I am a working mother of a 9 month old. I went back to work after my daughter was four months old. The past couple of months my daughter has become extremely “clingy.” She exhibits this behavior only towards me. As soon as she sees me she wants me to carry her. At times she has cried for up to 10 minutes if I’m busy fixing dinner or with other chores. My husband is a great father. He’s the one who takes her to daycare (since I leave very early in the morning). When I’m not around she’s happy playing on the floor with him or just being silly. As soon as she hears my voice or catches a glimpse of me, this normally happy baby turns into a cranky baby crying non-stop until I pick her up. At daycare she has a good time. I have seen evidence of this when I’ve dropped in unannounced and stood by silently watching her. As soon as she spies me, she falls apart and bursts into tears if I don’t pick her up immediately. At outings and parties she refuses to let me out of her sight. At dinner parties I’m sometimes forced to eat standing up, holding her in my arms because I prefer not to let her cry. This is causing me a great deal of frustration. I’m also tired from constantly attending to her when I’m around her. Please help before I go crazy.
Liz Rajaram – Fremont, California
Dr. Greene’s Answer:
Calling yourself a working mother is an under-statement! All mothers work, but when you work outside the home as well, you are holding down two different kinds of jobs. For many mothers, their work outside the home is refreshing and gives them energy for their demanding job at home. Some mothers long to be home with their children, and only work outside the home because they feel they must. Whatever your situation is, it is normal for you to feel extremely tired, especially when your little one wants you whenever you are near.
Now, the good news. What your daughter is going through is a common, limited phase of child development. Many children strongly prefer one parent over every other person in the world for a brief period of time. Usually they prefer their mothers for a period (ranging in length from approximately one month to several months) during the later part of their first year. During this particular time her desire for you is especially intense, as she is in the midst of a developmental phase characterized by separation anxiety. Often after children grow out of this stage, they will prefer their fathers over everyone else on the face of the earth. Generally the period they attach to their fathers is shorter than the period when only their mothers can make the world a better place.
During this very taxing period, you may want to consider ways that your family can adjust their life style in order to help you (and your daughter) through this:
- Don’t try to get too much done during the periods you are alone with your daughter. Use this time to build an even stronger relationship between the two of you.
- Adjust the family dinner time so that you don’t start cooking until after Dad has come home and had a chance to unwind.
- Have Dad or another responsible adult take your daughter out of the house for an hour or so each day so that you can have a little time to do the things you need and want to do (like prepare dinner), without her crying to be picked up.
- Decline invitations to events that don’t fit your family’s current needs. If you really want or need to go to the event, consider hiring a babysitter for the evening. As long as you are spending focused time with your daughter each day, it’s okay to get a sitter occasionally in the evening, even if your daughter is in childcare during the day.
- It’s okay to let her cry some. Trust your maternal instincts. If you would rather adjust what you are doing and pick her up, do so. At those other moments when your deep desire is to get something accomplished, do what it takes to proceed. If you listen to your deepest desires and act accordingly she will learn both that you love her intensely, and that other people have needs too.
- When she starts to cry, breathe deeply, remind yourself that this is only a phase, and think about the parts of being a mother that you enjoy the most!
Right now this all seems very difficult, but it will pass. One day, in what I am afraid is the very near future, your daughter will be a well-adjusted adolescent. When she skips out the door with a casual, “Bye, Mom,” you’ll remember the time when you were the center of her world and all the tiredness and frustration you now feel will seem a small price to pay.