The Blog

When Your Toddler Favors One Parent, How Do You Feel?

Sometimes toddlers seem to favor one parent over the promoting all kinds of feelings in the other parent. It can happen to mothers and fathers who then have all kinds of emotions triggered in them.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
Shocked Teenage Boy Holding Baby
Shocked Teenage Boy Holding Baby

Sometimes toddlers seem to favor one parent over the promoting all kinds of feelings in the other parent. It can happen to mothers and fathers who then have all kinds of emotions triggered in them.

An Example of a Favored Father


For example, I spoke with a devoted mother of a toddler who bears the core of the responsibility for her son when it comes to arranging child care, shopping, cleaning, caring for him when he is sick, making sure to play with him and give him fun times, as well as, reading up on child development to make sure he's on course.

She is a working mother like her spouse. Due to his 6 day work week, this father spends much less time with their little one and leaves the ultimate care to his wife.However, the toddler favors his father. This doesn't mean he's more attached to him emotionally but he seeks him out and prefers his company when both parents are around.

The mother has a great deal of confusion and guilt because she feels left out, diminished, and admittedly angry because of all she does for her son. She partly wonders if she's doing anything wrong because she's not the parent her son chooses to be with, given the choice. Even if they are all playing together, he tends to shoo her away. Does this ever happen to you?

Why is One Parent Favored?

Clearly this could happen to either parent, but in this situation the mother sought answers as to what was going on.

It seems that even though both parents work, the father has taken the role of the novel parent. He is more exciting because he is less available. He isn't more playful, funnier, cheerier, or doing anything that stimulates this child more--but he is the novel one! That is the reason for his child's behavior.

Continuing this example, the mother is doing absolutely nothing wrong. She is proud of her husband for being a good father, but it irks her a great deal. She's a strong, stable, knowledgeable, caring, playful mother who adores and loves her son. But her son is a curious, healthy growing little boy who, like all kids his age, wants what feels new and different because he wants to learn to engage with diverse people who love him. His father is thus the sought after one in this little family.

Tips on How to Cope if You Aren't the Favored Parent

Clearly, let me restate roles could easily be reversed and often are. Toddlers can be very attached to their mothers whether they stay home or work daily. Some are clingy, some more independent, each is his or her own individual. But it remains that one parent may be favored, so what to do with all those feelings that crop up when you can't help but feel your little toddler isn't grateful?

• Allow for all your feelings, even anger, but don't act on them.

• Understand this concept of novelty is very strong for curious, growing toddlers.

• Don't blame your partner and start an unnecessary battle because your partner didn't create this disparity.

• However, share your feelings with your partner, so he or she knows what you're going through, so you feel supported in your devoted parenting job.

• Allow for this phase to work its way through, reminding yourself that you're entitled to experience your feelings whatever they are and needn't feel guilty for them. This is a big one. You don't have to feel guilty because you're so perturbed.

• Toddlers don't know about being grateful. They're too young for that. So you may need to modify such expectations and instead be proud that you're doing such a good job and making such a splendid effort at being a parent resulting in this vibrant little toddler.

Remember Your Parenting Partners

Ultimately, the aim is a healthy growing child and as two parents partner in this effort it's important to remember that your toddler's behavior has meaning. He seeks novelty! One parent isn't better than the other, they are just two individuals whose differences help their child grow and eventually learn to engage with a wide variety of people who will be coming into his life as he gets older.

Dump the guilt. Have the feelings. And share in the joy and pride of parenting this little cherub!! Understanding that behavior has meaning can reshape your parenting life and make you feel a whole lot better if you aren't the favored one right now!


Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.