Is it normal for a baby to prefer Dad over Mom?

Q: My baby seems to want his father instead of me lately. What's going on?

A: We know it's hard if your baby suddenly starts treating you like a second-class citizen, but try not to take this personally. It's actually quite common and can be due to a number of reasons. First, most babies naturally prefer the parent who's their primary caregiver, the person they count on to meet their most basic and essential needs. This is especially true after 6 months when separation anxiety starts to set in. If one parent starts to assume more of this everyday caregiving, they may become the new favorite.

Some children also tend to develop a penchant for Dad when Mom is pregnant. Although your first child still knows you love them, they may sense that you're temporarily less available and naturally attaches themselves to the parent who seems less preoccupied. And once the new baby is born, the older child often bonds strongly to the other parent, who is more available. These issues can also resurface during the toddler years when some boys tend to prefer Dad and girls may bond more with Mom, particularly during potty training when the differences between the biological sexes become more apparent to them.

Sometimes they may prefer the person they see less often. And other times these preferences just come and go for no particular reason. But be assured they have no bearing on your future relationships—and your baby may switch back to being all about Mama soon. Regardless of the reason, you can still enjoy bonding time with your baby even when he's pining away for Dad.

Here are some suggestions:

  • When he pushes you away in favor of Dad, avoid acting hurt or rejected. This can confuse your baby. Just let him know you're ready to play when he is.
  • Have your baby's dad invite you to join in their activities.
  • Share baby-care chores with your partner so you can enjoy playtime as well. Sometimes, Dad becomes associated with fun if you're the one responsible for mundane tasks like diapering and feeding.
  • Make sure you have alone time with your baby when your husband is not around.
  • When you have one-on-one time with your baby, stray from the usual routine. For example, instead of always driving straight home directly from childcare. Try taking a pit stop to play at the park for a few minutes instead.
  • Don't eyeball the clock. If you and your baby are having fun, don't cut it short just to keep everyone on schedule. It's okay if dinner is 15 minutes late one night, or laundry gets put off until tomorrow.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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