Recently, Tik-Tok went crazy over videos where both parents stood with their kids, then ran in opposite directions to find out which one the children would follow. While it was all meant to be fun, it does make one thing clear – at a given time, a kid prefers one parent over the other.
If you are also on the receiving end of the “unfavored parent” treatment from your toddler these days, I hear you, feel you, and at times envy you.
How my kids changed their preferences-twice!
My twins were a little over a year old when we moved from my hometown to Bangkok. Since I quit my full-time job for the move, I was with them 24×7 for the first time, and they loved having me around constantly. They wanted me to do everything-from feeding them, giving them a bath, and changing diapers to putting them to bed. As a result, my husband felt left out of the whole parenting process at times.
It bothered both of us. He missed spending time with his precious little girls, and as much as I loved their undivided attention, I was exhausted and drained all the time. Wiping, feeding, and bathing two babies is no easy thing. However, the tables were to turn soon.
The “We want only mama” phase didn’t last for long. By the time they were 3, both had transformed 100% into daddy’s girls, with my role limited to food provider. For everything else, fun or otherwise, they wanted nothing to do with me. Honestly, it is soul-crushing to have your toddler push you away.
Why do toddlers prefer one parent?
While it is easy to feel neglected or hurt, it is very common for a kid to have a favorite parent, and this is usually temporary. It’s more important to understand what goes in that miniature mind of theirs.
- If your baby is suddenly giving you the cold shoulder, it means they feel they can take you for granted.
- When one parent spends time away from home for work, toddlers don’t quite comprehend the unpredictable timetable and hold on to that parent tighter when they get a chance.
- As babies, kids prefer the primary parent, mainly the mother, as they depend entirely on her for food and care and feel safe around her. As they grow, they start to show some independence. The first step to that is moving away from that primary caregiver. So, if your baby is trying to avoid your help, they are showing some independence (or at least they think they are).
- It’s a positive sign as this implies that the baby is assured of your presence and sees you as a sort of a safety blanket.
What to do when you are the unfavored parent
Being pushed away by your kid can make you question yourself and wonder whether you are a cold or scary parent or come across as a stiff person. If this rejection happens in a public place, all those judgy eyes on you immediately trigger mom guilt. However, there are certain things you can do to handle this sensitively:
- It can be frustrating and heartbreaking to be snubbed by the child who once latched to your breasts several times a day. Still, try not to direct this frustration towards the baby or your partner. No one is responsible, and this is only a phase.
- Don’t confront or question the kid. They are too young to grasp the emotions of their mother (parent).
- Don’t try to guilt-trip them by saying things like, “Mama feels sad when you choose da-da.”
- Instead, spend some time alone with your baby every day to reclaim that bond.
- Try to join in the fun activities your baby enjoys with dad. Next time, when they go to the park or jump into a bubble bath, join them.
- Talk it out with your partner if this bothers you a lot. Tell them you wish to be more involved with the kid again.
- Don’t take it as a personal attack. Kids and toddlers can be brutally honest, but they don’t mean to hurt you when they say, “I don’t want mama!”
- Don’t try to fix it in a day. It’s not a situation to be fixed but dealt with sensitively and patiently.
- Finally, enjoy this while it lasts. Get started on your endless Netflix watch list or catch up with friends over long lunches because, trust me, this is a temporary phase.
What to do when you are the preferred parent
Before my twins went all daddy fans, they clung to me all the time. While your heart feels all fuzzy and warm when those tiny arms around your neck won’t let go, making yourself available 24×7 can be exhausting. You can feel joy every time your kid runs to you for every little thing, but it also gets frustrating when you always have an audience, even in the shower and the toilet.
If you’re currently the favorite parent, and this is overwhelming you, here are a few things you can do about it:
- Be kind to yourself. Catering to a toddler or a kid all the time is strenuous and exhausting yourself will do more harm than good.
- Involve the other parent. While your baby wants you to be his private butler all the time, asking for help with small tasks will preserve your sanity. If the baby wishes you to feed him every meal, request that your partner give you a hand in preparing or cooking the meals or taking the trash out after cleaning.
- Support the other parent. As much as you enjoy being the center of your baby’s universe, don’t forget your partner is feeling left out. Listen to them patiently and try to bring them into your quality time activities.
- Step aside at times to shine the spotlight on the neglected parent. Your baby loves to cling to your leg even when you are in the middle of a Zoom meeting, but it’s essential for your child to learn some boundaries. Explain that you are busy, and he can play with the other parent for a while.
What to do when older kids prefer one parent
It’s not just toddlers that show favoritism, but older kids too. It doesn’t mean they love one parent any less, but they usually prefer the one who is easy on them.
As kids grow up, they demand a certain level of privacy, so they may shut off the parent who wants all the answers. Children tend to shy away from the parent who is stricter or has more questions and conditions before giving any approvals.
Also, a teenager’s definition and need for conversation differ from yours. They might not exactly wish to push you away and may feel like they have a good connection with you both.
Being shunned by your older kids might not be as much fun, though. Keeping these points in mind can help:
- Don’t push too hard when they shut you off. This will only make them pull back more.
- As they grow, kids expect certain boundaries and overstepping these boundaries is never a good idea.
- Instead, encourage the preferred parent to initiate the important conversations, and you can join in organically.
- Spend time with them in activities they like and be interested in their choices and preferences without judging. This will help them feel confident in opening up to you again.
The neglect phase with my twins didn’t last very long, and both my husband and I have been on the wrong end of favoritism. Remember, if your child favors one parent, that doesn’t mean one of you is better at parenting than the other. It’s a phase, and the pendulum will swing back. Until then, put your feet up and enjoy the break.
Here’s my confession: while I sometimes miss being the center of my kids’ tiny universe, I enjoyed the break as I got to drink my coffee while it was warm and could finally remember what sleep was.