Four Year Old Only Wants Mother

Dear Naomi,

My 4 year old son (only child) has been with me since the day of his birth. He self-weaned, is co-sleeping, and has never been to pre-school. I generally try to respect his direction. He clearly says he only wants to be with me. Occasionally he will stay with his father for 1/2 -1 hour, and three times he stayed with a teen babysitter (he chose himself) for one hour. But this all stopped again and he now only wants to be with me 24/7. I enjoy it but at the same time am starting to wonder if this is normal for a 4 year old child or if he is experiencing ‘separation anxiety’? I am feeling exhausted and (frankly) sometimes a bit bored with playing with him most of the day. Also, I find it hard to balance running errands, respecting his wish to not want to go on errands, and not exposing him too much to the consumer-culture. I can’t ask my husband to run errands, he is not very understanding of my parenting style, and other family is not around. Can you help me deal with my child’s high attention demand? Thank you!

Dear Mother,

You sound like a wonderful mother who is giving her child exactly what he needs. I see two possible directions for improvement. Letting go of your expectations, and possibly changing the nature of how you spend time with your child.

When we expect the child to be other than the way he is, we suffer and create a struggle. In contrast, when we understand that the child is always the he is “supposed” to be, we can enjoy every minute. Therefore, I suggest that you start by questioning the idea that your four-year-old should want to be away from you. What’s the rush? You will miss him sooner than you can imagine.

There is no “separation anxiety” without “separation.” I don’t use this term because, like most terminologies, it describes what the child really needs. If he is anxious without you, then stay with him and there won’t be any anxiety. The anxiety is not a “problem” but a real and healthy way to say, “mommy stay with me.”

The second thought I have is that you may be playing with your child in way that makes him dependent on you for play. If your child does not play by himself or if your activities with him are highly dependent on your skills, he may feel wisely aware that he cannot have this much fun with anyone else.

If you have become an entertainer or your child’s play-mate for his imaginary games, I suggest your read chapter five in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, about the Child’s Autonomy and Power. It is very important for your child to generate his own play some of the time. Playing with a friend while you are close by, or with another adult, can also be helpful in his development toward a self-reliant person.

As for needing to do errands, I would insist on my husband doing at least the shopping of food on the way home. He doesn’t have to agree with you about parenting. He can just be kind and meet your needs on your terms. But, if he absolutely won’t do it, you can get food delivery. Other than food, most errands can be done on line or by phone,

and taking your son on errands once in a while is fine too.

One other helpful note: Your child is more likely to develop relationships with his father and other adults if he does not lose you while being with them. Don’t leave when he plays with Dad or with grandma. He will then enjoy his father or another friend or adult, and not develop fear of losing you because of being with someone else.

From my observation and experience, there is no rush. The children who are allowed to be dependent and connected for the longest time, become the most independent and self-reliant adults. 

Warmly,  Naomi Aldort,


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