Separation anxiety

My blog is generally a happy place. This is quite deliberate.

Friends and family back home read about our adventures. I am conscious of this, and make every effort to focus on the positive. To tell our stories, to cause no worry.

This of course influences what I choose to write about, and while I understand (and even aspire to) the ethos of write like no one is reading, my reality is that people are reading.

It is a difficult balance.

Our life here is fun and exciting, an amazing experience for us all, one that we are making the most of.

But, it is also mundane and tiring and normal.

And, there are bad days. Of course there are.

This past week has had some particularly difficult moments.

Separation anxiety.

Definition: The normal fear and apprehension expressed by infants when removed from their mothers or approached by strangers.

I’ve read the books, I’ve talked to other parents, I’ve seen it in action.

But, I have never actually had to deal with it myself before, and I am finding it really hard.

Back in the UK I worked (all but) full time. The boys started nursery at six months. The oldest went off, without a backward glance, and never had any separation anxiety issues. He was sometimes a little cautious with new people, but never clung to me, sobbing, if I tried to leave him somewhere. My younger boy, while less ‘see you later’, still approached separation in the same way as he approaches most things – with cautious, but excited, anticipation. He would stay close until comfortable, and then he’d be off.

The wee girl… Well, it turns out that she’s more of a cling to my leg, sobbing, type.

She’s never had to get used to me not being there. I am always there.

I really want to start running again. The easiest way for me to do this is to run in the gym (I prefer outdoors, but until I build up my stamina again, running with the jogging buggy is a bit much for me). The YMCA has a crèche, so I could run/do a class during the day when the boys are at school.

Excellent plan, I thought. I had left the wee girl in there a couple of times during the boys swimming lessons a few months ago and she’d been okay.

I tried on Friday and it was awful.

The wee girl was hysterical and in the end they came and got me.

Mortifying. Heartbreaking.

They suggested that I try putting her in every day if I can, for short periods, while I sit in the lobby with a coffee. So, she was in on Monday and Wednesday. I sat in the lobby and listened to her alternate between screaming and sobbing.

I know intellectually that I have to persevere (and she’ll be going in again tomorrow), but it is so hard. She needs to develop some independence. She needs to socialise with other children, her own age, in an external setting.

She needs to learn that I will always come back.

But, sitting, listening to her sob? That goes down as a bad day.

It seems ridiculous that I am going through this with my third child. I feel that I should know what to do. That I should know the tricks; that I should have a plan; that I should be able to do this. That I can’t ask for help, because I am the experienced parent.

But, this is a new one for me, and right now I’m at a loss. I can only keep trying, and hope that one day she surprises me by running in to the crèche without a backward glance, just as her brothers would have done.

I know she’s still young, and that there is plenty of time. But I almost feel that I have done her a disservice by not giving her the opportunity to develop the confidence that her brothers had at this age. That while she is very secure and confident in me being there, she has had no opportunity to learn to trust me when I’m not, almost as if I have taught her that she is only safe if I am there.

How important is independent confidence in a toddler? When should they learn that a parent will return? How can I make this experience less stressful for her, and me? When do I admit defeat and try again in a few months? If I do that, am I just making it even harder for her in the long run?

So many questions, and right now, not very many answers!

I want to feel confident in my decision to tough it out with her. I believe this is the right thing to do, for both of us. But, what I believe and what I feel are not quite in sync yet.

Suggestions on a postcard please…!


I’ve linked this post up to #PoCoLo from Verily, Victoria Vocalises.

Post Comment Love

26 thoughts on “Separation anxiety

  1. bavariansojourn

    Don’t blame yourself, it might be that she is just as super-sensitive child. My daughter is exactly like that, and the bit about the creche completely reminded me of a couple of experiences we endured, whilst my son couldn’t wait for me to leave. My little girl is 8 now, and much much more confident. I don’t have any real advice, I just wanted to say I hear ya! Hope you find a solution soon, and can get back to running! :)

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      Thank you so much, it is comforting to know I’m not alone. The wee girl seems like such a confident character – she is very strong willed – so it has come as a bit of a surprise. I’m going to stick with it, and hope for the best xx

  2. Notmyyearoff

    It’s a tough one. Sometimes little Z will still go through ultra clingy phases and not let me go to work in the morning. I usually get my mum to distract him but once I just kissed him and left (whilst he had a big sob fest). He was luckily fine within minutes of me leaving. Could you try going for just 5 minutes at first and then after a few days increasing it a bit? I have no real answers unfortunately but I hope the phase passes quickly and you’re able to get back to running soon x

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      The boys used to cry occasionally when I left them at nursery, but I would stand outside the door and I could hear that they stopped within seconds. The wee girl is a determined little thing, she managed to cry for 30 minutes… I’m now trying exactly what you suggest, I’ve only done 10 mins each time this week, and I’m going to take it from there! Thank you so much for commenting xx

  3. go Mama O

    I’ve left my son crying at the Y’s kid-care, and he always calmed down a few minutes after I left and was happy when I returned. It is awful to leave a screaming / crying child, but it DOES get easier. Now at age 2 he easily goes into the kid-care. Hang in there & keep trying!

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      In my head, I know that you’re absolutely right, although my determined little girl can keep up the crying indefinitely so far..! The staff at the Y have been great, really helpful – she’s not the first! Hopefully I can work with them to build her confidence. Thanks for commenting xx

  4. Denise

    Some kids just have that personality where they like to be with Mum. Not so into other kids but like their familiarity. I think it’s something we are born with. My older one was like that. Cried for an hour on her first day at nursery and didn’t speak for 3 months. She’s still happier on her own. But she does have her small, close circle of friends.

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      It’s interesting to me how completely different my three are. In other situations she is so confident, but I am always there… She has always been more clingy than the boys were, and in a lot of ways that’s lovely – but independence is important, so I just need to work with her to build it. Thanks for commenting – it does help to know others have got through it xx

  5. PODcast (@The_Doves)

    Think I should be on your garden post Sara but got sucked into this one. It’s hard is this. From experience tough love is often more helpful than hanging around, it prolongs the agony! She just needs to learn as you say that you’ll be back. We had POD in nursery from when she was one 5 days a week. When we started our business a year later we pulled her out then she returned c.3 months later part-time. Same nursery but a new room with new staff. POD hated it and she cried a lot. But over time we made sure she was settled for breakfast then legged it. POD absolutely loves it there now. She does cry on occasions now but is normally good after 5 minutes. Go with your instinct lovely and you’ll all be fine :)

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      I agree on the tough love thing, it was just a lot easier with the boys as I knew that they settled within minutes on the rare days that they were reluctant to go to nursery (I would stand outside the door and listen!). I know that ultimately she’ll be fine, it just might be a painful journey getting her there. But, I just keep reminding myself that it’s better now than in a few years when the HAS to go to school :) Thanks for your thoughts Charly xx

  6. Sarah James

    ah hun, i SO know your feelings. all FOUR of my girls have been like this and there are days (usually when i have worked a night) and i go to take my kids to childcare and their response is so draining that sometimes i have given up and taken them home and just not slept. i wish i could give you a formula but the only thing i guess is persevering if you can bear it…and if you can’t dont. I know that is probably not the best thing to say to a woman who wants some me time. I know. im sorry. But maybe if she will stay with your OH you can go to the gym at a different time. I know this might seem like a weak way out but when it comes down to it, i found leaving my girls screaming and crying so distressing that i wouldnt rest and so it was better for me to find another way.
    Have to say all my girls went into school without a care so there is light at the end of the tunnel and they do eventually get over it. xx

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      It’s so hard isn’t it – my head says one thing, but my heart another. I’m going to try and persevere, but I honestly don’t know at what point I’ll admit defeat. It seems like such a selfish thing, just for a bit of me time – but part of me does feel quite strongly that she needs to develop some independence from me. She will stay happily with my OH, and is far better when left at home, in her own environment – she’ll at least calm down after five or ten minutes then. The big step seems to be strange place and strange people, too much for her. So perhaps I should work on one at a time… Thank you very much for your thoughts on this one, it does make me feel better knowing I’m not alone xx

  7. DetroitFamilyFun

    Aw, I have literally been through the exact same thing. I have yet to be able to find a place where my little one feels confident to play independently without me there. Let us know how it goes with little bits of separation at a time at the Y. I one the idea of tiny bits of time built up over a week or two…

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      It’s hard isn’t it? I’m hoping that taking it slowly, in a consistent environment, will help and that she’ll gradually feel comfortable being left with others. Thanks so much for commenting, I think we all feel better knowing it’s not just us! I’ll make sure to update on progress :)

  8. Jaime Oliver

    aww honey i am so sorry your going through this. i cant offer any help as i have it the other way round and joshus sobs when i come to pick him up as he wants to stay… sending massive hugs

  9. Victoria Welton (@VicWelton)

    This is such a hard situation. I have been through both with Grace and,whilst it is heart breaking and you feel like the worst mother in the world, when you get through the other side it is an absolutely amazing feeling knowing that you helped them get there. You’ll get through this. Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  10. Helen

    Sara, I’m reading this AFTER reading that you had a breakthrough this week. Just know that my 6 YO in the last year has suddenly also developed terrible separation anxiety. It’s very hard, exhausting, and even more difficult when your other kids have been fine! We are just working through it gradually. He thinks I’m going to die, or that I won’t come back and pick him up from school, and is really only secure when he thinks I go home and stay there ALL DAY LONG!!! Just stick with it, be encouraging and help her find a ‘coping’ mechanism when she feels panicky. A good book for us was ‘Whimsy’s heavy things’….Good luck with it. See you on the other side!

    1. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

      It is incredibly hard – it is emotionally exhausting reassuring them all the time. But, you just need to keep at, be consistent and always be there when you say you will. And hope they work through it. The wee girl is still young enough that the reinforcement seems to be working – I think it must be much harder with an older child who can imagine scenarios. Good luck to you too :) I’ll check out that book x


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