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how to handle child favoring one parent over the other?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

My husband and I have a wonderful four year old. We are in the process of separating - still living together, but I have hopes that he will move out very soon. I had hoped the process would be amicable (and I have stretched the process out over a year in order to try to bring that about) but ultimately my husband is very angry with me and it isn't going to be as smooth as I would like.


I want only the best for my husband, but I just can't live with him anymore as our relationship is extraordinarily unhealthy for me. My four year old son clearly favors him. This is because they he showers attention on our child, sets few boundaries, and is very fun. Of course, I would love to be so fun and set fewer boundaries and play all the time, but someone has to cook healthy food, limit sweets, and attend to all the administrative, financial, and household needs of the family and that falls to me, so I am less popular. I am extremely kind and engaged with my son, but ultimately, I have to work more (I am primary bread winner) and attend to household (I am also primary household manager, cook, cleaner, etc).


We haven't told my son yet, we plan to have 50/50 custody, but I expect my son will want to spend more time with my husband and be vocal about that. Suggestions on how to handle this?  It breaks my heart that my son so clearly favors and adores his dad, while I am clearly just fine but nothing to write home about. I have always wanted children and I absolutely hate getting to spend less time with him and having to insist on "grownup" choices when he would be so much more thrilled if I indulged him like he dad does.


I do not want to bad mouth my husband. And getting my husband to cooperate is out of the question. He will do what he will do, and my goal is to do the best with what I can do.


Suggestions welcome. With so much thanks for reading and support, seekingpeace1

post #2 of 11

You're the grown up. It sounds like you may be the only "real grown up" of the three of you, and you may find yourself setting limits with both of them, not just the preschooler.


Sometimes kids don't want to go with Mom, because they're having too much fun with Daddy/Grandma/babysitter/teacher. Don't take it personally. He's only 4. Just be firm about "it's time to come home now" just as your'e firm about "no more cookies before dinner" or "it's bedtime now." There might be tantrums at leaving time. Again, don't take it personally. And don't give in to either one of them demanding more time (beyond a reasonable few minutes) when it's your turn to take your child home.


Be prepared to do a lot of "That might be how things are at Daddy's house, but this is how we do things here" in the beginning.


By the time your son is a teenager, he'll likely see through everything and realize that you're the stable one and Dad is more of a playmate than a parent. But he's not capable of that kind of thinking yet, and his father just might grow up before then. Once you're not around to get an overtired, over-sugared child to bed, he might learn how to be more responsible.

post #3 of 11

I'm so sorry to hear you and your family are going through this. 


You may want to check out Tammy Bennett-Daughtry's website, CoParenting International.  She offers some great insight and advice for these types of situations.


Praying for you!

post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks so much to OscarsMom70 and Ruthla. 


Ruthla, I think you are right and that is the thing that makes sense. It is just so hard to know what the right balance is. I want to show our child lots of extra care and flexibility at this time, but I also think having a routine and certain nonnegotiables is pretty helpful. It is just so easy to say and know how things should be but then to be in the midst of them to stick to that.


Thanks OscarsMom70 for the link. Will read shortly after this. Thanks! 

post #5 of 11

Because you're no longer there to handle his finances and cooking and household chores- by default your STBX will have to start taking on more responsibilities. If you two have your son equally, he won't be able to fob off the job of making sure your son gets his homework done and that he gets to bed on time and is up and ready for school once that becomes an issue, things like that. Even while he's so young, it's likely that it won't take very long for your STBX to realize that he needs to set rules and can't let a 4 year old run rampant. He'll have to face the consequences of cookies for dinner and staying up late, rather than relying on you to deal with it. If you have 50/50 custody, your STBX really won't be able to be "fun dad" very long.


If your STBX refuses to grow up and be responsible- your son will almost certainly realize how pathetic that is and ultimately end up preferring to be at your place for most of the time and only go there for 'fun' time. It may take a few years, it might even take a few months.

post #6 of 11

It sounds like you may have a very amicable divorce -- which is fantastic. There are so many scary statistics about kids issues and how they coincide with divorce BUT what I have always heard is it's really about the coparents. If you can have great dialogue and a healthy give and take your baby will navigate well. This being said when one of my daughters talk about not wanting to go to their Dads or being upset with their Dad I say, "You are so lucky to have a Dad who loves you so much." I also try to remind them of nice things at their Dads house that they get to do or the quality time they will be able to spend with him. I also tell them they don't need to choose between their Mom and Dad. That sometimes they may want to spend more time with him or me and that's okay. I don't think my babies daddy would be able to do the same for me but I know it helps my children not feel put in the middle or needing to take sides. One thing that might also make you feel better is your child may be struggling for acceptance or attention from the Dad. It may hurt you as you get to me -- reliable, strong, healthy habit Mom, but that in the long run will be okay. Hope this helps.

post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks Sillysapling and abuttefly. I think there is something to that - when he has to take care of everything, maybe (hopefully) he will step up a bit because no one else is there to do it. Sadly, the divorce is not amicable at all. Well, I mean, it is on my side. I want the best for my former partner, but he is really awful to me. I really thought he would step up and do the right thing after years of therapy, trying, deadlines, promises, etc. I mean, I thought at least he would do best by our son by at least faking some level of friendliness in his presence and communicating with me about, at least, parenting, but not really. I will never speak ill of him in front of my son and will always be kind and decent to him, even as he is awful back to me in the hopes that my son sees that we should be kind and decent even when people are not kind and decent to us.


I am amazed at how nice it is just to have kind and thoughtful people being encouraging. It is interesting how shameful and alienating a divorce can feel, even when cognitively you know it is the best and right thing to do. Thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

post #8 of 11

Divorce is hard to go through, amicable or not.   I'm sure you have thought long and hard about 50/50 and ultimately you know what is best, but I'm going to play devil's advocate.   I don't know much history, but if stbx is awful to you...if you share 50/50 then chances are higher for him to alienate your ds from you.  In fact it could be happening already, if he is undermining your parenting standards, not enforcing boundaries, etc.   Many women who initiate divorce often feel guilt, and agree to 50/50, and then find themselves in even more conflict because the level of cooperation and communication required to make 50/50 work is just not there. It sounds like you are ideal as a primary caregiver and can give ds consistency and routines needed, especially when he starts school.  It's also okay to be honest about how you are treated and express to ds (when/if he witnesses stbx being awful to you) that being treated like that is not okay (so ds starts to learn that is not a normal way to treat women).  You can still take the high road and be kind to x, while being kind to yourself.  Hugs.

post #9 of 11
If you are doing 50/50 is it possible that you may be able to concentrate on getting household things done while your son is with his dad, leaving you with more time for the fun stuff when he's with you? I'm not suggesting you relax important health and safety rules or get rid of the structure, I think those things will be even more important when you do finally physically separate but you might be able to play more or do more outings perhaps once you have that alone time to work.
post #10 of 11

Good point, Katelove.  Even though my x has no where close to 50/50, I still have way more free time than I ever had while married!

post #11 of 11

Yes-that is totally true! My ex has the kids barely 20% of the time and I still have waaay more free time now than I did when we were together.


I still do the day to day stuff when they are with me of course (and I do think it is important that kids see and participate in cleaning and errands) but I try to get heavier cleaning, extra work hours, etc. in while they are at dads so I have a little more time to relax with them.


I also make more of an effort now to be a little more spontaneous and relaxed-I do the heavy lifting parenting wise, so I think it's only fair I get to be the "fun one" sometimes too.


My daughter has said she can't wait to go to dad's because (and yes, this is very nearly a direct quote) "I don't have to do school or anything hard or boring there!"  Makes me crazy, but has also made me make more of an effort to make life for fun even while getting "the hard stuff" done.

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