Hi - My 5 year old boy who my husband and I adopted 3 years ago knocked the stuffing out of me yesterday telling me he loved daddy and didn't love me. He was not fibbing or messing around, it came from the heart. He has generally favoured my husband for some time now, taking sides with him on any minor difference, following him around, always asking for him and preferring him even after he's been told off by my husband. This hurts especially more as I am the primary caregiver. I don't think I am cut out for giving unconditional love. I know myself and I will withdraw which may make matters worse. Whilst I am using this as a chance to reflect on my parenting style, I was just wondering if anyone has experienced the primary parent being or feeling marginalised.
Hi Salma, I’m a single parent, so I haven’t experienced what you’re going through, but I can Imagine how hurtful it must have felt. What I would like to say though, is it obviously came out of the blue for you to feel so surprised and stunned by it after three years of parenting, so although your son may have spoken in a serious way about it, I assume he isn’t behaving as though he doesn’t love you. I think for some children the parent who’s not there as often is likely to be the favoured one, because the time they spend with them is more likely to be the fun time. As primary caregiver you’re feeding, clothing, shopping, doing the school run, homework, bathing and telling him off the most! And you are probably pretty shattered by the parenting and so the fun times may be a little more diluted. As I’ve said, I’m a single parent, but I have no doubt that if I had a partner, he would be my son’s favourite. He’s a total man’s man and wants to spend time with his uncle and grandpa as much as possible. He always takes the man’s side in any disagreement. In fact when he was four, he told me - rather loudly in the changing rooms at the swimming pool - ‘I wish you had a willy so you could be my Dad!’ 😳
You might find the link below useful. It’s certainly not a novel problem that you have. I would also talk about how you’re feeling with your husband as he can help you with this.
this is very common and very understandable when you look at the situation through his eyes. Please don't get upset about this and please whatever you do, don't emotionally withdraw from him.
He is 5 years old and has been with you for 3 years. He therefore will have some memory (even if only subconsciously) of the first two years of his life. He has had a birth mummy, who he no doubted loved who has left him and a foster mummy who has also done the same. He is therefore too scared to love you incase you also leave him. Loving Daddy is so much easier and safer for him.
You need to look at this positively. He feels safe enough with you to articulate his feelings - even if he doesn't understand why he feels this way (and i am sure he doesn't). The quiet child who feels this way and says nothing is very much harder to deal with. So he has at least given you the "heads up" on this and it is very important for your relationship with him and his with you that you begin on a plan of action. You are the most important person in his life and the woman that he will judge all women by and so, rather than feeling upset, you should feel empowered by this.
So what to do? - take the emotion out of it for the moment and think of how you would deal with this if it was a work problem. You would identify what the problem is, understand what the problem is which would mean doing the necessary reading and then put in place a plan of action. During the plan you would need to assess periodically how it is going and whether any further course of action is need eg professional help. It is not you personally that he is rejecting - don't lose sight of that - he is rejecting what you represent, the mother figure and how they cannot be trusted because they alway leave and thereby hurt you.
Are you a stay at home mum? if not could you take some time off from work? what i would start to do is to make sure that it is you that takes him to school and always picks him up - no one else but you. you need to show him that he can start to trust and rely on you to always be there. You and preferably only you (so your husband may need to take a back seat for a while) turn up for all the assemblies, open classrooms, parents evenings, volunteer for all the school trips so that you can accompany him and his class, all the sports days, school plays etc. In the evenings it should be you that does the bed time story, Daddy can come in at the end and give him a kiss, at the weekend you need to do things together and if your husband is with you then it should still be you that does everything for him eg taking him the loo etc. I always find that being home at the weekend when you are having to parent this intensively can be overwhelming for everyone, so if you can get out and about - national trust membership is a godsend - nothing like fresh air and a picnic in the park to blow away the cobwebs and keep you feeling positive. Also don't forget to say to him constantly " i am your forever mummy and i love you and will never leave you", even when he is being horrible because he needs to hear that constant reassurance.
This is a problem that will not be sorted out over night - it really will take time and you may find that at times you take one step forward and two steps back. But you will slowly start to see him preferring you over your husband and start to follow you around. He needs you to succeed at this for his long term emotional health and well being and YOU CAN DO IT!!!!
best wishes xx
one more thing, you must NEVER be late picking him up from anywhere, as this will have him worrying that you have left him and will set back your bonding/attachment. so you must always be early for everything. an intensive way to parent i know - but you really have to show him that he can rely on you.
Thank you for your supportive comments. I realised in no time that I need to fight for him in my quiet way and not become indifferent. The fact is he confuses the hell out of me but fair dues he has not had consistency and even with us its been rocky sometimes as we find our feet with therapeutic parenting and inevitably often get it wrong. Slipping into old habits like spending more time gourmet cooking than playing with him is probably one of my downfalls. Thank you for helping me make sense of this and giving me a boost to get me out of that dark place. xx
If cooking is your thing then get him to help you with it. I have never been one of those arts and crafts people - paint and glitter everywhere, making stuff out of junk sends me up the wall to be honest. But baking i love and getting the children involved in this is great - weighing flour, cracking eggs, mixing and then decorating the cakes/cupcakes afterwards. All very good for bonding/attachment. But yes, the playing is an important part of starting to connect with him - but do make it fun. I have two birth son's as well as an adopted daughter. My eldest son (who is now nearly 19) loved Thomas the Tank engine and i used to spend hours playing with trains with him and doing all the voices - and my youngest birth son who is now nearly 9 loved cars when he was younger , and still does but not as much, and i used to spend hours playing these with him. So i know how mind blowingly boring it can be!! But make it easier on yourself if you can - if you work see if you can get a cleaner in to take this pressure of you so that you can spend the time with him in the evenings playing. Also remember, just putting a dvd on the tv and snuggling up with him is also very good for bonding/attachment.
He will confuse you with his actions because he wants to love you - so he will be loving one moment and then push you away the next. It illustrates how confused he is. He desperately wants to love you but his defences are up because he is scared that if he loves you, you will leave him. xxx
Oh Salad, I’m so sorry. We had a whole year of a similar thing where I absolutely 100% paid for the perceived rejection by several mother figures in my boys life. He wouldn’t let me read stories, sit next to him at dinner, hold his hand etc unless my husband wasn’t there. The only thing that helped was time and effort and consistency in my part, it is difficult when your not getting feelings reciprocated but we’re loads better now.
Hi Salad, I am the same here, we adopted a daughter just over 3 years ago she is almost 5 now, she clearly prefers my husband and people always comment on " daddies little girl " so much so that it offends me at times! Its been very hard, to have not been able to have my own birth children through endometriosis and waiting all my adult life to be a mommy, and then the best thing ever happens and my world is rocked as she prefers daddy, and tells me so on a regular basis! With us, daddy always lets her get away with things, buys her so many things and rarely tells her off, i will always discipline her and set ground rules and if she is naughty she has learnt about consequences from me, not her daddy. All of this has now become " good cop, bad cop " routine and no wonder she clearly prefers daddy as he seems to spoil her rotten. Its been very hard on me and sadly my husband doesn't really seem to understand this and how i feel, so i always get left feeling the bad guy when infact i am the one teaching the right skills to her for later in life! I'm hoping one day in the future, she will look back and realize it was mommy that gave her all the real life experience and not the treats, endless cuddles and " there, there it wasn't your fault's " ........ so i do really know what you are going through but hang on in there ..... it will all change one day xx
Nicky i think you may wish to consider changing your username as these are open boards and you may not want to be identifiable.
I think it is also important to remember that adopted children tend to be emotionally younger than their chronological age. So a 5 year old child is likely to be more like a 2 year old child and so you have to parent them accordingly. With a toddler, which is emotionally what they are, you would use distraction, avoiding trigger points for bad behaviour/meltdowns, ignoring a lot of bad behaviour/meltdowns etc so that you are not actually disciplining them as such but more like guiding them gently away from things. Also i find rephrasing things helps so that you are not constantly saying "no" all the time.
parenting an adopted child is hard. I am 12 years in and it has not got any easier so i know!! xx
You might want to change your name as windfalls says Nicky ... other than that ... teaching an emotionally immature 5 year old (who in reality is probably closer to 3) is a bit pointless though I understand it’s counterintuitive. She’s simply not going to understand cause and effect, nor to be truthful, will she thank you, rather than dad, as she gets older.
You and your husband need to work together on this - different parenting strategies is going to confuse her and make her feel wobbly. She’ll split you - you’ve come across splitting? Trauma doesn’t disappear easily, children often mistrust mums particularly as it’s often mums who have let them down, abandoned them (as they see it). Do you use therapeutic parenting strategies ... together.
It will get easier but you do both have to work together. Maybe dad needs to take on more of the more mundane parenting while you do more of the fun things together?
Thank you all for sharing. Im glad you are persevering too N. I’m not sure in your case but i find playing with my boy particularly outdoors pays much more dividends than doing the bath and dinner routine. Unfortunately my husband is not that supportive either and will shy away from doing the basics or come home too late. I agree immensely with guiding instead of telling off and saying no. Its keeping all these strategies alive and present thats the trickiest part. When i fall by the wayside it inevitably backfires.
We all fall by the wayside at times Salad, so you are not alone there. but i have learned over the years to go easy on myself. I have accepted that i am not perfect and that i quite often get it wrong and i have stopped beating myself up about it. I have realised that parenting an adopted child is one of the hardest jobs in the world and i can only ever do my best when dealing with very challenging behaviour, which i do a lot of the time as my daughter has a range of special needs. I get it wrong, i forgive myself and try and do better the next day. At the end of the day we are only human.xxx
We’re all human - no-one can be a therapeutic parent 100% of the time. Personally I’ve found the teenage years easier than when they were small BUT that’s because we got the diagnoses, the support and the right schools in place. There have been compromises aplenty - no return to work for me - and it’s been far from easy with many mistakes along the way. Some years in with my three I did an AUK course - Parenting our Children - and we did an exercise which had us listing gains v losses. Our gains as parents vs our children’s losses. And it was very thought provoking. And if I’m honest I don’t think I’d truly considered the depths of my children’s losses when they came to us. Just because they were all babies didn’t mitigate the losses.
I now have one in Uni, one currently mid GCSE revision, mocks etc and another in y9. It’s been a full time job and it still is. My middle son was to do his As which will mean moving into mainstream after 10 years in special ed.
It helps me to remember a couple of things - Behaviour is communication so what is that behaviour telling you and secondly when you can’t change the behaviour, all you can change is your response to it.
It’s a journey as they say!
Children often say things that they barely understand. Just continue loving the child and eventually he'll understand that love means care and that he will be thankful that he have loving parents.
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