My little girl is almost two. She can play happily on her own for ages if I’m watching her. But when I try to make dinner or read or something, she comes to cuddle with me. She doesn’t seem to want me doing anything for me. Is this perfectly normal for her stage? Will she grow out of it?
Yes, it’s normal. Psychologists are now learning that a secure attachment between mother (or father) and child is the basis for ongoing mental and emotional health. If the attachment is not secure, it leads to all kinds of problems later. An emotionally healthy children at this age is still very attached to her mother. The mother is a safe base from which she can venture out into the world and explore new things, returning to her base from time to time. As she becomes more secure in the world, she gradually needs to return to base less often.
When you’re watching your child play, she knows you are emotionally present with her. When you take your attention away from her, she feels a little anxious, so she comes to get your attention back. It isn’t that she doesn’t want you doing anything for you, it’s just that she has noticed your withdrawal from her, and this makes her insecure. Many parents complain that their kids regularly demand attention when they’re on the telephone, particularly if it’s long distance! It also happens when we have adult guests.
Yet for you, of course, this can be really frustrating. You want some privacy, some time to yourself, and some chance to get something done without having to slow it down for a child. You probably crave some adult conversation. This will come, as she grows older. She will only be this little once, so enjoy the time with her while you have it. Instead of trying to leave her playing while you cook or do housework, find a way for her to “help” you by stirring a bowl or dusting a shelf. That will build an enjoyment of chores which will help when she’s older.
I assume she still takes at least one nap each day. Make this your golden time to read, talk on the phone, or get something done which requires concentration. If you build your schedule around her sleeping times, you’ll feel less frustrated. When my oldest child was an infant, I was working on my doctoral dissertation. The minute she went to sleep each day, I began writing furiously, not stopping until she woke up. I let my rhythm harmonize with hers. That way I could get my writing done, and still enjoy my time with my baby. I developed a level of self-discipline which now amazes me, looking back!
There’s also a possibility that your daughter is beginning to be bored, and needs more than your company to entertain her. She may just need more stimulation than she’s receiving from one adult. Our society is very unnatural, in that little kids are often alone in a house with one adult rather than outside in the fields with many people around. When my daughter was around this age, I decided to try her in part-time daycare. To my great delight, she loved it and so did I! Time to get something done without interruptions for me, and an opportunity to socialize with other children and explore new things for her. Not all children are ready for this at almost two, but some are. You could try it gradually and see how she responds to it.