These boys really love their Daddy but there's no doubt about it they are Mummy's boys, and just recently this seems to have intensified. I am being fought over throughout much of the day in one way or another; they fight over who will be the first to kiss me in the morning, deliberately take up as much of my lap as possible so that the others can't get in for a cuddle, squabble over where I will sit at the table when we eat...you name it they argue over it! A lot of the time I don't think Charlie and Callum really know what they're arguing about, but this doesn't stop them shouting "Middle! Middle!" when I am giving all three of them a hug or reading them all a story, because Joseph has led them to believe that the 'middle' is the prime location on the lap!
Currently Callum wants to be held and carried around a lot, Charlie wants to come everywhere with me and Joseph has been telling me "Mummy I want to stay with you all day long". I suppose it's Joseph's recent need for a lot of close physical contact that has surprised me most lately, not that I feel in any way bothered by it. I see all of this as fine and natural, I don't feel anxious or worry that the boys are 'clingy' at all, however exhausting it might be at times. This is definitely a challenging phase for us all and it's led me to ponder, why now? No doubt it's largely to do with where they are developmentally, establishing identities, discovering themselves as separate from me etc, but I've also had a good think about what is specifically going on within our family unit, and how that could be impacting things.
Callum and Charlie are talking! The amount of words they now use, and the ability they have to string these together has increased massively over the past couple of months and I wonder what impact this might be having on Joseph. Over the past 2 years I've noticed that Joseph's behaviour becomes quite challenging whenever his brothers acquire an important new skill. The first time I really noticed it was when they began to sit up unaided. I wonder whether all of a sudden they looked to him like proper little people not only able to sit, but to sit playing with toys in the kind of ways he might. Now, with their ever improving communication skills, Callum and Charlie can tell us with words how they are feeling, what they want and what or WHO has upset them! Oh yes, they can tell tales! I guess for Joseph this presents a new threat, and perhaps erodes a bit of the control or influence he felt he had within the family. When at breakfast I ask the boys what they would like to eat, Joseph finds it very difficult that they can answer for themselves and make a choice. He'll often say something like "I'll have honey on my toast, and Callum and Charlie want jam" despite the fact that they are clearly telling me they want honey too. Often Joseph will get upset about this and tell me "Noooooo, only I can have honey!" Being able to talk to me in this way using words that the whole family can understand was not long ago something only Joseph could do, and he's having to come to terms with the fact that now his brothers can too...plus he's outnumbered by them! Joseph, your Daddy and I know how that feels!
Joseph has recently had his 4th birthday and Oliver and I have probably told him on more than a few occasions what a 'big boy' he is now. I wonder whether we may have told him a little too often, and whether we may have given him a sense that there are different expectations or greater responsibilities associated with his increased age. I wonder this because his behaviour has in some ways become more 'baby-like' of late. The way he cuddles me, some of his playful behaviour and the way he cries all remind me at times of a much younger child. He certainly enjoys imitating his brothers, and if he feels smaller people get more or different attention then I guess it would make sense for him to behave more like they do, but I do wonder whether his recent birthday may have something to do with it too. I've spoken to several people in the past who say that children have a difficult few months behaviour wise in the run-up to starting school as they prepare for the increased expectations of a school child, for example that they can dress themselves and take themselves to the loo etc. There is no talk of school at home for Joseph, but it's quite possible that simply having turned another year older might have given him a sense that more is expected of him.
In addition, I have temporarily been working a few hours a week and Joseph is bothered by this. He has told me he doesn't want me to go even though he is at nursery most of the time I'm there, and when he's cross with me about something he has taken to shouting "Go to work Mummy!" At bedtime he tells me he wants me to stay with him in bed, or that he'll come and help me tidy downstairs because he wants to make sure that I'm not going anywhere. Oliver often works away during the week and we don't always know in advance if and when he is going or when he'll be home, so I understand why the fact that I'm working too may create anxieties for Joseph.
When I discovered we would be having twins, one of my huge fears was that I could not be enough for three such young, dependent children. I am aware that somewhere along the way in my own life I have absorbed the idea that love is finite, that there is only so much of it and if someone else is getting a lot of it, then there is less available to me. I want to make sure that my children never feel this way, but when they are all fighting so hard for my affection its difficult not to feel inadequate at times.
So how to manage all this? My choice is to be there more, both physically and emotionally. To really be present with the boys when I am at home, rather than allowing myself to be distracted by other things or jobs that need doing. To spend less time with them in busy places such as toddler groups, and more time with small groups of friends or alone, just the four of us. I allow Joseph to be 'babied' by me if that's what he needs, sitting on my lap to eat, cradling him in my arms, playing the kind of games he sees me playing with his brothers, and telling him stories about the things I used to do with him and the places we used to go together when he was a baby. I grab opportunities for one to one time when it's available; last weekend Joseph and I spent a lovely Saturday afternoon wandering around the gallery looking at a Turner exhibition, looking out to sea with binoculars, walking along the harbour arm and chatting about everything and nothing. We decided that it was such a beautiful day we should go home for his daddy and brothers, and take them all to the funfair! I tell all of the boys as much as they need to hear it that my lap is always big enough for all of them and that I will never run out of cuddles, and I try to notice every beautiful thing they do and show how proud I am. I try never to belittle their need for me, involve them in everything I'm doing as much as possible and keep them with me if that's where they want to be whenever I can. I tell Joseph that wherever I am, I'm always thinking about him and that my favourite place to be is at home with our family, and it's true! At bedtime I put a piece of pink agate under his pillow and tell him that this is said to represent the love between parent and child, and so will link us when he is asleep and I'm downstairs. He loves this, and the last few nights has gone to sleep holding it! My choice in dealing with their dependence is to give as much of myself as I can in the belief that they will create space between us when they are ready. Sometimes there is space, sometimes they need to be close.
This is a phase that will pass and I will one day long for it! I therefore make a conscious choice to enjoy rather than be bothered by it, for as long as it lasts. This doesn't mean that it isn't demanding, tiring and frustrating at times, it just means that I try and accept it.
I know plenty of people would disagree with this way of approaching the situation, and I often feel like there's quite a drive in popular thought to encourage children to be independent from their parents and discourage 'clingy' behaviour. Not long ago I heard a mum talking about how clingy her 1 year-old is, and how she thinks he needs to go to nursery and learn to be away from her. Lots of people would tell me I'm creating a rod for my own back in my choices, this is fine, it's a rod for a very happy back if that's the case! The wonderful thing about parenting is that you are free to follow your own path, I have no idea what the outcome of my choices will be any more than the next person does, and as such I can only do what feels natural and right for myself and my family. When Joseph was around 11 months old I went back to work part-time and he spent some time at nursery, it didn't feel right or natural. Our children are their own people too, so whatever we decide is 'best' could be fundamentally different from what they might decide in the future would have been best for them, or how they may react to our chosen way of parenting. I chose not to worry about this too much, and just do what feels right.
My hope is that by providing a secure base and allowing my children to decide how much of the world they want to explore and how (and with whom) they explore it, they will feel greater confidence in doing so both with and without me. Today despite his recent need to be with me a lot, Joseph chose to go to the funfair with a friend rather than come to the beach with me. He had a wonderful time. I have also found that being there for the boys good for me. It has taught me that there is always enough time, attention and love to go around, and that love will never run out! Nothing has given me a greater sense of abundant love than being it for them.