My wife and I have a wonderful 3 year old. Our daughter shows incredible empathy for a child of 3 and is developmentally near the norm in every other way.
Recently, I changed shifts at work, temporarily, to a shift that gets me home after she goes to bed. I get to spend time with her in the morning and she is very well behaved. We have fun, eat breakfast, play (time permitting) and I get her ready for her day care. I love that time.
My wife picks her up from day care and has the exact opposite experience. Our daughter tells her she doesn't like her, they aren't friends and that she wants daddy. She melts down if there are any delays in getting what she wants and resists going to bed. My wife is at the end of her rope. It is a drama that may as well be called The Tale of Two Children.
Is this my fault for changing shifts? If so, how do we help her cope and convince her to be as good with mom as she is with me?
From: Brendan, Rhode Island
I know you may not believe me, but this is not about you, it's about her. (Besides, your logic doesn't follow; if she's angry at you, why would it be mom she's rejecting?)
This is a phase and, as I wrote here in response to a similar question last month, playing favorites is about asserting independence, exerting control over the world, and maintaining predictability. The best way to think about this is that your daughter is testing the absoluteness of mom's love: "Will mom still love me if I'm not nice? Will she still take care of me? Will she still be my mommy?"
Mom's answer, obviously, needs to be yes. She communicates that through her consistency and limit-setting, and by not venting the hurt feelings she may well harbor. Don't compare to your daughter how she behaves with you versus with mom (or vice versa, as in, "Why can't you be good for me, like you are for daddy?!") That amounts to a competition and nobody wins. Mom mostly needs to weather this matter-of-factly. Please read my previous posts, above and here.
By the way, it's actually easier to deal with this preferential treatment when the other parent isn't home because the child eventually has to come around because there's no one else for her to turn to. (As I said last month, when the in-favor parent steps in because the child won't go to the out-of-favor parent, it amounts to a rescue, as if the in-favor parent is saying, "You're right, dad/mom can't take care of you as well as I can.")
And listen, Brendan -- stop piling on the guilt! Life happens. Children are resilient.
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