Signposts for Neglect

In the TV show we were watching last night, one of the main characters had been on the road a lot. Back home at last, the character was talking with his wife when their young daughter ran in, upset. The dad tried to confort the daughter, who pushed him away and went to the mom instead. I can imagine the writers nodding as they put this scene together. It’s a clear sign that the father has neglected his family. It’s a trope I’ve seen before and nodded at myself.

Only it doesn’t really work that way. Based on our experience with Eli, and from watching other parents, children turn to one parent over the other for any number of reasons:

  • One parent has been with the child so much that they want the other parent
  • The child is angry at the parent for disciplining them
  • Cosmic rays passing through the child’s head flipped their preference from one parent to another

On any given day, Eli will prefer me, or Misty, or Nanny, or Tim, or that random stranger with the bright shiny shirt. The idea that young children show a preference for a parent based on simple and explainable reasons is like the idea that the stock market is full of rational actors.

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