this is more about feeling appreciated. You do a loooong list of chores, and it sounds like you maybe need to have a conversation with your husband about feeling unappreciated. It is exhausting being the a working mom and still doing the majority of child care and housework. You need a break too. You deserve it. When you are making your list of things to do, make sure you prioritize yourself in there. Some mothers feel guilty for taking time for themselves, but I look at it as your responsibility. As a mom, you can’t be there for anyone else if you are falling apart, so you “have” to go have some fun with your friends (or a spa day or whatever works for you) every now and then. It is how you keep taking care of your child. See, if it is for them, there is nothing to feel guilty about. :) Enjoy!

    • IrishCream Aug 21 at 6:19 pm Reply Reply

      I absolutely agree that each parent has a special relationship with their child, and that the OP is taking on a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of household responsibilities. I will say that sometimes kids go to dads first for cuddles and comfort. One of my girls goes to her dad first if she gets hurt or scared, and one goes to me!

      • MR Aug 22 at 2:42 pm Reply Reply

        Sorry, didn’t mean to imply kids don’t ever go to Daddy first for cuddles. I was just referencing what OP said about her relationship with her son.

  11. Jennifer Aug 21 at 4:44 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for this article! :-) My daughter is 3 and I’m dealing with this issue, Except it is a bit more complicated and hurtful since me and her dad aren’t together. Not only does she prefer her dad, but she also prefers her grandparents over me too. It hurts my feelings because i work so hard at being her mom and take pride in it. I buy her nice things, i hug and kiss her, play with her, watch her shows, surprise her, take her to parks and stores, and do everything i can!. She loves me, but she is in love and always wants to be with her father and grandparents, and it kind of makes me feel sad, like i’m a sucky boring mom or the bain of her existence in comparison to them.
    The only time i see her put up real effort or excitement for me is when my husband gets home and my attention is not solely on her. She will talk over him, sing over him, interrupt and kind of be obnoxious for my attention. Which makes me feel even worse ofcourse (same kid who doesn’t want to even talk to me on the phone when she’s at her dad or grandparents) but somehow can swindle me into cutting me and my husbands convos short to give her attention that she never seems to even want around anyone else. I don’t know what to do but keep hope alive and tell myself, this is a phase, and one day she’ll be older and really value me the same way she values her dad and grans, and not feel like she has to put up a fight for my attention the moment its not all on her. Kids are just rude.

    • MR Aug 21 at 5:29 pm Reply Reply

      She isn’t in love with her dad and her grandparents. She doesn’t do all that stuff for you because she knows she doesn’t have to – that you will love her anyway. The reason she does that behavior for her dad and grandparents is that she isn’t as secure and actually feels like she HAS to do that behavior to win them over. Think about that for a minute – she doesn’t do all the excited stuff because she already knows she can count on you. THAT is more powerful than the excited stuff. It is great when your kid is excited to see you, but it is BETTER when they are secure enough to know that you are going to love them, even when they aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. They need to know that you love them even when they are angry or throwing a fit or whatever. She already gets that with YOU. Never forget that.

      • Lindsay Aug 25 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

        I’m sure you’re right, but I’ve never heard it phrased quite this way before. This hasn’t come up for us yet (kid is only 4 months), but when it inevitably does, I will definitely be keeping this in mind. So thanks for this.

  12. rachel Aug 21 at 6:18 pm Reply Reply

    Feel you! And Amy’s advice is spot on. My daughter totally did this, and i too felt a pang of sadness… and then she switched to preferring me, and after a few days of “yay!” i was actually  a bit nostalgic for the days where she proffered my husband, because it meant I got a little more freedom.  So yes, it will pass, in the meantime, try to enjoy the upsides! 

  13. leslie Aug 21 at 7:47 pm Reply Reply

    Oh this! My two year old has gone back and forth over time, though not too extreme, except in the mornings, when it’s cuddle with mommy time. Some mornings it’s hard to do anything! This morning was actually pretty extreme and we all ended up being so late. However, I’m 30 weeks pregnant with the next one, so I think she senses that… and who really want to miss ‘mommy cuddle on the couch’ time when she first wakes up?! But I second (or third, or tenth) the advice to get out while the gettin’s good. I am terrible at this, but I have a date set up with the friend on Saturday night and am letting daddy and his baby girl do their own thing while I go have fun (or as much fun as a 30 week pregnant lady can have). It’s actually the first time I’ll be gone when she goes to bed, which is sad, as I know I’ve needed me time in the past… Just do it!

    And get your husband to help. After talking to many friends about this default woman-take-care-of-the-house thing, we’ve realized that some partners just don’t seem to see what needs to be done. If I ask (nicely and in a tone that doesn’t convey any frustration), my husband says, Oh, OK. And it’s done. I absolutely hate having to ask, but it actually works. Slowly my husband has gotten in the habit of doing more around the house because of it. 

  14. Hope Aug 26 at 9:54 pm Reply Reply

    When I was about 10 months old, I started showing a marked preference for my Dad. My Mom decided that I didn’t like her, acted weird about, and it kind of became a self-fulfilling prophesy. We worked through our issues and have a great relationship now, but I wish that someone had told her back then that it was just a phase.

    When my daughter was about 10 months old, she started showing a marked preference for my husband, her Dad. Funny, huh? My Mom was actually really supportive about what ended up being a rough few weeks for me. I got super teary every time our pushed me away in favor of her Dad, but I put on a big smile for her and eventually we got past it. 

    Our daughter is 2 now, and vacillates wildly in her favoritism. Sometimes only I can make her feel better when she falls. Sometimes only her Dad can. Sometimes she’s fine with whoever gets to her first. She has a great relationship with both of us. Hang in there, your baby will come back to you! 

  15. Christelle Aug 30 at 7:59 am Reply Reply

    Thank you Amy and all the other mommies for the kind and wise words. I’ve taken the advice and took some time-out for myself and it felt good to recharge.
    I will do this more often and remind myself that ‘this too shall pass’ :-)
    Xx

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