“What difference does it make? I’ve been changing your diapers since you were a baby!” I could hear the exasperation in my husband’s voice over the baby monitor. Our almost 3-year-old had soiled her nighttime diaper, and bless his heart, he’d gone in to take care of business so I could finish showering. His reward? A kicking, screaming toddler insistent that “Mommy do it.” It’s fairly typical for kids this age to show a parental preference. It’s even indicative of emotional and cognitive growth, but frankly, my daughter’s mommy addiction is getting out of hand.
As a child, I was a mama’s girl myself. It makes sense considering I was raised by a single mother, although we lived with grandparents and uncles who I was very close to and I quickly accepted my mom’s new husband as “Daddy” when they got married when I was 7. Still, for certain things, I preferred my mom, and I’m the first to admit I was a little extra about it. For example, I only wanted my mom to prepare my hot chocolate in the morning, and I would refuse to drink it if my step-dad made it. Mom got to the point where my dad would mix it in the kitchen and she would bring it to me.
I’m not a single mom by any means, but if my daughter is more bonded to me, it’s not exactly a surprise given our situation. My husband is in the army, and he deployed to Afghanistan when baby girl was 15 months old, which relegated me to the role of solo parent for 12 months. When she was 2 and a half, Daddy took company command, which has meant that he works long hours and is frequently in the field. I’m a stay-at-home mom minus the three mornings a week that our daughter is in preschool, so that makes me the primary caregiver by default. She relies on me because I’m the one who’s there, plain and simple.
It's great that we have a strong mother-child relationship, but her dependence on me is getting to be excessive. Whether we’re out to dinner or hanging out at home, she wants me to take her to the bathroom. Daddy’s not even allowed to help her pull up her pants. Like her mother before her, she wants Mommy to fix her hot milk. She’s thrown fits because she doesn’t want to be buckled into her car seat by her dad. Bedtime is perhaps the worst. Bath, pajamas, teeth brushing, story time — that all falls to me. And nighttime wake-ups? Dad can forget about it. The only way she’ll settle down for him is if he promises her I’m on my way.
I’m fully aware that this is a problem. When I acquiesce to her demands that I do something as opposed to her father, I’m giving her a degree of control that’s inappropriate and the effects of which I’m beginning to see in the form of epic tantrums. There’s also the fact that I can’t always be there. At some point, she’s going to have to let her grandparents, teachers, friends' moms, and yes, her dad, step in for me if she needs help at the same time she needs to become more independent. This is becoming increasingly necessary as my current pregnancy progresses. I can’t physically pick her up all the time, and I need to rest. It’s only going to get worse for her when I have to care for the needs of a newborn.
I confess that there’s part of me that enjoys being my kid’s number one pick, but it’s putting a strain on relationships in our household. My husband is the stoic type, but I know it hurts his feelings to be rejected by his little girl. As for me, I’m completely tapped out by being my child’s “person.” It’s not that I resent her for wanting and needing me, but the constant demands on my time and attention are making it difficult to enjoy being around her. And although it’s not his fault, I find myself getting annoyed at my husband when he declares, “She wants you.” At nine months pregnant, I’d love to be the one who gets to stay on the couch every now and then.
Clearly, something has to be done and soon. It may be normal toddler behavior and a phase that she’ll grow out of (knowing how her moods change at the drop of a hat, it could easily be all about Daddy tomorrow), but we can help it along. To start with, I need to back off and bow out. It could be as simple as saying, “Mommy is busy right now. Daddy will help you put your shoes on.” I may, however, need to exit stage right. That will also ensure that I’m not hovering and instructing because that just sends the message that I’m the only one who does it right, which undermines my partner. I think it will also help if we establish a routine where we alternate duties, so she gets used to it.
Sure, it’s easier in the moment to sigh heavily and resign myself to the fact that I’m going to have to do it (whatever “it” entails). But giving in to what my kid wants isn’t doing anyone any favors in the long run — not me, not my husband, and not my daughter. And so, I’m done caving. From now on, it’s a united front of two competent parents. We can’t keep her from playing favorites, and maybe we shouldn’t. Making choices and exerting influence on her environment are part of growing up, but she can learn to do so in ways that are loving and respectful. Because we’re a family, and that’s what we do.