I admit it freely – I’m a cuddler.
I’m not ashamed of this, although, on more than one occasion in my short time as a mommy, I have been.
See, my little girl, K, was born “needy.” By that, I don’t mean that she had any special needs per se; she wasn’t impaired in any diagnosable way. Yet, she did have a need that many people looked down on me for meeting – the need to be held, almost constantly.
She couldn’t sleep unless she was in my arms. She would cry if I put her in her swing. Strollers were torture, as was the car seat. She wanted me, snuggling her close, at all times.
Immediately, ‘they’ were around me. ‘They’ come in all forms: older moms with grown children, moms my own age, women older and younger than me with no kids, the occasional opinionated grandfather – ‘they’ all said the same thing as they watched me snuggling close my baby at all hours of the day and night: “You cuddle your baby too much. You’re spoiling her. You’re going to make her clingy. She’s going to be so dependant on you.”
At the time, I wasn’t trying to rattle any cages. I didn’t really know my own opinion on the subject, because I’d never really thought about it – I just was so tired. Ineeded sleep, and if holding K was the way to get it, then for the love of a little shut-eye, I would hold her. I was far too exhausted to think of starting any kind of anti-clinginess regime.
Once she got a little older and started sleeping more, I started asking myself – are these people right? Did I cuddle my babies too much? I didn’t want my daughter to grow up socially backwards or tied to my apron strings or something. I wanted her to be strong, brave, a fighter – was my holding her going to turn her into an eternal mama’s girl?
I remember that gut feeling that hit me as she cried in her swing when I tried to “get her used to it.” Something was bothering me. Something was wrong with what was happening here. Was I just being, you know, a wuss?
I began praying earnestly that God would tell me what to do. Even though she was only weeks old, it was nowhere near the first time that I wished I’d been given a how-to guide when she was born. The fear of messing up your own child forever is a fear that all mommies know far too well. I had talked over the whole “to hold, or not to hold” thing with so many girlfriends, and they all had different answers, different philosophies. They also all had different families, full of different dynamics and different children. I wanted God to just tell me what my daughter – specifically K, and not someone else’s baby – needed.
Shortly after that, He started reminding me of the summer camps where I used to work (I spent most of my summers throughout high school and college counseling at summer camps. It was like getting paid to play, act silly, swim in a pool, and be the cool big sister. Awesome job). I recalled all the kids I had met over the years, and all the hundreds of different backgrounds they’d had. Some were from the country, others the innermost parts of the city. Some had parents in prison, some had parents who were affluent members of the community. Some came from big families, some were only children. There was a huge variety of children and pre-teens, and yet, as I prayed, God pointed out to me that they really fit into two categories: the kids who’d have fun with me, but could go off and make friends and play independantly, and the kids who would glue themselves to my side (sometimes in a very physical way–I remember several “leg-hangers” that always seemed to need physical contact).
Guess who the kids were who just *had* to be with me all the time, and just *had*to get a million hugs and affirmations a day? The kids who didn’t get that stuff at home.
Some were troubled foster kids who’d been bouncing from home to home for as long as they could remember. Some hadn’t ever met their fathers, and their moms were forced to work two (or more) jobs to provide. Some lived with relatives who seemed not to take much of an interest. Circumstances varied greatly, but the theme was the same–no one had held them very much when they were small, and now, they had big holes in their hearts.
It saddened and concerned me to remember these children, many of whom I remember by name and still pray for whenever I think of them. The worst thing to realize, now that I’m a mother, is that if it were K out there desperately seeking love, she might not find someone like me to cling to. I was kind to those children, and tried to make them feel cared about, if only for the week or so that I was with them. Yet how often have I turned on the news to hear of someone else, working in a similar environment, who took advantage of these needy, broken little ones, and abused them physically, sexually, or mentally? Like the recent case of Jerry Sandusky, who preyed on insecure, love-starved children to fulfill his own demented desires – it’s just not a safe world for children who haven’t been loved on enough at home.
My hubby had been getting his ear chewed on by a few well-meaning busybodies as well, and at first, he was concerned I was “spoiling” K, too. After all, there were a few days when I was literally in contact with her for almost the full 24-hour period. He expressed his concern, quoting some of the women who’d been gnawing at him and telling him our daughter would never be independant.
First off, I reminded him that he should probably look at how *their* children had turned out. One of the ladies he’d mentioned had raised a bunch of children of her own, sure, but she was always complaining that they didn’t keep in touch. Hardly surprising, when she’d been pushing them to be independant, to not “need” her too much, since they were newborns! Once I looked at it from my new perspective, I couldn’t believe I was the only one who noticed the parallels. Practically since birth she’d been trying not to “spoil” her children with too much love and affection, encouraging them rather to “suck it up,” to quit running to her when they had problems or hurt themselves, to stop “needing” her so much – and when all of a sudden they’re grown and out of the house and not calling anymore, when they no longer “needed” her at all, she was shocked. Why be shocked? She just got exactly what she wanted.
Secondly, I reminded him of the children from camp. He’d worked at one of the same camps I did (guess where we fell for each other?), and I brought up some names – some of the children I still thought of and prayed for; some of the broken ones. I asked him if so-and-so had been constantly asking for piggy-back rides and following him around for three months because he was getting “spoiled” at home. It was an easy and obvious “no,” because the boy in question didn’t have one.
He agreed with me. The kids from happy homes had liked us, but not needed us. The kids who were love-starved had needed us very, very badly. I could cuddle my K as much as I wanted from then on, with him defending my right to do so. And, since my K seemed to need constant contact, we went into full-on babywearing mode. I got used to wearing her around the house as I cleaned, and wearing her in the store as I shopped. Whatever I did, I did it with a baby strapped to me. She slowly started to relax, to calm down, and to grow more confident. I thanked God for showing me, and for showing my hubby – before we pushed our little girl away.
She’s a toddler now, and the always-needing-to-be-held baby I started out with is long gone. She’s still a sweet, affectionate little girl, but she’s turned into an independant little explorer. When we’re out playing at the park, she’s the one always trying to wander off to see new sights. I still get lots of hugs, kisses and cuddles, but she doesn’t really need me as much anymore. If people comment on anything now, it’s not on how much I hold her – it’s on how fearless and tough she is. She’s turning out just how I hoped, even though I snuggled the heck out of her until she was big enough to get away from me.
I cuddled my baby too much. When my little man is born, I intend to give him all the cuddles he wants, too. I want to cuddle and love and snuggle the heck out of these kids, so that when they’re bigger, they won’t have any holes in their hearts that they have to look to strangers to fill. Don’t let anyone tell you not to hold your babies as much as they want you to, mamas. I guarantee you it won’t spoil them. If anything, it will be exactly the thing that keeps them unspoiled by the rest of the world.
This post is linked up at The Pistachio Project’s Simply Natural Saturdays hop