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Daddy Diaries: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Anchorman

I believe my stay-at-home status precipitated a phase in my three-year-old son recently that wasn't a laughing matter at all. He began to favor one parent over another.
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Every parent knows that childhood is nothing more than a series of phases. Some are funny, like my son's "Superpower!" phase, which entails him running naked through the apartment, after his bath, with a towel draped around him like a cape. (I assume it's a phase. If he's still doing it at 16 it will be creepy.) Others are irritating, like the standard "That's Mine!" phase. He was lucky to make it through that one alive.

I believe my stay-at-home status precipitated a phase in my three-year-old son recently that wasn't a laughing matter at all. In fact, the only reason I can write about it now is that it appears to be over. Feelings got hurt, but everyone survived. According to what I've read, it's something that a vast majority of parents deal with at some point.

It's when a child favors one parent over another.

The blessing of being able to spend much more time with my son these days seemed, for a while, like a curse for my wife. The cues were sometimes subtle, like him wanting to sit next to "Daddy" while watching a movie; other times they were overt, like him telling my wife to "get out" as we are trying to put him to bed. (Three-year-olds are not known for discretion.)

True to form, my "better half" tried to take things in stride. Not only did our research reveal that it's a normal phase, but also that there were plenty of positives at play. For instance, playing favorites reportedly shows emotional and cognitive growth. We also read that imagination and memory were growing as well during this phase. Unfortunately, none of that seemed to matter much one night when my wife was moved to tears at the babysitter's off-hand remark about how unusual it was for a child to cling to "Daddy" rather than "Mommy" as we were heading out. (That was a fun night. We never used her again.)

I found myself at a loss about how to deal with this situation, even a bit guilty about being the "preferred" parent. I learned quickly that joking about it doesn't work. (Any man reading this should memorize that point immediately. Any man who forgets should practice the phrase, "I know it's not funny sweetheart.") There are, however, some things that did work. One was to speak highly of "Mommy," especially when she wasn't there. Simple things work well, like, "Mommy bought you this shirt. She loves you very much." Another was to make sure they had some time alone (which after innumerable consecutive hours with the Tasmanian Devil that is my son was no problem at all for me.)

Finally, as predicted, this phase, like the others passed. In fact, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way. Perhaps it's the old "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing; or maybe it's more about "familiarity breeding contempt" (my wife seems to think my son and I are engaged in some sort of alpha male power struggle), but right now he's a mommy's boy and that's fine.