I’ve experienced both fierce independence and intense clinginess in my children; and, rather oddly, in the same child. I recently wrote about how I’d felt completely defeated by my infant daughter being entirely uninterested in me, always choosing her daddy over mummy – despite the fact she’s breastfed: I was only good for milk, nothing more. It hurt like hell, although I felt silly for allowing it to upset me so much. And then one day everything changed.
Literally overnight, my youngest, Elfin, became as high-needs as her big sister. Pixie has been very clingy since she was born, she’s never changed and even at four years old – still she needs her mummy a lot. For most things, only I will do. And now Elfin is the same. It feels flattering, and utterly, utterly exhausting.
So I know how it feels both ways. And I’ve had to learn how to manage it, particularly having two to juggle – prioritising the needs of two clingy children can be incredibly demanding and very tough going. Here are my tips for managing high-needs children:
Make Separate Quality Time for Both
This is obvious, but so important. Both my girls get special one on one time with me, and right now it’s most important to schedule it in for Pixie. Elfin gets it by default when she’s feeding and when she needs settling back to sleep during the night – it may not be playing games but nonetheless it’s time for special cuddles with mummy, precious tactile moments she gets every single day without fail.
Pixie, on the other hand, we have to actively make the time for. It’s not always easy but it is absolutely crucial. It’s so clear when we’re overdue because her behaviour deteriorates, and some one on one is enough to re calibrate and see improvements.
There are endless times when Pixie is demanding my attention and she gets very cross if I happen to be feeding her sister whilst focusing on her: it’s insufficient because she doesn’t want to share me. I find that really tough, but I try to find ways to make it work.
These are good opportunities to read with Pixie, for example, perhaps utilising our story stones and creating a game to distract her from her frustrations!
I also make sure to remind myself that Pixie is four years old, and though she may want my undivided attention, life is not always perfect.
Pixie needs to learn some harsh lessons about the way the world works, including the fact that she will not always get exactly what she wants, the moment she wants it. She needs to learn to share, and to be okay with support from other people sometimes. She needs to learn that people are fallible, and though she may occasionally feel I’ve let her down, it doesn’t mean she’s not loved or that she can’t trust me to be there when she really needs me.
Let Go of the Guilt
Essentially, I give myself permission to not always feel guilty. Because it’s been my default underlying emotion for so long, as it most likely is with all parents – particularly those with more than one child! I love my girls and I do my best by them, there’s no shame in that and no legitimate reason to feel guilty for it.
Tending to clingy, high-needs children is not just exhausting, it’s completely draining. Remaining positive during a season of being in constant demand and having at least one human being sitting on you at any given time is extremely challenging. Taking the time to recharge occasionally is essential to your wellbeing – and to your babies’. You can’t be the mum they need if you’re touched out and emotionally depleted.
My husband is brilliant and though he can’t always give the girls what they want directly, he regularly comes home and sends me for a bath. The girls have enforced playtime with him (also hugely important), and I am liberated for an hour. Without that time I think I might go insane.
You may have noticed that my tips don’t focus on ‘fixing’ the problem, but rather managing the situation. That’s because I’m a firm believer in the fact that meeting our children’s needs is what leads to independent and well-adjusted humans. I don’t want to deny either of my girls the reassurance they’re seeking from me – if they seek my love and encouragement, I’ll provide it until they take it for granted, and feel secure.
In the meantime, I remind myself often of the proverb ‘this too shall pass’. And when it does, I know I’ll miss these intense days, even as I crave a little more autonomy.
Cynic; Jedi Master; connoisseur of cake: Kate Tunstall blogs at The Less-Refined Mind and has been featured on BritMums, Mothercare, and Huffington Post. From petty peeves to politics, Kate doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. As an inevitable role-model to her daughters, she even throws in the odd ‘inspirational’ post in an effort to quell her cynicism and promote positivity.
Kate resides in rural Essex with her champion husband and their young daughters, affectionately known as the ‘Devil Pixie’ and ‘Elfin Angel’ – only one of whom lives up to their moniker…
Sometimes caustic – but always candid – Kate loves a provocative subject matter almost as much as she loves (good) coffee and (great) cake.