by Cynthia MacGregor
Does your child seem more clingy since the divorce? Does it seem you have a constant shadow, following you around the house? If you go out and leave her at home (with a sitter if she’s young, on her own if she’s older), does she demand to know exactly what time you’ll be back, where you’re going, and maybe even whether it’s really necessary that you go? Or does she demand to be taken with you?
You may chalk it up to the fact that the divorce has her upset, or “She’s going through a fearful phase” or some such, but the reality is much more specific than that: She’s fearful of losing you. The child psychology behind this is more complicated than just being a straight-forward, black and white issue.
Think about it: Her father has recently moved out of the house. (Or you and she have moved out, removing her father from her life.) Oh, sure, she may still see him on weekends, but clearly that’s not the same thing. She’s lost him from her day-to-day life…and if circumstances could take her dad away from her, it’s only natural that she would worry something could happen to remove you from her world, too.
The first thing, then, is to understand where she’s coming from. She’s afraid she’ll lose you next. That, by itself, is scary enough. Then, on beyond that, if she’s old enough to think it through, she may worry where she would go or whom she would live with in that case. Will she be sent to an orphanage? Left alone to live out on the street? Sent to a boarding school with a cruel headmistress like in the book, and the Shirley Temple movie based on it, A Little Princess?
So the next thing is to understand her clinginess and, no matter how annoying it may get, to not criticize, be sharp with her, or lose patience. You may need to draw the line if she won’t even let you use the bathroom in privacy, or if she makes a scene when you go off to work, but honor her fears and accommodate her as much as is reasonably feasible.
The monster under the bed
The monster under the bed has nothing on the spectre that she’ll get out of bed—in the morning or in the middle of the night—and find you gone. This may drive her to want to sleep in your bed. So what are you going to do when she wants to climb in with you?
There are three possible answers:
1 – Allow it.
2 – Disallow it.
3 – Let her fall asleep next to you and then carry her back to her own bed.
I can’t tell you which is right. You need to decide which is right for you. Some families believe in co-sleeping and let their children sleep in their bed from infancy till the kids decide on their own that they’re ready for some privacy. Some families think co-sleeping is a terrible idea—for any of a number of reasons—and never permit the kids to get in bed with Mom and/or Dad. Many families fall somewhere in the middle, allowing the kids in in extremis—after a nightmare or during severe thunderstorms, or when the kids are sick—but they won’t allow it as a regular practice.
I can also tell you that there are some moms who, after their husbands move out, encourage their kids to sleep in the mom’s bed…the mom herself feels comforted by the warm body (or plural warm bodies) sharing the big, lonely bed with her…especially if the child is a daughter rather than a son, as there are fewer questionable undertones to the arrangement. Now, that I discourage—allowing or encouraging your child to share your bed to soothe your own soul. I understand it, but I discourage it. But letting your child sleep in your bed for her comfort? That’s a decision you’ll need to make on your own. The experts are divided on the advisability of it, and frankly, I have mixed feelings about it myself.
It will certainly be awkward if, somewhere down the road, you remarry, you and your new husband want some privacy, and your daughter insists on sleeping in your bed. And if you make it plain that, now that there’s a new man in your life, your daughter is relegated to her own bed, it will only occasion resentment on the part of your child toward your new husband. Not a great way to start off a marriage! Of course, if you’ve just gotten divorced, you’re probably not thinking right now about remarriage. But think ahead and recognize the trap you may be setting for yourself.
“Mommy, hold me”
The clinginess may also evince itself in a great need for physical closeness such as your child wanting you to hold her or even carry her…perhaps when she weighs enough that carrying her around is not appropriate anymore. She may want undue amounts of snuggle time, or, if she’s still little, may cling to your legs constantly, impeding your efforts to get around the house.
All these are manifestations of “Mommy, don’t go away,” of the fear that you’ll leave her and a desire to keep you at least in her sight, if not physically connected, to insure that she’s not losing you too.
Time, the great healer, will take care of this problem, but once you understand what fear, specifically, is motivating this behavior, you can help ease her fears by speaking positively of doing things together, not only now but in the future: “When we go to the beach next summer…” “We’re going to Grandma’s house next weekend,” “Next year, let’s decorate the Christmas tree with popcorn garlands,” and such. And of course, telling her she’s special, and how much you love her, is always a reassurance at any time. Don’t neglect to lean heavily on it now. You’re not leaving her…even though her daddy did. And she needs to be reassured of that.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens and The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family. All four of these are available through Amazon.com or from your bookstore or directly from Impact Publishers. These also include Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way, available as e-books from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com/LivingandLearningMain.html. She produced and hosted Solo Parenting on WHDT TV in the South Florida viewing area. The program, currently on hiatus, may return in the future. Cynthia’s website is www.cynthiamacgregor.com. EMail her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.