Yes, I Baby My Toddler (& I’m Not Sorry at All)

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My almost-2-year-old tripped and fell the other day at the park. Usually she’s pretty tough in situations like this, but I guess the audience, or the surprise of the impact, made her cry. When she reached for me and I picked her up to cuddle her, a mom nearby piped up with, “It’s so hard not to baby them, even though we know we shouldn’t.” I was a little confused by this stranger’s commentary, even though I know she didn’t mean to offend. The truth is, it wasn’t anywhere near the first time I’ve been accused of “babying” my daughter, but it just struck me as an odd thing to say.

Thinking about it later, I realized that she’s probably been told the same thing. “You shouldn’t baby them,” and I began tracing the roots of this line of reasoning as it’s applied to my own journey as a parent. The first time I was told I hold my daughter too much, she was just about 2-weeks-old. Looking back, I realize I should have told that commenter where she could shove that ridiculous advice. Now that I’m a more experienced mom, I’m aware that spoiling a newborn is impossible. But either way, who cares if I want to hold my baby? Then or now?

At just around 2, my toddler is blowing past all the milestones. She speaks in sentences, can climb the playground jungle gym solo, and pulls her own shoes on and off. She eats adult food like salad, is exceptionally tall and robust, and prefers running to just about any other means of getting places. I’m definitely allowing my little girl all the room she needs to grow, but part of that is catering to her emotional needs, and she happens to be big on cuddling. So, what?

In the mornings when she first wakes up, and then post-nap and before bed, my toddler is pretty clingy. She likes to hang out in my lap for up to an hour, and if I leave the room she isn’t thrilled about it. I understand that if we never left the house and she couldn’t form bonds with other adults, this might not be a great thing. But it’s not all about me; she loves her dad and is very trusting and loving with her grandparents, aunt, and uncles, she bonds easily with daycare providers and babysitters, and is an all-around social little kid. The fact that she reaches for Mom when she’s tired, to me, is sweet. Not a problem that needs to be corrected. And yet I am constantly hearing from friends, family members, and strangers that I’m “babying” her too much. To me, that’s ridiculous.

Here’s the thing: Every child is different. I never used to understand why I saw moms of 2- and 3-year-olds treating them like babies, but now I get it. As a parent you have to do what works for you and your own kid. I’m not concerned that my daughter still uses a pacifier to get to sleep and prefers drinking her water out of a bottle. We keep a close eye on projected milestones and talk to her doctor as questions come up, just like any other parents.

I won’t apologize for picking her up and comforting her when she falls or for any of the other things I do to cater to my toddler’s emotional needs. I’m not sorry for “babying” her because it works for us. If it doesn’t work for you, just like any other brand of parenting, don’t do it. But I could do without the suggestions that it’s time for a change. Like any little girl, she’ll push me away when she’s ready. And on that day, I’ll be the one acting like a baby.

Photo: Getty