Ever felt a bit smug to be your child’s favourite par­ent – only to sud­denly get the cold shoul­der? Louisa Pritchard re­veals how to cope when you’re rel­e­gated to sec­ond place

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Ever feel like you’re the sec­ond best par­ent?

There’s no sin­gle cause of favouritism; this shift­ing of af­fec­tions is nor­mal.

My son Hux­ley ran to­wards me with a huge smile on his face. But rather than fall­ing into my arms, he veered past me… and straight to his dad. And since that mo­ment, four weeks ago, I’ve been snubbed by my 19-month-old on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Which, if I’m hon­est, does bring ben­e­fits (I’ll be over here hav­ing a Face­book catch-up then?), but there are times when be­ing side­lined hurts. It’s a small con­so­la­tion that I’m not the only one be­ing ‘dumped’. A re­cent study found around one in four chil­dren un­der 10 pre­fer play­ing with their dads. Clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Claire Halsey says this shift­ing of al­le­giance can start when they are just nine months old. “This is around the time sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety sets in and tod­dlers start to favour one par­ent over the other,” she says. “It can be up­set­ting for par­ents as their lit­tle one starts to swap between Mum and Dad and shows pref­er­ence and favouritism. There’s no sin­gle cause; this shift­ing of af­fec­tions is nor­mal.”

And it’s just the start of some­thing that will last through­out their early child­hood. “It of­ten set­tles down by the age of five when a child grows more ra­tio­nal and doesn’t like be­ing ‘un­fair’ so will ap­pre­ci­ate time with each par­ent,” says par­ent­ing ex­pert Tanith Carey. But from this age, there is also a devel­op­men­tal shift where boys, in par­tic­u­lar, be­gin to sep­a­rate from their moth­ers and iden­tify more with their fa­thers. “Dads be­come their mas­cu­line role model, while lit­tle girls re­alise that they are the same gen­der as their mums,” says Tanith.


I’d as­sumed there would al­ways be a spe­cial bond between mother and child. I took a year off on ma­ter­nity leave, and now work part-time so I can spend as much time with my son as pos­si­ble. But it turns out that could be the rea­son he sees Daddy as the ‘fun’ one. “The per­son to be cast aside is usu­ally the one who has been the closest to the child,” adds Claire. “When your tod­dler is at the age where you need to start teach­ing right from wrong, that par­ent swaps from full-time nur­tur­ing to do­ing more of the dis­ci­plin­ing. Ba­bies and tod­dlers are very mo­ti­vated to get their needs met. And if you are block­ing them, they will swap to some­one who will give them their way.”

This ex­plains the switch of al­le­giance in my house, given I’m the one con­stantly say­ing ‘no’ while my hus­band lets our son do any­thing he wants (yes, climb­ing on top of the cof­fee ta­ble, then eat­ing cho­co­late for a snack). That doesn’t mean you should loosen the rules – but Tanith does sug­gest you make a note of how many times you are say­ing ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ in a day (in my case, I lost count af­ter 26...). “Keep in mind that the best way to im­prove a child’s be­hav­iour is not telling them off for what they do wrong but by ac­knowl­edg­ing when they do some­thing right,” she says.


Some­times tod­dlers switch their af­fec­tions overnight. Ca­tia, 32, and mum to James, two, shares; “It started when we were on hol­i­day at Easter. From the time we ar­rived at the air­port – and for the next two weeks – all James wanted was Daddy. Since then, he’ll al­ways choose his dad over me.”

So could it be that dads are just (whis­per it) more fun? “A rea­son why Dad is of­ten pop­u­lar when he comes home is be­cause he’s more likely to give a tod­dler the un­di­vided at­ten­tion he craves,” says Tanith. And if you’re at work, the re­al­ity is, even to­day, dads multi-task less than mums. “When a work­ing mum comes home at the end of the day, she can’t wait to see her child, but by com­par­i­son she’s more likely to be wor­ry­ing about what else she has to do – such as mak­ing din­ner or repack­ing the day­care bag – as soon as she has set foot in the door,” says Tanith. In an ideal world, these tasks should be shared equally so you can both have play­time, too.


Not ev­ery­one minds too much when they are dumped. Jess, 33, and mum to Evie, 20 months, says, “She switches between my hus­band and I, and to be hon­est, I quite like it when Daddy is the favourite. He should have spe­cial time with her too, plus when she’s in a ‘daddy’s girl’ mood I can have a glass of wine, catch up with friends on the phone, go out shop­ping… it’s lib­er­at­ing!”

If you are the favourite, the trick is to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to be flat­tered. “Go­ing along with your tod­dler’s de­mands and adding to the ex­clu­sion by telling your part­ner, ‘Yes, she likes it bet­ter when I do it’, will only re­duce the in­volve­ment of the less favoured par­ent. If your tod­dler con­stantly comes to you for drinks, cud­dles and bed­time, tell them you know some­one who would love to help: Daddy.”

For Betty, 28, her son Tay­lor, two, shifted his at­ten­tions to his dad when she got preg­nant. “When you’re preg­nant, your at­ten­tion is slightly else­where,” Claire says. “It’s a clever strat­egy on the child’s part to recog­nise some­one else might have more time than Mummy. But it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber it’s not a per­ma­nent thing.” Which is a re­lief to hear. So my plan for get­ting equal qual­ity time with my son? Shar­ing the house­work, per­suad­ing his dad to do more of the dis­ci­plin­ing and get­ting down on the floor to play more. If all else fails, there’s al­ways cho­co­late…

If you are the favourite, re­sist the temp­ta­tion to be flat­tered

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