Q. I have a cute, verbal, bright 2-year-old daughter who is hopelessly enamored with her father. We both work full time and pretty much share child-care responsibilities. She's warn and loving and happy with him, and she's a struggle with me. It gets to be a real ordeal with her. She's constantly screaming that she wants her daddy.
It's not that she doesn't like me, she just REALLY likes him. On the other hand, she always calls for me when she wakes at night. Although it probably does bother me that she likes him more, the real problem is just dealing with her fits when I have to get her dressed or take her to the sitter's. Her dad usually picks her up, but if I do, she starts howling as if I were Simon Legree.
I've tried everything -- being nice, firm, mean.
Will you tell me that this too shall pass?
A. Every young child picks a favorite parent, and it's nearly always the opposite sex. This is not because she (or he) likes this parent better; it's just that the opposite sex gets attractive mighty early.
Your little girl flirts with her daddy and begs for his attention because she's learning how to use these same wiles -- although more subtly -- at 15 (and 16 and 17 and 18 and so on). This is the way people are programmed, so the species will continue.
Although sex waits at least until puberty, the urges are always there. Your child even will tell you she wants to marry her daddy as soon as she discovers the words -- and if you had a little boy, he would act the same way towards you.
This classic romance usually begins around 2 or 3 and disappears in the next few years, if the parents don't make too big an issue about it. Instead, you and your husband need to make it clear that he's already married and plans to stay that way, that she may be competing for his attention, but you don't have to.
It is this sense of competition that is exacerbating your situation. You need to take yourself out of the triangle by having your husband give her that extra attention she craves, not as a result of her scenes, but before they occur. Let him take over the dressing detail and take her to the sitter's if possible, while you do some of his jobs that don't affect her so directly. This is the time to fade into the background and be grateful that you can miss the hysteria.
Some other preventive measures: When you do have to dress or diaper your daughter, have her stand on a straight chair or a tall stool. She won't flail around as much because she doesn't want to fall (at least not more than once). And when you want her to go your way and she wails, just give her a kiss and ruffle her hair, or pick her up with as much good humor as you can muster and move her where you want her to be. Some scenes are inevitable, but don't take them so personally. She wouldn't dare to have them unless she knew you loved her, and she wouldn't call you in the middle of the night if she didn't love you as much as her dad.
When you can accept your child for doing what comes naturally, you won't take her whims so seriously, or think she likes one of you better than the other.
You can read more about this -- and everything else under the parental sun -- in a fine, new 1,079-page encyclopedia about babies from birth to 5. It's called Total Child Care by Lorisa and Robert DeLorenzo (Doubleday, $24.95). The price is high, but the coverage is extrarodinary, definitive and tightly written.
Reader Response -- The poignant letter from the young mother about whether her daughter should be taught religion touched me. Her list of pros and cons shows that she feels instinctively that religion is worthwhile but perhaps she has been disenchanted with organized religion.
May I add something to the pro side?
Christian teachings can't possibly hurt children. When religion becomes harmful, it is because elements of superstition, penalty and bigotry are taught, practiced and labeled as religion. It's unfortunate that patriarchy and hierarchy, disguised as religion, have turned so many good and fine people from churches.
Despite the faults of churches -- and churchgoers -- activity in a church organization can be richly rewarding, for it lays bare the human frailities in ourselves so that "core of goodness" you wrote about can be nurtured.
The mother's letter also mentioned that she is against religion because women play secondary roles inside the church and out. Obviously, she's not familiar with the Church of Christ, Scientist, founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who proclaimed over 100 years ago that our Father is our Father-Mother God. Women actively participate in this church.
Response -- Your correspondent may find the Unitarian Church answers her needs. They are congregational, with no bishops or other personages directing worship. Each church is on its own, and operates according to the desires of its members.
Unitarians have no creed. Even though many members don't believe in the existence of God, there are many others, like me, who know we can't prove His existence, but know it can't be disproved either. These views are well accepted. We do know, however, that we have to be responsible for our lives, our families and our own actions, and we stress peace, love for our fellow man -- and more social action than I sometimes know what to do with.