He just wants to be held

By Julinda Adams

I am the mother of two boys ages 15 and 9.

Earlier this year, when I read the APtly Said post, “Using presence to raise independent children,” it reminded me of my own experience, and I left the following comment:

julinda adams baby“I, too, had a grocery store experience with a stranger’s advice, but mine was the opposite of yours and had a major impact on my life. My firstborn, as a newborn, needed to be held a lot and nursed a lot — almost constantly. At home, I held him constantly, but when I was out, I thought he would just lie in his car seat or carrier like other babies I’d seen. (I also thought he would sleep peacefully alone in a crib, but that’s a different story!)

So I was in the store, he was in the carrier in the child seat area of the cart, and he was wailing. I was trying to console him, but he didn’t stop. Two older ladies came upon us, and one of them said, “I think he just wants to be held.”

He just wants to be held. In that moment, I realized that it didn’t matter where we were or what other babies did or how other parents acted: My baby wanted to be held. From that time on, he was only in the seat if we were in the car, he was asleep, he was content or I couldn’t hold him for some reason. Many times, I walked through a store holding him — or later his brother — sometimes attempting to nurse, while trying to push a cart.”

The images we see in the media often show a detached form of parenting. Babies only appear when needed for the story line, or even as props. On the screen, they are quiet and require minimal interaction, unless the script calls for something else. When they are not in a scene, they are out of sight and no thought is given to them. So the baby lying quietly until the parents are ready to interact seems normal.

Some babies may do OK with that. My firstborn made it known from birth that he expected to be physically attached, and we complied most of the time. When we were out, though, I expected him to act like those media babies and lie quietly. When he didn’t, I didn’t know what to do. The comment of the older lady in the grocery store surprised me, and then I thought, Oh, of course. He always wants to be held.

And far beyond realizing it was fine to hold him whenever he wanted, I realized I could listen to him — and my instincts.

I wish I could say I never again worried about what people thought about my parenting, but of course I did. I still do. And while many people find responsive parenting in infancy produces socially independent kids, that didn’t happen for us. Our son remained “clingy.” He needed us by his side as he ventured out. We supported him by being there when we could and “weaning” him from our presence gently.

He’s 15 now, and honestly, new situations still throw him off balance. And we still support him when he needs us.

Editor’s note: Some children are more likely to be “clingy,” or slow to warm to new situations. This is due to temperament, an inborn personality difference. Attachment Parenting works for these and other “spirited” children, because this parenting approach can more easily adapt to each child’s unique abilities. Learn more on “Different, Not Disordered” and “Emotions, Limits and Spirited Kids” on The Attached Family, the online magazine of Attachment Parenting International (API). Or read a collection of API’s articles for parents of spirited children in the “Loving Uniquely” issue of the print magazine.