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Separating a Child and Parent
Q: My partner has an eleven-year old son who is very clingy with her. He hangs on her, and lays with her every chance he gets. It isn't just at home, but also in public places. He calls her Mommy in a whining voice and always needs to know where she is even if she just goes to the bathroom. His mother and I can't have a conversation without him interrupting. When she tries to tell him to give her space, he thinks she doesn't love him. He doesn't understand how she can be close to me like that, but not with him. I understand that he has always had his mother in this way, and now he has to share her. But, it's pushing me away. What do we do?
A: Before the situation gets worse for everyone, you need to discuss your feelings and observations with your partner and decide how to handle your future times together.
Start by not using words like "whining" -- this may create tension and show your disapproval.
Recognize that the son's behavior seems appropriate for a much younger child, or one with many emotional needs. With Mom as his sole source of attention, love, and security, he must fear a loss or change in that status. Address the boy's needs and you will find that he can build a positive relationship with his mother on much stronger ground.
Plan a balanced schedule for the times the three of you are all together. Allow for some time when you and your partner are both focused on him; some time when he is solely with his mother; some time alone with you; and some time when he must be by himself.
Recognize that every newly emerging family experiences these situations and that prevention is easier than correction. If you are serious about your family relationship, seek the help of a counselor to begin planning for your future. If you hope your situation will get better or just go away, you could be allowing troublesome behaviors to become deeply resistant to change. Seeking my objective advice is a great sign that you already have a good method for problem-solving. Good luck.
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Judith Lee Ladd is a former president of the American School Counselor Association, a national organization of K-12 and post-secondary school counselors.