Q&A: 6-month-old only wants mother

Ashley writes:

"My 6 month old daughter only wants me when I am around.  I know this can be fairly common, separation anxiety, blah blah blah. However, she is fine when I am not there- at the sitters (I work full time and she is there Monday-Thursday), when my husband is home with her on Fridays, etc.  When we (my husband and I) are both home or when her grandparents are over though, she will see me and burst out in a screaming cry until I take her.  My husband is a wonderful father, and loves to play with her, feed her solids, changer her diaper, etc. Sometimes she is okay with it, but most of the time she is constantly looking for me.  A little background- she is breastfed and we co-sleep (she sleeps in my arms or with me though, not dad).  She isn't hungry when she does this (the crying thing), so that is not the problem.  I don't want her to only be able to be with me and my husband is getting very down about this.  He tries to be positive and get her to stop crying, but most of the time I just take her back because we don't want her to keep screaming. 

My question is, what do we do?  I feel like I shouldn't keep taking her back when she cries because it is teaching her that she can do that all the time.  On the other hand, I feel like if she needs me I should be there for her.  Should I take her when she cries or let her try and work it out? Is it just a phase she will grow out of?  Is there anything my husband can do for her while she is crying to help it end?"

This is so normal and really, really healthy. It means she's attached to you and attaching even more all the time, and is starting to be able to distinguish situations and other people. This is the beginning of healthy growth, and her strong attachment to you will allow her to become independent when it time is right developmentally.

You really are her primary caregiver, so of course she wants you right now. And you do want to teach her that when she calls for you you'll come. Remember that the task for babies for the first year is to learn to trust their parents and the world. The biggest component of that is coming when she cries for you. You and your husband aren't interchangeable, and it's part of her good attachment process to protest when she can't be with you. First she attaches to you, then him, then other people.

Now, obviously, you can't always be with her at home when she wants you. You could try wearing her around in a sling or mei tai or Ergo (you can get a lot done with her on your back) while you're doing stuff at home so she can be with you and you can still do stuff you need both hands to do. Or you could try putting her in a high chair or saucer or bouncy seat very close to you in the room and talking to her while you're doing other stuff (some kids are fine with that, while others thing you're betraying them by not touching them physically and scream like you're poking them with a branding iron). But sometimes you're just going to have to do things like, oh, go to the bathroom, or change your clothes, or other things that aren't conducive to having a 6-month-old hanging on you. If your husband can't get her to settle down during those times, he shouldn't take it personally (easier said than done, I know), and just hang on to her until you can come and "rescue her." It's not that she doesn't like him, it's just that she doesn't like that he's not you.

I know it's rough on your husband to feel like she doesn't like him right now. Dads (and "other mothers") can often feel like they're at a disadvantage during that first year, because they're not the ones who grew the baby, or nursed, or did any of the other things that are so logistically important in the first few months. Yes, they get really good at burping and diaper changes and that kind of stuff, but it just isn't as essential to the whole process, and it seems like it's very common for dads/other mothers to feel like they're never measuring up to the moms. But it will pass soon enough. Babies tend to be very mother-attached during the first year, but as soon as they start to walk around they seem to take an interest in the other parent. And around age 2, many kids seem to have no interest whatsoever in their moms, preferring the more "fun" kind of interaction they usually get from the other parent. His day will come, and her daddy-only stage might last a lot longer than this mommy-only stage does.

Readers? Share stories of how you had to wear your baby in a sling for 11 months and then suddenly the baby wanted nothing to do with you? I can't be the only one who was wrung out from non-stop attention-sucking seeking, and then got dropped like a hot potato.