Learning to Accept That I Am Not My Child’s Preferred Parent

I am not my child’s preferred parent. And I don’t just mean I am not her preferred parent right now or this month. I mean I have not been her preferred parent since she was about 14 months old (she is now two and a half). She wants daddy to do everything when he is around. She wants him to hold her hand as she crosses the street, brush her teeth, read her books, put her down for a nap, and so on. When she is hurt or upset, she pushes me away and wants daddy.

Her pro-daddy stance caught me completely off guard. I always knew a child often showed a preference for one parent, but I had only ever seen that person be their primary caregiver. So, as my child’s primary caregiver and a person with a fairly nurturing personality, I assumed my daughter would cling to me. I had visions of her crying when I left and rejoicing when I came home. But that hasn’t been the case.

It hurt my feelings when month after month my daughter cried out for daddy. I would come to get her up in the morning and she would shout, “Go away, daddy do it.” She would run around shouting “mommy no kisses” before bedtime. What. The. Heck. I breastfed her, took care of her on hundreds of sleepless nights, and took her to the park almost every day, so why was I being pushed away?

My first instinct was that I had done something wrong or that something was missing in our relationship. I pushed and tried to do things even if she wanted daddy, not acknowledging her preference or feelings. The harder I tried to insert myself into situations where she wanted daddy, the more she pushed back. When I got pregnant with our second child, I secretly hoped she would get insanely jealous and start to prefer me – that definitely did not happen.

Today, I can honestly say I am okay with her preference for my husband. It took many months to get to that place, but here is what helped: 

I got a new perspective.

I had been so obsessed with her not favoring me the majority of the time, that I didn’t realize there were times when she preferred me. For example, I was her preferred parent to play with. She always came to grab me first when she wanted to color or go to the park. I was so worried about not being enough, that I missed the moments that showed we had a thriving relationship. I started to celebrate what we had, rather than what was lacking.

I learned to fully accept her feelings.

When she asked for daddy to do it, I often would let him do it. I did not project disappointment or make her responsible for making me feel secure and loved. When my husband needed a break, I would acknowledge her feelings first before stepping in. For example, I would tell her “I know you want daddy to get you dressed, but I am going to help today.”

I stopped assigning meaning to her preference.

When she first started showing a preference for my husband, I would assign a meaning, like this means she doesn’t like me, or this means we don’t have a good relationship, or this means we won’t ever be close.  Instead, I simply let it be what it was, she prefers dad. It is not a judgment on the relationship we have.

There could be a million different reasons why she may not prefer me, and I may never know why. But it likely has nothing to do with me. For example, my daughter does not get nearly as much time with her dad as she does with me, so maybe that makes her crave his attention more. Or maybe she pushes me away to test out her independence and feel autonomous.

Her “rejection” of me is superficial, and not a judgment on my parenting. Actually, I realize now that she feels so secure in what we have that she is comfortable pushing me away, knowing I will always be there. In moments where feelings of hurt creep up, I tell myself it is because we have such a great relationship that she can feel safe pushing back.

Even as I am writing this, I still feel a tinge of mommy shame. Like anyone reading it will think “You did something wrong and your child should want their mommy all the time.” It feels vulnerable to admit my child doesn’t prefer me, but I hope this can help others who find themselves feeling rejected by their child. It is hard, but you are doing a great job. And at least we less preferred parents are getting in some great training for all the rejection those teenage years will bring.

 

11 comments

  • Thank you for sharing this! This gave me a completely different perspective on mine and my babies relationships. Both of my babies prefer dad. And it has always been difficult for me because I felt the same way you did. I’m glad I’m not the only one, this has helped me more than you know.

  • Its so good to know I am not alone. I did not expect my son to prefer my husband!

  • I sometimes think my husband is going to be the preferred parent – when I feel myself starting to feel down about it, I think to myself – part of why I married my husband is because I thought he would make a great father and it’s the greatest gift I could give my son, a father who is so lovable.

  • I have had the same thing happen with my second child. I waited 5 years in between my first and her to have her, so she got all my attention and her sister and dad’s too. I had a natural birth, slept with her from day 1, breastfed her day and night until two years old, held her or wore her everywhere I went, and she did seem attached to me until about the time she weaned from breastfeeding and started having her own preferences for things and her personality really started coming through. It was clear then that she prefers her dad to me and even generally men to women, like her grandfather or uncle. I found this hurtful not only because I felt like I was so devoted to her and i worried I may have done something wrong, but especially because at 18 months she was diagnosed with a rare disease. She has been on so many medications with terrible side effects, hospitalized and had Ivs so many times, blood draws every two to four weeks since diagnosis (and she’s now four). Behavioral issues from the meds, daily extreme discomfort and sickness, vomiting etc and I have been the one to take her to every appointment nurse her through every symptom, hold her down for every single IV and blood draw. A lot of my pain came from the fact that I thought she may be extrapolating from all of her negative and painful experiences that since I was the one with her, somehow i caused it all. I worried she was transferring her anger or fear or bad feelings about it all to me. I have been heartbroken about this and worked double-time to over compensate with patience and kindness and good memories, snuggles, etc.
    I treated her no differently than my oldest who was and still is my most devoted little sidekick. But I’ve had to realize I am a good parent. Looking back I am proud of my choices and how I have parented her and even with the medical stuff, I wish I didn’t have to, but helping her survive is literally what a good parent does. Any preference she has for anyone else does not affect that and does not affect my love for her, nor does it prove or disprove her love for me. That is not why we have these children – for them to love us “the most”. The gift is that we got to love and guide these humans through their young lives and they teach us so much about ourselves in the process. I pray I can accept both of my girls just as they are without wishing them to be different, even if it is personally uncomfortable to me. I still struggle sometimes but these are the things I think of now and remind myself of. You are not alone. ❤️

  • This was just so incredibly helpful and timely. I am also not the preferred parent and my son is 14 months old. At first it really hurt my feelings and it seems like I’m the only mom I know whose kid prefers dad, all the others prefer mom. It was just helpful to hear your experience and know that I’m not alone. Thank you!

  • I needed to read this tonight. Thank you for your vulnerability on writing this; it has given me some peace in my heart. My daughter just turned one on the 22nd of this month. She began preferring her daddy over me around 10.5 months. My husband works two full-time jobs so I can stay home with her. I completely related to you when you mentioned the countless nights of staying up to feed and change her, then to do it again all day by yourself while daddy is working. Being a mother is a 24/7 job that never ends. Rest assured, I wouldn’t want it any other way, but it is heart wrenching when my daughter prefers her daddy over me. Thank you for lifting some of this sadness from my heart. ❤️

  • Oh brave and dedicated mama, thank you for being vulnerable in sharing these feelings. They are so true, so valid, and comforting. I am not the preferred parent and I blamed it on so many reasons… I was unable to breastfeed despite all efforts, I worked too much, I didn’t give her what she needed and the wounds cut deep. Time has helped, age and communication has helped. But to know I’m not alone means the world. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. I just had my first and she preferred her father over me from 6 to 8 months and now from a year on ..i got the very first few months when she didn’t have much of a preference as long as someone came to her needs…and after the first year everything is papì….it made me resent him and her. Not that i did not still care for her.. bit i had insane post natal depression too and felt horrible about myself like i was doing something wrong or not nuturing enough…i am still in that depression funk but am getting more accepting of her preference….she comes to me for nails painted and bath time and playing too…you made me realize that even in my depression she considers me her fun parent. And it gives me just a teeny bit of satisfaction when her dad corrects her and she come running to me…lol. i have to reinforce his discipline but i know she feels safe knowing I’m there to go to when she gets frustrated with him. I also know that she knows i understand her needs better so when papí doesn’t understand why she is upset…she comes to see his ‘ manager’. Lol. You helped to remember normal is a setting on the washing machine…our normal is unable to be compared to other families.

  • Wow, not the only person I see. My child prefers his father over me as well. I choose to let them have their relationship. I make jokes a lot and yes it hurts my feelings but hey what can you do. You can’t force it.

  • This was so comforting I was just speaking about this she issue today…thank you

  • I think my babe has been a daddy’s girl since the womb. I could feel her adjusting her body towards him when I lay beside him. So, it was no surprise. Now that she’s in the world, she scoots toward him still!!! Even in her crib, she scoots toward the “side of bed” he sleeps on. It’s monumentally sweet, and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t just a little jealous. But, as mentioned in the article, I spend so much time giving care to her, it doesn’t bother me that she prefers her dad for some things.

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