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Separation Anxiety

by The Next Family April 27, 2011

By: Stacey Ellis

separation anxiety

From Day One our daughter would go to anyone.  Want to hold her?  Here you go! Hand-off.  Want to play with her?  Go for it.  Hand-off.  Want to take her to see someone in another room?  No problem .   Hand-off.  Not only would our daughter hang out in anyone’s arms from the day she was born, as she grew older, she would laugh and smile and act like she didn’t have a care in the world.  I told my friends I wanted her to be comfortable with other people.  When you’re an “older mom” you’ve had a lot of time to watch your friends raise their kids.  I’ve seen it all – the mom whose kids can’t say a word without their mother holding them and encouraging them and the mom who doesn’t say anything when her one-year-old runs with a knife.  I knew I didn’t want to be either of those moms.  And I certainly don’t want my child to be afraid of everyone and everything, hiding behind my leg at 8 years old, being dragged to school every day for a week BEFORE school starts so she could get “used to” the environment, being unable to go to summer camp because her former counselor is no longer there and she can’t adjust to a new counselor, and being scared of trying any kind of new activity with new kids.  I want her to try everything, embrace the world, have a healthy fear of strangers, yet be sociable and be able to enjoy different people.   She seemed that way…easy go lucky…and then we visited my husband’s parents.

His parents are lovely people with big smiles, warm hearts, and nothing but love for their grandchildren, including our daughter.   But for some reason they brought out the mommy, mommy, mommy in my daughter and she can’t even speak yet.   All she wanted to do was be held by me, not even by my husband —me.   Of course, as a mom, I can admit out loud there is some teensy bit of joy associated with this – she wants ME!  Her momma!  I remember those first weeks back at work feeling like I was the “nanny” and feeling like the nanny was the mommy.  When I would come home from work at 4:15 she was fussy and cried, cried, cried as the nanny left.  I felt horrible.  Finally she adjusted and smiled and threw her arms out to me when I came home.   Now my daughter knew I was momma and her grandparents were not momma so she wanted nothing to do with them.

I simply can’t believe that all those “hand offs” to my friends and family were for naught.  She wasn’t comfortable at all with new people, even her grandma and grandpa who she Skyped with every week.  After five days at their house, she was no more comfortable than she was on Day One.   I expected her to wake up in the middle of the night – she does that when we travel and she doesn’t know where she is when she opens her eyes.  I expected her to need some adjustment to the routine and the time change – but this was not what I expected at all.  And neither did my husband’s parents.

Instantly I felt like I was defeated.   Then I remembered what all my friends with kids said:   “Just when you get used to one thing and you find a routine, it all changes.” And when I used to “brag” that my daughter would go to anyone?  They all said, “Oh just wait until the attachment phase.”  In my naiveté, I truly believed this wouldn’t happen.  Sure, she’d be “attached’” to mom and dad, but I truly believed she’d still want to be held by friends and family.  She did a week ago.  I believed I could put her in the pack-n-play for a minute and leave the room and go to the bathroom.  I could do that a week ago.  I believed my husband could hold her and play with her without me and she wouldn’t so much as flinch.  She did a week ago.  My belief system was all wrong.  Now, in one week, all she wants is me, me, me.

I had to get to the bottom of this – I whipped out the dusty baby books on my night stand.  I say “dusty” because as a working mom – I wake up, go to work, come home, play with baby, go to bed when she goes to bed.  Dusty.  As sad as this sounds, the only way we know that our child is reaching every milestone is because Baby Center sends us weekly “milestone” updates.   But there was nothing this past week about attachment issues.

So I opened up The Baby Book by the Sears.  There it was – five pages on stranger anxiety and separation anxiety between babies and parents.  In five minutes, I knew her actions are all normal for her age.  In fact, it’s quite mild compared to some of what was described.  It’s amazing how all I needed is five pages in one book to tell me she’s okay and I’m doing okay.   It was enough to make me realize I’m now ready for that “next phase” of changes and challenges.  Bring it.  Or at least wait until after we see the next set of grandparents in two weeks from now.

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