My Son Prefers His Father And It Breaks My Heart

Rebecca and Holt

My son prefers his father to me. And, yes, it hurts. I never wanted to admit this before to anyone, let alone myself. After all, my son is now five. Is this a phase that will eventually end? I’m not so sure.

Surely, by now, my son should articulate how much I mean to him, or how much fun we just had, playing hide-and-go-seek, for hours on end. Surely, the kid has got to like me, since I’ve even told him I go to work to buy him toys, which I do with abundance. I’m actually even the Good Cop. But, nope. My son makes it perfectly clear that he would rather hang with his Dad. Ouch.

I remember a few years ago, I was talking to an acquaintance at the gym who also had a son a couple of years older than mine. When she told me how cute my son was, I responded, self-deprecating, that yes, my son is super cute, adding, ‘Too bad he doesn’t seem to like me all that much.’

This acquaintance said that she felt the exact same way as I did, and that it wasn’t until her son turned 5 years old, that he really started to want to hang out with mommy and not her spouse. Well my son is now five and still prefers his father. If I walk in the door after coming home from work, I’ll hear my son excitedly yell out, ‘Daddy’s home!! Daddy’s home!!” To which I then have to break the devastating news that, ‘Sorry. It’s just me. Mommy’s home.’ My son will not run to the door, like he does when he hears his Dad come in. When he realizes that, nope, it’s Mommy who just came home, he’ll let me kiss him, but then he’ll turn back to his iPad.

When it comes to bathing or showering, my son prefers his father. When it comes to playing X-box, my son prefers his father. When it comes to bedtime – when I really, really want to cuddle with my freshly bathed son – I hear, ‘I want Daddy to turn off my lights.’

Over the holidays, when I was alone with my son for a few days, I literally built sandcastles on the beach for hours, collected shells, took him to a fun place for lunch, took him to the toy store, bought him ice cream, and even play fought with him with pillows. It was glorious. After those few days alone together, I felt like a huge weight had lifted and that finally, like my gym friend had told me, I felt completely and utterly bonded with my son. And, it seemed like he had a great time with me. There was no whining. There was no crying. There was no asking for Daddy. There were many laughs. And many memories made. We had a blast. (‘He likes me’, I wanted to scream to the world, ‘He really, really likes me!’)

My son even said I looked ‘pretty.’ Trust me, no other compliment from any other male, ever, compares to the utter joy of getting a compliment from your own son.

A Rare Photo of Holt Preferring Mommy over Daddy…

But then Daddy arrived. And it immediately felt like I had “lost” my son, even after having such a good time together. In fact, having a child who continually prefers one parent over the other feels a lot like being a third-wheel on a romantic date. Inwardly, I’m both mad and sad. I’m mad because no matter how many fun days or activities I set up for just my son and myself, it always comes back to, ‘Is Daddy going to be home when we get back?’ So, yes, inwardly I am mad and sad.  I’m sad, because it hurts, especially after we have a fun day, that my son still insists that Daddy put him to bed.

Please don’t try telling me that I just have to spend more time with him. Because I do spend time with him. Rationally, I can see why my son prefers his father. His father watches football and my son is obsessed with football. They are both into all kinds of sports. His father has the patience to put together a lego set with our son. He teaches him to play poker. My son looks up to his father, as he should, as though his father is some sort of Superhero on a pedestal, while I’m left thinking, ‘But I baked you!’

I’ve always said that children are crap shoots, and that clearly is the case here. My daughter and I were so super close when she was 5 that she literally slept with me every night and I always, always, always had to hold her hand, wherever we went. To this day, even though she’s 14, we’ll walk arm in arm. If I ask my daughter to do something with me, even in her teenage years, she always says yes. Every night, she tells me how much she loves me. She texts me from school to say she misses me. I guess I expected my son to be the same. I never expected that I’d give birth to a child who seems to just…tolerate me most days if Daddy is around.

Make no mistake, even though I would trade pretty much anything to feel that my son prefers both his father and his mother equally, it’s not easy to be the parent that the child prefers either, but for different reasons. I asked my son’s father, ‘But doesn’t it make you feel so special that he always wants to be with you?’

His answer is both yes, but actually, mostly no. Because my son prefers his father to me, he literally can’t do anything for himself when he walks in the door. Immediately my son is stuck to him, like a barnacle, or like a person you meet at a cocktail party and can’t get rid of. He can’t relax at all, because my son is always on him and wants to be with him. I hear the frustration when he says, ‘Holt. You know you can ask someone else to get you that straw!’

The preferred parent gets frustrated that he has to ‘do everything,’ which is true, but neither of us can face a tantrum at the end of a long work day, and so my son’s father will play football with him, will read to him before bed, will have to brush his teeth, help him get on his coat and boots, or else we’re facing a tantrum that doesn’t seem worth it.

Meanwhile, I just want to know when my son will prefer me. I want to be the one who HE wants to put him to bed. I want to be the one my son runs to when I walk in the door. It’s not a competition, of course, yet still it feels like I’m losing, as if I’m on the Bachelor and am competing for love, but with my own flesh and blood.

Even though I know how hard it is for my son’s father to have my son stuck on him like gum on the bottom of a shoe, almost all the time, I think I would still rather be the preferred parent than the rejected one. Another friend told me it took her daughter eight – EIGHT – years before she preferred Mommy.

Are you the preferred parent…or the tolerated one?



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