Between the ages of twenty months and three years, some children won’t let their fathers help them. When a father tries to comfort his child during the night, get her dressed, get her some juice, or even fasten her seat belt, she resists: “No! Only Mommy do it.” Young children are often strongly attached to their mothers, and during this brief developmental phase they sometimes reject their fathers’ help.
This stage can be frustrating. A father who wants to take an active role in caring for his child may find it hard to understand his young child’s resistance and rejection. At times he may feel like giving up and telling his wife, “You take care of her. Why should I even try?” His feelings may be hurt, and he may show signs of resentment towards his child.
The mother’s role, too, is difficult during this stage. It’s hard for her to see her husband rejected and hard to try to persuade her child to allow him to help. There’s also more pressure on the mother to take over the work of child care. This means she’s always the one to get up at night, give comfort, and get the child ready in the morning.
One mother no sooner got into bed after feeding her two-month-old baby, when her three-year-old daughter called out for water. The tired mother asked her husband to respond, but their daughter refused his help. “Not you. I want water from Mommy.” To avoid a middle-of-the-night struggle, the mother got up, but the encounter was unpleasant for both parents.
Some parents try reasoning with their child (“Mommy’s tired”) or forcing her to accept her father’s help: “If you want a drink, you’ll have to let Daddy get it.” Sometimes these statements work, but sometimes tears and tantrums follow. It may be easier to give in, at least during the night, and have the mother get the drink so the family can go quickly back to sleep rather than deal with a struggle.
If the father’s unable to help his child because she rejects him, he can still help his wife by taking over additional household responsibilities or caring for the couple’s other children. And both parents should try not to let the father’s feelings of rejection interfere with their relationship with their child. In the course of development, the stage of “only Mommy do it” is rather short.