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My Toddler Always Wants Mama (Never Dada) and I’m Exhausted. What Can I Do?
Claire Chung

“I’m not sure if it’s a product of the pandemic, but my son always (always) wants mommy first. And sure, it’s adorable but it also seems unfair. The result is that common parental hardships (like middle-of-the-night wake-ups) and everyday activities (think: mealtime seating arrangements) require my presence. I’m exhausted! Is this normal (and what can I do)?”

“Showing a preference for one parent is a very common toddler challenge. When everything falls to one parent, it can be easy to snowball and leave that parent feeling overwhelmed or like they always need to ‘come to the rescue’.

A couple of ways to approach this developmental stage: First, establish a framework that will ultimately leave your child feeling more secure in the long run. For example, if one parent (let’s say dad) is doing an activity with a child who keeps asking for mom, dad should acknowledge that they might be upset and reassure the child that next time mom can help, but for now dad is here and—here’s the important part—push through.

This will build confidence for each parent, knowing that both are just as loving and capable of caring for their child—ultimately equalizing those caregiving moments. And by empathizing with their child’s initial unhappiness, it will allow the child to process those feelings.

The same goes for middle of the night wake-ups and dinnertime. By providing structure and saying, “daddy is helping now” or “tonight you are sitting with mommy,” this will help your child know that the parents are making the decisions. (And not the other way around.)

In terms of COVID, if the caregivers are working from home, preference for one parent could be exacerbated by constant availability of the preferred parent. So how can you help your child become comfortable with separation (when you’re hardly ever separate from one another)? Playing Hide & Seek and Peekaboo can be great ways to help practice safe separation at home. And I would encourage parents not to sneak out of a room but rather tell their child where they are going (even if it’s just to the bathroom!) and to give caregiving responsibilities to the other parent. In the long run, it will help kids safely practice that big feeling when the preferred parent is absent.”

Dr. Aliza Pressman is Co-Founding Director and Director of Clinical Programming for the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. She’s also Assistant Clinical Professor for the Department of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and host of the podcast Raising Good Humans.

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