Today, parent educator Hetti Wohlgemuth shares tips for coping with parent preferences:
“Parent preferences happen, even in the best of households. One sunny spring morning my husband took our then 3-year-old daughter tricycling. She soon fell off her tricycle and cried and cried. When Bob tried to help her (and all the way home) she cried, "Mommy! Mommy!" Today, it's Bob who gets the homemade Father's Day cards, the birthday phone calls, and the adoring looks from our daughters while I get, "Moooomm, you're not wearing that are you?" and " Moooomm, you're so embarrassing!"
There's good and bad news regarding parent preferences. The good news? Parent preferences swing back and forth sooner than you can say, 'Mommy's home.' The bad news? The preferences swing back and forth - fast. However, parent preferences are not so awful and actually make good sense. All relationships - marriages, friendships, teacher/student, and parent/child - go through upswings and downswings. The preferences are normal and not something to get hung up on, unless they start to determine family life for far too long or too dramatically. Here are some tips to cope:
Don't allow the preferences to control you. Always remain the adult. Preferences become toxic when the less preferred parent gets angry, resentful, retaliatory, or feels downtrodden, and then reacts emotionally due to those feelings. Keep in mind that it is a passing phase.
Keep age in mind. As a new parent, it can hurt when your baby or toddler rejects you for the other parent. But remember that this behavior is age appropriate. Related to this and the previous point, when my daughter Jessie didn't want Bob to comfort her (in the opening example), he might have become frustrated or angry. He didn't. Her behavior was age appropriate for a 3-year-old.
Preferences are not about who loves who more. Preferences may be about who spends time with who more. They may be about primary attachments, security, gender identification, or manipulation. In times of stress, a baby may glom on to the parent with whom they spent the whole day. It's not a love preference; it's a stress preference. And when a daughter who loves clomping around in her mom's party shoes reacts with delight (and maybe ignores the other parent) when Mom returns home all dressed up with fancy shoes on, it's not a love preference, it's gender identification.
Keep your cool. As with many parenting situations, it’s best to try to remain calm in parent preference scenarios. Every so often, a child may see the impact of their temporary parent preference and enjoy the power of it all. That affords a child too much control and this sort of manipulation will not work well for any member of the family.
Remember that parent preferences are hard on both parents. They truly are. The temporarily preferred parent looks forward to breaks in a long day. And when no break feels in reach because baby is in one of her "phases," it's frustrating. The antidote is to take a break anyway. All will benefit. A few extra non-essential tears may just alter what needs to be altered. As for the less preferred parent, it is helpful to reframe the concept of "rejection." The preference is (as previously stated but bears repetition) about security, parental roles, or time spent. And that's a fine mantra to repeat as needed.
Never give up. Babies get tired, sick, and stressed and in those times it's best not to fight the preference, but a parent should never give up. There are always ways to break into a child/parent preference and it's essential to look for those inroads. For example, look for activities the child enjoys where the less preferred parent can be the point person. During one of Jessie’s "mommy" stages, she particularly enjoyed puzzles, breakfast out, and bath time. These three likes worked well for Bob and so they bonded over these particular times.”