What do you do when your baby doesn’t like you? Is it even possible for a baby to not like you? In this edition of Fatherly Advice, Fatherly‘s resident parenting expert Patrick Coleman tackles that question for a concerned dad before stepping in for another father who is having a prolonged — and very passive aggressive — battle with his mother-in-law.
My son is 12-months-old and I’m pretty sure he hates me. He doesn’t like me to hold him and when his mom leaves the room I can’t calm him down at all. He’s a huge mama’s boy and my wife is the only one who can do anything with him. She’s really really tired because she can’t let go of him and there’s basically nothing I can do because he hates being with me so much.
This is weird to say because I know he’s still a baby and stuff but it really makes me depressed. I want him to like me and I also want him to not grow up to be spoiled mama’s boy who can’t get tough. It all really sucks and I don’t know what to do.
How can I get my kid to like me more and stop depending on his mom so much? Is there a way to toughen him up?
Your son does not hate you. Mostly because at 12 months he doesn’t have the kind of cognitive capacity to form an extreme emotion like hate. He’s a baby. And projecting adult emotions on him is not going to go well for you. You already know this is true. You’ve told me as much by saying that you’re feeling depressed because of the imagined hatred. So, take a breath and relax, because what I’m about to tell you probably won’t make you feel much better about your situation.
Your kid probably doesn’t want to hang out with you because you aren’t fulfilling his needs. It’s not that you’re not trying to meet those needs — you clearly are. But you actually can’t meet those needs. Not like his mother, at any rate.
“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly advice column in which Fatherly’s Parenting Editor Patrick Coleman provides frank answers to reader questions. Want evidence-based answers and some common sense morality? Email email@example.com. We got you. Want a justification for some parenting decision you already made? Ask someone else. Patrick is busy.
Take a moment to think about it for a second. If your wife took paternity leave, if she takes care of most of the diapering and breastfeeding, then your son has developed a strong attachment to her. She might be his source of food, comfort, calm and entertainment. As a baby, those are the very things he most needs in his life. He is automatically oriented towards the person who is most likely to give him those very things. That makes you second, but not for any emotional reason, for pure biologically driven reasons.
Which is all to say that this is incredibly normal. If it weren’t for the fact it’s making you feel like crap and wearing out your wife, I’d even venture to call your issues downright mundane. And happily it won’t last forever. It might feel like forever, but you’ll get through it.
Pretty soon, depending on his temperament, your kid is going to start testing out some independence. You might start seeing this as he becomes more mobile. Pretty soon as he’s cruising and eventually walking, he’ll start putting more distance between himself and your wife. Will that make you the go-to guy? Not necessarily. But, believe me, your time will come and you just might remember this time of freedom with great fondness.
And of course, all of this leads up my answer to your second question: you should absolutely not try to change your kids because it is in no way harmful. Keeping your kid from having his needs met is not going to make him tougher. It may, however, make him feel insecure and distrustful of his parents. And that can lead to behavioral problems in early childhood, defiance in teenage years and a greater risk of depression and drug abuse as an adult. So, not a great idea, in other words.
Look, the world will toughen your kid up pretty damn quick as it is. Your job is to give him love, unconditionally, and show him how to be a good man by being a good man yourself. The rest will work itself out.
My mother-in-law is a total bitch. I hate to say that, but it’s true. She lives in Houston too and she’s over all the time. In some ways that’s good because my wife and I don’t really ever have to get a babysitter or anything because she watches our two kids all the time.
But she also tells us all the time that we’re not parenting our kids good. She doesn’t think we’re being strict enough and then she turns around and lets the kids do whatever they want when she’s around and completely ignores the house rules. Like the other day I asked her to not give the kids a snack because dinner would be ready in an hour, and then she said I don’t appreciate her and then left in a huff. A couple of times she straight up said I didn’t know what I was doing.
I’ve tried to talk with my wife about it but that’s her mom. She really feels caught in the center because she doesn’t agree with what her mom says to me. She also wants her mom to keep helping us out because the kids really like her and she does help out a lot.
Is there anything I can do about this or am I just stuck getting harassed by my mother-in-law?
So, before we fix anything else, I want you to do yourself and your mother-in-law a favor and stop calling her a bitch. Yes, I suspect (and hope) you don’t call her that to her face, but words affect our thought process. As long as you’re dismissing your mother-in-law as someone whose only motivation is to be mean and cruel, you’ll have a hard time figuring this out.
My guess is that your mother-in-law acts the way she acts not because she’s a bad person, but because she cares deeply about your children and hasn’t been given appropriate boundaries. You noted several times that you rely on her help, and I assume that you don’t pay her for that help. Her motivation to care for your kids must be the same as yours: love. You have that in common, then. Start there.
It’s clear to me that your relationship with your mother-in-law would benefit from firmer boundaries. Part of your frustration is likely because she’s around too often and overstaying her welcome. Essentially, because you’re in such close proximity, there’s more chance for contact and more likelihood for that contact to become irritable.
You have every right to set limits on your mother-in-law. But you will certainly need to enlist your wife to help set and enforce those boundaries. That means that you’ll both need to be on the same page about what those boundaries are. So, if you haven’t talked with your wife about your mother-in-law yet, you’re going to have to have that, probably unpleasant, conversation.
The boundaries you eventually set will be up to you. You can give her a literal schedule if that feels appropriate. But definitely start fencing off time when you, your wife and your children have time to bond as a family together, without grandma around. But also make sure that when grandma does come to visit, the time she spends is celebratory and fun. Give her a specific role. Something that she can own and concentrate on, whether it’s a special day every month that she gets to plan, or a weekly dinner. This will give her a little ownership and help her feel involved and important.
Finally, you’ll have to sometimes be able to do the hard things and shrug off some of her behavior. I’m not suggesting you should just let your mother-in-law verbally abuse you. But with strong boundaries in place, you should have enough space that when she utters the inevitable criticism or dark phrase you can let it pass without incident.
Sometimes having a happy family means being the bigger man. Build those walls, give grandma a little and don’t take her bullshit personally.
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