By Ann Brown
People prepare you for a lot when you first have a baby. They tell you that you will experience love that is deeper than you’ve ever known; that you will be more tired than you ever thought possible; that your ability to smell all kinds of gross smells is beyond what you thought humanly possible; that raising a child is more expensive that you can believe, and that life will never be the same again.
These things are all true.
Here’s what they don’t tell you:
There will be times when you child will be so in love with you, so passionately enthralled with you, so willing to watch your every move and discuss your every thought, and so connected to you physically and spiritually that you will want to leave your child, move across the world, and never come back again.
It’s hard enough to admit that your kids bore you (if I had a glass of wine for every hour I had to endure playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my sons, I would, well, I would have been much happier back then); but to admit that they also kinda make you want to break up with them takes more than a modicum of courage in this world of uber parenting. So let me say it for you.
Kids suck the life out of you.
A four-year old who is deeply, madly, in love with his mother, can be a determined suitor. And by “determined”, I mean “off-putting”. And by “off-putting”, I mean, “dear Lord, get the f%^*# away from me before I explode from your neediness.”
Yeah. They don’t tell you that in Lamaze class.
We want our kids to love us, of course. And to count on us. And to know that we love them. And blah blah blah blah blah. But why do they have to be so needy? Especially when we least can handle it, like when there’s a new baby, or when we are on the phone, or when we have the flu or when the new season of Mafia Wives is on?
The question, as you may have already figured out, is also the answer.
Kids have a creepy-brilliant detector gene in them that is activated by even the slightest shift in the parental universe. You can be four rooms away from them, each of you ensconced on your own activities, in – as preschool parlance goes – “perfect parallel play”, when you have a momentary private thought that you have to pee, or you need to write an email to someone, or you might want another baby, or that someone else’s child is cute, or that someday, when the kids are grown and on their own, you would like to see Europe, or a movie.
A nice thought, you say to yourself, bemused.
By the time you finish even thinking that sentence, your child is by your side, wanting be picked up, or kissed, or just wanting you to clear your brain of any thought other than himself. Kids must have been the inspiration for Orwell’s Thought Police when he wrote “Ninety Eighty-Four.” Kids take over. They are in your head, people.
What to do?
Well, you aren’t going to like my first bit of advice. Or, probably, the second, either. But here’s the idea: you have to feed the need before you can change the behavior.
Deep, right? I know.
When your child is feeling particularly needy, the worst part is that s/he also feels your (presumably hidden) sense of exhaustion and rejection. And then the child whines or acts out or pinches the baby or pinches the dog or kicks you or breaks all of your wine glasses.
And you think, THIS is supposed to make me want to hug you?
And the child thinks, YES.
And the day wears on. Until you can either have a drink or provoke a fight with your spouse, to take the edge off.
So, how about trying these strategies instead:
The Drive-By Love Fest. Find a time when your child is happy doing something other than loving on you. All of your instincts will tell you not to bother your child because you are so desperate for the time alone, but just hear me out. Walk over to where your child is happily not interacting with you, and swoop your child up, plant a big old kiss on your kid, say “you are just so kissable. I remember when you were a little baby and I could hold you in one arm. I want to kiss you all day,” (or some other similar lie). Then put your child down and walk away.
The Manipulatively Placed Baby Photos. Put together a bunch of photos from when your needy child was a baby. (If you never took any photos of your child, find a child who resembles yours). Put the photos out on, say, the kitchen table or a coffee table. Let your child find them. Make brief, offhand, cloying comments when you see your child looking at the photos, like, “you are my sweet baby forever”. Try not to choke on your words.
The Specific Plan For Togetherness. When kids ask us over and over again to hold them, or play with them, or watch them play (the ultimate parent torture), and our answer is a vague, “later”, or “soon”, or “okay” (but we are only halfway present during it), it actually makes them crave us more. Kinda like eating only one piece of Mouse Crunch. Tell your child specifically when you are going to hang out with them (“after I finish this cup of coffee and take three Prozac and knock myself unconscious with a hammer”), and for how long you will be available (“but when it’s two o’clock, I need to get back to work.”) That reassures a child.
And finally, know that this phase will pass. I promise you. There will come a day when your child would rather pour hot tar up his nose than cuddle with you.
Now give me a hug.
~Ann Brown is available for private parenting consultation. Please contact the school office for her schedule and fees.