Parental Preference

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Good Night Consultant

It is quite typical that many children appear to have a parental preference for one parent/caregiver even when it comes to sleep. This essentially prevents the other parent’s efforts to attend to their baby. This dynamic, whatever the cause, often results in one parent feeling exhausted and overwhelmed and the other parent feeling disempowered, unloved, frustrated and resentful.

Is this normal?

It is very typical, in fact, it is developmentally appropriate for a baby to assign their needs to be met solely by one specific parent. However, we can also encourage children to begin focusing on more than one relationship at a time by encouraging a higher level of acceptance of the less preferred parent. 

Firstly, the baby needs to learn that the parents trust each other. If a mom is always jumping in to rescue the baby when they are crying in Daddy’s arms, the mom is giving the baby the impression that she doesn’t trust dad to care for the baby. You want to avoid undermining the relationship and give them a chance to figure out their own dynamic.  Just because they do it differently does not mean they are doing it wrong.

We need the baby to understand that parents do things differently and those differences are ok. The way daddy dresses me might be clumsier than the way mommy does it. Mommy might rush me through the bath, where daddy likes to take his time and let me play and splash a bit more.    

What does this mean for sleep?

When we embark on sleep coaching, it can entail us taking into consideration what the baby associates with falling asleep: is this sustainable, a long-term solution? Does it require assistance from anyone other than the baby? 

Often we find baby’s that need to be held in a very specific way, swayed to a very specific rhythm, fed the breast or sung to. That makes it very difficult for any other person to replicate.

Encouraging inter-changeability around bedtime is desirable as it prevents one parent from becoming an unsustainable sleep association and allows the baby to learn that sleep is associated with themselves and NOT someone else or someone specific.   

The benefit is that both parents can do bedtime and take turns to do bedtime.  The added benefit is that it makes babysitting your baby easier! What can we do?

Whenever possible, give both parents opportunities to put the baby to bed.  It is a great opportunity for family bonding time!  Once a baby no longer has bedtime struggles and they can put themselves to sleep independently without hours of assistance from a parent, that exact bedtime becomes some of the most precious moments with the baby.

Both parents deserve a chance to cherish these moments and bedtime is a great opportunity to fill their love cup, give them extra snuggles and kisses and reconnect with them after a busy day.

But the bedtime routine should not need to take two parents to complete.  Parents can take turns to do it!  When the other parent is in charge, use that opportunity to give yourself some downtime.   If a grandparent is visiting, let them get involved. Usually, they love participating in bath and bedtime.

This becomes exceptionally valuable once a new sibling arrives. I find that having a toddler accustomed to both parents helps the toddler feel more settled when the new baby arrives. It is very difficult for a toddler who was accustomed to only one parent, now suddenly have that parent unavailable because they are occupied with a newborn. It is obvious to see how this would create doubt and emotional uncertainty in the older toddler. A toddler who is not reliant on a specific parent, won’t feel as put out and the primary parent can make up for that lost time with the toddler in the day.

Sometimes, it is good to take a step back and realize that you’re both good at what you do and being tag-team-parents have a host of wonderful benefits. You’ll be surprised at just how much your children will enjoy one-on-one time with each of you. Likewise, just how much rejuvenated you will feel by having a mini break from your baby every other night.