E+E column: Naturally Needy

An article I read this week spoke about how utterly natural it is for young children to be clingy or needy to their primary caregiver. It was a good reminder that the almost total dependence that my three (all five and under) often have on me is the biological norm and not anything to get frustrated with or to try and put a stop to before they’re ready. We visited the monkey sanctuary in Looe earlier this year and witnessed a tiny monkey taking her first nervous steps away from her Mum. Our guide explained that after she was born, she spent six months permanently attached to her Mum’s back and after this point, would still only scamper away for a few minutes at a time and all the while, in the near vicinity of her ever watching Mum. This is normal for the animal world, and actually, is normal for human children as well if we allow them (well not the clinging to our backs but you get my point!)

We are so quick to try and break our children’s instinctive need to be near us. A lot of parenting ‘experts’ and advice doled out tells us that we should be getting them in their own rooms within their first months, that we should be making sure they can play independently and that they are happy to be away from us at a young age. And if they’re not, we are presented with a wide array of solutions to fix this ‘problem’. But is it really a problem? The process of entering this world, finding their place in it and finding out how everything works and how people interact must be utterly overwhelming. No wonder young children are naturally prone to being ‘clingy’ and retreating to Mum, Dad or a loved Grandparent when it all gets too much. Society often tells us that this isn’t appropriate, that we’re making a rod for own backs, that they will never learn independence, that they’ll be spoilt. But can you spoil a child by offering unconditional love and comfort? I would argue that you can’t.

Admittedly, when you’re needed round the clock, it can all get a bit wearisome. I’m perfectly guilty of wanting to go and shut myself in a room with a book and mug of hot chocolate. I’m no saint. There is no perfect Mum (or Dad!) But I do think we shouldn’t feel guilty about offering our children that extra level of support or comfort that others might say is unnecessary at their age. The world’s a scary place at times, even for adults, so I’m happy for my kids to still need me right now. In the blink of an eye they’ll be running off without a backwards glance, perfectly confident and independent individuals without such a strong lifeline or need for me and their Dad. And a final note of reassurance, as my wise old Mum said when I bemoaned Isaac at 18 months creeping into our bed in the wee hours, he won’t be 16 and still wanting to sleep in his Mum’s bed!


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