I love our two-year-old very much, but I am starting to feel overwhelmed by her attachment to me (why doesn't anyone ever warn you about this?). Laura only wants me to put her to bed, give her a bath, even put her food on her plate! Sometimes, if we are sitting down on the sofa or at the table and she wants something her dad will offer it and she gets very upset. If we tell her that it's dad or nothing she'll start to scream and we wonder if it's worth the struggle. Her dad feels terrible about being rejected and I feel like I'm having to do everything without help. Help!
Laura sounds as if she is going through several common toddler phases:
She thinks that she should be able to demand what she wants, whenever she wants it. It takes a while for a toddler to learn that mommy and daddy might disagree with what she wants. It’s not unusual to get a toddler tantrum as she expresses her anger and frustration at this unfortunate situation.
She is becoming more independent in lots of ways, and as she becomes more independent she will at times want to slip back into baby-like dependency which often includes mommy as the primary parent. (Some toddlers go in the other direction, asserting their independence by preferring dad and rejecting mom,)
She is testing the limits of your authority. She has discovered that sometimes when you say "no" you stick with it, no matter how much she objects (this is probably always the case when safety is involved). At other times, if she protests, she may see you hesitate or change your mind. This response is interesting to her. How is this situation different from the other? What will happen next time? A toddler will always push you to be clear about limits.
Even if Laura acts as though mommy is the sun and the moon and the stars and dad is some tiny piece of space rock floating around with nothing to do, try not to take it personally. It's a phase that doesn't predict future outcomes unless her behavior now causes dad to feel so hurt that he withdraws from involvement. The best way to keep that from happening is to detach yourselves from Laura's game of playing favorites.
The first step is for mom to be less available to Laura when dad is around. That doesn't mean sitting and refusing to get up--that response will probably just result in a power struggle that leaves everyone exhausted. Instead, have Laura go off with her dad leaving mom at home, or have mom go out in the evening during bedtime or mealtime (taking a walk will do fine!). Try to have mom out of the picture at least once a day, even if it's just a short time. Dad and Laura can do routine activities or special fun activities, whatever works best in the beginning. You will find that when mom isn't available the protests diminish of disappear, although when mom returns Laura may act as if she's being rescued from a desert island! In this way, Laura won't have to choose between mom and dad because you'll be making the choice for her.
It may take a while before Laura will give up her demand for "only mom" when both parents are there. Try not to get into a big power struggle over these demands. It may be best to have mom do the necessary routine activities and to refuse to do a few not-so-necessary, but do this simply by saying "no". Choose times when you can deal with a tantrum. It's easier to refuse to get a glass of water at breakfast than it is in the middle of the night! If you offer dad as a choice Laura is likely to dig her heels in, but if she comes up with the idea of asking dad herself she may feel that she's still got some control. Can you see where all the triangles in relationships begin?
During this phase it's a good idea for dad to ease some of the burden on mom by increasing his share of other household responsibilities. Before long, Laura will pass through this phase and you can divide up the work again.