Motherhood

What If Your Child Has a Favorite Parent? My Mom’s Brilliant Advice…

What To Do If Your Child Has a Favorite Parent

Last night, Anton casually told me…

… that he prefers Alex. (Zoinks!) And after birthing him and everything!

I immediately turned to my own mom and sent her this email:

Anton said tonight, ‘Mommy, is it okay if I tell you that Daddy is my favorite parent? I just love him a little bit more.’ I laughed and said, ‘Of course it’s okay; you loved me the most when you were a baby, so now it’s Daddy’s turn!’ I’m mostly feeling okay about it. But I am still a little bit sad!

My mom, who is a sage in all ways, wrote me back this amazing note:

Here’s an answer that is probably longer than you want!! LOL!!!

It is okay. And it doesn’t actually mean he loves you less. Anton would be devastated if he thought you didn’t love him or were disappointed or upset with him. The very fact that he could confide that to you means he feels safe and secure with you and trusts that you love him! He was making sure that you were okay with him being obsessed with Alex right now because your opinion matters. He was asking for your okay.

He is just really saying that Alex is his role model right now. That does NOT mean that you aren’t the one he wants or loves more when he gets hurt or if someone is mean to him at school. He wants Alex’s approval right now and knows he has yours.

Anton got permission from his rock that he can share his feelings and scamper off and have fun with Daddy and not feel guilty or risk your not loving him. You showed him you love and accept him as he is.

What if your child has a favorite parent?

How great is that advice? I thought might be helpful for other parents, too, in case you find yourself in this funny situation!

P.S. My sister’s awesome dating tip, and six words to say to your child.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Meredith says...

    I am not a parent, but I feel like… of course your kid has a favorite! I have always had a favorite parent and it changes with the seasons of life. Sometimes my favorite has been someone else entirely; someone who parented me, that I trusted and respected, but wasn’t related to me. Now as an adult, I have a favorite parent to ask for advice, favorite for cooking tips, favorite for recommending a good book, etc. I am *certain* they’ve had a favorite child, too!

  2. Lindsay says...

    Ooff. Tears at 5:30am. Thank you for sharing this Joanna. My son and I have always had that special bond as I’ve done the bulk of the parenting. I privately fear the day that my son’s bond with his dad supercedes our bond, precisely because of the immense amount of time, love and effort I have poured into my son. I will return to this post and thread. Thank you.

  3. Jennifer says...

    Safe advice, indeed. I wish I had a mom or advice giver like that. And reading it it’s like duh- of course that’s what it is- I just don’t know if I could have worded it so well and so full of love to someone.

    Be well.

  4. OM says...

    This is so great! Your mum is so wise!!

  5. Kelley says...

    My four year old son loves his dad so much he wants to be just like him when he grows up. He wants to be a dad and work in the same office with him so they can go to work together every day. When he wakes up, he comes into our bedroom (very early) and asks where dad is (my husband leaves for work even earlier) and when he’ll be home. For mother’s day, he made a necklace for me, but on the way home he said “I hope its okay mom, but I made this for dad because I just love him so much and he’s my favorite person.” We talk together about how amazing my husband is all the time and I can’t agree more, I love him that much too and it makes me so happy that my son shows that much unbridled love for his dad.

    My son still loves me, still comes to me when he’s hurt and spends most of his time with me as I’m a stay at home mom and my husband has a four hour commute every day. We just facetime dad when Theo needs to talk to him and see his face.

  6. Eileen says...

    I think you need an ‘Ask Jo’s Mom’ column!

    • Jane says...

      Good lord is your mom a psychologist or just amazing? It makes sense that Joanna Goddard is Joanna Goddard with a mom like that.

  7. Sarah says...

    Your mom is my favorite parent right now

    • cew says...

      Mine too, hahaha.

  8. Laurel says...

    Thanks Joanna’s mum! We all needed that little gem. I’ve had the same guy punch from kids too and this bit of reassurance is something I will come back to.

  9. Katie says...

    This actually made me tear up a little! So lucky to have a super wise Mum ❤️

  10. AER says...

    Thanks, Jo’s Mom! What a wonderful thought. I’ve always been my daughter’s “favorite” but now that she’s getting close to 2 years old, she’s becoming obsessed with her daddy. This helps :)

  11. Laura says...

    Oh my god, Jo, I am bawling. My husband just left with my two daughters for the coast, and I read this missing them and aspiring to have this kind of mother daughter relationship one day like you have with your mom! Thanks for sharing this sweet, sweet parenting advice.

  12. Theresa says...

    We still laugh about this same situation and my son is almost 28. When he was young he said mom do you mind if I love dad more? I said no I always love you. At that time my husband was his world and that made me extremely happy to see. When he got hurt, was sick and when the teenage years brought getting his heart broke he came to me first. Isn’t wonderful that they feel so loved they can tell us anything? I think it’s great that at different times through life they need different things from each parent. I hope we’ve always been what he’s needed at those times.

    • cew says...

      Totally! It’s about knowing how to interpret what they’re saying. They’re children, after all. To them it feels like “I love them MOST” when it’s really that they’re getting different needs fulfilled, but they won’t know how to express that just yet.

      Awesome perspective. (Hopefully I keep it in mind when my son inevitably says the same thing to me…. :))

  13. Julee says...

    Wow, your mom is basically a guru after that wonderful wisdom.
    It wasn’t too long of an answer, at least not for me,
    Thanks, Joanna’s mom!

  14. Gemma says...

    I had not realised how much I needed to read that right now. Having a bumpy time with my 9 year old, we are 1 year in since his dad left. Most days I feel like a real crappy parent and breaking the amazing relationship me and my son always had.
    So thanks xoxo

  15. Maggie says...

    Will your mom adopt me?! Wow!

  16. Marie says...

    I love whenever you share your mom’s advice. She is SO GOOD!!!!! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Lucia says...

    Joanna, thank you for sharing this! This topic has been part of my google search lately and unfortunately my relationship with my mom is nowhere close to yours so I did not bother to ask for her advice, or even tell he about this issue. I have a 9- month old and 2 years and 9 month old and after having the baby back in June, my older one got very attached to my husband and considers him his primary parent. On the one hand it made it easier for me to be with the baby especially during those awful early breastfeeding days, on the other hand it made me feel inadequate and failed as a mother – whose child screams for his dad when he sees his mother? I have been trying to be around as much as I can, having special times with him, but he told me the other day straight to my face he does not like me, but he likes papa. I am trying to be positive, and I am mostly, but damn, after 2 miscarriages and an IVF this really stinks. (P.S. baby still loves me. At least for now)

    • Karen says...

      A similar thing happened to me – it’s so hard! It took me a while to show myself some grace and know that my older child still loves me. This time is so hard for everyone – lack of sleep, getting used to a new member of the family – and for a toddler who doesn’t know how to process emotions, it can be extra confusing! Those special times you’re having with your son will pay off. It helped me to remember that love isn’t finite – our kids can love both parents differently and the love won’t run out if one is a favourite right now! Sending hugs. You got this.

  18. Jessica says...

    Your mom is a friggin’ parenting rockstar.

  19. Sarah says...

    Tearing up at what your sweet mom wrote, to you and all of us parents!

  20. KY says...

    oh my word, your mum is a wise woman! Loved this post.

  21. Ana says...

    Your mom is a professional genius.

  22. Molly says...

    I’ve got to comment because my almost 10 year old son told me this same thing a few weeks ago – that he loves daddy more. I was crushed. I’m a stay at home mom & we’re really close but my husband & younger son are very similar & I think that they are really bonding over everything sports right now. He knew after he said it that I was taken aback & I wish I had hidden my reaction sooner. I think he feels bad about saying it but I don’t want to go back now & bring it up. Wish I had read your mom’s advise before! It’s spot on!

  23. Best post ever.

  24. Le says...

    As the mom of a two-year-old who I sometimes wonder if would miss me if I got swallowed by a whale, this helped. I’ll have to reread it each time I hear “Shoo, Mommy! Daddy time!” (Seriously.) Thank you. :)

  25. Andrea says...

    Awwwwww. I love this post so much.

  26. OMG can I adopt your mom?

  27. Jennifer says...

    So… um… will we have that “ask your mom” advice series anytime soon??? I think I’ve been waiting for like six years… :)

    • CL says...

      second this, omg. thought i was the only one!

    • J says...

      Yes!!!

    • Melanie says...

      same!

    • Same! Your mom should respond to reader questions in a casual “email just from me to you” form. xoxo

    • Melissa says...

      Lovely post. I agree, let’s hear more from your mom!

  28. Heather says...

    Love this!!

  29. maria hannigan says...

    Your mom is awesome. That is some 100% therapist level advice. You’re lucky Joanna!

  30. Simone says...

    Well, consider me melted. Such a beautiful perspective!

  31. Elli says...

    I needed this!

  32. Myrna says...

    Joanna, thank you for sharing this ‘milestone moment’ with your readers, and like most of the other commenters, I agree that your mom’s advice was absolutely brilliant!
    This made me reflect that the whole notion of human minds (and hearts) making comparisons and rankings of how much love is coming our way is sometimes so annoying. I know that we can’t help it—it’s just an aspect of how we, as human beings, process all kinds of inputs. I’m blathering on a bit, but sometimes I wish that we/I could be more accepting of every drop of love we get and be happy when the people we love (especially our children) have enough love to share with others.

  33. M says...

    Treasure your mom. She sounds amazing <3

  34. Cynthia says...

    Awesome advice!

  35. That is an amazing response! Your mom is totally awesome :)

  36. Pat Martin says...

    wow.