My extended family is very close. I grew up with a constant flow of people and grew used to feeling most at home in a crowd. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that the babies are quite happy being passed around from person to person for long periods of time.
When my own little bundles came along, I found myself in quite a different situation. We lived near my husband’s much smaller family instead of near my extensive family. Both of my husband’s parents were only children, so there was not a plethora of cousins at every holiday, birthday, and long weekend. My babies were much different from the smiling babies of my childhood, passed from loving arms to loving arms. My babies wanted Mama. They needed to be close to me at all times. My oldest, in particular, would last only minutes with anyone else and wouldn’t sleep away from me except for short spans of time in her swing.
With that first baby, seven years ago, I worried. I worried that she would be timid her entire life. I worried that she would always be anxious. I worried that she would have a hard time making attachments to other people. I worried that she wasn’t like those other, happy babies.
A big part of me was worried that if I “let” her insist on only being held by me, on sleeping next to me, on only being fed by me, that I was doing her some disservice. I worried that I was enabling her to be shy, timid, clingy – if you will. But I clung to the information I had read about attachment parenting, breastfed babies, and babies’ natural instincts to form close bonds with their caregivers – especially their mothers. I told myself, over and over, that there was no reason that my clingy baby wouldn’t outgrow her clinginess at some point.
At 2 years old, my daughter began going to Grandma’s for 2 hours on Tuesdays. The first several weeks, she went quietly but came home and had nightmares. We soothed and talked to her about it. And I prayed that eventually she would be able to go and enjoy her grandparents without being afraid. I was not optimistic.
At playgroups, as a young child, my daughter did not interact with the other children much. She didn’t want to play with them. She ran away from other adults. Still, she only wanted me. I was still nervous but chose to accept her as she was and support her if she was anxious.
That daughter is now 7 years old. She has a 2 month old baby brother who reminds me a bit of her. He will actually spend time with other people for a short stretch here and there, under the right conditions, which is more social than my oldest was. However, he will not sleep unless he is touching me, except in the van. And if everything isn’t perfect, he will not tolerate other people holding him at all.
The big difference I see between the two babies is that I am no longer nervous. I have already been through 3 timid babies. Two of them have grown into courageous young children who are happy to chat with people of all ages, under the right circumstances. My 2-year-old is newly anxious around adults he doesn’t know and hides his face in his hands. However he is at my mother’s right this minute, with the older children, and will not have nightmares about it tonight. I have seen that babies who are nervous, timid, even clingy, can grow up to be confident, happy, independent children. Supporting my babies through their anxiety allowed them to come through that anxiety on their own, knowing they were safe, without jeopardizing our strong bonds.
Author, Erin Hinkle