Toddler traumatized by separation

>>I was wondering if you can give me some advice on my situation. Ds2  was always very attached. I let him be as clingy as he needed, and eventually he became more independent and not so attached anymore. Then I gave birth (edited – and was in the hospital for two days). Now I know a homebirth would have prevented this issue, but the issue now is:
He is traumatized that i left him.  He asks me to hold him whenever i’m nursing the baby, is biting me and hitting me, has asked to nurse (though he’s weaned 5 mos already) and is just in general being VERY clingy. He insists on coming with me to the bathroom and watching me when i shower…

So my question is- what do i do now?
Just let him be as clingy as he feels the need to, to reassure him that i’m gonna be there for him and won’t leave him, and let him become more independent when he is ready to do so?  Or be very loving and warm to him, but set limits like “no coming with mommy to the bathroom” or “no watching mommy shower”?  And what do i do when he wants to be held while i’m nursing the baby?<<

Today on the way home from our full day of shopping, we listened to a cassette that I got a couple of years ago – it was a talk on parenting given at a homeschooling conference in 2001.  The speaker was extremely funny – my kids were cracking up, and so was I (though laughing hard isn’t a good idea right now for me, since it caused me to throw up several times – but it was worth it!).  The premise of the talk was that there’s not much support for parents nowadays, and that though people complain that kids today aren’t disciplined, parents who do what is necessary to develop a disciplined and well behaved child who knows his limits and has self control are criticized.  It was a great talk and I mention it here since he shared a philosophy very similar to mine, and touched on a point that you’re asking about – the place of discipline. 

I don’t encourage clinginess, but I do support giving a lot of love and warmth.  It might seem it’s two ways of saying the same thing, but there’s a significant difference.  When you give a child a message that he is emotionally needy and you’re there for him (that was the first option you mentioned), that’s a very different message from he’s healthy and fine and you’re there for him (option number two).  One encourages his weakness and one supports his strength. 

Kids need discipline.  It’s not a kindness to refrain from establishing clear limits with your children.  It’s no favor to give them all that they want (hmm, this is sounding like what I wrote about last night that was lost even though it was on an entirely different topic).  

When a child goes through a situation like this, they do want your presence.  It’s frightening for the person who is the center of your universe to disappear for two or three days, especially when you’re little and have no sense of time, and may even be afraid that they aren’t coming back at all.  He’s not asking just for your physical presence, but for  your reassurance that you won’t disappear again.    There are lots of non verbal ways to do that, but you don’t need to aquiesce to all that he’s asking for if it’s uncomfortable for you.  I don’t mind letting my toddler watch me brush my teeth, but that’s about it as far as my comfort level goes regarding my time in the bathroom and the company of little people.  Moms are entitled to at least that tiny bit of privacy, aren’t they? :)  Practically speaking, I suggest you take a shower either before he wakes up or after he goes to sleep to avoid the issue for 2 – 3 weeks.  With time he’ll become increasingly secure about your presence. 

In general, give him a lot of attention, but don’t overdo it so he thinks that you’re trying to make up for bringing the baby into his life.  Then it will reinforce his feeling that you’ve done something to wrong him.  Newborn babies nurse alot, but they sleep a lot more than they’re awake.  That gives you loads of time when your attention is totally on him.  But even when the baby is awake or nursing, he doesn’t need much of your emotional attention.  When you’re nursing the baby, you can make a point of gathering him into one arm and hugging him – he doesn’t have to be on your lap if you can’t manage that.  You also can give him a special hug right before you feed the baby.  Right after I have a baby, I make it a point to make nursing sessions special reading time for my toddlers.  So instead of feeling resentful that Mommy is spending so much time holding the baby, they love it because when I feed the baby it means they get to cozy up on the couch next to me and hear a story of their choosing. 

Congratulations on your new baby and enjoy this period – it goes by soooo fast!


4 thoughts on “Toddler traumatized by separation

  1. Thank you.
    People are telling me I should send my son out to a babysitter bec he’s extra clingy now and if its driving me nuts, I should take a break and send him out, even if he cries while he’s there.
    I think it would backfire bec the reason he’s being clingy is because i left him, so sending him out won’t solve the clinginess issue, but probably would make him even more clingy.

  2. This mentality of, just send your children away if you’re having any sort of challenge, is unhelpful because it doesn’t deal with the root issue. I sometimes wonder if mothers have any other suggestions since this seems to be the main one that is pulled out for a variety of situations. It seems it’s easier to recommend sending them away than to deal with the real needs of the mother and/or children.

    I think sending a very young child out to a babysitter at a time when more than anything he craves the reassurance of your presence is heartless and would backfire. Yes, I agree that following that course of action would lead to more clinginess.

  3. Thank you for the suggestion about reading time while nursing. I made a point to do that today. Even though I prefer to use the computer while nursing, I specifically sat on the couch while nursing so my toddler could cuddle next to me with a book of his choosing and we used nursing time as story time. That definitely helped and he wasnt asking to be held while I nursed today, so that is definitely progress.

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