For a whole bunch of months now Lucas, 3, has cried out for his daddy when he’s upset, as I explored in this post. He’s still doing it, and it bothers me. Sometimes I feel guilty that ours is a divorced family and one of my kids’ parents is always absent. Other times I’m hurt that my snuggles and words are not enough comfort — or worse, that he prefers his father to me. Often it just ticks me off.
I’ve done some research including finding out what experts say on the topic and also chatting with friends. Turns out all of my reactions are relevant.
Here’s three reasons I’ve learned that you kid cries for your ex and what to say when she does:
1. He really misses his dad. When he’s upset, one of the people he loves the most, one of the two people most likely to comfort him is missing. That’s sad and it makes him cry.
Say this: “I know you miss Daddy. You’ll see him in two days and we can call him on the phone to say hi tonight.”
2. She’s having a killer time and wants to share the good vibes with the absent parent.
Say this: “This carousel is awesome, isn’t it? Let’s take a picture of you on the horse and send it to your dad and then you can tell him all about it. What are some things you can tell your dad about our day?”
3. He’s being a manipulative dick. After a certain age your kids can pick up on your guilt and hurt feelings like a drug-sniffing canine can spot a kilo of black-tar heroin hidden in the seat of an El Camino. If, like me, you’ve simmered in your own guilt and dinged maternal feelings when your kid calls out for your ex, that looms in the air. Worse, if you cave to a kids’ whims in the name of quelling their hurt feelings (translation: you attempt to ease your guilt by giving in) you’re doomed. At my house, bedtime was a quandary: Lucas didn’t want to stay in bed and would waddle out, tearfully wailing, “I miss my daaadddyyyy,” to which I would routinely dictate #1’s message.
But as my son grew older, I noticed that bedtime’s “I miss my daddy” whine was interchangeable with, “I’m huuunnngryyyy!” and “My fiiinnnngggerrr hurrrrtts riiiigghghghghhhht heeeeeerr (pointing to an invisible mark on his knuckle). The jig’s up, I thought. I got your number, little grasshopper. It became clear to me that he knew how it ate at me when he cried out for his dad, and was exploiting my weakness for all it’s worth.
So I developed zero-tolerance for the daddy hustle at bedtime. Now, when he escapes bed, Lucas’s sleepy tush is immediately steered right back to the sack. I stay firm about the task at hand and ignore the daddy ploy.What to say: I highly recommend the above. Over the past couple of weeks bedtime has been a cinch. I dole out my snuggles, a few back scratches and my signature out-of-tune rendition of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” plant a kiss on his chubby cheek and slip out the door. He hasn’t waddled out in weeks.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.