Separation Anxiety and Mommy Guilt

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If you're a working parent who leaves your child at daycare, you've undoubtedly felt the pain of leaving a screaming anguished child behind.  You've wanted to whisk their fears away and hope they understand that leaving them is out of necessity to provide for your family and not to punish them in any way.  But wracked with guilt, separation anxiety is often harder on the parent than the child.

More often than not in today's age, having a two income family is necessity.  But being the norm doesn't make separation anxiety any easier.  Even though my daughter went to daycare since she was an infant, when she became a toddler, she suddenly realized that mommy was leaving.  For the whole day.  This produced mounds of tears, followed by clinging to my legs and then screaming as though the world was ending.  I would promise to stay for just one more book or one more song and then her teacher would hold her at the window so that she could wave goodbye.  Sometimes it took me twenty minutes to leave, only to see her tear-stained face again as I walked back to my car.  I would drive to work wondering if it was all worth it. 

At the end of the day, I would pick her up and she would be cheerful and I would hear great reports on her day.  Obviously, the separation anxiety was just temporary condition.  She was well loved by her teachers and she integrated well into group play.  But by the next day, it was gloom and doom all over again.  I don't have a magic bullet to offer for easing the pain of separation anxiety, only empathy and the usual pointers offered by experts.

In the end, we finally relieved some of her separation anxiety when my husband was laid off.  We decided that he would become a stay-at-home parent at least until she was of school age.  We cut her preschool days down to two days a week and everyone was happier all around (at least mom and daughter, I can't speak for my husband!).  This often isn't practical for many families, but part-time work has increasing become more popular with working mothers.

Parenting.com recently published an article on age-by-age guide to easing separation anxiety.  The most important points that I had used in the past were to avoid sneaking off and developing a goodbye ritual.  Knowing that other parents experience the same issues is also comforting.  When Susan at 5 Minutes for Mom expressed her daughter's issues with profound separation anxiety, many moms chimed in with support.  The book, The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn was highly recommended, as well as leaving something of yours for them to hold on to.  Scholastic.com also has a list of nine parent-tested ways to ease separation anxiety.

Having two children, I also had experience with a child who did not have issues with separation anxiety.  My older son rarely had trouble leaving for daycare and enjoyed jumping in with his friends everyday.  Since we brought up both children in the same home and daycare environment, I assume that we did not do anything differently to trigger the separation anxiety in my daughter's case.  It was merely a function of her personality.  It didn't even help her to know that her brother was in the same building a few classrooms away.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development, but it certainly isn't easy.  With patience and love, children will eventually grow to be independent and secure.  And moms can eventually be freed of their mommy guilt.

Contributing editor Angela blogs about her kids at mommy bytes.

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