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.