Success with Separation Anxiety!

I am very happy to report that Evelyne has grown in huge leaps and bounds lately in dealing with a phase of separation anxiety.  For the first time ever, we are leaving her in nursery/childcare and she’s having a great time.  I’m SO glad.

Ev has had some measure of separation anxiety since she was about six months old.  That was when she started freaking-out if I left the room, even if she could still see me.  Since that made leaving her with other people pretty difficult on her, we just didn’t do it.  Since then, she’s been happy to stay with my mom and my mother-in-law, but that’s about it.  It made things a little more difficult on us, especially when it came to us going to church, but that’s ok.  Once I saw how terrified she was if we tried to leave, there was no doubt in my mind that I couldn’t and wouldn’t leave her.

More or less, we’ve stood pretty alone in this amid a culture of parenting that says that you’re being overprotective and not letting your child grow-up if you are sensitive to her fearful cries of being left.  It’s considered normal to pass your child to a stranger while she clings to you and screams… you’re supposed to tell yourself that you’re doing what’s best and that it’s the only way she’ll learn.  Depending on the childcare workers, you might hear about how much your child cried while you were gone, or you might not.  You might even get lied to “so you won’t worry.” I’ve noticed that most people have the approach of, “They have to learn to deal with it, they’ll learn that you come back for them, and they all go through this.  It’s just a necessary part of parenting, otherwise they’ll never learn to be independent.”  We took a different approach of, “This is the youngest and most helpless she’ll ever be.  Separation anxiety is a very normal stage of development, but that doesn’t mean that her experience of fear is any less real.  Showing her consistency in being there for her when she needs us will help grow her into an independent adult because she will be confident that we will always respond to her.  We’ll wait until she grows out of this stage and help ease her through gently.”

Of course not everyone has the option of not being able to leave their child with other caretakers, working moms certainly can’t call-in sick for work every day because their child is upset.  However, our situation was such that leaving Evelyne was purely for our own benefit and convenience. And once I stopped looking at the situation from a selfish perspective, “I need a break!  For once I’d like to sit in church with my husband in peace!” I saw that wow… Evelyne is a person with real emotions and real fears.  Even though I know that I’ll be back, she really didn’t.  And being left in a different place with strangers is a scary thing.  I tried to put myself in her place.  Ya know that whole, “Love your neighbor as yourself” thing that Jesus was so big on?  Yeah, I imagine that applies to our kids. If I were her and experiencing everything she was, I certainly wouldn’t want to be left crying.  I just couldn’t justify putting Evelyne in that situation when I knew it was totally optional for me. It was a sacrifice at times, but I just reminded myself that although there were Sundays that I missed church because I was with her, God knew that that act of sacrifice was more authentic worship for me than sitting in church with the echoes of her crying “Mama!” ringing in my ears.

SO.  Clay and I made do, and thankfully we lived super-close to our church, and if one of us wasn’t volunteering in the nursery that morning with Evelyne, then we alternated services and one of us stayed home with her.  (It was her naptime anyway, and that would’ve just made things even worse.)  Moving to Seattle and a new church gave me cause for worry as I wondered how in the world we would do this.  The church we’ve been going to is about 30 minutes away, so we definitely can’t do what we had been doing.  So we decided to ease her in.

For the first four weeks or so, one of us went to the service and one of us stayed in the nursery the whole time to help her get used to it.  It also ended-up being a great opportunity for us to get to know the workers and meet people in the church.  She would spend about the first 10 minutes clinging to us, and then she would gradually venture out and play as though we weren’t even there.  Then came the big Day of Leaving.  I couldn’t do it, so Clay did after spending about 30 minutes in there with her.  He said she cried for about 30 seconds, if that, and then stopped.  We had a pager and told the workers to make sure they called us if she cried for us at all.  Thankfully, during our time with her in the nursery, we had seen many parents being paged because their child was crying for them, and we knew that they wouldn’t hesitate in letting us know if she was upset.  Never got a call.  Went to get her, and they said she did great and never fussed!

The next Sunday, I went in with her for about 15 minutes and then told her I was going upstairs to church and would come right back.  Thankfully, at 21 months, she’s old enough to understand exactly what I was saying.  She clung to my leg and wimpered-out a few “Mama! Mama!”, but she didn’t do more than fuss for about 10 seconds after I walked out the door.  (I stayed right around the corner to make sure.)  I was shocked!  Then last week came the first MOPS meeting.  This time I would be dropping her off at a class that neither one of us had ever been to before.  I had no idea what to expect.  Well, imagine my surprise when we walked in there and she immediately ran-off to play and didn’t even look back!  I stayed in there for a few minutes just to watch (afterall, I had never met these people either!), and when I said bye, she fussed before I stepped out the door, and then NOTHING.  I never got a page that she was crying, and they said she had a great time and never got upset! The kicker came last night when Clay and I went to a class at church and had to leave her in a small room with just one other kid, two adults, and only a handful of toys.  She clung to my leg and said “Mama! Mama!” before I walked-out, but then no crying!  She didn’t even run out the open door to follow me!  When we got her they said she never got upset and had a great time playing!

So by this point, Clay and I are just ecstatic!  We’re actually getting to go to church together and extra things like MOPS, she’s not crying at being left, and she’s having a great time playing with other kids.  I read somewhere that separation anxiety peaks around 18 months, and we definitely experienced that.  I really wanted to wait and ride-out this phase until she felt comfortable being left rather than forcing her to accept something that made her fearful.  I am SO happy that we waited!  I know every child is different, some never care when you leave them, some take a few years before they’re comfortable without a parent.  But I am so happy that I listened to my instincts on this one, didn’t pay attention when I got the vibe that people thought we were being totally weird and overprotective, and waited until she was ready.  I’m sure we’ll have off-days in the future, but for now I’m so proud of Ev and am really enjoying this long-awaited milestone!

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13 responses to “Success with Separation Anxiety!

  1. Kudos to you –
    I’m so with you on this. I don’t get the big push to make babies independent. They are only little for such a short amount of time and next thing you know they are teenagers wanting to dive themselves around!

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  2. I love your attitude – yes, a few years out of our lives are the *only* childhood they’ll ever get.

    Our health visitors’ office had a sign saying, ‘Baby your baby while he’s still a baby, and you won’t have to baby him the rest of his life.’ (The HVs themselves didn’t seem to have read it… but that’s another thing!)

    We don’t engender social confidence by forcing a child into a situation, any more than i learnt to swim when i fell in the deep end once without my arm bands.

    So good to read this. You’re *not* alone! the rest of us just take a little rooting out. 80)

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  3. yes! yes! yes! i’m so glad you did what the Lord was leading you to regarding leaving Ev. it’s hard when you don’t get a break, but you are so right! bethany never had sep. anx. at all- i did! but sarah jane threw me for a loop a few times- and i too, stayed. Sam will probably be not into the mama leaving thing at all. right now he’s fine, but he’s still young. you did the right thing, and i’m so glad you are now able to leave Ev. for short periods of time.. it is nice.

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  4. We had the same issues with Bailey. We ended up staying with her in the nursery or just not taking her. We had a bad experience where we were assured that we would be called if she cried for very long and were not called. We showed up to a red faced baby girl and the same person who said they would call told us says “i don’t know what is wrong with her, she’s been crying the whole time.” AAAHHH!!!
    Anyway, I think it is awesome that you are following your instincts as a mother. We are given those instincts for a reason. And who cares about what other people think! (we still get weird looks when we refuse to leave Luke or Presley hysterical in the nursery.) No matter how you parent your child there will always be someone who thinks they know of a better way to do it.

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  5. yay!!!

    i’m so happy for you guys! way to go, ev! and way to go, em for following those mommy instincts!!!

    oh how i miss that little evy girl!!!

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  6. Well, since your blog is called lets be honest here, I’ll give a different view. I am one of those parents that needed a break, even if my child cried a bit. If I didn’t take it, I knew I’d be a much worse parent. And so, rather than do the whole “ease them in thing” I showed by actions that they’d be fine. I’d leave, they’d scream bloody murder, and an hour later I’d be back. I never for one doubt worried that they would feel insecure in the long run, or think I didn’t love them. Real parents always come back and are true to their words. By doing it a few times with a few trusted friends as babysitters (and grandmas) my daughter fussed a whole lot, but soon got the concept that I’d be back and it wasn’t a big deal.

    I believe in all the points you make, by the way, and it clearly worked for you. I, like the other readers, say kudos to you! No judgment here.

    However, I’m going to throw in the opposite viewpoint that while your way definitely encouraged bonding and soothed anxiety, my way worked great, too, because it did teach that a little independence is okay. That being sad doesn’t mean you’re going to be sad forever. And yes, they were only 6 months or 1 year. And I don’t feel babies should grow up so fast – of course not. But as a mother of two tiny children, one hour off made a huge difference in my emotions which made me a better mom.

    So that’s the other side. Again, glad it worked for you.

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  7. Well done Andrea.

    The point is, isn’t it?, that each family has to find something that works – as long as it works for ALL. It’s never easy, and all parents (near enough all) put in even more hard work than that. Not even counting the emotional ‘work’.

    And in my experience different children (also, at different ages/stages) have very different needs. It’s about being aware of that and making the decision, not following rules or considering only the parent’s comfort. Plus, as you say, it’s about trust.

    As mum to a teen, i have to say it’s still the same judgment i’m using – encouraging independence, but not too much for the stage he’s at. And i foresee that the clingy toddler is going to be the teen we’ll have to restrain from taking more independence than he can handle, while the calm toddler is the one we’re having to ‘push out’ a little… ;0) lol.

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  8. It’s really hard as a mom to leave your kids. It is still hard for me to say goodbye to my kids and they are teenagers! I think now however it is me who has the seperation anxiety and not them. It never gets easier to be a parent!

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  9. I specialized in developmental psychology, and I want to applaud you for your decision not to leave Evelyne in her time of need.

    Yes, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development, and it usually kicks in right around 6 months.

    Contrary to popular belief, separation anxiety signals that you and your child have a healthy relationship, and that she is forming a secure attachment with you. That’s wonderful!

    Responding to her “fearful cries” by not leaving her alone is a perfect response. It reassures her that you can rely on her when she needs you. And just as you witnessed, this communicated to her that you were rock-solid dependable, and she was able to grow out of her separation anxiety beautifully.

    This lays the foundation for a beautiful, secure parent-child relationship that will effect how she relates to others for the rest of her life. Way to go!

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  10. Emily, I always love to read and appreciate your thoughts. I must say that I lean more towards Andrea’s view as far as leaving my children. Savannah, as you can probably tell from my blog, reminds me a lot of Evelyn in that she is very apprehensive when it comes to us leaving her in the nursery. She has been since she was 6 months old…we still did though…she would cry for a/b 1 minute each time and then they would say she’d do fine…i shed my share of tears too during that process. She is finally getting to the point (we think) where she does not cry when we leave her in the nursery at church.

    All that to say…i just desperately need that time in the worship service to be without children. I’ve struggled with thinking I’m selfish, yet I still do it.

    So…again, I think it is all in your decision as a parent (obviously) and while I appreciate and understand your take on this, I would have to say it just does not work for our family.

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  11. we haven’t had internet all week, so i’m catching up on blogs. yay for ev! she’s getting to be such a big, independent girl!

    the separation anxiety thing is TOUGH. charlotte is in the thick of it right now, and it’s been so hard decided what to do as we visit churches and try out things like bible studies and babysitters. it truly breaks my heart to see how scared she is. just last night, we took her to the nursery at church while they had a “date night” for all the parents. she seemed okay when we left, but by the time we got back she was bawling. they had our cell number but just didn’t call us! i was furious. i admire you for sticking with ev and doing what you knew was best for her. it makes me feel much less crazy for taking the whole childcare thing very seriously.

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  12. Congrats! I have many of the same views as you and hardly ever leave my children with anyone but grandma. We fly grandma into town for our anniversary and so on. But the last few months we have started and had to leave the kids with friends a few times and they have done well. We are now tying to plan our first night away from the kids ever since they were born about 3 yrs ago. Scared but excited! Thanks for sharing!
    -h

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  13. I just wanted to thank you for your blog! My daughter is 6 months old and is really entering into the separation anxiety stage! I cannot walk away from her without her getting upset … let alone leave her somewhere. (She is getting a lot better about being around the house with hubby.) But I have given up on leaving her in the nursery at church. She did okay from about 4-5 months, but lately she cries extremely hard the entire time I am gone. There have been a couple times where I’ve walked by and heard her still screaming … or go to get her … and no one had come and gotten me. I don’t like her to cry that long (she’s cried for an hour straight before for them to the point of shaking when I came back!). Especially since developmentally she’s learning how to trust right now … I just can’t leave her and let her cry.
    I am glad to see that me choosing to not just leave her will not affect her ability to stay later in life! 😀 Thanks!

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