She Says… On Being Independent and Codependent

I’ve always been a very independent person. Wearing leopard print leggings in 6th grade when other kids were wearing jeans? Did it. Unfortunately also while rocking braces, glasses and a boy’s haircut. Wish I had pictures. (Ummm, NOT.) Packing my bags and heading off to Italy to study architecture, even without knowing a word of Italian or any of my classmates? Yep. Done. Agreeing to marry Benjamin as a senior in college, while most of my friends were trading boyfriends like baseball cards? You better believe it. Moving to Boston when almost all of my friends and family were several states away? One of the best decisions I ever made.

While I often talk through my decisions with those close to me, I usually have my mind made up no matter what they think. I’ve always been comfortable taking care of myself. I can read maps. I can change a tire. I can cook a decent dinner out of almost anyone’s pantry. I can feel a baby’s fever with the touch of my cheek, soothe away his tears and call the doctor all at the same time.

When Benjamin travels or has to work on weekends or even on my Mondays with just Owen, I am so thankful that I enjoy being independent. That I am not only capable of doing it all myself, but that I love doing it all myself. (Ahem, sometimes).

For the last few weeks especially, it’s been mostly just Owen and me. Me and Owen. Doing everything together. And while this bonding time has been incredibly special to me (and hard, at times, of course), it has brought up an issue I hadn’t really thought about before.

Can you spend too much time with your kid?

I don’t mean that in the “now that I’m a mother I don’t even know who I am anymore” kind of way. No, I have friends and relationships and a job independent of Owen and I do my best to keep them humming along. What I mean is that I have made such a concerted effort to put away my phone, shut my laptop and turn off the TV and my Blackberry when I am with Owen that I think I have given him a false sense of what the world is like. That I am always there for him. That I can always carve out time for him. That he is the most important thing in the world to me. That going to the playground and pretending to mow the lawn and reading every book in his bookshelf are literally the only things on my agenda for the day. By spending all of my time focused entirely on him, am I making him codependent on me?

Sure, sure, when I am making dinner and he’s grabbing at my knees tearfully whimpering, “Hold you, Mommy! Hold you!”, I explain that I can’t hold him right now because my hands are busy cooking. I try to show him that when I am having a conversation with someone else, I can’t always listen to him and he needs to learn how to wait. But he has no idea about all of the things that I put off until naptime or after he goes to bed so that I can focus all of my attention on him while he is awake.

I guess when it comes down to it, if my biggest parenting mistake is spending too much time with my son, and listening too closely to the sentences his little brain is desperately learning to put together, then I think I can sleep well at night. But I do wonder if my constant attention will backfire at some point. In my defense, I do think daycare gives him the opportunity to realize that others need attention too, and I personally think there is plenty of time in his life for him to figure out that he isn’t the center of the universe.

Do you ever feel like you give your child too much attention? Is there such a thing? Do you think there is a dark side to making your child the center of your world?



14 responses to “She Says… On Being Independent and Codependent

  1. I think daycare is helpful in this situation because it does balance things out and teach kids that they have to wait for things and can’t always have undivided attention. I have a hard time believing that you can give your child too much of your attention, especially when you are a working parent and are already away from him for a good portion of the week.

    I think I need to unplug more when my son is awake, because I do tend to get drawn into TV and my computer at times when he is awake. I also think there is a difference between giving your child your full attention and giving in to his every want.

  2. Well-said, Kate. For as obsessed as I am with Maya — wanting to be with her all I can, especially since I work outside the home 4 days a week — I don’t want to ever smother her, either (which people so rudely predicted on my Babble piece about the daycare webcam that went up on HuffPost). That said, there are worst things to be than a mother who adores her child and is attentive to his/her needs. And reading your post makes me wish I did put away the phone more when we are together–my phone is my camera, and because my family lives so far away, I’m constantly taking pics and videos for them … struggling to just “be” in the moment. I think I need to establish a new rule with my family … I’ll send pics at the end of the day after she is asleep.

    I’ve been driving myself insane trying to get her to say her newest word: “Rocco” (our dog, “goh-coh”) on camera; she does it all the time but as soon as the iPhone comes out, she won’t say it!

    What your post showed me is that I wonder if maybe I’m not letting her know she’s enough of a big deal sometimes — like when I’m preoccupied trying to get her to say something for the camera, I’m missing being in the moment with her.

    I think it’s a fine line, and I also think daycare is wonderful because it does force our kids to share (toys, teachers, friends, space) and that means not always being the center of attention.

  3. I was thinking about this exact issue last night. Since I work, I get to spend so little time with Clara. From 6-8 pm, I am on her like white on rice! Last night she went in her little tent to play and I resisted the urge to follow her. She stayed in there for like 30 minutes! I did peek in a few times, but she didn’t see me 🙂 I felt good about having let her have her alone time (that she sought out).

  4. As a working parent, I truly don’t think you fault your approach to showing Owen how important he is. I believe that the underlying thing he is also learning is that he needn’t be insecure because he does know that he can count on you and right now in his life, I think that message is super important. To address the issue you are concerned about (or potential issue), maybe if you ensure you voice back to him that you understand what he wants (when you can’t fulfill them – i.e. picking him up when your hands are tied making dinner) is a step in the direction of him understanding that his every need and desire can’t be fulfilled every second with Mommy, just like he has already learned in day care that they all take turns doing x, y, z. I think this is a process that occurs gradually over time as they develop out of the egocentric view they have of the world.

    As a full time working Mom, I completely understand this feeling and think it’s completely valid why my son wants my attention from the second we walk into the house after work/daycare (which makes for a whiny dinner making process most of the time), and wants tug my hand along to follow him to play with whatever he has cooked up in his little head. In fact, currently, I am never “allowed” to sit and relax if it doesn’t involve him! Most of the time I go along with it for all the same reasons you focus your attention on Owen when you are not working, but there are also times that the answer is No and trying to get the message across as to why isn’t always easy either (i.e. he wants me to take him into the basement to play with it’s time to go to day care). But even if he’s upset, it passes, we move on and he knows I love him even if we didn’t go into the basement 🙂

  5. My husband and I were just talking about this last night! We are going to be traveling away from him next weekend, G for 7 then both of us for 3 days — and I hate that we are leaving him — but G said he will be more then fine at his grandparents house and he has to understand that we wil go places and come back … I just wonder if he has to learn so early. (8.5 months)

  6. Really interesting thoughts, I don’t really know if you can give them too much attention. I do try to sit down with her and give her my undivided attention as much as I can. That’s time we can’t get back. But also, there are still things I have to get done when she’s home.

    I’m not sure at what age this really starts to have an effect, but one thing I’ve started to be aware of is a technique, if you will, a friend with grown children helped her raise her (truly wonderful) children. When her kids were growing up, she wanted them to be able to play by themselves and to understand sometimes it’s grown-up time. Her pediatrician told her when you see them playing alone, praise them, go over and be really interested, ask what they are doing. And then, when you are on the phone or busy doing something for a few minutes and they interrupt you, just be a little cool (not mean, obviously) and say “Mommy needs a minute, I’ll be right with you”. I’m not sure it’s really sinking in yet with my almost 3 year old, but this resonated with me! I do want her to be able to play and have fun and not come complain or ask for something (or tattle) every 2 seconds if friends come over for dinner and we’re trying to talk, particularly when said friends have kids and they can all play together.

    Problem is when she IS playing nicely by herself, sometimes I need to use that time to get something done! 🙂

  7. I don’t comment often but I thought i would share on this topic. Yes, sometimes I feel like I am giving TOO mug attention to my 15 month old. In our corner of the world, most families including ours have a full-time, live-in domestic helper. I am a SAHM, so my attention is virtually always available for Lexi as I have the luxury of delegating household duties to our helper. Everyday we go to the park, library, swimming pool, whatever. So you see I am at the far edge of that attention giving spectrum! I try not to be intrusive when it seems she is engaged with others or a toy however. I guess I just want to say since Owen probably has some understanding that you work and he goes to daycare when mommy and daddy has to take care of other things, he probably gets he is not the center of the world. I think he just cherishes time with you. Some moms of older kids told me that in a few years, they won’t even want you around all the time. I guess time will tell if we have created a self-centered adult from a “mommy! mommy!” toddler!

  8. Mud Hut Mama

    I don’t think you can give too much of your time to your children. Yes they have to learn that it is important to listen and give others a chance to speak and that you can’t always meet their every need and want the second they would like you to but they learn that through everyday life. There are always times when you need to get something done and they will learn that there are times when they have to wait.

    I recently came across a quote from Catherine M. Wallace that I believe to be true, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” 

    Our children, by nature of being alive, will learn soon enough that even though they may be the center of their parents’ worlds, they are not the center of the world. While I think spoiling with material things can cause a lot of damage, I don’t see how knowing you are the absolute most important thing in the world to one or two people on this big earth could possibly be a bad thing.

  9. These are really great comments, thank you!

  10. @Mud Hut Mama – LOVE that quotation. Totally reminds me of my three year old son, for whom all things are amazingly, wonderfully, equally fantastic — and he tells me so as he relays his fabulous tales of each and every day! 🙂

  11. The only dark side to making your child the center of your world (in my opinion) is when baby #2 comes along. But everyone adjusts eventually and then things get wonderful again.

  12. When my stepdaughter was little and in the custody of her bio mom, she was never doted on, never paid attention to, and was left to be taken care of by her 5 year old sister (or left alone entirely). She is amazing, and is so wonderful that you’d NEVER know she spent her first 4 years like that – other than she has this inability, and I mean complete totally 100% inability, to feel like she can depend on anyone except herself. This is wonderful 90% of the time, but when she NEEDS to be asking for help, she doesn’t – she tries to do it herself, which when she fails, is very difficult to undo the hurt. Therefore, I FIRMLY believe that it is CRUCIAL for a young child to KNOW that they are the center of their parent’s universe. And I will readily admit that this is my view based on my experience with my one stepdaughter that I’ve been helping to raise for almost 5 years now. I know other parents have other views, and that’s fine – but this is my view. I know plenty of children that don’t have that luxury that turn out absolutely OK! But if there’s one thing I could change for her, it would be to give her a parent in her very young years that she knew was always going to be there for her.

  13. Agree with previous commenters, I don’t think it sounds like you’re smothering him or letting the world revolve around him in an inappropriate way. He has daycare to learn other skills independent from you, and it’s not as though you simply give in to his every whim, no matter what. There will be plenty of situations during which you will enforce and he will learn boundaries on appropriate behavior at appropriate times and all of that. But I don’t think you’re over-doing it. Sounds like a totally reasonable balance to me.

    That said, I suppose I fall more on the “benign neglect” end of the scale. Part of it is just my style and personality, and part of it is logistics and necessity. As a SAHM, I am with my kids ALL THE DAMN TIME, so I have to pace myself. I simply can’t engage in playing with them ALL the time. Too much stuff has to get done, and I don’t have that much mental energy. Plus, having twins as my first, there was always an element of “wait your turn” and “entertain each other” as a matter of survival. The result, so far, is kids who are very able to play together and keep themselves entertained with minimal intervention from me, though of course we’ve been working to this point for almost five years.

    I also agree with Jennifer’s comment above, which is that the only potential down-side that I see is how the world changes when another baby joins the family. Depending on the kid, it can be hard for the older sibling, around whom the world has revolved for the last several years, to have his needs/wants delayed in a way that they weren’t before. AND, it can be hard on the mom, to know that you can both no longer give the older kid the focus you once did, nor will the second child EVER get that kind of attention.

    And hey, we all “survived” having siblings, and it probably even made us better people. I’m not saying that’s a bad adjustment to make for anyone. I’m only putting it out there as a word of caution so it doesn’t take you by surprise or make you feel needlessly guilty.

  14. Thank you Goddess, for stating so beautifully exactly what I wanted to say. I agree 100%.

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