“I Stay Here with Mommy”

We have a problem.

Caroline doesn’t ever want to go see Tyler anymore. He says that once she gets there, they have a great time, and I believe him. But I can’t for the life of me get her to go to him when I drop her off at his place. The only way she will go is if he picks her up from daycare and I’m not there.

Yesterday, I was supposed to take her to him for an overnight visit. I told her we were going to daddy’s house and she completely freaked. “No! I no want to go to daddy’s! I no like daddy! I no like daddy! I want to go home! I stay here with mommy!” She has done this before and then once I got down there, she clung to me and refused to go with him. So I called Tyler and told him about it, and we decided that she would stay with me.

First of all, I’m sure she doesn’t actually dislike him. She may not know him very well, because they don’t see each other very often. He hasn’t been nearly as present in her life as I have (and I’m not just talking about since he moved out), and she’s only two. Of course she’s going to prefer the parent who she spends 90-95% of her time with. But I know that it breaks his heart. How could it not?

It’s hard for me to watch and must be even harder for him to hear. No one wants to hear your child say they don’t like you. Especially a two year old who doesn’t yet know how to lie.

Still, I don’t know what to do. Neither of us wants to force her to go– that seems cruel and counterproductive. But it will become a vicious cycle if she spends less and less time with him, and they grow further and further apart. So far, all we have come up with is to have Tyler always pick her up from daycare. But she’s supposed to go with him for two periods of two weeks each this summer, while he’s in North Dakota from the end of May through early September, and I worry about how that will go if she doesn’t even want to be away from me for one night.

To be brutally honest, since that’s kind of my specialty, the fact that she clearly prefers me makes me feel almost… triumphant. That’s not too terrible to say, I hope. I’m only human. I’ve spent her entire short life devoting myself to her and raising her, while he has been mostly absent, and I am almost relieved to see that that fact hasn’t escaped her. And I can’t help but think, honestly, what does he expect? You can’t spend that little time with a two year old and then be shocked when she doesn’t know you that well. She calls you “daddy” because she thinks that’s what your name is. She doesn’t know what “daddy” is supposed to mean– you are supposed to teach her that.

But, I have to stop myself from thinking those things, because again, it’s all about what’s best for her, and she needs him too… and he needs her. I want them to have as full of a relationship as possible, for all of our sakes. Including my own. Because it’s hard enough to just be mom. I don’t want to have to be dad, too.

I just don’t know how to fix it.

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  1. by lena

    On April 28, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Even though my daughter sees her Dad everyday she still is much more attached to me. I cannot imagine if she saw him infrequently. That's hard for all of you.

  2. by KQ

    On May 27, 2011 at 11:22 am

    She is too little to MAKE her go stay overbite with her Dad. Does he live close? Can he come to yournhouse and visit? Can they go to the park and to dinner and then have her come back home? If he doesn’t see her often, then he needs to give-up on her staying overbite with him for now. And forget the two-week visits. She will think you abandoned her.

  3. by KQ

    On May 27, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Sorry for the typos. Darn iPad does AutoCorrect:)

  4. by Julia

    On May 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Yeah, I wrote this post a little while ago and the situation has deteriorated further since then (see here for update)… she definitely isn’t going on the two-week trip anymore. We’re going to try having a visit (not overnight) with both of us this afternoon, and hopefully seeing me be friendly with him will help ease her anxiety about being around him. The only real way to fix it is to have him see her more frequently, but unfortunately I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future because his career requires him to travel so much.

  5. by DivorcedDad2

    On May 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Two factors are obviously driving the little girl’s reaction: 1) the lack of time she is spending with her father. The fact that he was the one that moved out, automatically puts her bond w him at risk. The research is clear – anything less that approximately 1/3 parenting time for the ‘non-resident’ parent, leads to breaking of the emotional bonds (See Joan Kelly, Fabricius, Emery, Kruk, et al). 2) That mom feels ‘triumphant’ (validated as the ‘preferred parent’) – any child picks up on those psychological dynamics in a parent and will respond to them. Mom and Dad need to see a therapist to get a grip on this problem, plus change the parenting schedule.

  6. by Megan

    On July 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

    My 2 year old daughter is the same way. Her father and I are currently together, but things are not good. I am in nursing school and for financial reasons we have to live together until I’m done with school next year. If we can’t work it out by then I’m moving out. I don’t know if she senses that things are not good or if it’s because she does spend a lot more time with me, but she definitely prefers me over him. She will say she doesn’t like daddy, and I can see it breaks his heart. She doesn’t like him to put her to bed, she’ll throw a huge fit and say she wants me to do it. But like your situation, if I’m not around, she is fine with daddy. Its hard but I kind of think it’s just how toddlers are.

  7. by Liz

    On July 8, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    My husband and his ex-wife ran into this issue with their daughter too, going both ways at different times. Since she was ok and had no problem after the one parent left, they kept doing the drop offs. The other thing that helped was to talk up what was going on at the other parent’s house, just normal stuff but to a toddler, your tone of voice can do wonders to making something sound like fun.
    Sd is 6 now and we still hear things like “I don’t want to go…” two houses is always going to have it’s challenges. Maintain a sincere stance that what’s best for the child is to see each parent as much as possible.

  8. by singlemomma

    On August 22, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Have you considered spending time with them together? It will probably make your daughter feel more comfortable about spending time with him alone if she sees that you are comfortable around him. It will also help ease her into alone time more gradually.