All three of my kids went through clingy stages, peaking at around age 3 or 4. Recently, kid #3 (age 12) seems to be reverting and has been interrogating me whenever I gather my purse and keys to go out (‘cuz somebody’s got to go get the milk, food, etc. and I’ve always been that somebody). She wants to know where I’m going and precisely how long I’ll be gone.
I finally asked her, “What’s up? Do you want to come along to the grocery store?”
She hemmed and hawed, all but scraping her feet on the floor, before answering no.
I asked a few more unsubtle, probing questions and she confessed she’s afraid when I leave now that Dad’s not there because “someone could break in.” I explained some general safety precautions and reminded her that kid #1 (age 19) and kid #2 (age 17) are also home and she’s not alone. She wasn’t reassured.
Kid #3 isn’t actually afraid that ninjas or narco-terrorists are going to descend on the house as soon as my minivan drives away. She’s afraid that I’ll drive away and not return, like her dad did. His abandonment has rocked her to the core and she just doesn’t feel safe anymore. Beyond being very careful to explain my errands and return when I say I will, I don’t know how to reassure her, how to restore her trust in the stability and safety of her family. My heart breaks watching her shut down emotionally. It’s a bitter lesson for a 12 year old to learn that an important adult in your life can’t be trusted. Can’t be relied on. That when he said, “You mean everything to me,” it didn’t carry the promise you thought it did.