Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Lately my toddler son has shown a very strong preference for my husband. This affects everything from our morning routine (he wants Dada to get him dressed), to meals (he wants to play with my husband, not me, so I am always stuck cooking lest we endure an hour-long temper tantrum), to playtime. If I do try to spend time with my son while my husband is around, my son immediately starts crying for my husband.
This is (I hope) a normal part of child development, but it is still hard on me. I miss spending one-on-one time with my son, and it seems the only way this can happen is when my husband is not there. I floated the idea to my husband that maybe he could go in to work early a couple days a week to give me some one-on-one time with our son, and he rejected the idea outright. He said that it is wrong for me to strengthen my bond with my son by weakening his own relationship with him.
Is this right? Am I out of line?
I have a hard time seeing how two mornings a week would weaken a father’s bond to his son. I also would like to see more support between parents; he knows you’re struggling with rejection, but won’t throw you two hours a week to alleviate your pain? Instead he makes it a competition? Especially given that being The Parent In Favor can actually be exhausting, since it means you’re constantly on toddler duty, this mystifies me.
So I wonder what preceded this situation; it’s so oriented to “protecting mine” versus “protecting yours,” instead of the much healthier “nourishing ours.” Has your relationship always been competitive, or is this new?
There’s also a logistical point I shouldn’t ignore: Even if I were eager to support my spouse’s kid time, I wouldn’t be thrilled at being pressured to leave for work early. If instead you suggested I take a weeknight for friends or hobbies, then you’d be getting somewhere.
Still, these are deck chairs where possessiveness of your son is the Titanic. That has to be addressed before anything else. “There’s no way I’d want to weaken your bond to our son, and I’m stunned that you’d think me capable of that. I’m just asking for a little time each week. If his preference changes, then I'll do the same for you.” If that isn’t a yoo-hoo moment for his better self, then you'll need to look at the broader history and implications here.
Re: Toddler Preferences: Once they’ve got that worked out and are a well-functioning team, they can work on this: It’s fine to let the toddler control some things about his life. The parents together need to decide which ones.
At my house it would have been: Go along with his choice of helper with getting dressed, but he does not get to decide who cooks dinner. Cheerful, calm acceptance of the one-hour tantrum is probably the price of this, and new policies may need to be instituted during the weekend when everyone isn’t so exhausted from work. But it’s good to consciously decide which decisions are to be made by adults.
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