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!