Is It Normal for a Child to Favor One Parent over Another

Updated on May 17, 2010
M.G. asks from Aston, PA
20 answers

This has been going on for quite some time with my son who is now 4. I thought by now we would be nearing the end of this but now he tells his dad that I am his favorite. This really hurts my husband and I feel like it's starting to cause a rift in our relationship to the point that he now doesn't care to spend as much time with our son. I sometimes think he does this to test the limits. Last night my DH was telling me that our son told him this in the morning and the little guy was there so he looked at his dad, smiled and said "Mommy is my favorite and Pop-pop". I think he added that part in about Pop-pop because he knew it would really hurt more than just saying that I am his favorite. When will this end and how can I help him see that he is really hurting his dad and me when he does this. I can't stand it anymore and don't want to lose my DH over this.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your advice and it's good to know that this will most likely ease up at some point. I've pretty much been the favorite since day 1 so you can imagine how much it hurts to still feel second to mom. I think a day to think about it helped both father and son and there were good feelings and bonding this morning. DH tends to be a bit of an over-reactor so I'm sure that some of his anger/words come from that side of him plus I know he always felt like (and still does to this day) that his dad always loved his brother more even though he is the one who is around and helps out while his brother barely gives his parents the time of day. I think Daddy-son Fridays are still in tact and we can start to move on and deal with it better. Thanks again ladies!

Featured Answers


answers from Allentown on

Hi, M.:
Don't worry about what he says.
Just tell him that is wonderful and let it go.
He does not understand the meaning of what he
is saying.

If this continues to worrying you, think about going to a mom's support group.
Good luck. D.

More Answers


answers from Dallas on

Tell him it's not nice to say things like that and punish him. He's old enough to be scolded/time-out/favorite toy taken away for excluding people and not talking nice about people either.

When my son of the same age says something to me (he back talks to me alot!) his father tells him, "you respect your mother, she does a lot of good for you and does not deserve your attitude". Then he gives me a hug and apologizes.

Give the dad and son lots of alone and father-son bonding time. They can go on a campout, fishing, to an arcade, to play mini golf, fly a kite, ride scooters at the park, an ice cream outing....

He doesn't realize how hurtful that can be and probably doesn't really realize what it actually means either. So, tell his dad to get over himself and make himself his favorite.

In the meantime, this is fairly common and a few experts have written about it. Here are some articles that could help, you and your husband should read them together:

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dayton on

Hi M.,

It is perfectly and absolutely normal for a child to have a favorite. When one parent spends more time with the child than the other then, of course, there is more time to bond with them and for the relationship to develop and deepen. There should be some clarity about the fact that it doesn't mean he LOVES one more. Just enjoys one's company more.

Your husband can't afford to take this personally. Yeah, little man is being a little bit ornery, but he really doesn't get the fact that it is as hurtful as it is. Empathy skills really don't develop fully in little boys for a couple more years, yet. He has to remember he is dealing with a 4 yr. old little boy and it's pretty darn powerful when you find out that your words have power. He's had a little epiphany and now it's a great teachable moment for you to teach him how to use the power of his words in a positive away.

Start little projects during the day like a collage and list of things he likes about daddy. Let him present it to daddy when he comes home from work and see how happy daddy is when he sees his gift. You talk to him about all the things you love about daddy and all the things you are grateful for. If you are truly his favorite then you have a lot of sway. You can begin to show him that loving dad alot doesn't mean loving you less so the loyalty he's trying to show isn't necessary.

As for your husband, I do think it's a little immature for him to avoid his 4 YR. OLD because his feelings are hurt. And I really hope a 4 YR OLD'S words wouldn't threaten your husband enough that it would compromise your marriage. He needs to take the whole situation into account and remember who exactly he is talking about and what expectations he should reasonably be able to have based on his age and development. Furthermore, MORE time together is called for here and not less. It would give your son an opportunity to find more things to like and then the next day you can talk about how cool dad was and what all your son enjoyed about his time. If he sees your loyalty to dad there could be a huge shift in his behavior because of his loyalty to you.

Hope this helps,


2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

My husband just told me last night that my boys (3 and 5) have been asking "when is Mom coming home" lately when I go out. I'm sorry that your husband has been hurt by it, but he needs to understand that your son is only 4, and 4 year olds are fickle and like to push buttons.

I suggest, more Dad and Son time. Maybe they need to institute some special time on Saturdays where they out out just the two of them for some fun. My boys would love any of the following: a car show, park time, bike ride, the zoo, hike in the woods... Maybe the more fun they have, then when he says things like that, you can say "but remember how much fun you had with Dad at the car show? " When my boys say things about one or the other of us, I try to point out something positive.

Good luck, and this too will pass.


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Redding on

Your husband's feelings might be hurt, but he also needs to be an adult about this. I don't think it should lead to losing your husband.
First of all, little kids have many favorite things, a flavor of ice cream or a book or a blanket. Little kids this age don't know the Webster's dictionary definition of "favorite", especially as it applies to people.
You may be the favorite because you smell pretty or because you wear sparkly earrings or you have a more gentle touch. It doesn't mean he doesn't love his dad.
I think for the sake of everyone's sanity, the use of the F-word (favorite) should be limited when it's applied to people.
I'm sure there are things that he loves about his dad that don't apply to you.
His dad is strong, fixes things, takes him fishing, etc.

I left my husband when my son was a baby and things were bad between us so we didn't even go to open house or back to school night at the same time to keep the conflict down. I wasn't really happy when I showed up at my time and my ex was standing outside and snippily said, "I sure hope you read what's on his desk." And he stormed off. I didn't know if it was a bad report card or what.

There was a little booklet my son had made and on the cover it said,
"My Hero"

I opened it and the tears just fell from my eyes. It was all about me and all the wonderful things I'd done for my son, how I worked so hard and all the ways I'd shown how much I loved him.

My ex husband was pissed!

My point is, my son didn't make that booklet with the intention of hurting his dad. Little boys love their moms.
But, they also learn things from dad too, about how to be nice to mom or getting dirty and grimy working in the yard or going fishing.
Like I said, don't allow the word favorite in comparing. If he likes your cookies....he might like that his dad does something else.
Surely your husband pulling away from your son over this is not the best way to handle it.
Ask your son to find things he really likes about daddy and let him draw some pictures about it or something.
I think sometimes men have boys and they think that automatically it will all be about boy stuff and just the two of them.
Maybe their hopes are dashed when mommy is the center of the world for a while.

I wish you the very best!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

For those other posters who are just telling your husband to "get over it" my guess is that they've never been on the receiving end of this treatment, at least not for an extended period of time. My daughter is a total daddy's girl, and has been for about 3 years (since she's 2). It ebbs and flows a bit, but it is very clear that I'm second choice. When she's in her "all daddy" phase it's AWFUL. I so often want to cry. Is it logical? No. Is she doing it to hurt me? No. Does it make me doubt all the katrillions of sacrifices I'm making to be the best mom I can be? Yes. So a simple "he's little, get over it" is just plain old not going to work, and minimizing his feelings about it isn't going to help either. Don't you think he already feels like an idiot for being so hurt by a 4 year old who obviously loves him?

The one thing that I would just do over and over and over is for YOU to emphasize how much you love your husband, both to him and your little boy. Have your husband tell him "I know you love mommy very much. I do too. But it hurts my feelings when you tell me you love her more. So lets just say that you love mommy lots and go and do something fun." My best guess is that when he sees that he's not getting a rise out of your husband any more, the overt comparisons will stop. And he's old enough to understand that words can really hurt.

If he doesn't get it or it escalates, you can teach him how much it hurts. I don't know if you have any other kids, but once I did say to my daughter. "How would you feel if I told you that I love Jax the most?" She got it in an instant. Even if you don't have other children, you could certainly tell your son that his feelings would be hurt if you loved your husband best. He'll likely get it.

Anyway, just support your husband through this. The good news is that it really will pass and with time it will seem like such a minor little thing. My daughter doesn't show nearly the preference that she once did. Good luck. This can be really tough.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Like any other rude and hurtful thing to say, it is perfectly OK to let him know he is not being nice and it's not allowed. You're right, he is testing the limits. He's 4 and has no difficulty understanding you. Would you let him hurt the feelings of strangers or extended family or other kids? Dad is no less important. Teach him how to behave. Tell dad to buck up and also enforce proper manners, not pout, ignore his child, or hold it against you! This is encouraging your son to pull trips and sending a destructive message about your strength (or lack thereof) as parents. It will end when you teach him how to be nice. When our daughter was learning her first smarting off in daycare, and she tried a few rude phrases on her dad and I, we did not tolerate it for ourselves or each other, and she learned right away. He should not treat his father that way, this is your job to teach.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Yep. Perfectly normal. My son will be 12 in Oct and he still favors me (Mom). I expected around 8 yrs old he might start pulling away from me a bit but it didn't happen. Perhaps when puberty hits he and his Dad will see more eye to eye. Our son loves us both, and he hugs/kisses us both good night. Dad should take him to a fire station open house sometime so they can check out the fire trucks together.



answers from Dallas on

Your son is just a child and children are honest. All children favor one parent over the other at different times in their lives and we have to be the grownups about it. My youngest, who is almost 3, at times favors his dad over me. I'm here all day with him and dad is in and out and travels some, so, of course, he is more than excited and wants to cling to him when he is home. I understand this and don't take it to heart. Your son has done nothing wrong, but you and your husband may want to discuss how it makes dad feel when he says these things. Does your husband take time to spend with your son everyday? Does he give him baths, read to him before bed, play in yard, take him to the park, etc.? If not, he may think about spending some quality one on one time with him. I wouldn't expect too much at first because he may cry if he is made to go without you along too. Maybe just outside to kick the soccer ball around or go for a walk. Good luck!



answers from New York on

oh yeah. one my twins is daddy's girl and she doesn't hide it (i get my feelings hurt every time she gives him those doe-eyed looks). the other one can't has her apendicitis attached to me. and she doesn't hide it. the latter one when asked by daddy who do you love? she say mom of course. and he says: you love me too? and she says: sure just not as much as i love mom.
the first one, i ask do you love me, she says almost as much as i love daddy. and i say so you love me more? and she says not really, i love you but I LOVE DADDDY.
totally normal.



answers from Chicago on

my son flip flops between us. this mothers day he wanted to be alone with dad. i think its just a phase. he's 4 also.


answers from Dallas on

My children haven't said "favorite," but they have certainly favored one or the other parent at various times. Right now, my six year old son clearly favors my husband, but he shows he loves me a ton, too. My husband works a lot, and when he is home my six year old is glued to him. I understand that, and my son isn't being hurtful about it. My 12 year old is closer to me right now. He likes to hang out with my husband and do things like play outside or watch TV, but he talks more openly and more often to me. It seems to go in phases. My husband and I have had to be understanding of that through the years. I do think your son needs to learn not to use hurtful words. Your husband spending less time with his son is going to make the situation worse, not better.



answers from Philadelphia on

Everytime your son says it, remind him that it is not nice. Your husband reacting is making him do it more. I would tell him that we can have favorite foods, toys, colors but not people. People have feelings and it hurts. Objects have no feelings. Hopefully he will understand better.

You can even say how would you feel if i told you that you are not my favorite and so and so is...



answers from Tulsa on

Kids just do this. DH needs to grow up. Letting his feelings get hurt over something like this is silly, and not caring to spend time with his own son over something like this is immature and selfish.
He is not doing this to hurt his Dad. He is being a normal little boy.He loves his Pop-pop.
Unless Dad is a complete jerk to him, Dad will get his turn as favorite if he's man enough to stick around.



answers from Houston on

My ex-husband saw our daughter FIVE times in 2009 (less than 12 hours total) despite my many offers to make it easier for him to spend time with her--2007/2008 wasn't much better. He's seen her once so far this year...and that is only because I drove her over to him at a jobsite.

When she cries for him? Cuts.Like.A.Knife.

Of course, it is usually tied to me disciplining her for something. Yet, we've never been in a situation when he told her he could do something that I said no too. There is never a conflict in parenting styles, because he has never parented her. Kids are smart. Too smart.

She's been doing this for about a year now...she just turned three. I find the best way to counterbalance it is to manage my reaction to it.

I do agree that your husband has to accept it for what it is....a stage or a manipulation...or whatever. Maybe the best answer is, "Mommy is my favorite, too!"...or "Tell me your favorite thing about Mommy."..."My favorite thing about Mommy is..."

Kids don't process emotions quite the same way as adults. My daughter changes her "favorite" things all the time. They are very much in the moment.

What worries me is that it is preventing your husband from spending time with your son and your are worried about LOSING your husband over this? Either the situation is worse than you are conveying in words OR you and your husband need to gain a bit of perspective. Maybe a little bit of coaching or counseling could help you all through this bump in the road.



answers from Philadelphia on

He's 4. So far, for his entire life, Mommy is and has been his whole world. Trust me, your husband will get his turn, quite possibly next week, you really never know with kids. Don't let him take it personally and certainly tell him not to let it affect his attitude towards his son. As the grown-up, he really shouldn't get pouty about what a 4yr old says. Also, your son is genuinely expressing his feelings - don't let him feel guilty about that. It WILL pass. I guarantee, you will NOT have a 13yr old BOY saying "Mommy is my favorite" as much as we'd all like to hear that from our teenagers!



answers from Indianapolis on

yup. not only is it normal, it's to be expected. This too shall pass:)


answers from Philadelphia on

I think its common, and its likely to hurt, my daughter flip flops but goes more torwards M., I joke with my husband and tell him it's because I was the milk supplier for her early life, thats a lot of one on one bonding, but mostly I believe it's because he's the daddy, he likes playing, but doesn't discipline as much or spend as mich one on one time, so when this starts we tell her it's not nice (never encourage it, or ask who they love more) and then in private we agree its time for some one on one time between them, an outing without M. so they can bond....that ussually works, I think it is an issue of being upset with their dads from going to that I work too, I get the whole mad side of her more often, when I pick her up at my in laws she gets grumpy and says she doesn;t want to leave, I don;t get upset I realize it is her way of being upset with M. for leaving in the 1st place, although you shouldn't judge someone for getting upset, I can tottally understand if it was a constant thing, and you shouldn't show a smile when he says it, every parent inside is a little happy they are the favorite but never let it show



answers from Philadelphia on

Your husband shouldn't be spending less time with his son that isn't going to help. Is he hearing favorite from someone? My 3 kids didn't do this so I don't know what to say other than try to find out where this favorite business is coming from. I would not encourage him to say who is his favorite. Tell your hubby to spend time with his son! :) Good luck!!!!



answers from Cincinnati on

It's completely normal and your hubby needs to stop taking it personally because he is giving his son power over this issue. Your husband should make sure he has some special father-son time with this boy, but it isn't going to change that your son is still young enough to prefer his Mama.

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