When Dad’s the Favorite: Perks of Not Being the Preferred Parent

preferred parent

Daycare pick-up is supposed to be a joyful time. You open the classroom door, your child looks up from playing with excitement in his eyes and begins his adorable toddler-trot towards you, complete with outstretched arms. You let yourself believe for a split second that the joy is for you, until the soul-crushing moment when your child plows right by you with an elated cheer of “Daddy!” right into your husband’s waiting arms.

Yeah, that can feel pretty terrible.

I’ll admit, it hurts my feelings sometimes when our toddler blatantly rejects me because he prefers his dad. I am rational enough to know, though, that this isn’t something I should take personally. It is completely normal for children to prefer different parents during different situations or stages in their lives. Even though I understand this, I still struggled with it for a while, being a human with feelings and all. That is until I realized there are some pretty incredible perks to being the second-choice parent.

1. I change fewer diapers.

When I go into our kiddo’s room in the morning and I am met with a thick wall of poop aroma and our son refuses to let me change his diaper because he wants Daddy to do it, you bet I am happy to oblige. Being the less-preferred parent has allowed me to change fewer diapers since he developed his preference for Papa, and that is a-okay with me.

2. Our outings are special.

Our son doesn’t like it when my husband goes somewhere without him. As a result, their outings usually include trips to the hardware store, the grocery store, getting gas, and the rest of the monotonous errands our life requires. Because they are less frequent, our mother-son outings become more focused on enjoyment. Sometimes we plan ahead to go out for guacamole (his favorite) or maybe it’s a spontaneous detour on the way home from daycare to look at trains parked in town. Over time, we developed a few outings only the two of us do together, keeping them a special treat just for us.

3. I get more sleep.

There are exceptions, of course, like during an illness or a thunderstorm. But when our son wakes up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason at all, he often asks for Daddy to come to comfort him back to sleep. I may feel a tinge of jealousy wishing he wanted me to comfort him, but that fades pretty quickly when I return to our bed and fall back asleep.

4. There is less pressure to be perfect.

Once I accepted my less-preferred-parent status, I am better able to focus on our goals as parents and less about how it affects me and my feelings. If you think about it, any self-pity I have for being the second choice to my husband is incredibly self-centered and doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Now I worry less about being liked by a toddler, the fickle beings they are, which allows me to concentrate on what really matters: raising a good human.

5. I am ready to enjoy it when he does prefer me.

There are still plenty of situations our son prefers to be with me, and when he does I appreciate it more fully. When he asks me to crawl on the floor and play cars with him, fix his favorite toy, or asks me to sit in the back seat next to him on the car ride for no reason, I appreciate it. I don’t roll my eyes, say I am too busy, or fake my way through it. Instead, I am able to take it all in and live in that moment with him. Because I am not the preferred parent, I am far more present when I play with my son and we both enjoy our interactions more this way.

Everything I found on parental preference encourages parents to change the dynamic and attempt to make the child like them more. But, I don’t think we should focus on changing it. I love that my husband and son have such a good relationship. This stage is completely normal and has very little to do with me or my value as a parent. I don’t want to spend my time with our son trying to be his preferred parent that day, just to make myself feel better.

By embracing the perks of being his second-choice at the moment, I am freer from petty jealousy and don’t waste precious energy that is better spent elsewhere.

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After meeting here during college, Caitlin and her husband, Tanner, settled in North Fargo and live a pretty upper-midwestern life full of trying to appreciate the small adventures. As a mom to a son born in 2017 and a daughter born in 2021, Caitlin tries to balance all of the mommy things with taking time for what makes her a human outside of being a wife and mother. Along with spending her days working as a program manager, she enjoys finding unique family experiences in the Fargo-Moorhead area, volunteering, reading, and simply being honest about the realities of motherhood in all its vehement glory.

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