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My 3-Year-Old Flipped Me Off

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OK to be fair she didn't really flip me the bird ... but she might as well have. Lately, and without warning, my 3-year-old daughter, the love of my life, wants nothing to do with me. Yeah, she's only 3 (almost 4), and yeah, I'm a grownup, but it still hurts.

girl with back to mom

Momlogic's Momstrosity: It was during one of our family traditions, the "family hug," that it all went down. The family hug consists of us standing together, arms around each other and  Dad kisses Lily and me and then I kiss Dad and and Lily and so on. When it came to Lily's turn, she gave Dad a kiss. And stopped. Dad said, "What about Mom?" "I don't want to kiss her. I only love Dad!" She said reproachfully and planting another kiss on my husband's face.

Kid, you just ruined a family tradition.

I tried to carry on and gave her a kiss on the cheek, only to have her to wipe it off her face as if I had just anointed her with the plague.

That was it. I was pissed. I excused myself from the room. And then the house, and went on a long solitary walk.

I had never felt so rejected or humiliated. The day before, Lily and I had been the best of friends. Today she basically told me to get stuffed. I sulked the rest of the night like a spurned teenager.

I decided to use her time as "Daddy's Little Girl" to get some reading done. I closed myself in the bedroom and tried to concentrate on my book ... only to be distracted by squeals of laughter and tickle fests from the happy couple. Not once during the entire evening did she ask where I was. The same thing happened the next night and the next.

If this was motherhood I wanted out.

I decided to ask Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Michelle Golland how to deal with being rejected by your kid without turning into a big baby yourself.

She explained to me that it's age appropriate for preschoolers to distance themselves at different times from their parents. My daughter, apparently, wants to "figure out what it feels like to be separate from mom."

What's also age appropriate, says Golland, is for a 44-year-old mom is to be set off balance by this new trend in her child. Regardless of my feelings, she cautioned, the spurned parent must let the child know that you love them and that it's OK to favor the other parent. "You want her to know that you're not going to reject her for her feelings."

Withdrawning, as I did, says Golland is a big no-no. "What that does is show her that it's not OK for her to focus solely on dad."

The key point, says Golland, is to not send the message that the only way you can be close to Dad is to be mean to Mom. "You need to help her cultivate two separate relationships with both parents."

Often in families with only children there is a certain amount of triangulation. However, she adds, each member of the family of three should be able to enjoy a separate relationship with the other, Mom and Child, Mom and Dad and Child and Dad.

It's important not to act in a passive aggressive way. You should instead be honestly pleased that Dad and daughter (or son) are enjoying some time away from mom. Even going on separate vacations, or overnights, says Dr. Golland, can strengthen the bond.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous December 14, 2009, 5:29 AM

Just wait until your cute children is a emotional teenager! Then they really don’t want to spend time with you…most of the time, they don’t even want to know you. That is unless they want money or to be fed or their clothes wash or something that’s important to them.

friend December 14, 2009, 1:13 PM

no… this is NOT normal behaviour. a child can favor one parent more than the other, but doesn’t reject in such a distinctive, blunt and uncaring way. there must be a splinter in there somewhere. i suggest the dad try to find out what it is and stop playing mr. nice ALL the time so a resolution can be reached soon. otherwise, the message sent would be it is OK to NOT care for the other parent.

Jeffrey Levine December 14, 2009, 10:51 PM

This is a great topic. I completely agree with Dr. Golland and disagree with some of the comments. At 3, children are testing us as well as testing out their ability to share their feelings, NOT expressing that they dont care for one of the parents. Our job, as parents, is to provide a safe and loving place for our children to explore and express their feelings. When you do that for a 3 y.o., you lay the foundation for honest communication later on, when the stakes are much higher. Thank you for this important discussion.

One of The Guys December 16, 2009, 5:16 AM

That’s tough! I have two boys and a girl. My girl is the youngest. For the first 4 years of her life she chose mom over me. Yeah, she still came to me, but only if mom wasn’t around. It hurt, but I tried not to take it personally. It really isn’t persona.
The Dr. is right. Keep giving unconditional love even if it’s hard.
My daughter at five is now quite the daddy’s girl, so I’m soaking it up and storing it away. So when she changes her mind next year, I can draw from my secret stash!

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