Many of us mums have been there. One minute it’s only ever “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy” and the next minute you’re second choice to dad
Singaporean Atikah has a two-year-old daughter who used to always be a ‘mummy’s girl’. Australian Jess was always her son’s favourite; he struggled to let daddy do anything for him for the first three years. But one day each child’s preference changed and they started transferring their attention to their dads more.
‘My heart sank at the thought of being rejected by my own toddler’
“When I got to know I was carrying a girl, I was super thrilled. Having a baby girl means you get to be best friends forever. It means I get to be her point of reference in every stage of life. My early months with my toddler is my favourite and those moments, I treasure the most. I love knowing I can be her source of comfort when she’s unsure and still learning about the world. I love that at the end of a long day, all she wanted was to wind down with mama. I love that I am the one she turns to when she’s scared or in pain… I love being her safe space. For the longest time I thought this was the only way – mama for all the good and bad days – and that’s where I was wrong.
Unknowingly, I had turned into the ‘discipline’ parent and my husband, the ‘fun’ one
As my daughter grew older she developed more skills and her own preferences. I am super proud of her asserting her own preferences but I hadn’t factored that these preferences might mean her preferring daddy over me! You see, I am the parent who makes sure she’s fed, clothed and cleaned. Sometimes in between juggling work, house and family, maybe I forgot to slow down. All she gets from me are the checklists that need to get ticked – dinner, shower, bedtime. Unknowingly, I had turned into the ‘discipline’ parent and my husband, the ‘fun’ one. Maybe it’s my fault that I did not take the time to play with her or make routines fun like my husband did.
One time, she cried for daddy for bath time, playtime and bedtime. My heart sank a little at the thought of being rejected by my own toddler and being the second-favourite parent. Maybe I am exaggerating, but I can’t help questioning what if she simply doesn’t need me anymore?
I always knew the time would come when she didn’t need me as much, but it’s coming too fast. I still want those cuddles, kisses, and for her to turn to me for help first. Perhaps she will seek me out more over daddy as she navigates from toddlerhood to girlhood and beyond into her teens. I guess I wanted to be her superhero forever. I will still be here waiting when she needs me again, after all that’s my role as a loving mama.” – Atikah
‘I was aware that from around 6 years old he would likely transfer his affections and attentions to his dad’
“My son was super clingy with me from an early age. It wasn’t until he was around three years old that my husband could put him to bed without tears and tantrums. As a consequence, I didn’t have much of a social life in those early years! On one rare occasion when I went out in the evening before he went to bed, he cried so hard he vomited. Dad was good for play, but mum was necessary for pretty much everything else. I used to long for the days he would let my husband take a bigger role in the day-to-day stuff of parenthood.
After three it became a lot easier and both of us were allowed to parent him, although he still preferred me when he was sick, injured or tired. I had read Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys and was aware that from around 6 years old he would likely transfer his affections and attentions to his dad, and that this was normal. (Biddulph calls this ‘Learning to be Male’ and says that this is a time where boys seek out the attention of male figures in their lives, like teachers, coaches, uncles, and of course, from their dads.)
I was fully prepared, but also slightly heartbroken
And sure enough, it happened – like clockwork – at around 6 years old… gradual but also very noticeable. He didn’t seek me out to do things very much, didn’t want me to put him to bed, constantly wanted to know when dad would be available if he was at work, and generally showed a preference for his dad over me (in fact he openly declared his preference for his dad). I was fully prepared, but also slightly heartbroken.
I have to say my husband dealt with the rejection for the first three years a lot better than I did at this point. To compound things, my 4-year-old daughter is still firmly in the ‘I want mama’ phase so we now tend to split into dad and son, mum and daughter all too regularly, which hurts my feminist sensibilities a little.
I’m grateful my son has such a strong relationship with his dad and I think we were extremely fortunate at school to end up with a male teacher that he admires. A variety of strong role models is what we hope for our children in their formative years, and even if he no longer looks to me so much, I’m happy he has this.” – Jessica