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My youngest son is a Momma's boy. He pets my hair singing tunes such as "I love Mommy. I love Mommy's hair." He openly admits to loving Mommy more than Daddy, though he will go through moments of loving Daddy more.

My oldest spent his toddler and preschool years completely focused on Daddy. Have a boo-boo. Cry for Daddy. Suffering from too much Mommy discipline? Cry for Daddy. Wake up at 4 a.m. It's all Daddy -- okay, for that I'm thankful!

Not only do they naturally navigate to each of us, but their personalities mimic ours as kids as well. Daddy's boy's mind works a lot like his dad's. Mommy's boy plays the ways I did as a child.

Someday, though, I figure it will all change. Mommy's boy will be all about his dad. And I've seen glimpses of Daddy's boy wanting me more. A colleague relayed a similar thought earlier this week. Her former Daddy's girl is all about Mom these days. It's as though a light bulb switched on and the girl wants to be glued to Mom and do more girly things.

Do you find that your children navigate to one adult over another? What triggers them to switch? How important do you find gender role models?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 10, 2008; 8:44 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development
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Yep, they switch. When my girl was little, it was all daddy, all the time. It was a little frustrating to spend so much time with her, and then be dropped like a hot potato the minute he walked through the door! But then she completely switched to all mommy, all the time. Then, when baby brother was born 2 1/2 yrs ago, she switched back -- wouldn't even acknowledge my presence (I think in her mind I was "contaminated" by the new little remora). But of course when she got over that, it was back to all mommy, all the time.

Baby brother has been the opposite -- once I stopped breastfeeding, he pretty much lost all use for me. :-)

The only thing I pay much attention to is the hurtful words -- when my daughter starts complaining that she doesn't like daddy and/or wants me to do homework/bath instead of him, that tells me we've gotten into too much of a rut and need to be switching it up some more. Of course, last night the boy actually asked for mommy to do bedtime, so 6 months from now, they'll have probably flip-flopped again. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Yes, switcheroo for first (total mama's girl until 3 then daddy daddy daddy - evened out now at 5) and of course, different child, different temperament/deal so 2nd is pretty evenhanded/wants to be with both of us. Except a tiny bit of separation anxiety right now, actually (15-16 mos) which has made him a tad mommy focused. My first was so into me we called her my appendage. I agree with Laura that the only time we stepped in with #1 was when she was being hurtful or trying to manipulate us (ie I want Daaaaadddy to put me to bed or vice versa).

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 10, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I don't know what triggers the switch, but they switch back and forth for weeks and months at a time.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

My 3 year old only ever wants his father, and it has been like the that since the day it was born. It's hard, b/c I see so many other kids cling to their mommies, and sometimes I want that. But then I remember, Daddy is really only home an hour a day during the week, and Daddy is the fun one. He doesn't give time outs, or say not now, I'm on the phone.

Posted by: jodi | April 10, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

When my oldest (now 14) was small, mommy had to do EVERYTHING - daddy couldn't even pour her a cup of juice. It was pretty exhausting, as I was working nearly full-time and could have used a break now and then. My son (now age 10) was not such a mommy-maniac, but I was definitely preferred over daddy.

Now that they are older, they pick their spots... daughter knows that dad is much better at math, but also knows that he has higher expectations in general re: schoolwork. It took her a while to start asking him for help, but she knows better than to even try with me.

With my son, I have to be the homework cop - even when my husband is home and reminds him to do it, I am the one who checks the work. (Son has ADHD, so homework can be troublesome.)

The long and short of it is: have patience. They will eventually outgrow this clinginess, whichever parent it affects. It all evens out in the end - try not to stress out in the meantime.

Posted by: Loren | April 10, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Anybody else here ever sneak out the back door when leaving the house just so you wouldn't have to put up with the crying and tears on your way out? I don't know which feeling is worse; being a coward and leaving the house without saying bye to my kid, or being the one stuck putting up with the tantrum when he/she finds out the other has left

Posted by: DandyLion | April 10, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Ha! DandyLion, you sure I'm not married to you? :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Ours have opposite-gender favorites and have not switched. They love us both, but are more drawn to the parent who thinks more like them - in our family, that's, in each instance, the opposite gender parent. They are 8 and 15 so I am not anticipating that this will change. If it does, it does. Makes sense to all of us and no parent's widdle feelings get hurt.

Posted by: well, well | April 10, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

"Anybody else here ever sneak out the back door when leaving the house just so you wouldn't have to put up with the crying and tears on your way out? "

Are these kids retarded?

Posted by: Convo killer | April 10, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I have a 2.5 year old son, who clearly prefers me now, but occasionally wants his father. Often he will say to his father, "I don't like you! I want Mama" (etc). I usually correct my son when he talks this way by saying I can't be with him at that moment if he's going to say mean things to his father. However, my husband handles it much better than I do and is 90% of the time amused and tickles my son into a better mood. It seems to be their little flirtatious game at times.

I find this interaction fascinating because in my own family, my father took these statements seriously from my younger brother (my father chose to be hurt and offended) and progressively backed away from him emotionally. Of course, at the time, my brother was a toddler/child.

My father and brother are at this point still estranged and I don't see it changing any time soon. My brother grew up never really understanding why our father "doesn't like" him.

So to see my husband handle it so lovingly is wonderful and beautiful to me.

Posted by: Sarah | April 10, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing they feel some resonance or kinship to that parent in a key area and just keep nurturing and feeding on that until they see some spark with the other parent- perhaps because of how the parents interact and the kid saw something they wanted to be a part of.

Posted by: Liz D | April 10, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Hi Laura. So how old was your child when you got the, "Mommy izza meanie! Mommy izza meanie! Mommy izza meanie!" song and dance.

My daughter was 4 when I made her turn off the TV and go out and play. She went out on the swingset and sang the "I hate Daddy" song for half an hour before she got it out of her system. After she was done, I asked her why she hated me so much. She answered, "I forgot! Wil you push me?" Hahaha!

Posted by: DandyLion | April 10, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Hey, DL -- I've been lucky, it's mostly been "I hate Daddy!" Also started around 4 -- usually because I am much gentler when I comb her hair after bathtime. Don't you love the universe-shaking revelations that kids base these preferences on? :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Well, in my opinion we have to pay attention to the trends our kids display. We have 2 wonderful kids, one is 12 and the other one 8, our girl is the older. We've noticed that, as normal behavior calls, they play both sides of the fence, " I love dad 'cause dad gets me what I want", or "I love mom 'cause mom gets me what I want", so my better half and I agree on one, we will support one another no matter what the reply is, and if it requires negotiation it would be in our chambers. Kids normally win, but is fun to see their reaction when they can't get it their way right from home plate. It has been pretty even for us without a special attachment to either one of us, my girl will always be 'daddy's little girl' and have her special rights and priviledges, and my boy will always be 'little man' and have his very own special rights and priviledges, they understand this and are content with that.

Posted by: Ed in Iraq | April 11, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

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