“You’re his north star.”
Four words have never summed up this stage of parenting as well as what my brother told me in Puerto Vallarta this past week on our annual family vacation. My brother — a newlywed and kid-lover, but not a parent himself yet — was able to pinpoint exactly how Ben feels about me — MAMA — with just those four words.
… And he’s an “outsider” looking in!
For months now I’ve been struggling with this needy “I-only-want-mommy” stage (which often lasts from 15-18 months, depending on the child) and this vacation was particularly challenging.
In spite of our idyllic, breezy, beautiful Pacific paradise beachscape … I had the world’s clingiest toddler in tow. Sure, he’d go to everyone in my family — would even put his arms out and ask for them by name — but then within a few minutes he’d realize he can’t see me … and his little built-in “where’s mama” honing device alarm would
sound shrill. He needed to know where his “north star” was: his constant ... me.
And then when he found me … it was game over. He wouldn’t calm down unless in my arms. Redirecting, removing him from the situation, singing, Tylenol for potential teeth coming in … nothing worked. He wouldn’t even find comfort in Luis … only me. Unfortunately, I was battling my sixth sinus infection in as many months and feeling quite miserable — so it was really tough at times. [Note: had we been home and not at a resort, I would have let him cry more and not coddled so much but I also didn’t want to ruin every vacationer’s trip … and so I sucked it up].
But once my brother reframed this challenging clingy stage for me with the north star analogy, it’s like a light bulb went off in me. I softened. Suddenly the nuisance of being his one and only felt like a gift (he won’t want me forever). Instead of fighting him, I soothed his thrashing arms and legs and held him tight (he won’t want to be in my arms forever). And it worked. After I was able to view his behavior through the “north star” lens, I was less agitated and less anxious about how he’d behave … and he actually seemed “better.”
And by the next day (our last day in PV), he was a different kid, walking around our hotel room asking “Where Matt? Where Pop? Where Lala? Where KaKa? Where Bamma?” and less clingy than he had been all week. In fact, that morning my dad came to our room to take the kids to the beach to play in the sand before breakfast. Ben looked at me, waved and said “bye bye mama” as he reached up and grabbed my dad’s hand … leaving me standing speechless in the doorway. When I came down an hour later, he was sitting in a high chair happily munching on / throwing Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes) with my parents, no big deal. Of course, once he saw me he did get a bit clingy … but it wasn’t immediate, as before.
I’m not sharing this to imply my reframing made Ben’s behavior change; for all I know he had had been cutting a tooth or something and was just feeling better! He’s a toddler and toddlers struggle with separation anxiety. BUT changing how I viewed the situation surely helped me cope better with his clinginess … and that’s worth noting.
Also worth noting: this is not the first time four words spoken from my brother have made a lasting impact. During my recovery (2009), it was his ask that got me to stop chewing and spitting … more than a year of cognitive behavioral therapy did less! He asked me how I felt when I chewed and spit; did I feel pride or guilt. And naturally I said I felt guilty. “So then choose pride over guilt every time.”
And so that became my mantra: choose pride over guilt. I have done that every day since March 2009. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m proud to say I’ve been fully recovered now for six years.
So thank you to my “little bro” for your wise-beyond-your-years counsel and for such great analogies and words that really drive a message home and helped make one stressed-out mama feel calm and sane, if but for a bit.
At our excursion one day to private beach called Las Caletas, the tour photographer snapped this sweet pic (one of several I am ordering including one of Maya petting a giant snake and me, Luis and Maya sea kayaking!). <3.
It isn’t always easy being needed 24/7 … but I Iove being his north star and am going to cherish this stage, with all its challenges and drama. After all, pretty soon, he’ll want nothing to do with me.
But for now? For now I’m MAMA. And I’m his world.
And there’s nothing better.