Do children bond more with opposite-sex parent?

My wife and I were discussing whether children bond more with the parent of the opposite sex. Do they?


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Children bond equally with both sexes, assuming both parents are emotionally available to them. It is the intensity of identification (sometimes experienced as a preference) with the same or opposite sex that will vary during different phases of a child's development.

By two to three years of age, children become identified with their own sex. Toilet training increases body awareness, and the differences become obvious. Clothing often reflects being "male" or "female" as well as other cultural trappings. And little girls can become interested in Mom's high heels and jewelry while boys may want to wear firemen's hats or tool belts. But this does not mean that they are more bonded to the same-sex parent. They may be clearly identifying with what they see as the differences between women and men in the family. And they may be enacting their discovery that they are more like the same-sex parent and may express a preference for more time associating with that parent.

By three to five years of age, children often become quite focused on the opposite-sex parent. (Perhaps this is the age that you and your wife are currently dealing with!) Girls may become "Daddy's little girl" and boys can become "Mama's boy." It is unfortunate that boys' attachment to their mothers is often viewed as a source of shame at this age - and interesting that the girls' attachment to their fathers is often viewed with more acceptance. For both, this period represents a period of integrating powerful feelings of attachment for the opposite-sex parent and coming to terms with the fact that this does not destroy the relationship and love of the same-sex parent. True inclusion is experienced in the family when positive and negative feelings are accepted without resulting in rejection. The "conflict" of the family triangle is resolved and sets the foundation for coping with the conflicting and ambivalent feelings that are a part of life as an adult.

Attachment and bonding to both sexes remains critical to healthy development for boys and girls in the family. And girls will identify with females, while boys will develop their male identity. This may bring them closer to one parent or the other, depending on the qualities of each parent and his or her own unique character and temperament. A sensitive and artistic boy may identify with his mother's interests if she is the artist in the family, but if he takes after his father's sports talent, he may develop more closeness with his dad during middle years of childhood and adolescence. Much may depend on availability of the parent and ongoing development of shared activities and interests.

Your initial inquiry may be more complex than you had anticipated! It is great parenting to consider the implications of these issues. I hope this helps stimulate further discussion on a very interesting topic.

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