My Child Only Wants Mommy!

Dear Sharon,
My children are in a phase where they only want their Mommy. I’m a father that feels left out! Any ideas that might help? Thanks!

A sad Dad

Dear Dad,
I hope it is comforting to know that you are not alone! Many children go through phases when they only want Mommy.

Partially because Dads do not get pregnant, give birth or nurse it can be easy for a father to the feel “less important” than Mom. It doesn’t help that Moms have traditionally had the job of “stay at home” parent while Dads were out being breadwinners. Here are some ideas that can help fathers be more central whether their child is preferring Mom or not.

If I could offer one piece of advice to a Dad in your position it would be to not take his child’s clinginess to Mom personally (I know easier said than done!). The strong bond between mother and child is of course very central to a child’s well being but that shouldn’t really change your efforts to deepen and solidify your own unique and EQUALLY VALUABLE connection to your child.

I often suggest to fathers that they spend regular time alone with their little ones every week. Sending Mom away to do something she loves during this time can help deepen the experience. Dad might play a game his children really love or introduce them to a hobby that he enjoys. Some Dad’s I know have taken their children fishing, hiking, biking, soccer playing, museum visiting or park exploring. An hour or more of having fun alone together can help build solid relationships and offers children male tones and perspectives, an invaluable asset.

Hard working fathers I know have also made a point to set aside time for their children to visit “the office” regularly, especially when their child is going through a rough period or clinging to Mom. Children get to see where Dad is every day, learn more about what he does at work, feel like part of his life and “help out”. Having a picture of a parent’s work life can make a child feel less separate and more involved. It can also build confidence, clarify the meaning of “work” and improve over all self-esteem. Visiting Mom at her job of course is invaluable too.

If a Dad (or Mom) works long hours or travels, phone calls are often not enough of a connection to support a relationship. I often recommend more interactive and fun ways of communicating such as regular fax (children can pass back and forth jokes, drawings, etc.) E-mail or text message exchanges. (Forms of communication that have some energy for young people today) A traveling parent can also leave notes in lunch boxes or under pillows to put a smile on a little ones face while they are gone. I also suggest that parents with complicated work schedules take the time to make a calendar with their child to explain their comings and goings. A large calendar made with photos or drawings and kept on the refrigerator for easy review is often a meaningful and fun way to make sense of sometimes bewildering adult lives. It can help a child look forward to Dad’s coming home as well as understand why he is home late or away. A child who understands their parents’ routines usually feels more “involved”, less overwhelmed by grown up agendas and more able to connect to a traveling Dad or Mom.

Partly because of years of conditioning, mothers usually take charge of the details of parenting. “Little things” such as: finding missing toys, making lunches, organizing children’s rooms, helping children pick out birthday presents for their friends, buying the special lunch snack that puts a smile on a child’s, etc. When a father takes over one or more of the everyday tasks that Moms often do, they might think of unique ways to accomplish them, something children invariably appreciate.

If a child still clings to Mommy after lots of effort from Dad sometimes I suggest that Mom take off for a weekend and really let Dad have a chance at strengthening his relationships. I have heard stories of “preferred parent switches” at the end of such a time. Moms I know have returned from a Father/child weekend only to hear “go away Mommy, I’m with Daddy now,” an alien concept just a few days earlier.