Mommy’itis: When Your Child Wants Only Mommy (or Daddy)
My daughter has recently put my husband under a ban and I am on duty 24/7. Bedtime, dressing, buckling her car seat, spreading jam on her toast: it’s “Mommy!” and Mommy only. I am torn between responding to her needy phase (I hope it's only a phase!) vs. keeping my sanity.
-- 24/7 Mom
First, relax. A period of “Mommy’itis” or “Daddy’itis” is common and often makes several appearances in early childhood (with a possible reprise in adolescence). It often begins in infancy when it seems like only one parent can soothe a baby when he is really fussy, and/or get him to sleep. In the toddler - preschool years expect at least one such period, often coupled with other struggles about “who’s boss.” If you dig Freud, you will not just expect, but welcome an oedipal period: a girl being “All Daddy’s” and a boy glued to mom’s side.
Let’s take infancy first. It’s natural for a nursing baby to form a stronger attachment to mother in the early months of life. My daughter told me when she was about five, “I am closer to you because you milked me.” Very often without plan or notice, mother becomes the “soother of choice.” This is perfectly fine as long as you keep an eye on it. Make sure it does not become so exclusive that dad (or second mom) cannot put the baby down to sleep or sooth her when she is fussy. Your partner needs plenty of opportunities to bond with the baby and develop his/her own repertoire of soothing techniques.
Bigger struggles come once your child has the vocabulary to verbally insist on only one the other. Here you need to think of the “only mommy” demand on a continuum. Visualize the Golden Gate Bridge (Happy 75th!) with the San Francisco side representing going along 100% with your child’s demands and the Marin side, as total stonewalling: The parents are “the deciders,” never acceding to a child’s preference. You want to be right around mid-span, where the gusts of wind from the ocean are strongest. Pardon the metaphor - the idea is that mid-span is the “happy medium” but the ups and downs are more intense.
So, what do you actually do?
For a while, do make yourself more available, but make sure to get breaks. Have your partner develop some simple new activities that are his/her “specialty,” be it working in the garden, building bridges with Lego, collecting rocks or breakfast on Sundays.
Make a list of things that are “Choice” and those that are not. “Choice” allows your child to pick the parent they want, e.g.: helping with pajamas, hair brushing, reading a specific book, etc. “No Choice” are daily activities that are vital for you to share with your partner, such as putting your child to bed, getting ready for preschool, driving places, etc.
Explain to your child about “Choice” and “No Choice” and give her many opportunities to have “Choice” activities. This method will work even better with some silliness, such as: ”If you could go to the moon, do you want to go with Mommy or Daddy?” or “If you stood on your head all day, would you want Mommy or Daddy to help you?” Encourage your child to invent other ideas like this. As these become sillier and sillier, you are defusing the intensity behind the struggle.
And - don’t worry too much. If your child see that she is not “getting your goat” with the Mommy’itis, she will soon move on.
Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling