My son’s always liked a lot of attention, and separation anxiety has been an issue. Yet I used to abhor when people described my son as “clingy,” because the image it conjures — of a trembling toddler wrapped around their parent’s leg, too terrified to separate and experience even a moment of independence — is so terribly neurotic.
I heard a judgement implicit in the word, especially as a stay-at-home dad. Of course he’s clingy, he misses his mommy! She should be the one at home.
Or else the assumption seemed that I had done something to encourage his behavior. Have you tried just ignoring him? people asked, as if I was the clinger-on, and he was only responding to my signals. I have my insecurities, sure, but do I come across as that needy? (Really? What do you think? Do I??)
But let me be honest with you here. My son can be clingy.
Not all the time, and certainly not to the extent that he was — nothing compares to those pre-mobile days of attachment, and nothing ever will, I’m sure. But in this as in all areas, development is not a march of progress, but an improvised dance, two steps forward and then one back.
For every independent moment busy with jigsaw puzzles, building a figure-8 train track, or pushing his dump truck around the kitchen while I wash dishes, there come days when Felix needs a near constant stream of parental attention. Yesterday was one.
To give you just a taste of what I’m talking about, consider this: As I sat on the toilet, he hung onto my legs asking “How much longer, Da-da?” every thirty seconds.
And then, “It doesn’t smell good in here, Da-da. Yuck.”
“Well, kid, how about a little privacy?”
My bowels seize just thinking about it.
On these days, not even his favorite babysitter — the television — works. He fidgets and whines if I don’t sit next to him and explain what’s happening on the screen.
I know, I know: I’m a parent, it’s about being there for your kid when he needs you. Talk about whining, right? But when we’re linked at the hip for six or seven hours at a stretch, when he sees even my bodily needs as impediments to me spending time with him, my chest tightens with a claustrophobic panic. As the day goes on, this feeling builds, becomes imperative. I need breathing room, quiet time, space to be an adult for a minute or two instead of my child’s constant source of entertainment.
It’s his nature. Some days he doesn’t like being alone, and not much can be done to change that. I’ve tried using a timer — we play together for fifteen minutes, then I vacuum for five — but he spends the “solo time” at my heels. I model how to create stories with his toys, or build towers of blocks, and when he’s in the mood he mimics me, but if he’s not, he’s not. All I can do is try and be patient, positive, and maintain perspective.
Because the days of dependence are coming fewer and farther in between than before, and one day the shoe will be on the other foot. I’ll be the one wishing he would spend more time with me. Ok, maybe not in the bathroom. But I’ll miss laying on the floor with blocks and tracks, and I’ll even pine for performing stories with his toys, putting on a silly voice for each character, as inane as it can seem now when repeated ad infinitum.
So I’ve stopped seeing clingy in a negative sense. Honestly, a little kid being clingy is not so bad as things go. It’s validating, for one thing, like having a mini-me. Someone likes me! Someone really, really likes me.