It is common for a child to prefer one parent over the other at some point in his life. A child can gravitate towards the parent of the same gender, the one with whom he has more in common or the more present parent. While absence of a parent can have an effect on whether a child prefers one parent over the other, it is not always the deciding factor. Influences like cultural upbringing, divorce or work can create parental absence without necessarily creating parental preference in a child. The most important factor in the time a parent spends with a child is the quality.
What's Love Got to Do With It?
Throughout a child's life, he will favor one parent over the other at certain times. This is normal, according to the article, "Is There A Favorite Parent," by psychologist, Ellen Weber Libby, Ph.D. Libby says that a child may prefer the more permissive parent at times, or the parent that is more available to him. Libby says it is natural for a child to have a preference for the parent that is more available to him, that is there to help with his homework and attends his sporting events. Libby is also clear in pointing out that preference for one parent does not translate into less love for the other parent. Children may love parents equally while preferring one parent over the other. What matters is the child's feeling of love and acceptance by both parents.
The Heart Does Not Grow Fonder
Young children need nurturing, caring relationships in order to develop healthy bonds. When a parent is absent, it can leave a child feeling abandoned. In the publication, "Meeting the Developmental Needs of Infants and Toddlers in the Welfare System," by Brenda Jones Harden, MSW, PhD, the bond between young child and parent is examined. The publication says at young ages when a parent is absent, it can create a sense of mistrust in the child. A boy with an absent father may begin to distrust all men. He may feel that only the maternal bond is one that can be trusted. Harden says stress at home from absent parents can contribute to brain development issues. The home life of an infant or toddler is important in emotional, cognitive and social development. When a parent is absent it can create preference for the present parent, and also, anger towards the absent parent.
The Why Factor
There are different reasons for a parent's absence in a child's life. Work, divorce and culture are factors influencing time parents spend with a child. In the article, "Parent-Child Relationships," published in the Encyclopedia of Children's Health, parent-child bonds are examined. The article says a child raised without the expectation of both parents being equally present, may not prefer one parent over the other. For instance, in cultures where the mother is home raising the children and the father is working to provide for the family. A child grows to respect and honor the father as much the mother because he knows both are providing for the family. Alternately, a child of divorce, may grow up preferring the parent whom has primary custody because that parent is present every day. The article says while absence can contribute to preference of one parent over another, those other factors carry equal weight.
Quality Over Quantity
The quantity of time a parent spends with a child is different than the quality of time a parent spends with a child. In the article, "Fathers and Their Impact on a Child's Well-Being," by Jeffrey Rosenberg and Bradford Wilcox, the impact of quality time spent with a parent is illustrated. Rosenberg and Wilcox say when a child's parents have a healthy relationship with each other, even if one is absent more, the child maintains good relationships with both. For instance, a man and woman who are dating have a child, but are not married and do not live together. The man sees his child for visitation every other weekend. The mother speaks positively about the father to the child and has a positive relationship with the father. The child grows up loving both parents equally, because they respect each other, and pass that on to the child. The article advises that a child can be influenced against the absent parent when the parent who is present harbors ill will. The quality of the relationships between mother, father and child, influence parental preference of the child.