Care and Feeding

Everyone Says I’m Spoiling My Son

But I think he just loves his mama. Should I be worried?

A toddler boy with a pacifier in his mouth and a stuffed animal tucked in his arm clings to his mother.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 2-year-old son is very attached to me (his mother). I don’t see any problem with this, but some family members (and even my spouse/his dad) have encouraged me to be less accommodating of him to push him away. I could use an outside perspective.

My son spends a few hours each week in day care (and enjoys it!), but I am his primary caretaker while my spouse works. He is happy to spend time with other family/friends if I am not around. If I am there, he wants to be with me. He prefers that I feed him, dress him, put him to bed, and play with him constantly. Sometimes I can talk him into letting others do these things, but usually he’ll melt down if I don’t. If someone else is caring for him and he starts to melt down, I usually step in to calm him.

As further complication: I think he may have a low-level sensory processing disorder. His verbal skills are advanced, and he’s hitting his milestones, but he has strong opinions about food textures and clothing, and he often needs a lot of help to calm down for sleep. He rarely expresses interest in cuddling (and only with me), doesn’t know when he’s hungry, and has had some potty issues. I tend to accommodate his preferences because he seems truly distressed if I don’t. But he also is cooperative when I draw a firm boundary. His doctors aren’t too concerned about these things because he is hitting his milestones.

My mom said that I need to stop laying down with my son at bedtime to help him calm down. I usually sing to him and rub his back or hold his hand until he falls asleep. She says I’m spoiling him and preventing him from learning how to soothe himself. I think she’s jealous and frustrated because he doesn’t want to cuddle with her at bedtime. I understand her feelings, but I also don’t think it’s all that weird that a 2-year-old wants his mama all the time. Is it? Is it spoiling to let a child choose his food, clothes, and bedtime routine?

—The Spoiler

Dear Spoiler,

I think you’re doing just fine. Your mom had her own kids; this one is yours. A 2-year-old who likes to have lullabies and have his back stroked by Mom while he falls asleep is as common as a pigeon eating a stepped-on hot dog, but much cuter.

Sensory issues are also common, and accommodating them when they do not actively interfere with the autonomy of others is the right way to go. I do want you and your husband to work on his relationship with your son. An activity your son loves that the two of them do just together. Something a little out there, something a little fun, something that you might not exactly approve of, but which doesn’t involve doing something actually against your wishes.

It’s going to be fine.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband is growing increasingly frustrated that he can’t find a good hobby that suits him and is quite bored in his free time. He has tried many different activities to try to strike interest (often buying costly equipment), but nothing has really stuck so far. I have a creative hobby I am obsessed with and have turned into a bit of a side hustle, and I think he’s envious that he doesn’t have something he’s as passionate about as well. We don’t have a lot of friends to socialize with, and we don’t particularly like traveling, so those things aren’t really an option for things to do.

Which brings me to my strange question: Is it a bad idea to suggest to him that parenting become our new hobby? We’ve already discussed that we want to have a child eventually, and now seems like as good a time as ever to me. However, I’m not sure how to bring this up to him and what the best way to frame it is. I brought it up about six months ago, and he said he wanted us to focus on our own health (mental and physical) more first, but I’m not sure what we would need to accomplish for him to see it as the right time to get serious about family planning. Am I overthinking this?

—Baby O’Clock?

Dear BOC,

I always get a hmmm feeling when a married person tells me they’re “not sure how to bring this up” when “this” is the timing on having a child. There are a lot of conversations not being had in your family, and you need to get those ironed out first.

Ask him what he meant by “focus[ing] on our own health” first. Ask him what that looks like to him. Ask him if he wants to go to counseling (together or apart).

It is not yet baby o’clock, of this I am sure. Parenting is also not a hobby (it is, often, the death of hobbies), so I recommend not using that particular phrase to wedge yourself into this conversation. He just doesn’t seem happy right now. If he’s generally an Eeyore, that’s one thing; lots of people have kids with an Eeyore, and it works out great. But if this glum phase is of a more recent duration, you will need to process it before moving forward to the next big stage of your life.

I wish you all the best, and especially … go to counseling.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an almost 4-month-old baby. He’s a pretty good sleeper; right after he was born, he routinely did four-hour stretches between feedings at night, and now he often sleeps 11 or 12 hours at night. (I realize 4-month-old sleep regression could be coming!) Lots of friends and acquaintances who have very small children have been asking us how the nighttime feedings are going, how we’re coping with little sleep, etc. When I have told them, “Actually, he’s sleeping pretty well,” I’ve heard a lot of “My daughter never did that,” “My son always wakes us up before 5:30 a.m., and he’s almost a year old,” “You’re so lucky,” etc.

I have no desire to make these parents feel bad about themselves. I had a C-section and haven’t been able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, plus suffered two pregnancy losses in the past, so I know how unpleasant it can be to hear about how other people had a really smooth, easy experience, if they aren’t being tactful. What can I say when other parents assume my baby isn’t sleeping well?

—I Don’t Want Them to Feel Bad

Dear IDWTtFB,

When people ask about how your baby is sleeping, they almost never care. It’s just a thing people know to say to people with babies. Say, “Oh, you know, we’re managing,” and then you and your partner can high-five when you’re alone.

Congratulations on the sleep, and condolences for your previous losses.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are currently living in a glorified one-bedroom with our 2½-year-old daughter. She has been in our room in her crib since birth. Though we selfishly love the cuddles (she wakes up in the middle of the night about half the time and winds up in bed with us), she needs to make the transition to her own room.

The plan initially was to move this year into a larger space, but finances are pushing these plans out at least another year. Our bedroom is upstairs, and we do have a study downstairs that we could convert into a room for her. Our staircase is carpeted and short with a landing in the middle, so even if she did have difficulty climbing the stairs (she doesn’t at all) falling would not result in any serious injury. Plus, we can keep the lights on. We’d like to reclaim our bedroom and move her downstairs but feel torn that she’d be so far away. Is she too young to move downstairs?

—Reclaiming My Room

Dear Reclaiming My Room,

This is fine. Do this immediately.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

I’m a senior at a local university, commuting from home, and my younger sister is leaving soon for a distant school. Mom’s a single parent and does everything she can to keep us close so that she’s not lonely (this includes asking us to sleep in her bed for weeks at a time, and it’s been this way for years). Now that my sister is leaving and it’s just me, I already feel bad about leaving Mom to do homework on campus or stay after class or anything else that keeps me out of the house. At the same time, I don’t want to be stuck at home with Mom for my entire senior year. Is there any middle ground?