Does this sound familiar? Tears streaming down your child’s face, her words directed at you: “No, Mummy!”… her arms outstretched at another parent or caregiver, demanding that Daddy, Aunty or Grandma be the one to feed, soothe or settle her.
Such occasions can naturally bring tears to any parent’s eyes. Every now and then, your child might show parental preference, leaving you to watch and feel helpless from the sidelines.
It can be pretty devastating, but it’s important not to lose heart. After all, it doesn’t mean you stop being a primary caregiver, even if your young one doesn’t seem to want you to be!
If you have been in the position of being a rejected parent far too often, here are some steps that can be taken to manage the situation and help you feel better about it all.
1. Balance your quality time
This might seem counterintuitive, as your reaction as the non-preferred parent might be to spend more time with your child. However, it could be that the little tot is simply craving more attention from his or her favoured parent.
Try to reflect on this, discuss it with your partner, and balance things out accordingly.
2. Maintain a united front
Are you always the only one setting firm boundaries and playing bad cop? It certainly won’t help if the favoured parent is always caving in to sweet treats and late bedtimes, while the non-preferred parent sets the ground rules.
Again, balance is key, so ensure your spouse is able to set boundaries and be the “bad guy” accordingly.
3. Take baby steps
Sometimes roles can become so entrenched, they become a habit – and “unhabiting” has to be done gently and gradually. When your child makes demands for Mum or Dad, parenting author Maggie Dent suggests letting the preferred parent sit it out for an hour at a time.
Your young one’s protests might cause some stabs to your heart, so go in mentally prepared and try not to take it personally.
4. It’s not you (honestly)
Yes, this is a repeat of the above, but it’s worth a subheading all to itself. Repeat this mantra when you face a torrent of rejection: “Don’t take it personally!”
It’s definitely not easy, but it helps to remind yourself it’s a common and even healthy development stage in your child.
According to paediatric physician Dr Heard-Garris, if a child feels comfortable actively rejecting one parent, it means she’s securely attached. Conversely, if a child were unsure of a parent’s love, he or she would cling to any scrap of affection they can get.
5. Have a ‘toddler snub’ response plan
Guilt trips, pouting, and pushing against toddler snubs will make the situation worse. Pre-empt tricky situations by offering choices: “Do you want to cuddle Teddy or Bunny to sleep tonight when Daddy isn’t around?”
Alternatively, have a few go-to phrases on hand: “I hear you, but when Mummy isn’t around, Daddy will help you.”
6. The glass is half full
Finally, take advantage! Enjoy the extra me-time. Make the most of your situation – indulge in a longer shower, do some journalling, or savour your meals. Remember to also use this time to relieve the load of the preferred parent in other ways, such as by doing the laundry or a quick tidy-up.
Remember, as clinical psychologist Dr Becky Kennedy says: “Your child’s rejection is not a barometer of your parenting. In these moments, there’s nothing wrong with the in-favour parent, the out-of-favour parent, or the child.”
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This article was written by Elaine Yeoh for makchic, a Malaysian-based online site for chic, curious, and spirited parents. makchic has been providing trustworthy and authentic family-related content since 2013. For diverse stories of parenthood that inform, support, and uplift all families, visit makchic.com and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.