It's enough to drive a mom crazy: You feed and clean your kids all day, supervise countless Pinterest-worthy activities, bandage their boo-boos, weather their tantrums, and push them on the playground swing until your arms fall off. Then evening comes, and as soon as your partner opens the door, your kids shove you aside like a dirty diaper. For the umpteenth time, you wonder if Dad is your kid's favorite: They want to sit with him to watch PJ Masks or the Jets game, they want Daddy to be the one to play Candy Land, take them for a drive, or handle the bedtime routine. As if that weren't enough, you're totally out of the picture in their estimation. Any attempt to step in is immediately met with a wail of "Noooo! I want Daddy!"
Naturally, because mothers don't let a day go by without at least one moment of guilt, you wonder why you've taken second place to your co-parent. You start harboring all those Am I a Bad Mom? thoughts. But you should be relieved to learn that having your child favor your partner over you is actually a good thing. Weird as it sounds, when a child starts craving the attention of one parent, it means that they love and trust you enough to detach for a while. LA-based child psychologist Krista L. Swanson, Ph.D., told Parents magazine in an interview, "He's secure enough in your love to know he can jilt you and still get a warm welcome back."
Children form attachments with one or two primary caretakers in their first two years, then go on to bond with other family members or caregivers, according to North Dakota State University family science specialist Sean Brotherson. When parents consistently provide love and physical comfort, respond to their baby's needs, and interact in a positive way, the child gains a sense of trust: Mom will always be there when I need her.
Then in the toddler years, as children learn to see themselves as a separate individual from their parents, they test out that individuality by making choices. Knowing that you won't abandon them if you're not by their side 24/7, your little one feels confident enough to look to Dad for that bedtime story or a snuggle session on the sofa.
The thrill of the new may be a factor in a child's parent preference. PopSugar writer Ben Stahl admitted in a post that his kids do favor him, but it's mainly because he provides a change from being with their mom all day long. "I get to make a grand entrance, I round the corner into our kitchen, and bam, it's like I'm Obama, Jagger, and the Pope all at once," he explained. "My wife rarely gets to make that 'Mommy's home' reveal."
It's also possible that your child is gravitating to the parent who doesn't get on their case about picking up their toys or going to bed on time, psychologist Erica Reischer, PhD, told Parenting. If you and your spouse have fallen into the good guy/bad guy parenting roles, Reischer recommended adjusting the balance of your relationship so that both of you get equal time both to enforce the rules and to have fun.
When a child suddenly chooses one parent to hang with, experts agree that the important thing is not to take it personally. Showing your disappointment or reacting with rejection ("Fine — I guess you don't need me anymore") will only make your child hurt and confused. Instead, keep assuring your child that you still love them, even when they're spending one-on-one time with Dad, recommended What to Expect.
To even out the balance, make sure that rules and routines remain consistent, no matter who's enforcing them, parenting writer Bruce Feiler told Parents. Be willing to bend a little; if your child insists on Dad taking over bath or story time, go with it, and think of something else you can substitute as a mommy-child activity (like making pancakes every Saturday). Better yet, find things that you all can do as a family; this will help your child understand that you're a team unit that can enjoy spending time together as well as in one-on-one spurts.