When a Toddler (Only!) Wants Grandma

When a Toddler (Only!) Wants Grandma


During the COVID time, I’ve been living with my daughter’s family to care for their 14 month old since they took her out of daycare. It’s been a month and the toddler is happy and healthy but has really taken to me putting her down to naps, but is giving mom a hard time now. I followed their routine which was to darken the room, turn on the humidifier for white noise, rock and sing lullabies which turns into humming. She’ll squirrel around to get comfortable but easily falls asleep with her bunny by her face (no thumb or pacifier), within 10-15 minutes.

Now though, when mom puts her to bed, she squirms and cries hard and doesn’t settle down. I should mention they are weaning off day feeding and are down to 1-2 nursings a day. We three try to cuddle the same but she is much easier to fall asleep with grandma. Mom feels bad, like she’s doing something wrong. We’ve tried putting her in her crib to cry but not consistently yet, maybe the next step?

Any advice as to why she won’t settle for mom- baby even pinches her and cries till mom gives up. A phase?

Frustrated Grandma

The Toddler Preference Phase Will Pass

Oh TOTALLY a phase. Please, please tell your daughter she isn’t doing anything wrong and to try to not take it personally.

Soooo much easier said than done, I know! But this a super common, weird little toddler phase where they inexplicably start preferring one parent or caregiver. And for whatever reason, the bedtime routine typically becomes the time where the preference becomes the most pronounced and noticeable.

I’m guessing your daughter is worried this is tied to the weaning process, but I’d say that the most likely culprit/reason is the overall change in her routine — having Grandma as her primary caregiver at home vs. going to daycare. She probably (okay, certainly) doesn’t fully understand WHY she isn’t going to daycare anymore, WHY she isn’t seeing her former caregivers and peers, but she definitely notices that Things Are Different Now. A big change in routine — a move, a new job, a new childcare arrangement — is often behind a toddler’s sudden preference for one parent or another. Or in this case, a grandparent.

Seriously, have your daughter start to type “toddler prefers” into Google and she’ll see all the top auto-complete suggestions are along the lines of “toddler prefers dad over mom” or “toddler prefers one parent at bedtime” and a dozen other variations. It’s normal, it’s a phase, it’s not personal, and it’s definitely not forever.

Tips On Handling Parental Preference At Bedtime

1. I would keep things at bedtime more or less the same. I worry that pushing her to cry it out is sort of…punishing her for developing the preference, even though it’s not something she’s doing “on purpose” to “be difficult.”

2. It’s best if the non-preferred parent (or in this case, parents!) manage their hurt feelings on their own, recognize that this is just a phase, and continue to take part in the bedtime routine while empathizing with and explaining to the child that it can’t always be Grandma. (Because it can’t! Just because you’re there now doesn’t mean you’ll always be, or that you’ll always be available to handle bedtime night after night while you ARE there!)

3. Perhaps they could try to not mimic your cuddles/rocking/lullabies quite so closely, and start incorporating things that are unique to their routine with her. A bubble bath vs. a plain one, some funny or goofy songs vs. lullabies, an extra-special book, a musical or light-up toy on top of the white noise, etc.

But, Don’t Compromise The Baby’s Sleep

If she absolutely MUST have you to get over the finish line to sleep (and the non-preferred adult’s nerves are shot and they don’t feel like getting pinched) that’s okay! This doesn’t have to be a hill for anyone to die on! Just get the baby to sleep! On a regular rotation, have a parent do most of the routine — again, while maybe changing it up enough that she’s distracted from the fact that this IS the bedtime routine, to ward off any preemptive protests over your non-presence — and then come in and do the least/most abbreviated version of the routine as possible.

Other Ideas For Grandma (The Preferred Caregiver):

1. As the preferred bedtime wrangler, try to talk and play up her parents during your time with her during the day.

2. Make-up an excited cheer or dance whenever Mom or Dad walks into the room, like it’s a special celebration just to see them! Practically a celebrity sighting!

3. Make sure you aren’t the one who gets to do all the “fun” stuff with her while her parents might (accidentally) be the ones handling things she’s less excited about.

4. On the weekends, try to hang back and let them take the lead whenever possible with her, while you help support them in other ways, like laundry or cooking. (Or, you know, just go have some alone time to relax!!) Having extra fun, POSITIVE one-on-one time with her daughter — away from the bedtime-rejection context — will also help your daughter better manage her feelings about this phase as well.

Remember, This, Too, Shall Pass

But again, this WILL pass. We’re all living through a crazy time right now. It’s understandable that everyone’s emotions are running high and our children are definitely tuning into our stress levels and trying to make sense of what’s going on and why things are the way that they are.

You’re obviously a wonderful, supportive and very self-aware Grandma/houseguest and your daughter and granddaughter are both so lucky to have someone like you! You’re all going to be fine. Stay home and safe.

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