I am the proud father of a 1-year-old boy. My wife and I love him to pieces! A few months after his birth I suffered through a terrible bout of anxiety attacks. Turns out it was just my way of reacting to such a drastic change in my life and it took me a few months to fully embrace my new reality. While I was working through this period of anxiety, my wife let me take the lead on most of the activities with our son in the hopes that by jumping into the situation with both feet, my anxiety would lessen. This was indeed the case and I can now look back on that time as a learning period and feel pride that I am now past it.

For the past 6 months, our son has been showing a very strong preference for me over his mother. I have tried to remove myself from some of the daily tasks that we do with him and my wife has taken over in those, in the hopes that our son will see us both equally. While his favouring of me has lessened, it most certainly has not disappeared. This clearly hurts my wife who only wants to be treated equally and not be shunned by her little boy.

I have mentioned that I am sure that this is a phase and that at some point I may well find myself on the outs with our boy and he will be stuck to her like glue. While she understands this, it does nothing to help in the present and I hate seeing my wife suffer emotionally.

I have to mention as well that I went back to work full time one month after the birth of our son. My only time with him was at night and weekends. My wife stayed home for a full year and has only gone back to work recently.

Has anyone gone through this type of situation and how long did it take to pass? How to handle it?

  • +1 congrats to your wife for letting / forcing you participate and help you out that way. Commented Oct 8, 2012 at 12:38
  • My husband is the primary care giver and our 15 month old baby boy prefers him to me. my husband also understands his needs better, is less strict and more loving i'm ashamed to www.though sometimes it makes me feel inadequate i'm not jealous, it's important that our baby gets the best care he needs and grows up to be a well adjusted adult.it's not a worship contest
    – user3944
    Commented Feb 21, 2013 at 10:43
  • Waoh, what I can say is I stayed home for 1yr with him because his dad went back to work. The thing that helped was when dad would come from work he'd wash him every evening (evening baths) and be the one to take him to bed. This has made him view both of us equally. He hangs around dad when dad comes from work. Seats on his chair and wants him to hold him. Really worked well.
    – user22314
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 19:32

6 Answers 6


Not to disrespect your wife, but she needs to get over it. Kids will show preference towards the primary care-giver but this often flip-flops as they age. It doesn't mean anything with regard to love or respect or even enjoyment of a particular parent. My kids may be "daddy's boy" and "daddy's girl" but if they fall out of bed at night, it's "mama".

  • 4
    I agree with this. My oldest strongly prefer his dad. When he hurts himself - it's 'daddy, daddy'. when I ask if I can help him with something, many times it 'no only daddy'. I came to realize that I have no way or right to control his feelings. What I do is to make sure to 'special time' with him alone (things just we do), and then I love him.
    – Ida
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 17:55

Nearly every child prefers one parent over the other at that age. It's nothing personal, and it happens regardless of how much time you spend. My eldest two preferred me, and the youngest prefers her mom. I went back to work after a week with all my children, and spent approximately the same amount of time doing the same kinds of activities with each. My wife has been a full-time mother the entire time.

As far as how long it takes to "pass," my eldest is 8 years old, with an approximate mentality of a 3 or 4 year old, and still has strong preferences, but it is by activity now. She wants me for feeding and playing, and mom for bathing and putting to bed. Our almost 3 year old is still very much attached to mom, but treats me identically when mom is not around. Our 5 year old got over his preference when he started talking a lot in complete sentences.

It hurt my wife too. Especially when something changes like going back to work or having another child, where she feels guilty for not being 100% available. Eventually she came around to enjoying the excuse for giving me more child-related chores. The best way to help her is to reassure her it's not because of anything she is doing. Trying to "fix" it by giving her your part of the responsibilities is probably counterproductive.

For us, what helped a little was making a joke out of it, like my wife was encouraging the preference on purpose to make me take more chores. I would ask the baby, "Who do you want to change your poopy diaper?" and try to get them to say mama. My wife would try to get them to say dada, and then if they picked me it's more of a reward for my wife.


First of all let me congratulate you on your approach. Many parents would run away and hide in that situation, to withdraw rather than engage, but you did the opposite which was to challenge yourself to become a good and involved father. There are a lot of people that could learn from your example!

As for your son, you cannot control these things, you cannot make children prefer something. It's like whether they like carrots or not, you can't influence that. All you can do it expose children to things and hope that they take to it.

I'm sure he loves is mom as much as his dad, it's not a love thing or a preference thing, he's just in a routine where he's used to you more than her. Change the routine so that you're doing things evenly and spending time equally and let things take their course. It may not happen exactly as you'd like but you can't control everything when it comes to raising a child.

Some parents think that if their child isn't running into their arms every second that they aren't loved by their children, and that's simply not true. Often it's about parental perception more than anything else, and often it's the parent that need to change their view than the child.


Your wife is in the situation that most fathers are in: since most children are mainly reared by their mothers, while their fathers are at work, they are more attached to their mothers (at least at an early age). This is (or was) so common, that theorists believed that there was a naturally closer relationship between a mother and her child than between a father and his child. But today, with many young fathers taking a break from work and caring for their new-born children either along with or instead of their mothers, we can often see a reversal of this bonding: children bond most closely with the person that cares for them most of the time and best.

Now, since temperament is partly genetic, it is very likely that the same-sex parent is more similar in temperament to his or her child. This parent will "understand" the needs of their child better, and be better able to care for his or her needs. Maybe you can see similarities between yourself and your son that can further explain his preference for you.

Children rarely love both parents equally. They certainly almost always love both parents, and almost always equally strongly. But they love them in different ways and want different things from each of them. Your son's mother will always be the person that bore him and nursed him and gave him his life. If she does not destroy this basis with envy a strong relationship will grow from that. You are your son's partner in learning about the world, and maybe that is not a bad role for a father to have in relation to his son. Maybe it is perfectly okay that a man teaches your son to be a man, not a woman. Men have to accept that daughters grow away from them and become closer to their mothers. Why shouldn't a mother be able to deal with the fact that her son want his father?

Love is not about owning, but about setting free. Your wife should be happy that your son loves you so much, because too many male children had to grow up without a father. She should be glad for him.


Both of my two daughters preferred their mother during their first few years. My oldest daughter (now 7) was scared of all men until she was 2, including me and my father. It was very hurtful but it passed. Now she is really, really close to me, much more than with my wife. My youngest daughter (now 3) is just getting from being mommy's girl to being closer and closer with me.

What helped me, was not trying to occupy the same role as my wife. She was the nurturing, I was the fun one. When the kids grew older, my wife was the strict one, I was the understanding one. My big break through was actually a simple thing - bathing time. I was simply more careful when washing their hair, so they got zero shampoo in their eyes. They loved me for it... Sometimes it's the smallest things.

So tell your wife to find ways she can complement you as a parent and focus on those.


Your child will repeatedly hurt both of your hearts as he grow older. If you think it stings at age 1, just wait until he's 15!

I would suggest three strategies that might help:

  1. As long as you are leading with love, and putting the child's welfare first, know that you are doing your best job as a parent, so try to not put too much stock into his visible reaction (I know it's tough!). How much he loves you, how much he needs you, and how important you are in his life is not always going to be something he shows on the surface (or is even aware of).
  2. Make sure you and your wife keep your own relationship strong, healthy and primary. It's not great for anyone when the parent-child bond replaces or eclipses the bond between spouses. As long as you show each other plenty of love and respect, your child will pick up on that.
  3. Don't change how you interact with your child just so you, the parents, can gain a sense of balanced affection. It's unlikely to work, it caters to parental insecurities, instead of being founded in the child's best interests, and it might have unforeseen side effects. For instance, it might train your child to be emotionally manipulative--to offer or withhold affection in order to get what he wants from you.

As a side note, in my experience, kids under the age of 1 do tend to be fixated on their mothers. They are so small and vulnerable that they can't do much without mom's help. Between age 1 and 2, they gain a lot of capacity and ability to interact, as well as do things other than eat and sleep. So it's common for them to develop a new fascination with dad at that age. At age 2, they might decide they hate both of you--like you said, it's just a phase, a normal part of getting bigger and starting to gain an independent identity.

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