As I’ve mentioned before, my kids are clingers. I did this to myself, and I did this to them, unthinkingly, when we moved here. We didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a car, blahblah excuses. Regardless, because of my choices, my kids spent an entire year no farther from mommy than about 10 feet at any given time.
I didn’t realize what I had done until I went on a job interview a few hours away and left them with a babysitter without warning. That was the biggest mistake ever.
After that experience, things were even worse than before. I felt like I had betrayed my babies, and those babies, in turn, were convinced they would never let me out of their sight again. Ever. For a month afterward I couldn’t even bring laundry upstairs or get something out of my car without major meltdowns and insecurity. What if mommy was leaving for hours again? Where is she? Where is mommy? At all times, where is she?
1) Don’t leave without telling them.
Kids are small, not stupid. They deserve and will understand an explanation. Like adults, they want to be reassured that you’ll be okay. They have the added necessity of having to know that they’ll be okay, too. Even if you’re able to sneak out without them noticing, all you’ve done is saved yourself a few minutes of questioning, and at the high price of breaking their trust. I assume most people know this already know this. I’m highly embarrassed I had to learn it the hard way.
I had to work on rebuilding trust, and if I could somehow get us back to where we were preincident, I had to then work on showing the babies that the world doesn’t end if I’m gone for a few minutes. They have to trust not only that I’m always around, but also that I’ll always come back.
2) Get out of the house.
I made the mistake of getting into the habit of defining getting out of the house as simply that. If I took the kids to the bank, or to the grocery store, or to the post office, I considered that an activity. Wrong. I mean, it is an activity, and it’s better than nothing, but it’s not a help in socialization as much as going to the park, the pool, the library or any other activity aimed toward kids specifically would be. By allowing your kids to play with other children (and adults) you widen their scope and broaden their definition of the world. This will help them be more comfortable in that world, with or without you.
3) Introduce trusted adults as playmates and caretakers while you’re around.
I don’t have any friends or family here, so eventually I caved and got myself a (paid, although poorly, since we don’t have a lot of money around here) younger sister who comes twice a week for a few hours to “help” with the babies. I started off by playing together with them all during her time here. Slowly, I would branch off and start doing small chores on my own. At first, within seconds I would here, “Mommy? Mooooommmmmmy!” And I would call from wherever I was, telling them what I was doing. They would come and help me. This went on for weeks. One day, I went off to put the laundry away, and they didn’t call for me. They finally understood that I was still here, I was just doing chores. Whether it’s a family member, a close friend, or a sometimes sitter, introducing children to other trusted adults is an important step to independence.
4) Start small.
That interview had me out of the house for seven hours. After not being out of my sight for a year, it was simply too much to expect from the babies. Even if they had been better acclimated to the world without mommy, seven hours is still a very long time for children unused to going more than a few minutes without a parent in sight.
This past week, I have been brave enough to try some small field trips, and I’ve had success! Last week, I brought the babies to the mall along with the “little sister.” Instead of supervising them all at the playland, which is what I’ve done in the past, I did some shopping at nearby stores. Unlike the last time, when I merely left for five minutes to grab a coffee and came back to find my kids running amok trying to get me back, this time they accepted that I was shopping for a few minutes and played happily. I was shocked.
Saturday was my birthday, and boosted from my shopping experiment, I called a babysitter. She played with the kids for a while as my husband and I got ready. Then we put them to bed and left, which specific instructions that she call should they freak out in the slightest. No phone call. I texted. They were asleep. They were fine. This was the best sitting experience we’ve had since they were born.
With an explanation and some physically proof that life doesn’t end when mommy leaves the room, I’ve seen that I can reverse the clinging tendency I’ve accidentally encouraged in my kids.
All I can say is, thank goodness!