Parents love their children, and children love their parents, but that doesn’t mean the love always feels equally distributed.
There are times that one parent may feel like their child prefers the other parent, and they might not be wrong. Though it’s hard to handle, kids have their reasons for this.
Children often prefer their primary caregiver, the one they are with most of the time early in life. As they age, they may seem to prefer one parent over the other because they don’t know how to love both people and instead make their preference clear.
Though it can be painful if your child is going through a phase where you are not the favored parent, it’s actually not personal. It just feels that way.
Understanding Parental Preference
Kids prefer one parent over another for a variety of reasons, and these preferences can change over time.
Is It Normal for a Child To Favor One Parent?
Yes, it is normal for a child to favor one parent over the other, though it’s usually a phase that ends with time.
Kids aren’t great at understanding that they can love two things at once, especially if the love is intense.
How Long Does Parent Preference Last?
How long this phase lasts depends on the child. It’s most common between the ages of one and three, and your child may prefer one parent for a period of time before shifting and preferring the other parent.
As your child gets into the school-aged years, brain development and a better understanding of relationships will make this type of behavior less common.
Possible Explanations for the Behavior
There are reasons for children preferring one parent over another. Though this situation can feel very personal, it’s actually part of a developmental phase in most cases.
Your toddler needs to prove they are independent, and this can sometimes be hard for everyone.
One way they assert independence is by choosing who they spend their time with, and they may choose one parent over the other simply because they can.
If the mom is the preferred caregiver, that could simply be because she is still the one breastfeeding or handling primary care of the baby.
Mom may feel familiar because your child heard her voice and lived inside her for nine months.
Your child may simply not understand that they don’t have to have a favorite.
Toddlers have favorite books, favorite toys, and favorite activities. They see love as something you shower on one item, and this can happen even with actual people in their lives.
They will grow past this phase.
Even a small shift can feel major for a child. If they are experiencing unease in a part of life or an unexpected stressor pops up, they will cling to the preferred parent for comfort.
Is Parental Preference More Common in Girls or Boys?
As far as we know, parental preference is equally common among both genders.
When a Child Is Overly Attached to One Parent
It can be extremely stressful for both parents when a child is overly attached to one and not the other.
Even though this happens for perfectly normal reasons, the preferred parent never gets a break and the other parent feels neglected.
There are ways to help children get used to being around both parents, though it may take them a while before the preference completely disappears.
Child Favors One Parent After Divorce
A divorce can be hard on kids no matter how amicable it is. Your child may favor one parent and want to cling to that comfort as they try to manage a tumultuous season of life.
If your child does favor one parent, don’t take it personally, and don’t make your child feel bad about it.
If you are the preferred parent, try to gently talk to your child about their other parent in a positive way so they will know they don’t have to choose sides because of the divorce.
When co-parenting, make sure communication stays open, and be willing to figure out what your child needs to feel settled and content with both parents. This transition may take some time.
When Your Teenager Prefers One Parent
The teen years present their own joys and challenges. You may notice that your child has reverted to behavior they previously stopped, like having a preferred parent.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. Teens are also extremely verbal and sometimes have no filter, so you may know if you are not the preferred parent.
Your teen doesn’t love you any less, even if they go to the other parent more often than they come to you for advice or information. It’s another normal part of child development.
Make sure you don’t let your teenager play you and the other parent against each other, whether you are still married or divorced.
Let your teenager know that both parents love him, and offer a united front when you can without shaming your child if he prefers to confide in one parent more than the other.
Management Strategies When You Are the Preferred Parent
When you are the preferred parent, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.
While you may enjoy the attention, you may also feel like you never get a break and are doing all the visible and invisible work involved with parenting.
Make sure you support your child when they come to you, but also allow your partner to have time with your child when possible.
Your child may not want to be with the other parent without you, so plan outings and events where both parents can be present.
Talk up the other parent so your child will know that you love them and trust them as a caregiver.
Management Strategies When Your Partner Is the Preferred Parent
It’s easy to feel neglected when you aren’t the preferred parent. Your child still loves you, so try not to take their behavior personally.
Don’t guilt your child for having a preference, and make yourself available when your child is ready to interact.
Remember that your partner didn’t ask for the preferred parent status and is probably struggling under the weight of all the responsibilities.
Make sure you are there to support them, and try to engage with your child even when you know they prefer the other parent during this phase.
When Do Babies Show Preference for Mother?
Babies show a preference for their mother because she is the most known person to them. Babies are used to hearing mom’s voice, and she is the first person they interact with after birth.
Mom offers food and warmth, and even when dads have skin-to-skin time with their baby, a baby may still prefer mom.
What Age Do Kids Become Less Attached to Parents?
Don’t worry about your child becoming too attached. By the time your child is ready for kindergarten, he will be less attached, and that will continue as he grows more independent.
You can’t spoil your kids with too much attention. It’s important for them to feel connected to their parents, and this is where they will find their independence to grow on their own.
If your child prefers one parent to another, know that it is likely a normal stage that won’t last forever.
Support your child unconditionally, and find ways to make sure he has time and fun with both parents.
Kristy is the mother of four, including identical twins. With a background in education and research, she is constantly learning more about parenting and raising multiples. When she has spare time, she enjoys hiking into the woods with a great book to take a break.