Our Son has a Favorite Parent

Question: Dear Luise: My wife and I have a 2-year-old son, with another child due in four weeks. The pregnancy has been very hard on my wife; she gets tired very easily, and has to rest often. As a result, I’ve been responsible for taking care of our son in the morning, evening and on weekends. My concern is that our son gets very upset when I’m not around…to the point where he tells us that he doesn’t like her, and he only likes me. This makes both of us very upset. I remind our son of all the things he and mommy do together, like paint and go to the library, but he doesn’t seem to listen. I’m hoping this is just a phase, but I’m concerned that things may get worse when our second child is born. Is there anything we can do to help the situation? Kevin

Answer: Dear Kevin: This is the classic problem of the child liking the parent who is most visible and lively…therefore more of a pal and a love source. Having a favorite parent is as normal as blueberry pie. As adults we do our best not to have a favorite child but they have no such ethical constraints.

Children are basically pretty self-absorbed. In their view you were both put into the world to serve and to please and they put up with very little insubordination on your part. An energetic dad may be a great deal more fun than a tired mom. When you can stop a moment to remember your son’s point of view, his actions will often make a lot more sense. However, you and your wife are the wise ones and you are in charge whether he understand it and likes your decisions or not.

Often it is the mom who has the role of being the one who is most appealing on a regular basis. Then she’s the “Queen” and highly preferred.

If it looks like a new baby coming has something to do with your two-year-old’s mom’s focusing elsewhere, (as in not feeling in top shape and at his beck and call), then on some level that may be confusing and the new baby may be unwelcome. Well, they often are anyway because your son will probably not want to share his dad, his current favorite, either. (His loyalies may swing back and forth.)

It is easy to tell a child that young too much. They have no frame of reference and it may look like they understand a great deal more than they can really process. “We’re doing this while dad does that” will suffice. Be careful with the whys. “You get to not like being with mom, that’s OK, and we’re going to do it this way.” Believe it or not the child feels much more secure with that.

When you and your wife get upset with your son’s preferences, he will feel it and have even more that he doesn’t understand. Let him know it’s OK that he has a preference and you are both still going to be doing what you do. Remind yourselves that he isn’t yet in charge of the household. (And you probably have no idea how many two-year-olds actually run the show.) Seriously, when they are given that much power, they are even more unhappy…because they have no idea what to do with it.

Hang in there. Your parents did! Blessings, Luise

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