My toddler prefers mom over dad

“Hahaha! Six ninety-nine… are you out of your mind?” That’s my husband and toddler’s inside joke (I have no clue either, but hey, whatever works). They’re both laughing it up, rolling on the ground and acting like drunk BFFs, all the while talking about being out of their minds.

Rewind to about an hour ago though, and you get a completely different story. When my husband came home from the office and greeted our toddler, LO ran to me instead. When his dad started playing with his toy guitar, LO said, “Stay!” (his other word for “No!”). And when he needed a diaper change, he reserved that special job just for me (yay). Never mind that the whole time LO and I were alone, he mentioned his dad oh, about 26 times, whether it was recounting stories, pointing him out in pictures, or asking where he is.

As close as the two of them are and as involved as my husband is in day-to-day living, once in a while our toddler comes down with what we call “Mama-itis” where my toddler has a difficult time warming up to his dad upon arriving home from work. “What am I—chopped liver?” my husband quipped.

Chopped liver or not, I have to hand it to my husband for being patient and understanding despite being a second-class citizen in the eyes of a certain two-year-old. When our toddler started whining at him, Daddy calmly responded with, “You have to be more respectful when you want something.” And when it’s so easy to just tune out—turn on the computer, stomp and sulk in another room—Daddy stays in the perimeters, waiting until he has a chance to buddy up with LO again. And buddy up they do; more often than not after a few minutes of scuffing and giving the cold shoulder, our two-year-old is laughing and squealing with his dad again.

So what’s the deal—why does my toddler throw a hissy fit when he should be running to his dad the minute he steps through the door? I still don’t have a concrete reason but I do have my theories:

  • My toddler sees me more than his dad
    Even though my husband and I both work in the office, I have a more flexible schedule and therefore get to see our toddler more than my husband does. He may feel sad and resentful that he doesn’t get to see his dad as much, so rather than hugging him, he gets upset, as if to say, “Where were you this whole time?”
  • My toddler doesn’t like interruptions
    Maybe something about his dad coming home makes him think that the fun he and I were having is over. This is especially true because when my husband happens to be home before we get there, LO has no problem running up to his dad to greet him. Or whenever I walk in on the two of them in LO’s room in the morning (my husband is the one who wakes him up), LO starts throwing a fit at me, as if he and my husband were just fine and dandy until I came in and broke up the party.
  • My toddler thinks I’m going away
    When my husband is home, I sometimes use that as an opportunity to run an errand. Maybe my toddler has now associated my husband being home as less Mama time.

Ironically, for all the fuss our toddler throws when his dad comes home, the best antidote we’ve found is actually more time with Daddy. Below are some ideas we’ve tried that seem to cure our toddler of Mama-itis:

  • Schedule a fun outing for just the two of them. Yesterday morning, my husband and toddler visited the Science Center, and our toddler couldn’t stop talking about all the things he and his dad saw: “Daddy spin the steering wheel, then something fell down!” One-on-one time provides children an opportunity to experience a special occasion only shared by one parent.
  • Stay in the background. Mama, that is. Whenever I see my husband and toddler having fun together at home, I try to stay in the perimeters or go to an another room so that they can have more alone time with each other.
  • Designate “Daddy chores.” Even though my husband and I share baby duties interchangeably, there are some jobs that we divvy up. For instance, my husband is the one who bathes him, wakes him up in the morning, and reads books with him. With Daddy-designated chores, kids know that both parents are equally involved in their care, and that Dad isn’t just some baby sitter “helping out.”

Even though attachment to mothers is very common, I can imagine it still feels a bit discouraging when our little guy comes down with a case of Mama-itis. To all the dads who are going through this, hang in there! Your little ones love you beneath all that “Mama Mama Mama!” you keep hearing. At least we’ve found some solutions as we continue to encourage more bonding time between my two boys. No more chopped liver—just a lot more “Six ninety-nine…Are you out of your mind?”

Do your kids come down with “Mama-itis”? Have you ever experienced a situation where your kids prefer your partner over you, or vice versa?

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7 thoughts on “My toddler prefers mom over dad

  1. We had the opposite in our house. When I got home from work, Emilia would just wail. She thought I was coming in to take her away from her favorite, favorite, favorite daddy. And at that point, Daddy just wanted a break from his 12-hours of toddler time. It was a pretty rough period.

    Both kids still prefer their dad (since he was the stay-at-home one for both of them). They still run past me to him when we come get them at school. But it’s not as bad as it was. It’s changed a lot, and we have really grown together as a family.

    I guess it’s only natural that children imprint of their primary caregiver, like little ducklings following around the one who is there the most. But I won’t say it didn’t hurt. It hurt a lot. Being chopped liver is NOT fun.

  2. Great post….Moms often are a “gate keeper” too. We say we want Dad to help out, but we never completely let go and let him own his parenting. Remember, Dad’s aren’t a babysitter that need instruction, they are a parent!

  3. Since our baby was born, I’ve tried to make sure that he spends quality time with dad once my husband comes home from work. Now that my bub is almost 6 months, he sometimes doesn’t react to his dad and will steadfastly look elsewhere! So in the evenings , I disappear in another room letting him have his daddy time including having his bath time or play time with my husband.

  4. You are totally speaking my language here! We’ve had a tough time with this and all I can say is that my husband is a good sport, even though I know it’s a bummer for him.

  5. Yep, my daughter must say “Mama” a hundred times during the course of the day. Rarely will she say “Dada,” but once my wife comes home, and I disappear from view my wife tells me that all she says is “Dada.” Neither of us believe one another, and have suspicions that we’re lying to each other to make one another feel good.

    • Chris, your wife isn’t lying, because I swear it happens in our house too! The whole day it’s all about daddy this and that, but the minute he comes home, my kiddo doesn’t say a word of it. And yea, my husband’s starting to wonder whether I’m just saying it to make him feel better haha!

  6. Aren’t you the lucky one to get to change the diaper? It’s a privilege to serve. 🙂
    That’s how it is in our house as well. In our case, I work and Daddy stays home so we always figure its because C gets enough Daddy time while I’m gone and when I’m home wants me. But I sometimes suspect there’s something more than that. That between a particular child at a particular stage in life and one of the parents, all else being healthy in the family, something just meshes. That there’s a particular need that’s being met. My friend and her husband both work modified hours to be home with their daughter and she’s been going through a Daddy-only stage. Something in her needs that special Daddy-love right now.

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