David Coleman: My son often rejects me and prefers my husband
MY HUSBAND and I were having difficulties in our relationship but we did our best to protect our son, who turns three this month. I have a great bond with my little boy but he often says his dad is his favourite.
Sometimes if I go to pick him up in my arms, he squirms away from me and says he wants his dad. We were in separate beds for eight months and of course my little boy was aware of this on some level. If I have to work late on a Friday night, and he hasn't seen me, he can literally reject me for the whole weekend.
My husband has hung up on me twice for being late, in front of my son, and says, "we were waiting for you" so my son thinks I am doing something wrong by working late.
It's distressing for me because I work hard to keep it all together and it's awful when I don't get the cuddles I enjoy so much. In the mornings, if I go into him before my husband, he will reject me and ask for his dad, who leaves for work before me.
My husband often says to my son that the three of us are a family and I sometimes wonder did my son pick up the fact that I wanted to end the relationship.
I don't know how to address this with him because he just knows it upsets me when he rejects me.
David says: FOR whatever reason it sounds like your son feels his greatest sense of security with his dad. This may be because, by dint of each of your working hours, he spends more time with his dad. It may be because, as a little boy, he identifies with his dad, especially, right now.
This doesn't mean that he has a bad relationship with you. Indeed I could imagine that if you were on your own with him, if his dad was away for a weekend, for example, that you and he would get on fine.
From the way you open your query, it sounds like you feel the issues between you and your husband are resolving, if not resolved. That is a good thing. You are right that your son may be picking up any conflict or tension between you and your husband.
It may not be that he is aware, or even senses, that you were the more dissatisfied in your marriage. However, he is quite likely to have a sense that there is disharmony, generally.
For example, during the period of time that you and your husband moved into separate bedrooms, I could imagine that there was a total breakdown in physical intimacy between you. Neither of you were probably getting the hugs, cuddles and closeness that you needed from each other.
It may have been that you each relied on your son for a sense of physical closeness and love. However, your son may have been conscious of the distance between you and your husband. He may have seen that his dad didn't hug you and so he may not have wanted to hug you either.
If that was the case, then any time he wasn't in the mood for a hug or a cuddle, it may have appeared like rejection to you.
It may also be that you saw the comparative quality of your relationship with your son, as another aspect of competition, or a source of conflict with your husband.
For example, if you felt that your husband was in some way turning your son against you (by complaining about your lateness or absences) then I could imagine it was a source of rows and arguments.
Ironically, any such rowing may then cause your son some anxiety or give him a feeling of instability. Irrespective of whether he pinpoints one or other of you as the main instigator of that instability, he will seek as much security as he can.
In your son's case it may be that he relies more on his dad for that security than he does on you.
I do think that, rather than worrying about your relationship with your son, you should continue to invest in working on your relationship with your husband. The more secure, loving and supportive that you each become for the other, the more relaxed and confident your son will be with both of you.
Children, at different stages of their growth and development, will often identify with one parent, more than the other. This is not usually a cause for worry when each parent knows that they are working as a team. What is important is that their child's needs are being met, whichever parent appears to meeting those needs at any given time.
Daughter is pushing all my buttons
WITHIN the last eight weeks or so my lovely six-and-a-half year-old daughter has changed for the worse. She insists on having everything her own way and if she doesn't get it she gets really upset and panicky.
It starts off in the morning when we're getting ready for school. She insists on dressing herself (very slowly) and if I attempt to help her in any way she removes the clothes and starts all over again.
Another example is if I close the door she might say 'mammy I want to do it', then she'd fret and panic so much that I'd have to give in to her and open the door again, resulting in me losing my temper and her crying.
This is constant, all day every day, and we're exhausted and upset. We have tried everything from a nicey, nicey, approach to punishment but nothing works.
I'm ashamed to say that I have lost my temper and said things to her I shouldn't have said but I can't help it -- she's pushing all my buttons!
It's putting a lot of strain on our family life and we're trying to hold it together but we're exhausted by the effort to get through every day.
David says: IT SOUNDS like your daughter is experiencing a lot of anxiety. That anxiety is being expressed in her, almost compulsive, need to do things for herself and in her "panicky" response if she is prevented from doing so.
The most common source of anxiety in children is when something significant in their lives changes. When there is change, or other unpredictable turmoil, it causes small children, especially, to become stressed and anxious.
Children needing to take control of situations (like insisting on doing everything for themselves, or in a particular way) can often be a reaction against feeling very out of control in other aspects of their lives.
In your daughter's case, I wonder what was happening for her about eight weeks ago? The most likely environments in which something significant has changed are at home or at school. It may also be that something shifted with friends.
My best guess is that during October or November last year something happened that has rocked your daughter's world and left her feeling that things are less predictable or less stable.
So, first on your priority list, you need to think back to the last few months to see if you can identify any source of anxiety for her. That might be things like a substitute teacher taking over in school, changes in friends (or the hierarchy of friendships), conflict between you and your husband, changes in your work practices, a pregnancy or anything like that.
If there has been a change then once things have re-stabilised, and a new routine or structure has settled into place for her, you will probably find that the anxieties and the need for control will reduce.
You might also want to tread a path of least resistance with your daughter. Unless there is a critical need for you to do things for her then you might, for the time being, just let her do things in her own way and at her own pace.
For example, could you get up earlier, with her, to give her enough time to get ready for school so that you don't feel the need to hurry her up or dress her?
It sounds like a large part of the distress occurs when she feels put under further pressure by you, or feels that you are taking over some task she believes she can do for herself.
Sometimes patience and understanding are the most important things we can give our children as they work through their worries and stresses.
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