Daddy Loves Me Best: When you aren’t the parent they want

Look at this face.

Henrik cuteness

Isn’t the sweetest boy you’ve ever seen? But you would never guess that underneath those good looks there lurks a heart of stone. Every child does it to every parent and there is nothing we can do about it. It’s a “phase.”

The phase when your sweet little angel wants only one of you and wants *nothing* to do with the other parent.

Like I said, it’s common. Dr. Spock observed that at around 3 years old your child will start to prefer one parent over the other. Usually it is the mother and the father is left out in the cold. In our household H only wanted Daddy.

“I love you,” I would say and he would shriek “Daddy loves me best!” and run away. Every. Time.

Proving that he is, after all, my child, H started this little phase right at the crack of age 3. He wanted Daddy for baths, story time, bedtime, dressing, lunch-making, in the middle of the night, when he got up in the morning, and when he got hurt. My every attempt to show him affection was rebuffed with a shout of “Daddy loves me best!”

It was crushing. But Dr. Spock insisted that this was just a phase and that meant it would pass. I was also reassured by my mommy friends. They had been there, too. Well, their husbands had been there. “But, hey! Don’t take it personally! It’s just a phase!” they soothed.

It was crushing. I was a stay-at-home-parent! He was supposed to love *me* the best. I was the one home with him every day!  I was the one who changed his diapers! I played Thomas the Tank Engine and and Dinosaurs for hours!  I was the one who walked with him to Donut King to buy treats! It wasn’t fair!
I was lamenting my fate over margaritas with a friend and she gave me the best piece of parenting advice I’d ever gotten. It was tangential to my issues for sure, but it worked. She was having her own issues with her boys and consulted a child behaviorist that worked in her pediatrician’s office.  The behaviorist told her to write down some rules and put them up on the wall.  That way she can take herself out of the role of Queen of the Rules.  For example, a conversation about picking up toys would work this way:

 

Helen: “Did you put your toys away?”

Son: “I don’t want to put my toys away.”

Helen: pointing to the rule on the wall “But it’s a rule. It’s right there on the wall.”

Son: “Idonwannadoit.”

Helen: shrugging in a neutral way “The rule is up there. I can’t change the rule. It’s bedtime and therefore, the toys have to be picked up.”

And it actually worked!! The toys were picked up!  Granted, with sighing, but not the kind of tantruming resistance that normally happened.

So we decided to put in our own rules. We also decided to have Mark, the favored parent, tell H about the rules.  Daddy would make lunch.  Mommy would get H dressed.  There would be two stories at bedtime: Daddy would read one story at bedtime and Mommy would read the other.  Daddy would tuck H into bed. Mommy would sing the lullaby.

Don’t underestimate the power of a shoulder shrug with a neutral delivery of the words, “Well, those are the rules.”  By age 3 children are already very accustomed to the boundaries that exist in their world.  They also are used to having new boundaries defined on a daily basis as they learn about their world.  In our case, there were a few tears and some slight resistance, but all that was blown away by that shrug and a new neutral “Sorry, kiddo. Those are the rules. We take turns.”

By the end of the week it all became routine.  Daddy was still the one he ran to for scrapes and boo-boos.  And it was still Daddy he called for in the middle of the night (for which I gave a fist-pump of joy), but I again had a part in nurturing him.

It was 2 years of “Daddy loves me best” before he finally started asking for me rather than simply tolerating my affection at prescribed hours.  We are well beyond this phase and laugh about it now, but it was hard on both of us. However, it forced to consciously set a routine where both parents are involved in H’s nurturing rather than having Mommy be the defacto nurturer and Daddy the playtime buddy.  It has also promoted a stronger bond between H and both of us.  And Mark and I can’t help but wonder what the next phase has in store for us.

 


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