My Son Prefers His Father Over Me

by Mary Widdicks
Originally Published: 
A son in his mother's arms

I think everyone remembers the sting of their first unrequited love: the heartache, the confusion over what you did wrong or why you’re not good enough, and the deep longing to be with them any way you can. Sure, it’s all part of growing, not to mention a plot device in almost every teen romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. It hurts, but we move on. If the object of our affection doesn’t want us then it wasn’t meant to be.

Unless it was.

What is a person to do when the true love of their life rejects them? What is a mom to do when that rejection comes from their child?

My youngest son has been a ray of sunshine for me since the moment he was born. I loved him instantly. There was no bonding or settling period. He had my heart wholly and completely from his first breath. I was smitten, and he was mine…for a while.

As soon as he was old enough to show a preference, my little angel wanted his Daddy. I told myself I was glad they were bonding, that it was just a phase, and that Daddy was just a novelty because he wasn’t home all day like I was. For a while these excuses eased my jealousy. He still loved me even if he preferred to be held by my husband.

As time went on, his clear preference ebbed and wained. Most days were fine and I was glad that he was happy to be handed off to Daddy upon his return after a long day. I was tired and happy for a break or time to spend one-on-one with my four-year-old. It became even more convenient as I grew heavy and encumbered with my third pregnancy. I couldn’t lift the toddler or hold him as easily anymore, so naturally Daddy stepped in as primary caregiver when he wasn’t working.

I missed my baby, but kept my head down and told myself it was only temporary until the new baby was born.

Slowly, my son became accustomed to Daddy putting him to bed, comforting him when he was hurt, and playing with him when he was happy. I’d been all but replaced. One day my son got hurt and I ran to comfort him and he shrieked and pushed me away calling for “da da”. I felt like a stranger in my own family.

This child who was part of my body less than two years ago, who stole my heart with his first look, who used to need me for every source of life and love, had rejected me.

I waited in hormonally-induced agony for the phase to pass, but it did not. I now watch the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen in my life from afar, treasuring any fleeting smile or brief contact he gives me between hugs with his Daddy. I request extra hugs and kisses from my oldest son to ease the sting of loss, and it helps, but the pain is always there.

My littlest boy has been sick for over a week now. He’s crabby, needy, and not eating. Thankfully Daddy has been off work, so my poor, sweet, sick baby has demanded he carry him everywhere. The less he eats the sadder and more demanding he becomes.

If my husband sets him down for even a moment, he cries. It’s not an angry cry or a tantrum, but the sad, pained, hoarse cry of a sick baby, and it kills me. I go to him every time in an effort to comfort him but he only cries louder. If I try to hold him, he fights me with such force that I can’t hold him without hurting my ever-expanding stomach. So I sit, and watch in gut-wrenching horror as my baby cries tears meant for a mother but I am powerless to comfort him.

Just like those unrequited loves of our past, the more he rejects me the more I want to be with him. I yearn for him from some ancient place deep in my subconscious. I miss him more like an amputee misses a limb. I can still feel his little arms around my neck when last we cuddled, and I crave that feeling with every atom in my body.

Of course, I don’t blame him. Do we ever really blame our unrequited lovers? No, I blame myself. I feel like a failure as a mother. I’m convinced that on some level I have disappointed my child and am undeserving of his love. After all, he is perfection personified. How could he be wrong? Perhaps if I was more fun, or less strict, or hadn’t gotten pregnant he wouldn’t have given up on me.

I know he is a toddler and thus notorious for fickle and extreme swings in personality and I’m sure he will come back to me at some point. I look at my oldest son, who loves me with everything he has, and I try to tell myself I must be doing something right.

But it doesn’t take away the pain or the insecurity of being rejected by someone for whom I would gladly move mountains.

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