How many times has your child had a skinned knee and cried out for mom? How about when they wake up from a bad dream, or have a fight with a friend? You may not have noticed it, but typically, most children go to mom first. But why is that the case? We asked the experts for their opinion.
The Mother-Child Bond Begins in Infancy
From the first days and months of life, an infant establishes a pattern of trust with the primary caregiver, one that the child learns to rely upon. This bond plays a crucial role in the child’s development, forming feelings of safety, self-worth and sets a foundation for a child’s understanding of healthy relationships.
Lauren Mosback, MA, LPC, says even across species, the female has typically occupied this primary caregiver role, defined by their abili- ty to be comforting and nurturing.
“When given a choice, young children tend to gravitate toward the primary caregiver when seeking out comfort because, more often than not, that individual is the one that has been meeting their needs since birth,” Mosback says.
In fact, a study of couples caring for their firstborn child found that mothers woke up three times per night to care for a crying infant, compared to just twice per night for fathers. And, when looking at the actions taken by both parents, mothers were more associated with “active awakenings,” consisting of feeding and soothing, while fathers were more associated with “passive awakenings” or shushing babies back to sleep.
Society Still Perpetuates Traditional Gender Roles
Dr. Jerry Bubrick, senior psychologist at the Child Mind Institute Anxiety Disorder Center, says that while society is moving away from traditional gender roles, we still have a long way to go.
“Fathers are often seen as the problem solver or disciplinarian,” Bubrick says. “How many times do we hear a mom say things like ‘your Dad will deal with that when he comes home from work’?”
Bubrick also points to baby carriers as a way to explain gender roles. “Stereotypically, when moms put babies in carriers, they face the baby inward to their body, making a loving nurturing statement,” he says. “When dads use a baby carrier, they often face the baby outwards. Positioning a baby to look forward is about protecting a child while they explore the world.”
How to Handle ‘Playing Favorites’
To many dads watching their kids go to mom first, it may seem like “playing favorites.” Lauren Jumrukovski, national parenting expert and author of They Say Parenting: Not Your Average Parenting Book, says she encourages partners to be on the same page when it comes to parenting.
“If a child sees that you are both consistent in your parenting styles, it could make things more equitable,” she says.
Another tip, she says, is to never underestimate the importance of feelings.
“Talk about feelings in your home,” Jumrukovski says. “How your partner feels, how you work through your feelings. If the child feels comfortable talking with each parent about their feelings, they are also more likely to discuss them with both.”
When it comes to feelings, parents may be feeling hurt by what they deem as favoritism from their child.
Veronica Ursetto, owner and therapist at Integrative Perspectives Counseling and Consulting PC, says parents who may feel like a second fiddle should approach the other parent with “honesty and openness.”
“Favoring a parent does not mean your child loves one parent less,” she says. “Remember, parent-child relationships change based on developmental and emotional needs. As kids develop, they may change who they favor.”
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s holiday 2020 magazine.