My Son Still Clings to Me, Not His Dad


Dear Dr. Stemple,

What do you do if your 3-year-old son still prefers his mom over his dad in all things (helping go to the bathroom, reading bedtime stories, etc.)? They don’t seem to have a relationship of trust and communication between them. They have a lot of fun–on my son’s own terms. But he won’t give my husband a hug if asked. He is also very independent and definitely tests limits. As the mama I get a lot of his snuggles, but also a lot of the work of caring for his mundane everyday needs. We thought it would get better with age but it hasn’t really.

–Tired of Being the Mama’s Boy’s Mama

Dear Mama,

Ah, the joys and pains of parenthood.

Your question as to your son’s current preference for you over your husband, brings up many issues in my mind.

First and foremost, is my belief that both the child’s nature and current phase will dictate much more than we as parents perhaps would prefer, pitting our fantasy of what parenthood and our child would be like, against the often harsh reality of what we’ve got in front of us!

The second issue is when do we have something to really worry about with our child’s current behavior, and if so, how to intervene.

First I have more questions for you than answers. Who is upset by this current state of affairs? You? Your husband? Your parents? His parents? I think we are all too influenced by the opinion of others when it comes to parenting, perhaps because no one is taught how to do it, and we embark upon it as adults when we are used to being confident, and whoops, we don’t know what we are doing! So we are all very sensitive to other’s opinions and perceived criticism.

Has it evolved naturally out of the division of labor in your family, so that your son is just going along with the program? What were/are your work schedules and child care arrangements that either contributed to you and your son’s closeness, or perhaps detracted from his reliance on his Dad? It’s not unusual for the hippest and most liberal of parents to be shocked by the immediate division of labor that parenthood provokes, especially if you have a breastfeeding Mom on maternity leave of some sort and length, and a full time working Dad. Was that the case in your new family?

When you look at the two of them, do you see what your husband is doing wrong, and can you guide him to be different? How do they make out when you are not there? I recall my son’s father, the first time I left them together for more than a few hours, saying to me on the phone, “My esteem grows for you hourly.” Previous to that, he had no idea how I could possibly be mismanaging my day and then complain about no time to take a shower, or finish laundry, much less start cooking.

Since I don’t know the answers to any of my questions, let me just try to advise. You say they have some fun together, can it be expanded? They need to develop some more comfortable games, chores, habits, whatever you can think of. Send them on a chore to get something your son likes. You can’t go, you are busy. Send them on a chore your husband likes! And then they can have a special snack afterwards out of the house together. Go out with your friends some night, and have your husband put him to bed, read to him. Prepare your husband as well as you can beforehand with the routine. And he can ask your son! They perhaps can develop a new, subversive routine.

Dr. Stemple

Diane Stemple, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with 25 years of experience treating children, adolescents and adults in private practice. A graduate of Fordham University and a ten year veteran of the Child Psychiatry Unit at the former Nassau County Medical Center, her private practice began in 1985 in Williston Park, then moved to Port Washington, and recently expanded to Williamsburg. To inquire about appointments, call 347.689.2612. To ask her a question about your child or relationship (as it relates to your kids), submit it here.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)