"I don't wanna play with you. I want mama. She is more fun than you, I like her best!" I'm sure many fathers have heard their children saying those or similar expressions. And even worse, often they come out of the blue with no warning, or any justifiable reasons.
It doesn't matter here if your kids are three or 13 years old. When I heard those words from my eldest for the first time they struck me like lightning. I felt like dropping dead. Why did I get such a smack in my face? I try my very best as a father, every moment, every day. I play with them, I sing with them, we chase each other over fields - and then I get such a bill.
Often fathers' first response is: that's not fair! We feel mistreated, misunderstood and excluded. Mummy can do what she wants; she'll even get away with murder, but the kids will love her.
Furthermore, I know dads who really struggle to spend time with their offspring on their own. Not that the father would find it difficult, no, it's the kids who refuse to be without their mum. Those dads told me how awful it is to feel rejected and unloved.
So, what to do? When I hear such words, thrown at me, I try to stay calm. Yes, it's an emotional heart breaker, but those words are not meant to hurt. What? But I just heard them crystal clear. Yes, but the message behind the words is a different one.
Let's check this out:
- For quite a while most children will have a deeper relationship to her mother than to her father. It all started in the womb where the bonding between mother and child began. Once born, that relationship gets deepened through breastfeeding and the very close time mother and child spend during the first months.
- Equally important is the time parents spend with their kids. But even with currently 1.4 million stay-at-home dads in the UK, it's more often mothers who are the main carers. So the kids often will feel more connected to her.
- When our children tell us they like mum better, they are NOT saying they don't love us. It could be just an expression of preference in that moment, or an outburst of frustration and anger, or it could be a coded message saying: Dad, I want more time with you. Confused about the last one? Well, reflect on this: how often do you use negative/upsetting words when you're angry with your partner? When we speak like that we are actually calling for attention, saying: hey, I'm really cross, help me! Our kids (especially when little) won't say help me. They can't. But they touch your soul and feelings anyway.
Again, I try to stay calm (yes, that can be a hard job); then I try to see the actual message (is my child upset about something); I'm not taking it personally, no I give my very best to be empathic (offering a hug - and again, don't feel rejected if they won't to be hugged) and see what I can do to offer comfort.
Comfort could work like this: I can say: Hey, mami is not around at the moment, but we could play that game you really like and later we'll go and find her; or like that: I hear you're missing mum. Shall we finish this book and then tell her how much you love her?
Just remember, it's not your fault and there's nothing wrong with you. With my eldest I can say that his phase of I-Want-Mama-Now has passed, more or less. But here and then I'll get the occasional Don't Like You. Well, I look at him and say: Oh boy, you sound sad. The thing is, I love you very much!