How to Keep Your Kid From Playing Favorites — a Must-Read for Moms (And Dads!)

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profile picture of Jessica Collins Grimes
March 2, 2017
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Image: Ron & Julia Campbell

My toddler is going through a “mommy phase.” She wants me all the time, whether it’s to give her or a bath or read her stories at bedtime or kiss her boo-boos when she falls. I’m the one she calls for when she wakes up in the morning. When I dare to leave the room, she bursts out in tears, running after me.

It’s been going on for several weeks now. Sure, it can be inconvenient and overwhelming at times, and I’ll roll my eyes or complain to my husband about it, but you know what? I secretly love it.

And yet I feel guilty about loving it because I know how much it hurts my husband when she rejects him, saying, “No, Daddy,” and runs to me. I know, because our son when through a similar phase around the same age – yet instead of wanting his mommy, he was attached at the hip to his daddy. I don’t recall how long he played favorites, but at the time it felt like forever.  And I was crushed.

Sure, the rational side of me knew it was a phase, that it was part of his cognitive development and quest for independence – similar to the time when he would only eat white foods. Yet the emotional side of me was heartbroken and jealous. It felt like a personal affront, that he loved my husband more or that my husband was a better parent than me. I even remember breaking down in tears at one point when my son passed me over yet again, in favor of his dad.

Eventually everything equaled out, but that experience still stings. And while my husband won’t admit it, I think that’s how he’s feeling now. No one likes to be the runner-up. So even though the nurturing (and, yes, selfish) momma in me relishes being the one my daughter turns to, I don’t want to encourage her favoritism at my husband’s expense – because he’s an amazing and incredible dad. And the reality is that I know our kids love us both very much.

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But how to level the playing field? Here are some of our strategies:

Step aside. As much as I love tucking her in at night, I’ve been turning most of those duties over to my husband (at least for the time being) to ensure they can share some special moments every day.

I’m outta here. On the weekends, I’ll duck out for an hour or two to run errands, and when I come back, I’ll often find the two of them – plus my older son – all playing together and having a blast. The best part? After a tearful minute or two, she didn’t even realize I was gone.

Persistence … and patience. Thankfully, my husband is a patient man. Instead of making a big deal when she shuns him (like I know I would), he stays even-keeled, telling her that he loves her and he understand that right now she wants Mommy.

What do you do when your kids prefer one parent over the other?

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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