My Toddler Can’t Stand My Husband

toddler behaviorWhen my friend Cassy first told me about her husband’s struggle to bond with their infant, I thanked my lucky stars we didn’t have the same problem. Sure, my daughter always preferred me when she was inconsolable, but it wasn’t any kind of toddler behavior like what my friend was going through.

Cassy experienced four months of solid hell, in which her baby wouldn’t be held, played with or even looked at by her husband without it resulting in a screaming fest. Her child wasn’t experiencing colic. Her pediatrician didn’t have a suggestion for her that they hadn’t tried. And Cassy’s husband shares 50/50 in childcare — he actually works away from the home less frequently than she does. Although it let up for a month or so, it picked right back up again.

Then, out of the blue, my daughter started doing the exact same thing.

It hit the breaking point one night when Shaun came home from work. Though he was all smiles from the moment he walked in the door, she wouldn’t look at him. She played and giggled with me, but when Shaun joined us on the floor, she started crying. Later, when she fell and hurt herself, Shaun went to pick her up. Normally, any form of comfort after a fall will at least slow her crying to a sob. Instead, she broke into an all-out wail. Poor Shaun did his best to remain calm, speaking to her in his low, musical voice. She screamed harder and pushed with all her might against his chest to get away.

It wasn’t long before Shaun plopped her down, looked at me stone-faced, and said, “I’m done with her for the night.”

In retrospect, I can’t blame him. But my only thought at the moment was, how dare you? So even though I’ve been caring for her nonstop from seven until five, suddenly it’s all on me for the rest of the night?

If you don’t have a child, this is the best I can explain what it feels like to care for a baby like mine: it’s like being hooked up to an electroshock machine, and every shrill cry is a zap that puts your body into total arrest. You carry the machine around all day, tense and bracing yourself, knowing you’re okay now but at any second you might be zapped again. It has a way of keeping you from ever fully relaxing. And as a SAHM who gets a mere two hours of physical separation from my daughter a week, you may see how this can be quite taxing.

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  • msenesac

    I’m sorry you and your friend are going through such a tough time- I couldn’t imagine if my son started doing that. And when you wrote you only got 2 hours by yourself a week…. I wouldn’t be able to function! 6-8 hours of watching my son without any other adult is about my limit. After that, I hand him over to my husband the second he walks through the door so that I can have some alone time. I’m just not built to be a SAHM.

  • Scoop007

    My daughter did this. Lord it was hard on me, sad for the husband, and rough on our marriage. I remember staring at my computer, exhausted to the bone, trying to find some idea (any idea) to right the ship. It went on until around 14-15 months, then one day Daddy was the bees knees and I was just the chick that brought her breakfast. That stage didn’t last nearly as long (I think she figured out what side her bread was buttered on) and by 2 we both were hero’s in her book. She still favors one of us for certain things-I have to tuck her in but Daddy is tops for outdoor play but now I look back on that time and laugh. So take heart, this to shall pass!

  • Justme

    My husband is the comforter to my almost-two-year-old right now and it absolutely kills me. I feel as if it’s all my fault because I had PPD when she was born and I wasn’t emotionally present in her life for at least the first four months. Add in the fact that I didn’t breastfeed for that long, never coslept and went back to work when she was five months old. My husband has always done the bedtime rocking because that time of the day was always a trigger for me. That little voice in the back of my head tells me I’M the reason that my toddler seems to not be comforted by me….and that we’ll never have a close relationship as long as I live.

    • Scoop007

      Hang in there Justme, it truly is just a stage. My daughter is just over 3 now and her sole determination of who she likes better is who is willing to give her the most chocolate. And there was a time I thought she hated me and I had ruined any chance at a bond between us. It is really, really hard when they are young and unable to express themselves so we have to take a leap of faith that we’re doing ok. One day she’ll look at you and say I love you mommy & you’ll think you must’ve been crazy to ever doubt yourself.

    • Justme

      Sometimes some of that AP mantra stuff makes me feel like I have already failed from the very beginning.

    • C.J.

      A close friend of mine went through PPD and had all the same fears that you do when her daughter was young. She thought she failed her daughter the first few years of her life.Her daughter is 10 now and they are extremely close and have been for years. My best friend didn’t breastfeed her first three kids and didn’t co-sleep with any of them. Another friend followed attachment parenting. I breastfed but didn’t co-sleep. All these kids are 10 yrs old now and there is really no difference with how close each of us are to our child. It’s pretty normal to doubt your parenting and blame yourself for the things you worry about. That doesn’t mean it is really your fault, it just means you a mom. As she gets older there will come a time where she will likely want you more than her dad, especially when she starts wanting questions answered. That’s where we are with our older daughter right now. She knows she can talk to her dad about anything but there is no way she will, too embarrassing she says. She wants me. Kids are also going to go through stages where they want one parent more than the other.

    • mum of three

      Honey please don’t blame yourself. Your child will bond with you again sometime soon just don’t give up trying. I had PND too (uk for PPD!) and my youngest son’s first 6 months are a complete blur to me – but now he is 4 years old and worships me and my husband too. It’s always just a phase, some phases last longer than others.

  • katydid0605

    my daughter does this too, and she has a SAHD. she is fine with him during the day while im at work, but as soon as im home its all mommy all the time. she throws an absolute fit if he takes her, and pushes him away when im holding her and he comes near. Same with the consoling for an injury, it has to be me. I can only imagine how stressful this i for you, i get worn out just with the evenings and weekends

  • Zach Rosenberg

    You’ve said the right things here – specifically, that you need some time away from the baby, and that you need to maintain your relationship. Neither parent should “go it alone” and if either of you feel that you are, you will end up apart.

    I’m no expert – the only thing I can advise is to not parent based on your baby’s cries. Babies are con artists – they cry and get what they want. It’s an animal instinct…they make the most annoying sound they can, and we do whatever we can do to stop it. So, the best way to condition a baby is to teach them that those sounds and cries don’t get a response (unless it’s something truly bad – sickness, pain, hunger, etc.).

    So, I’d say, just keep plugging away – have your husband take the baby as much as possible. Have him hold the baby – and he needs to make sure that even if the baby’s crying, he’s got a smile on his face. It may not work, but it’s all he can do. And be patient while he’s frustrated – because remember, right now is the point when most dads feel worthless in the home, or unwanted/unneeded anyway. So, just as he hopefully said you were still sexy to him while you were pregnant and didn’t feel that way, you’ve got to reassure him that he’s necessary and important while he doesn’t feel that way.

    • lea

      “Babies are con-artists”

      I don’t agree with this statement. Babies can’t communicate with words, so they let us know they are uncomfortable, sad, irritable, hungry etc etc with crying. I don’t think this is manipulation.

      It is not ideal that the child doesn’t want to be comforted by dad, but surely she shouldn’t be forced to be held or handled by someone she doesn’t want to be?
      And I think smiling at your child while she is screaming her head of would probably only add to the frustration and/or fear or whatever she is feeling. She wants to get the heck out of the situation.

      My suggestion (based on nothing but instinct and personal experiences- so likely completely worthless…) would be to try and get her to go to dad of her own accord. So he could start doing something really fun on his own (whatever her favourite game is or whatever) and ignore her- let her approach and watch but don’t speak to her or look a her, let her include herself when she is ready- but be doing whatever it is side by side without interacting with each other. And then build from there.

      But like I said, I have no real basis for this suggestion, just anecdotal so take it or leave it.

    • …her?

      Babies are so con artists, and they can handle being with their own parents even when they don’t want to be, provided it’s a safe situation.

    • lea

      I’m sorry you feel that way (about babies being con-artists).

      I also think you are misunderstanding my point about not forcing a child to be held when they don’t want to be. Perhaps I should have added that there are obviously situations where it is unavoidable, and that it is far better that a child be safe, even if they are unhappy about it.
      I do think though, that if an upset child becomes even more upset when picked up by the parent they aren’t comfortable with right now- that putting them down, when safe, is a better option than forcing them to remain held. If I push someone away from me, I would like them to back off and I would hope that would be respected. I think children deserve the same respect.

      I would never advocate a parent being excluded from either the right or responsibility to raise their own child.

    • mum of three

      she does not get that choice when it comes to her parents. there is no reason other than “she doesn’t want to” – which is no reason at all.

    • lea

      I disagree. It makes me really uncomfortable to see children forced into situations they don’t like, simply because the parent refused to respect them as a person and to give them space.

      There is no reason she HAS to be comforted by her dad. The other options are both reasonable- let her cry it out on her own, or have mum comfort her. Both are safe, both don’t require her to have someone in her personal space when she is telling them in the only way she can that she doesn’t want that.

      As I said below, there will be situations where it is not practical or safe to allow this- but when you can, I think you should.

    • Véronique Houde

      Let’s distinguish between a 4 month old baby and a two year old baby. YES the 2 year old is FOR SuRe a con artist!! ;)

    • Justme

      There is a difference between a “baby” who cries to express needs such as hunger and a “toddler” who is figuring out the world around them and the control that they can exert in certain situations.

    • lea

      I can accept that as a child matures they are more able to understand the consequences of their actions and can use them to attempt manipulation of the situation- of course. But my comments are in reference to the suggestion that a BABY is capable of this. They are not.

    • Zach Rosenberg

      Babies learn, quickly on, that when they cry, they get attention. I’m not saying that they’re card-counting swindlers, but that once they learn that if they cry, they get results, that they use it to get results. They think “I like mom more, I’ll cry and dad’s gone.” They also do this for certain foods. Your baby conditions you. Then, you wonder why your toddler is so picky and finicky about everything – well, they conditioned you. It’s nature.

      As for the smiling thing – the suggestion was just that dad has a good attitude about it all. Babies look to adults for their own reactions to things when they’re not in some form of danger (there was an article about this somewhere – how when they’re learning to walk, they’ll fall, look over at you, and basically take your lead on reaction. If you laugh, they have a less severe reaction. If you gasp and look scared, they cry). So, my suggestion was merely to lead the emotions – smile. Don’t scowl and look put-off by the baby because then it’s a cycle – dad holds the baby, the baby cries, the dad frowns, the baby sees the frown and doesn’t like to be held by dad because he always looks scary.

  • Valerie

    Apparently this is not usual. My 22 month old has been doing this for MONTHS~! I literally have to leave the room for it stop. If she can see me at all, the pushing and screaming will not stop. Even my leaving doesnt guarantee it will stop though. I find all rather odd because my other two daughters did not go through this stage. They would take mom or dad whenever. Although there are times when I feel super stressed and annoyed, there really isnt anything I can do but wait it out. It has to stop….right? Good thing though, Daddy has learned not to take it personally. I read an article some time back and told him throughout her life she will prefer one of us over the other and we have to try to remember just to be good parents and that we dont have to be the favorite. Easier said than done of course.

  • Lori B.

    My 3 (almost 4) year old is very much like this and has been this way probably for the past year or so. While she has always seemed to “prefer” me, it is only in the last year when she seemed to start to reject my husband. She will often push him away when he tries to hug or kiss her or she will refuse to allow him to be the parent to unpeel her orange or open her applesauce. He really does want to do these things for her and it breaks my heart as well as exhausts me. The weird thing is that she is fine when it is just the two of them. I try to encourage this, like you did, by either leaving them home alone or sending them out together. I also could see that I had some role in this. I could get controlling about how things were done and just take over when my husband was doing them the “wrong” way. I have started to relinquish some of the control and let my husband do bed time his way. I don’t know if it is helping. She still screams for me to put her to bed, but it has been stopping sooner and sooner the more often he does it. At the very least, they are getting the bonding time. I am also pregnant with number 2, and this could have something to do with her extra clinginess lately.

  • chanceofrainne

    Listen to your child. I did the same thing as a toddler. I was terrified of my father. My mother didn’t understand why and I was forced to spend time with him, be held by him, pretend to love him. Guess what. The big secret is that my father was an abusive, hateful, evil person and I knew this even as a toddler.

    I’m not saying your husband is abusing your child. But if the child is “suddenly” wanting nothing to do with him, the chances are good that there’s a reason.

    • meg

      … and the reason is probably that your husband is unfamiliar to your toddler (compared to you) and he’s going through one of those phases where he develops sudden intense fears. It happens.

    • chanceofrainne

      Forgive me if I have trouble understanding how someone who is in the house every day, morning and night, is suddenly “unfamiliar” to a toddler.

    • Sita

      What about the other women who replied and said this happened to them suddenly with their kids? You’re right, kids can sense evil often times in a way adults can’t (like animals sometimes do) and in your case, you were obviously dead on. But I also think some babies/toddlers have such a secluded, sheltered, happy/comfortable life they become hypersensitive to any stress at all around them. So if one parent has a stressful job or a sick parent’ etc., maybe sometimes the kids pick up on that and react negatively.

    • Véronique Houde

      Wow I don’t know, chanceofrainne… I understand your feelings and your experience, and I will not minimize it. I was actually wondering who would bring up the sexual assault angle? After reading all the experiences that moms and dads have had, do you not think that there might be other things going on?

    • chanceofrainne

      I don’t even necessarily mean sexual assault; my dad was never *sexually* abusive. But he was physically, verbally & emotionally abusive. I was terrified of him, and with good reason. But all of these people who are totally dismissive of this child’s reaction are amazing and appalling to me. Kids don’t usually suddenly take a screaming dislike to their parent for no reason.

    • Amanda

      Uh yea they do. That’s really stupid.

    • Mary

      This was the first thing I thought when I read the story. I don’t know of one baby that have ever acted scared of their father. Ever. Neglect even came to mind. If her needs aren’t met, there must be a lot of frustration. That’s the first thing I would be concerned with: abuse or neglect of some kind.

  • Ellie

    My son did this with me. Out of the blue one night at about 18 months I went in to put him back down after he woke up and he absolutely freaked out. Flailing, screaming, sobbing uncontrollably. Would not let me touch him. No idea what happened. Took my husband about a 1/2 hour to calm him down. After that it took about 10 months before he stopped freaking out at night around me, and during the day I was just sort of Ok. He was all and only about Daddy. Broke my heart. Now we’re back to normal, thank goodness. But that was a hard, hard time for all of us.

  • Ordinaryperson

    My son was like 3 months old when my husband went away for 3 months for work. He had taken off those first few months as parental leave, so they saw each other a lot, even though he was still attached to my chest for the better part of the day (son, not husband, haha). Once my husband came home from his trip, his son would have nothing to do with him. He refused to eat for him, so much that it would take my husband 30+ minutes to feed him a bowl of cereal, and 9 times out of 10 it ended with my son getting so worked up he puked up everything that he had managed to get in. I had many nights where he was done with him for the night. But then he started giving him baths again, getting him ready for bed, etc, and eventually they got through it. Now they’re good buds. My husband just left last week for a 4 week trip. I’m really hoping we don’t have a relapse, but I guess the only thing to do is get them to spend time together whether they want to or not and they’ll get back to being friends.

  • LiteBrite

    For the first year of his life, my son was bonded to me like glue. He still would let Daddy pick him up, comfort him, etc, but it was only if there was no way Mommy could do it. Then, right about 12 months, he switched. Suddenly it was like the sun rose and set on Daddy. Only Daddy could put him to bed. Only Daddy could pick him up. He was fine with me, that is, until Daddy walked in. Then it was like Jesus himself walked through the door with a chorus of angels behind. It went like that for over 3 years until this past September when he switched again. Now he’s back in everything Mommy mode.

    I think it’s just a phase kids go through. She probably prefers you because you’re home with her more. I think it’s also a control mechanism. She knows she can control both of you through this so she does. Kids, even small ones, can be manipulative little buggers, which, you can’t really blame them for since so much of their life is out of control that they seize power whenever they can. So, I agree with Zach: be patient and just keep plugging away. Eventually I bet she’ll come around.

    (And as irritated as you may be with your husband’s response – and oh yeah I’d be pissed off too! – I think it’s important to remember it’s probably hard for him when his daughter “rejects” him. During that first year, my husband told me he was jealous of the bond I had with my son just like I was jealous – and a little resentful – of the bond they had after.)

  • Amanda Low

    Wow. Thank you everyone for the comments. It’s really refreshing to hear some other perspectives (and to be reassured my husband and I aren’t alone on this). I really do think it’s a phase; since initially writing this, things seem to have stabilized a bit for now. Of course, in my desperation, my husband secured a sitter for us who will start coming three days a week so I can get 12 hours of alone/work time. I am so eagerly awaiting the start of it.

  • K.

    We dealt with this, but not quite as long as you. I think that in part, it helped to shift our mindset a little because what was going on was sort of the same as what was going on with you: baby doesn’t want daddy, daddy is frustrated, daddy returns baby, mom never gets a break.

    You need a break. So does Dad. So does baby.

    And, I hate to say it, but basically we decided that everyone is just going to have to take turns losing, so to speak. So Dad and I talked about it and decided to try and divvy up time and activities and try to stick to them as best we could–I’d leave screaming baby with Dad and got my 2 hours for yoga and whatnot; when I came home, I did bathtime and Dad got to watch football. Sometimes it had to be ‘you take baby, I’ll take laundry’ or whatever. And we tried to do a lot of activities together on the weekends, thinking maybe baby could see that Dad and Mom were a unit–so we’d go somewhere and try to have Dad do a lot more interacting while Mom was present, but the observer, rather than active party. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. IN general, there’s sort of a lot of resigning involved–resigning yourself to the fact that the two of you might not get too much alone time, resigning yourself to the fact that your child is crying and you can’t stop it, no matter what you try, etc. etc. Just accepting things goes a long way, actually. It helps to calm you down.

    I will say that I think it helped Dad a lot to hear a few things:

    1. Crying will not hurt the baby. The baby will not die from crying. If you’ve ruled out any immediate needs or potential problems, it’s sometimes easier to accept that sometimes babies are just unhappy or overtired or overstimulated. You do what you can and sometimes it’s better, if you’ve exhausted everything and are at your wits end, to put the baby in the crib and go relax yourself for 5-10 minutes. Babies will not grow up to be psychotic if you are unable to attend to them immediately and they have to cry for a few minutes every now and then. I’d go and do a load of laundry (I know, slow down there, pussycat!) whenever my kid was inconsolable and there was no apparent reason why and it helped somehow that even if I had a crying baby, at least I’d accomplished something. Dad might benefit from sharing the same ‘techniques’ or mindset.

    2. Dad would often turn to me in the beginning in a sort of “what should I do?” It took me saying, finally, “I don’t know. Get him to stop crying. That’s all I ever have to go on” for him to realize that it’s not some voodoo mommy magic. It will also help if you leave the house because then he has no choice.

    And that ‘no choice’ aspect is important, I think. Dads have to develop confidence in themselves as caretakers if you are primary and they’ll never do that if they always looking to you. They also have to accept that no, it’s not fair to get frustrated and do a hand-off–it might solve the issue with the baby, but it will increase the stress on you. And your health and sanity are important too. There are times when a light helping hand is needed, but I say, just take your cell with you when you leave the house.

  • Mum of three

    Tiny babies are not con artists- but this is about a toddler. Toddlers are exceptionally ego centric, luckily much as we love them, so its usually ok- and they are DEFINITELY manipulative, (please do not mistake “manipulative” for “malicious” – they don’t do it to be naughty, they just do it because everything to them is about their own needs being met first – an understandable survival mechanism!) however that being said she cannot learn that she just has to scream loudly to get what she wants.,,which is what will happen here if she is allowed to.. She is screaming because she wants Mum but she is perfectly safe with Dad and actually, yes she should have to be held and comforted by him even if she doesn’t “want to”. the idea about getting her to come of her own accord is a good one and should be done long term…but there is an immediacy to be addressed her too. Its not always practical to invest that much time, every time…sometimes you do need to just be able to pick you baby up with out spending an hour coaxing her to you… and if she has already learnt that her every whim shall be obeyed you are going to have real difficulty managing her whims as she gets older and bigger and louder….

  • Sita

    This may be a lot to ask, but start bringing her around lots of other adults as much as possible. Not family, but adults she’s not used to. Places like the grocery store or a play group is not enough – a dinner party is ideal. Anyplace she will be around a number of other adults but not other kids/babies. While you’re there try to get out of her line of vision; the point is to get her used to other adults and hopefully learn other grownups will entertain her and provide comfort if she needs it. She’ll learn sooner or later either way (sleepovers, school) but the sooner the better for your and your husband’s sanity!

    In the meantime, stay strong and good luck! Love is a battlefield, even with your kids.