To be the preferred parent or not to be the preferred parent?

That is the question that many parents find themselves asking.

It can be so nice to be wanted, but so hard at the same time. It’s also hard to be rejected, but so nice to get a break now and then.

Yup, you guessed it! In this blog post, we’re diving into the topic of parental preference, specifically how to navigate it with both young babies and toddlers. 

What is parental preference?

Parental preference means that your baby or toddler strongly prefers one parent or caregiver over the other. They may cry or get upset when they are with the non-preferred parent or when the preferred parent is not available to do specific things, like feedings or bedtime.

Why do babies or toddlers prefer one parent over the other?

Research shows that in the early days/weeks/months, mothers are often the preferred parent. This is because babies are more drawn to maternal smells, such as the smell of amniotic fluid or breastmilk. Also, many mothers are the primary caregivers during the newborn stage, so their faces and voices are more familiar to their babies.

So, what do you do when your baby or toddler shows parental preference?

It’s definitely appropriate to form routines involving the other parent, and set boundaries around your child wanting just one of you. Try to work as a team as you navigate parental preference. Here are a few tips to follow!

1. Don’t take it personally. It’s important to remember that if your child does show preference toward one parent, it doesn’t mean they’re better than the other parent. It’s also not an indicator of your parenting skills or your little one’s love for you. Parental preference is a normal part of child development and can change over time.

2. Hold space for your child, but be firm with your boundaries. Make sure to acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings, stay calm, and then follow through. The non-preferred parent should try to find a way to connect, such as through humor or creating a fun routine. Finding something special that only the non-preferred parent does with the child can help facilitate connection and create a stronger bond.

3. Don’t rush to the rescue! The preferred parent should try their best not to jump in and help the moment the child is stating their preference. This undermines the non-preferred parent and degrades their confidence in handling the situation. Take this time as an opportunity to be “unavailable” – go for a walk, take a relaxing bath, or catch up on your favorite show. It’s okay to be unavailable and let your child work through their frustration. This also shows your partner that you trust their ability to handle things. It will likely make the child’s behavior better in the long run, because you’re holding the boundary rather than giving in.

4. Keep in mind that each parent might do things differently. If you’re the preferred parent, it’s essential to understand that your partner may have a different way of approaching a specific activity, such as bedtime, and that’s absolutely okay! Allow them to find what works for them. Children typically do well with structure, so try to keep any routine fairly predictable and similar no matter who’s doing it. But, do your best not to nitpick your partner for doing things differently than you. Resist the urge to micromanage, redo, correct, suggest, and intervene, as this will slowly erode your partner’s confidence.

Young Babies

Young babies almost always show a preference for mom. The best way to get on top of this right away is to involve dad in the care of baby as much as possible. Whether that’s being responsible for a bottle feed each day or to handle bath time, there are lots of ways that dad can give mom a break and take over some of the responsibility. Mom being the only one that can feed, bathe, or care for baby can become burdensome and unsustainable in the long-term. 

As baby gets older, they will have seasons of parental preference; all the same principles that we talked about above apply to young babies as well. One of the hardest things for moms is listening to their baby cry while dad is trying to comfort baby. They typically feel they need to rush in and rescue, because baby isn’t immediately calming. The best thing to do is to give your partner some space and get out of earshot of your crying baby. Leaving the house or hopping in the shower will likely make your partner feel less anxious, because let’s face it, our listening ear does nothing to help our partners feel more confident.

The main thing I want you to understand is that parental preference is normal, and while there’s things you can do to help mitigate it, you will likely not be able to totally avoid it. Know that it’s a season and it will pass. As your kiddo gets older, many times, the preferred parent becomes the non-preferred parent at some point!

Need further guidance on how to navigate parental preference? I’m just a message away! Reach out to me and I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

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