Q: I’m a stay at home mom and my husband works 60 hours a week. At night when he comes home to play with our 11-month-old, she rejects him. I can’t even go to the bathroom and leave her alone with him without her crying. It hurts my husband’s feelings so much. What can we do?
A: This situation is actually fairly common. It can happen when one parent is the primary caregiver, or the one doing most of the diapering, feeding, bathing, and comforting. Children tend to stick close to the parent whom they know best.
What can you do? First, as parents you need to agree to work as a team, and agree that it is important for your daughter to accept love and comfort from you both. Then, the preferred parent (you, in this case) should look for ways to actively, but sensitively, involve Dad in your child’s daily routines. Things may be bumpy at first. For example, your child may throw down the book that Daddy has picked to read at bedtime. Instead, you could start by reading the book yourself, but with all of you sitting close together. While you’re reading, invite Dad to participate by asking him to complete a sentence or comment on a picture. Next time, invite Dad to read the book while your child sits on your lap. If your child cries or resists, explain: I want Daddy here. Daddy would like to take a turn reading to you, too. He has so much fun when we are all together as a family. (Your child takes her cues from you so showing a desire for Dad to be involved is very important.)
Dad’s job is to not react to your daughter’s rejection by pulling away, as hard as that may be. It is crucial for him to stay connected and close to give your daughter the chance to feel more comfortable with and bonded to him. You can help by making sure Dad has some one-on-one time with your daughter each day. And on weekends, when Dad is more available, give them several hours alone. You may need to even leave the house. As long as you’re around, she may be preoccupied with and spend all her energy on seeking you out. Or, alternatively, Dad can take her out. While your child will probably protest and demand to have you, that will change over time. She simply needs more time with him.
It’s also very important that you let Dad do things his way, even if his parenting approach is different from yours. It might be hard to watch him dress your child in mismatched clothes or let her play with her food in the high chair more than you like. Resist correcting him. Instead, open a dialogue about your different styles. Share your ideas and concerns in the spirit of compromise and mutual respect. By being partners in parenting, and with a little time and a lot of patience, your child will develop close and nurturing relationships with both Mom and Dad.