I had heard the phrases ‘Mummy’s Boy’ and ‘Daddy’s Girl’ many times throughout my life. My husband and I joked once we found out we were pregnant with a boy, that I bet he was going to be a total Mummy’s boy. It was inevitable really, as I am such a softy when it comes to babies and kids, and I was so completely excited to become a Mother.
Turns out that not only is my son a total Mummy’s boy, he is so attached to me that even having me leave the room to go to the bathroom to pee can send him into a meltdown.
Let me preface this by saying, it is WONDERFUL to be so loved. And I am a completely in love, obsessed and adore my son beyond reason in return. He is literally the centre of my world. But confession time. Sometimes being the absolute number one parent all the time for over two years, can get exhausting. In fact, it can fucking suck.
I hear the words “I want Mummy” at least twenty times a day. No exageration. Eight times out of ten if I am not the one to put him to bed he weeps uncontrollably. He has cried at every single daycare drop off. Mummy has to get him lunch. Mummy has to dress him. Daddy will almost never do. In fact, poor Daddy has to deal with him screaming “I don’t want you, I want Mummy” also at least twenty times a day. It is really tough on both of us. I feel unbelievably guilty that I am the favourite parent. But I also feel resentful that I am the favourite parent. Why can’t he love us both the same? Why can’t his amazing, nurturing and loving father be enough for him too?
I am sure there will come a day when I won’t be the centre of my son’s universe. There will be a day where he will roll his eyes and be embarrassed by me. I have no interest in being an overbearing Mother in Law or being the number one woman in his life forever. I know I should just soak up this incredible adoration while I have it. And normally I do. But I am pregnant with my second baby and I am seriously worried about how he is going to take sharing me. And I am well aware of the emotional impact this has on both my husband and the relationship he has with his son.
This whole issue of being the favourite parent has really come to head this week in particular. My son came down with croup on the first day of my husband’s holiday home with us. We had visions of family time and lots of laughter and activities going into this holiday. But unfortunately when your toddler is sick, that puts a massive dent in any plans.
Sickness makes my son even more attached to me than usual. Normally this would be okay, I would take it in my stride. I am a stay at home Mum after all, I am used to the 24/7 vigilance. But because I am 31 weeks pregnant and feeling absolutely horrendous myself, I feel ill equipped to deal with him day and night. I have terrible heartburn. I keep putting my back out. I am bloody exhausted. And my husband is home, it would be lovely if he could help me. But my son is having none of it.
Only Mummy can put him to sleep. Only Mummy can give him cuddles and comfort and baths and medicine. Even leaving him with my husband while I shower results in catastrophic tears. You can imagine how hard this week has been.
So what is the answer? Let him cry when he is already so sick to the point where he can’t breath? Or put myself and my baby before his needs sometimes? It is a really hard position to be in.
According to Heidi Murkoff, author of ‘What to Expect the Second Year’, playing favourites is common with toddlers. It is a way of them exerting independence and showing that they can make their own choices. It is also a matter of familiarity and comfort with routine. I am a stay at home Mum and therefore I spend a lot more time with my son. He thrives on routine and knows which day of the week is which depending on the activity we do. So being sick and also my husband being on holidays has probably just culminated into the perfect storm of his routine being interrupted, and just needing comfort from his primary caregiver.
Although is must be so hard being rejected, as well as overwhelming being the one chosen all the time, it is not because one is a better parent than the other. It is a phase that is very common with little ones. A phase that too shall pass like all difficult phases our children go through. In fact, the child specialist Pinky McKay says that parent preference is a normal stage of development for toddlers, because at this stage the frontal cortex is not yet fully developed so they can only focus on one relationship at a time. As they grow, they will work out ways to connect with both parents all by themselves.
In the meantime, many experts I have read agree on a few strategies to get through the preferred parent phases.
If you are the favoured parent:
- Don’t hoard all the fun tasks. Let your partner do some really fun things with your toddler. Ditto with the boring tasks!
- Get busy when both you and your partner are with your toddler together. If your toddler insists that you join them, try to fade into the background at times and let your partner take centre stage. I tried this today when we went to the playcentre. My son was distracted by the giant slides and cars, so I let my husband take him around while I sat back with a coffee. It was a win for me who got to relax my giant pregnant body, and a win for my husband who got to take centre stage.
- Work to include your partner in the activities you both enjoy. Invite them to the tea party or to make dinner together. If you can’t leave or your toddler won’t let you fade into the background, at least involve your partner in the activity in some way.
- Be firm with your toddler that some tasks your partner is going to do, not you. If they are going to put your toddler to sleep because you can’t, be kind but firm when you explain what is going to happen and don’t step in. Recognise when they don’t truly need you, when they just want you.
If you are the non favoured parent:
- Show your love no matter how rejected or hurt you may feel. If you withdraw or become upset, this will only make your toddler cling to the favoured parent more.
- Remember that your child only feels safe rejecting you because they feel secure in your love. Rejection is kind of a backhanded compliment. Handle the rejection heroically and show them you are a model of emotional maturity because then you are teaching them a strong and valuable message.
- Start some new traditions by watching behind the scenes an activity the toddler likes to do with the favoured parent and making up one of your own based on this. It could be they really love playing trains with Mum, so go out and buy some new trains and show them a new game with them.
There are some weeks where my son is happy to share his affection. Where he will happily let my husband put him to sleep every night. I have no full proof or immediate methods of action to solve how attached he is to me. Truthfully I would probably miss him if he didn’t want so many cuddles.
But as my son recovers from his sickness, I am starting to understand that it is okay to feel a bit impatient with the level of neediness. I can walk away and leave him without feeling so guilty. This does not make me a bad mother. This makes me a human being. One who sometimes has to put herself first. Because after all, soon there will be two little munchkins running around vying for my attention. And I cannot simply split myself in half. They will have to learn to share. And I have to learn to be okay with it.
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