How To Manage When Your Child Prefers One Parent

“No, mommy do it”, sound familiar? It’s really common for kids to go through stages of wanting one parent over the other, especially when it comes to bedtime. It can be hurtful to the unwanted parent and stressful for the parent that is being wanted all the time. My kids often seem to want me more, but then every so often it flips to Conrad. So why is it happening? 

  1. It may be the product of your child just being more used to one parent than the other doing a certain activity like bedtime or feeding. In their mind the child thinks, Dad does this with me, Mom does that. The routine might even be making them feel more comfortable with what’s happening. 
  2. Sometimes the opposite can be true - your child is preferring the less available parent because they want more time with them. 
  3. If you’re a toddler parent you know that at that age they begin to exert their willpower wherever and whenever possible. Just like “no” and snatching toys, parental preference can be your child wanting to show you they’re the boss of themself, or at least they think they are.
  4. Finally, it’s possible that, like their hatred of tomatoes and habit of running around naked, it’s a phase and they’ll get over it. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s pretty impractical and sometimes hurtful so here are a few things you can try to restore balance to your parenting team:

  1. Have the less-wanted partner start a special bonding ritual with your child that just the two of them do together each day right before the activity only you are allowed to do with your child (e.g. bedtime). Something like drawing, playing a game, or reading a book. After a few evenings, start to have your partner do one part of the bedtime routine (bathing for example) and then another until your child opens up to the idea of being brought to bed by either of you.
  2. If your child is a toddler this can be a good opportunity to teach empathy. The less-wanted parent can say to your child, “It hurts my feelings when you don’t want me to help”.
  3. Look for ways the less-wanted parent can make this activity more exciting with them - can they sing a bathtime song or dance to music as they put clothes on. 
  4. This method can be a tactic you use earlier in baby’s life before they develop their need for mommy to put them to bed. If you breastfeed right before bed, employ the hand-off method, you feed and cuddle and then hand off to your partner for burping, changing, and getting into bed. During this time you leave the room. Keep this up a few nights a week long term so the baby is used to both of you doing bedtime.
  5. It’s very effective for the more-wanted parent to just be unavailable during the activity. Go for a walk while your partner does whatever it is your child wants you for. It can be hard at first but quickly children learn both caregivers are good at this job.