Daughter Prefers Dad over Mom

Dear Mr. Dad: I am the mother of a 12 year old girl. We used to be very close, but she’s recently made it very clear that she only wants to be with her father. She’s never happy to see me, but she’s always happy to see my husband. No matter how much I try to understand, it just hurts to be ignored or pushed away. Is it normal for girls this age to prefer their fathers?

A: I often hear from dads who feel that their children prefer mom, so your question was especially interesting. Unfortunately, feeling rejected by their children in favor of the other parent is a relatively common phenomenon—the difference is that women, I think, are less likely to admit it than men.

Just about all moms and daughters go through tough times—and no time is tougher than the teen years. Although there’s no question that your daughter’s behavior stings, try to keep in mind that no matter what she says, she really does love you and need you. Unfortunately, as painful as the whole situation is, it’s important to try not to let it get to you (at least in front of your daughter) and that you frequently remind her that you’ll always love her and will always be there for her. She’ll scoff, laugh, scream at you, tell you she doesn’t care, accuse you of lying, or pretend to ignore you, but rest assured: the message is getting through. Part of the process of becoming independent involves rejecting everything and everyone she’s been dependent on in the past. But she’s very aware (and embarrassed) that she’s still too young to do everything she wants to on her own.
Try to look at your daughter’s preference for her dad as a good thing. First of all, it’s a great opportunity for the two of them to spend more time together building and strengthening their relationship. Second, it’s a lot better for your daughter to run to dad when she’s in the midst of an I-hate-my-mother episode than to seek comfort by experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other potentially dangerous behavior.