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Mother’s situation: Am I making her clingy?
My two-year-old is still breastfeeding happily but is not happy to separate from me. She is fine with daddy and her older siblings if I am away for a couple of hours, but she will not stay at anyone else’s house for any length of time without me, even grandma’s. Everyone tells me that breastfeeding is causing her to be clingy and that I need to wean her. At first I simply ignored them, but I hear this criticism so often that I am beginning to doubt my own inner voice that tells me she is not ready. All her peers are starting preschool in the next few months and I am feeling under pressure and wondering what I should do for the best. How have other families faced a similar dilemma?
Recently someone close to me made a comment about my 15-month-old son being clingy. He was in a room with his uncle (and is generally okay staying with other trusted people) but when I returned he immediately cried out and held his arms out for me to collect him. Prior to that he was having a lovely time with his uncle, laughing and giggling. The comment went along the lines of him seeing me as a food source and his reaction being “pavlovian,” i.e. fear-conditioned, and that I’d caused him to react that way by continuing to breastfeed. It did cause me to stop and think, particularly coming from someone whose opinion I value, but considering his developmental stage, I prefer to see his behavior as normal. He is exploring the world around him, eagerly so. He loves to venture out and test out new experiences for himself. In that moment, perhaps he’d forgotten I wasn’t there and that’s what caused him the distress and need to come back and touch base. I would foresee this behavior only continuing as he gets closer to two!
Something else I find useful is to observe how he is with other people. He looks them in the eye, studies them, then may bow his head slightly then smile. He may go to them immediately, then just as quickly turn around and come back to me. It’s another example of wanting to venture out, but wanting to stay safe at the same time. I feel like I’m learning how he likes to get to know people and that it’s important to be respectful of that.
My instinct would point me in the direction of considering fulfilling your daughter’s need to stay close for the time being, as it sounds as though this is what she’s expressing a need for.
Lorna Smith, London, UK
My daughter was the same and I had endless advice from people telling me I should force her to be more independent or she would never go to school or sleep in her own bed. I ignored such comments, but it wasn’t always easy. I knew she wasn’t ready for independence. She only went to the occasional session at preschool when she decided she wanted to. School was more difficult because she still wasn’t keen to be away from me. Some days I stayed for a while in the classroom until she was happy for me to leave. From around the age of eight she suddenly became more confident and was happy to go to sleepovers and even on school trips abroad. Now in her twenties, she has grown up to be confident and independent, so much so that I almost wish she needed me a little more! She took a few months off work recently to travel to New Zealand and Thailand on her own.
Tessa Merrett, Caerphilly, Wales, UK
My daughter is only 16 months old, so I am not in your situation yet, but I can imagine how hard it must be to live with the pressure people, and especially family members, put on you to stop nursing. Making a connection between “clinginess” and breastfeeding doesn’t make any sense to me. For us breastfeeding is almost the opposite. Because my daughter still breastfeeds she feels confident to explore and be outgoing. Day by day I observe her “trips” to the outside world. The process is circular rather than linear: at times she is scared of strangers, at others she is open to them.
The speed of this process probably varies. I am sure toddlers absorb and process a huge amount each day. When I think about how huge the impact of everything external in their growing world must be, I feel relieved to be able to provide a haven for my daughter that she can come back to while she is breastfeeding. She is usually only happy and exploring if I am around and won’t even make do with just dad. Sometimes that irritates me, as in my grownup’s brain I don’t see what is scary about her dad, but then, at other times, when I see the steps they take to getting closer, I feel reassured.
If I imagine myself being a small child and needing someone close so I can slowly open up to the world, I think being weaned would probably make me clingy. I’d want to grab and hold on and not be pried away. Many people aren’t able to feel the needs of a breastfeeding child and make head-based assumptions which are unrelated to the reality of the child’s real needs. This world feels so full of “shoulds” instead of intuitive “do’s.” Please follow your gut instinct.
Mothering Your Nursing Toddler was a book that helped me lots. It examines how to deal with your own doubts, with family pressure and pressure from outsiders. It made me feel more clear about trusting my feelings. With regard to preschool, Raising Babies: Should Under 3s Go to Nursery? by Steve Biddulph may help you with your decision.
Adele, London, UK
If your inner voice is telling you that your daughter is okay please listen to it. My son was not really happy with anyone apart from me and his dad. We delayed preschool until he was ready. He breastfed far more frequently than other babies seemed to. He is now an adult and has flourished. It sounds like your main problem is other people’s ideas. My personal mantra is that a need fully met will pass away. Until my children were happy without me, I stayed close, helping at playgroup, going to toddler groups where mums had to stay, and even sitting in an adjoining room if I wasn’t expected to stay. Others thought I was mad but, interestingly, my children have become the first of their friends to use public transport on their own and others have been amazed by how they have managed train journeys alone including changes in busy London stations. We parent for the long term!
Barbara Childs, Okehampton, Devon, UK
My own two-year-old is much like yours. We don’t make our children walk or talk before they are ready because this could make them apprehensive to try something new. When children gain independence at their own pace, they grow in confidence.
Darcy Smith, Oklahoma, USA
Mother’s new situation: Putting a stop to breastfeeding
I am ready to stop breastfeeding my 18-month-old son, but how? He still nurses a fair amount day and night but I want my body back. Please can you share gentle ways to get him to give up this habit because I do not want to make him unhappy?
Please send your responses to Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org or post in the comments box below.