My one-year-old daughter has suddenly decided that her father, who shares equally in all parenting duties (except nursing), is not worthy of her affections. She wants nothing to do with him and acts like he is a stranger. If I am around, she will push him away and cry if he picks her up. When he goes in to comfort her at night she sees him coming and screams like she is on fire. This is a recent development, and we feel helpless. He is starting to take it personally and it breaks my heart to have her treat him this way. What can we do? – No Love for Papa
Dear No Love,
This is such a common frustration for parents of babies.
The dynamic can feel like an annoying throw-back, a spanner in the works of your progressive co-parenting. We’re not sure exactly why it happens, but it’s probably related to separation anxiety, which often peaks around one year.
Some babies find it harder to separate from one parent more than the other. In your case – and many others’ – it seems to be the mom. Could be that the breastfeeding is part of it, but non-nursing moms report the same scenario, so it’s hard to say. The bottom line is that this situation is less about your daughter disliking your husband’s presence and more about her really liking yours.
In other words, it’s not him. It’s you.
In the first year as a parent getting positive feedback from your baby is important, if not essential, toward building confidence. Not being the apple of your daughter’s eye can feel like failure. And so soon! (We all expect some eye-rolling from our tweens, but at one?) It’s important to remember that despite signs to the contrary, this is not a rejection, per se. It’s not a conscious response. It’s a developmental phase, one over which your infant daughter has zero control.
And in the big picture, it’s a very short phase; things will change. And change again. And again. Eventually one day you’ll both look back to see that each of you took a more or less primary role in your daughter’s life at various times, depending on what she was going through. Though Daddy’s out now, he may be enjoying preferred status by her second birthday. And you’ll be the one looking on from the sidelines.
But even when you intellectually understand the M.O. and motives behind your child’s actions, they can still hurt.
See if you can help your husband find an outlet to deal with the inevitable bad feelings it will bring up – without taking it out on your daughter. The last thing he wants to do is give her a real reason to not want to be with him – that’s when it actually does get personal. Get him to talk to some other dads. This is bound to be happening, or have happened, to other people you know. You can help him sort out how he feels from what’s actually happening. You may learn a few things you can use during your (inevitable) time in the emotional shadow. And you can both use the practice for later, when your daughter’s “using her words” to make the rejection that much more fun!
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