My 4 Year Old Son Often Tells Me He Doesn't Love or Want Me but Wants His Dad.

Updated on July 24, 2012
A.1. asks from Long Beach, CA
11 answers

I adore my 4 year old son and am a single mom. His father and I have a bad relationship. His dad and I split up 15 months ago and share 50/50 custody but during awake hours his dad sees him more than I do since I work days and he works nights. I take our son to school on my custodial days because I have to go to work and I don't get to pick him up after work from his dad's until 8pm after he has been given dinner and a bath by his dad (who gets him from preschool everyday, even on my custodial days due to my long weekday work hours).

I wish I did not have to work until 6:30pm every night and drive so far from work to home to pick up my son at night because it really feels like my only time with my son is on the 3 weekends per month I have him. His dad works nights, never days, so our son never has an awake moment when he is with his dad of ever being taken to preschool--his dad just keeps him home and takes him to Disneyland seemingly every week or to all sorts of play places during the day on his, or even my, days because I am at work.

As a result our son has been telling me he doesn't love me, thinks I am bad, and doesn't want me anymore. He wipes off my kisses and says he thinks his dad is great and that he only loves his dad.
What can I do about this? I love my son but cannot take a different job as I have a mortgage to pay and get no child support since both parents make a similar income. I also was out of a job for 2 years and it could happen again so I need this job. I try to make it up to my son on the 3 weekends I do have him but it is not enough.

I am worried about long term relationship damage I may be causing my son who I love so much, but I do have to work too.

What can I do next?

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answers from Charlotte on

Think about it from the opposite perspective for dads who only get to see their kids like you see yours. Their relationships aren't damaged because of it. As kids grow up, they realize that their parents work and that this is how the bills get paid.

When he says "I don't like you", just say back "Well, I like YOU, but you still have to get ready for bed. Which of these two pairs of PJ's do you like?" In other words, deflect it and don't act like it bothers you.

How is your relationship with your ex? If it's a good one, ask him to talk to your son about how important mommy is. If it's not, don't bother.

If you two stay living nearby each other, your husband will eventually stop playing the "fun" card with him and real school and homework, etc will kick in.

Good luck,D.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

young children are masters at mind games. they know very well what 'gets to mom'! every time he is negative, don't recognize it to him. pretend he never said it, and respond with a firm 'I love you so much honey! Let's read a book!" He will quickly be assured that his mom really does love him, and stop testing you. Disney, although great, cannot compare with real love. And your son will remember his bond with you far longer than dad's boughten escapades.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

you have communicated your anxiety to your little boy and now he's figuring out what to do with it.
be the calm adult.
tell him 'i understand you don't want me right now. but i'm your mom and i always love you.'
don't get involved in back-and-forth.
don't allow yourself to be guilt-tripped.
don't angst and flail about trying to make him like you better.
he's only four.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I agree with Dawn.

Your son doesn't know the whole picture, that you are working to support him and can't be a "Disneyland" mommy. Right now daddy is king of the world and is all fun and games, but as he gets older he won't be playing with dad all the time but doing his homework with him. Your son may turn on him then, too. And you know that if dad remarries and there are other people to take up his time the whole dynamics of their relationship may change completely, nothing is a constant.

Just tell him you love him, but that he still has to do such and such, and remind him that you DO do things together on the weekend and the sooner he cooperates the sooner the weekend will come. As hard as it is ignore his mean talk and know that you are doing right by your son.

And, even though you have a bad relationship with your ex, he should still stick up for you and demand that your son respects you. I'm sure you would do the same if it was the other way around.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

All I can tell you is that when my daughter was three and four, she often said things like that: preferring one parent over. Once in the grocery store she yelled out to me, "I don't want you to love me, I love my dad better!" The next week she said something equally horrible to dad and that she loved her mom better. Our situation was nothing like yours (in tact marriage, SAHM). She just lacked the verbal skills to get the point across. We were both tempted to be offended, but learned it was just a phase. This may or may not be the case for you and your son, but want you to know that these kinds of words are often spoken by this age group no matter the situation.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Just to give you some perspective, my son who recently turned 6 has been saying similar things to me since he was around 3 1/2 or 4. My husband and I are happily married and get roughly equal time with him. It's just that he has a lot more in common with Dad than with me - and well, ok, Dad lets him get away with more.
As he gets older he's learning that it's hurtful to say those kinds of things and I hear less of them. I'm learning to accept that it's just like any other relationship. I can't make him love me more, I can only do my best.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

For starters - family therapy would be good. To make sure dad is not adding negative energy to the pot. Because of your work schedule and distance, any chance a judge could change drop off and pick up from dad's? Meanwhile, start looking for a job closer to home [if possible]. Take deep breaths, patience. My heart goes out to you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Is there any way you could switch to an earlier start time? Then dad could pick him up on his way home from work and you could pick him up earlier? Or, could you work 4-10s instead? I am so sorry, this is hard and it completely sucks for you and your son.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

The only think I can think of is for you to move closer to your ex. It seems as though you are driving an hour and a half to pick him up daily. If you move closer you could spend more quality time with him.


answers from Boston on

A lot of kids say this and we have to deal with it. It hurts but it's common.

That said, I wonder if there is a compromise - why do you have to drive 1.5 hours to pick him up? Can't your ex meet you or bring the child to you? How late is your son up because you don't even get home until so late? And exactly when does your ex sleep if he's awake with your son all day and then working all night?

It doesn't sound like 50/50 if your ex sees him so much more, so I'd revisit that agreement.

But again, a lot of kids do this, and boys tend to bond with the father (as girls do with the mother). I'd make sure your ex isn't feeding into this by saying "I wish you didn't have to go with Mommy" or saying you are "bad".


answers from Minneapolis on

I'm married, our relationship is rocky, but we do try to keep up appearances. I know my husband works long hours, and when he comes home, he wants the kids to give HIM all the attention he wants for about an hour, and then he doesnt want to see or hear from them again for 2. When its time for bed and my 4 year old daughter wants her mommy, for book reading and tucking in. She says all sorts of hurtful things to him. Cant blame her. Hard to determine what it is he wants exactly. So he gets mad and discouraged.
Then the weekend comes, and he goes on his daddy daughter dates where he takes each one of the older kids out on there own one on one adventures, where he spends lots of money doing not a whole lot. Of COURSE they love him the most for a while, and then when that wears off, they want mommy. They hate me at meals, getting dressed and mornings. They hate dad when he yells, or ignores them... so its pretty even in the hate department. Its just a phase, he is pushing your buttons cause he know he can.

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