“Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!” is about the way a few hours of every day goes for me with my 17 month old. She insistently calls for me and wants to be held, hugged and paid attention to. So, we read books, sing together, cuddle, and
sometimes often times I find myself completing tasks with one hand while she’s happily perched on my hip.
But, like many moms, I put up with it and try to enjoy it as much as I can. She’ll only be this little so long. I know that it’s only a matter of time before she becomes more independent.
My nearly four-year-old on the other hand is quite independent. He likes the occasional snuggle and asks to be played with from time to time. But, most of the time he can be found happily digging with his trucks in the dirt, coloring pictures beside me while I work or making up an intricate story line with a few model dinosaurs. He also likes to help wash dishes and hang up laundry or page through a book.
As a baby and toddler, my son was similar to my daughter. He was attached to me or his father at most times. While he enjoyed wandering off on his own to play for a while, he was more often than not like velcro.
That’s my real life experience that shows me that being close and connected leads to independence. But, there’s more to it than one mom’s journey.
Montessori on Babies and Independence
Montessori believed that children have a natural desire to become independent. But, she also believed that we should cultivate this in our children by giving them the security and connection they need.
In her book The Absorbent Mind, Montessori devotes several chapters to discuss the ideal conditions in which new-borns and very young children should grow up. In the chapter “The First Days of Life”, she criticizes common practices in Europe in the mid 1900s such as keeping the child away in a nursery or allowing a nurse to look after the baby.
She says that the natural order of things has been disturbed. She even cites other mammals and the way the mother takes time to spend specially with her new baby or babies, away from the others. Other countries, she says “seem to be more enlightened than ourselves…In almost all countries, the baby accompanies his mother wherever she goes. Mother and child are inseparable.”
What beautiful words. “Mother and child are inseparable.”
Growing to be Independent
Montessori, one of the first and greatest advocates of independence and freedom for children, encourages that the mother and child be inseparable during the first year or two of life!
Of course Montessori means this as a way to provide security for the child. A child who feels secure and safe will be much more likely to explore and try new things than a child who constantly feels worried about where his caregiver is and if they can be expected to respond to their crying. Montessori encourages us to be responsive, loving and close to our children to facilitate their own desire for independence to grow.
All children, even my clingy 17 month old baby girl, show a desire to be independent. She loves eating at her own small table and walking on her own. She also loves doing things all by herself and will begin a tantrum if help is offered. But, when she’s clingy, she’s getting that security from her parents that we’re still here.
A Word of Encouragement
I know it can feel tiring to deal with a clingy child who needs you all the time. But, this is their natural way of growing into independence. You CAN hug them into independence.
Sometimes I hear moms worrying whether or not they’re spoiling their baby by holding them too much. Don’t worry, you’re not.
And forcing them into independence is counter-productive. They’ll feel anxious and worry about being left to cry it out.
Instead, allow your child to lead the way. Offer ways for them to be independent by providing support, a stool to reach what they need, activities that develop their motor skills and allowing them to spill that water all over the place! Support your child when they demonstrate a desire to do things “all by myself”.
You can raise an independent child while holding, hugging and being with your child when they need you.