One of the greatest parenting challenges I have faced in two and a half years (not so very far below Sleepless Nights and Toilet Training on the list) has been dealing with a really clingy child. Lily has always been the kid amongst my social circle to howl when Mummy goes to the toilet without her, cry when I drop her at the church crèche, insist that I come inside the gated kid’s area at the Play Café, or accompany her down the slide rather than simply waving at the bottom. While my friends’ children are merrily clambering up steps and wading through ball pits on their own, my little girl is clinging to my leg like an octopus clip.
And it’s me, rather than my husband that she clings to. “Mummy, you can get me out,” she’ll say as Jeremy goes to unbuckle her after a family outing, as if bestowing the greatest favour upon me. “I want a cuddle with Mummy!” she’ll shriek, as I stir bolognaise into steaming spaghetti whilst simultaneously grating parmesan and slicing tomato – even if he is squatting before her with his arms open wide.
I try to be patient without pandering to her clinginess, encouraging her to take small steps of independence. I tell her that Mummy and Daddy are both helpers, and it doesn’t matter who gets her out of the car/ puts on her bib/ changes her nappy. Sometimes I do just tell her not to be silly. Friends have commented that it’s sweet she wants to be close to her mum. My own mum tells me to be patient, “she’s still so little”.
I know that in the great scheme of things there are far worse issues for parents to deal with than a toddler who is a little too attached to her Mum. But knowing this doesn’t make it easier for me to be patient when she cries for me to watch TV with her, let her come in the toilet too or hold her when I’m trying to get the dinner. Sometimes, for the sanity and continued function of our family unit, I need to do things on my own, and Lily needs to do things on her own. This term, I decided to enrol her in dancing classes. She loves moving to music at home, and plus I thought it might help her develop confidence.
I would challenge even the most thick-skinned, non-maternal, career-driven woman not to dissolve into a gooey, clucking puddle at the vision of ten little two- and three-year-olds wiggling their pink tutu-ed bottoms to the sweet tunes of Justine Clarke. Oh it was cute! Of course, Lily was adamant that I remain within a pinkie’s width of her at all times, but I was prepared for that. So I twirled and ran and jumped and curtsied beside the ten tiny girls, just as gracefully as my six-month-pregnant body would allow.
However, about fifteen minutes into the lesson – with the moves becoming trickier and Lily getting tired – she started to become increasingly sulky, before leaping into my lap and refusing to participate further. No amount of cajoling could convince her to join in, even with me dancing right beside her. It was an identical story the following week, and I was losing my patience.
On the third week of dance class I took drastic and perhaps controversial measures. To get to our lesson we must walk through a shop. In the shop there are two large boxes, one marked boys and one marked girls. In the boxes are little presents. Lots and lots of little presents. What in the whole world could be more appealing to a two-and-a-half-year-old girl than the thought of reaching her hand into the box marked girl and choosing any present she wanted? Oh the thrill, the possibility, the adventure that is the Lucky Dip! The bribery was simple and blatant: If she could join in for the whole lesson, without sitting on my lap, she could pick one.
The result was remarkable. Lily shook her pom poms, jumped in and out of her hoop and pointed her toes with the best of them. The few times that she started to get a little overwhelmed and sulky, a whisper in her ear about what was at stake was all it took for her join back in. The teacher was amazed at the improvement. I was proud at what she had accomplished. Lily was rapt with her glitter tattoo and princess bookmark. It was the best $2 I’ve spent.