534. Getting Less Needy

When babies are born, their needs have to be top priority. And they aren’t great at letting people know precisely what their needs are, so the people who take care of them have to figure it out. That can be quite a challenge, and can be quite frustrating. But gradually, we get to know which cries are about hunger, which are about discomfort, and what other possibilities there are. And our babies get better at articulating their needs. It’s a good thing communication eventually works. And it’s exciting as it does.
If things go nice and smoothly, everyone involved recognizes which needs are still there, and when some of them can be taken care of by the babies/children. Growth and learning are celebrated, and both the celebration and the progress itself make more growth and learning happen. We humans do get a lot of enjoyment out of discovering what we can do on our own, and we’re always looking for new abilities and/or ways to develop them.
Of course, it’s not that simple. We get used to having our needs met, and we like to know that we can count on the various need-meeters we get used to. So many of the steps we take on the road to independence are taken quite tentatively; many feel scary. We want to get more and more independent, but we want to know that all our support systems will still be there.
This is a major conflict in the minds of many children. They want to be independent, but no, they don’t. They want every new ability they develop to be recognized and maybe celebrated, and yet they want to be free
to be as needy as they need to be. That confusion doesn’t only create inner conflicts; parents are quickly drawn into the battles. Parents are expected to meet needs, just as they did in the “old” days (babyhood), and they’re also expected to lay off and let independence happen. I’ve experienced and witnessed many such dramas, and what I remember most is confusion.
I recently spoke with a mother who was trying to help her children (and herself) break out of a long- standing pattern wherein planning the children’s day was up to the mother. That’s a very common pattern, created when children have very little ability to plan. Parents decide what children will do, where they’ll go, what other children will be involved, and so on. In some ways, those items have to be planned by parents; parents are the ones with the cars and the agenda items that can’t be left out. School often provides a welcome break from this pattern. But I’m writing this essay in the summer, and the issue is hot.
This isn’t a question that has easy answers. Notice that I didn’t include any anecdotes about times I’ve handled it well. And it’s an issue that outlives childhood. We all want our support systems to be there when we need them, and we all want to stop needing them so much. So as we work to help children develop independence, let’s also notice the lingering dependence.

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