“Fatherly Advice” is a weekly parenting advice column by the experts at Fatherly. Need hard-won insights and scientific facts to resolve a parenting dilemma or family dispute? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Need justifications for parenting decisions you’ve already made? Ask someone else. We’re far too busy for that nonsense.
In this weeks edition, a dad whose baby favors him over his wife asks what he can do to tip the scales. Is it even worthwhile? Meanwhile, another father complains about losing his wife to their toddler son’s bedroom floor and wonders if there’s any way he can possibly bring her back to bed.
My son likes me more than my wife. He just turned one and wants me to pick him up all the time and when she reaches for him he will turn away. She’s super pregnant right now, and with her hormones, I really think this is going to break her. I keep reminding her that this is probably a phase but she worries he likes the daycare ladies more than her. I chalk it up to him being a baby. I’m super relaxed about it.
My son and I do spend a lot of time together. I pick him up from daycare on most days. My wife is around more on the weekends. It’s a pretty even split. So I’m not even sure that’s really the issue.
Is there anything I can do to make this better? Can I convince my son to like his mom as much as he likes me?
The Go To
New York, New York
What your running up against here is the hierarchy of needs and it never fails to make at least one parent feel like complete crap. Created by psychologist Abraham Maslow, his hierarchy posits that as we grow we will seek to strengthen our base needs first. Those base needs include security, stability, food, water and shelter and they are often considered the driver of infant behaviors. Needs like social belonging, either to family or friends are less crucial and so, come later in development.
Maslow makes some sense here. Those base needs are required for survival so it makes sense that babies would seek them out first and orient towards the people who provide the most base needs most often. For your son, that person appears to be you. That might because you’re the guy who’s picking him up from daycare. It might be because you feed him more or are there to respond to cries quicker on a daily basis. Only your baby knows for sure. But, regardless, he’s picked his horse and you are it.
Telling any of this to your wife is not going to help of course. The last thing she wants (or even needs) to hear in her hormonal state is that your baby doesn’t think she meets his base needs as much as you. That will freak her out and things will get messy. So maybe keep Maslow on the down low for the time being.
That said, your instincts in reminding her it’s just a phase are completely correct. Because it is just a phase. At some point, your kid will require new and more sophisticated needs are met, and it’s likely that he will branch out and reorient, maybe even to the point of turning his back on you. Again, though, this soothsaying isn’t going to be that helpful to your wife at the moment. She wants to hold and love her damn baby boy right now and she wants it to be reciprocated.
Which is to say that this is not a time to be super chill about your son’s relationship with her. You need to be a bit more proactive in supporting time for the two to spend together without you throwing a kink in the works.
I want you to hear this, though, because it’s important: You will not stop picking up or responding to your son when he is reaching for you or crying for you. You’re not going to fix this by becoming less available to your kid. The only thing that will do is make him feel his security is at risk and that could mess up his development in pretty significant ways. It’s really great that he’s so attached, it’s a good sign. When he reaches for you, you need to keep responding.
Here’s where the change is going to come in. When your wife and son get into an activity, or when they are relaxed and comfortable together, you need to give them a ton of space. You need to disappear into the wallpaper and let that moment happen to its fullest, without any interference. If those moments aren’t happening as much as they should, then make time to leave the home or get them out into the world alone. This way your wife will have more time to make the most of bonding with your son, and your son may begin to understand that mom meets different needs and that’s a good thing.
Believe me, there will come a time when you both are going to wish you had this dynamic back. For now, keep striving for stability it’ll all come apart when the new kid arrives. Hit me up then and good luck.
My son just turned one. My wife and I were finally getting into a sleep routine and back to reality a bit, but the other day she surprised me with the fact that she bought a bed so she can sleep in his room on the floor so she can be there for him. She just wanted to be there with him more. She misses him. She wants to be on the ready when he wakes up
This blows. I’m annoyed that she bought it without talking to me. But I’m also really worried about her not staying in bed with me and giving all of her time. it’s a situation that makes me very uncomfortable. I want my wife in bed next to me. Aren’t boundaries important? What can I do?
What’s interesting about your situation is that your wife is in your son’s room now not as a part of sleep training, but to fulfill her own needs. But I’ve been asking around and your situation is not altogether uncommon. And that makes sense. As your sleep routine is normalized it means your wife is likely spending less time comforting your son at night. As much as parents like to complain about being up with children in the middle of the night, we all know that there is something incredibly sweet and warm about a child falling back to sleep in your arms. It’s a massive dopamine hit to be a safe harbor and have that little body dozing in your arms. If this was a regular thing for your wife, it makes complete sense that she’d be loath to lose it and take the step of sleeping in your son’s room. She could be feeling a sense of anxiety that her boy is growing up. That’s a hard nut to crack.
I hear you when you say that you have need of intimacy too. And you are clearly feeling a loss of that intimacy with this move. But right now, her loss is being felt more acutely than yours and you need to be okay with that for a second. Recrimination isn’t going to bring her back to bed. Understanding might.
Of course, neither you or I really know why your wife has made this move. So you need to sit down and talk with her about it. Not in an accusatory way, but in a compassionate way. Let her know that you’re trying to understand because you love her and miss her. Ask her open-ended questions about what she’s feeling about motherhood in general. Does she feel like she’s getting enough time with your son? Is she feeling anxiety that he might be lonely in his room?
Once you have a bead on the motivations of her move, you can start looking for solutions and compromise. Yes, boundaries are important. But when those boundaries are disruptive to the emotional lives and closeness of a family, what’s the point? Boundaries should be put in place to serve the family and bring them together, not fence them apart in separate worlds.
My question to you is: Is there any reason your child can’t share the room with you? Instead of your wife going there, perhaps your kid can come into your room. That way, she can continue to feel close and you’ll continue to have her in the bed. Will bringing your kid into your room put a damper on night time sex? Sure will. But sex isn’t intimacy and it has the compelling feature of being able to be performed almost anywhere at any time (mostly). You’ll just have to be more thoughtful about the when’s and where’s of getting down.
And this will not be forever. At some point, your wife will come to terms with the fact that her child is growing up. She will want her bed and her privacy back. That shift will likely happen organically if you let it.
In the meantime, make sure that your finding ways that she can bond with your toddler. Maybe suggest a few mommy and son outings. Maybe give the two some space when they’re really bonding. The important thing is to not take any of this personally. Support your wife and she’ll come back to your bed eventually.
In the meantime, sleep diagonally.
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