“Mommy, Don’t Leave!”

We have entered the full-fledged separation anxiety stage … and it flat-out sucks.

I don’t get nearly enough time with Maya each day as it is, and since last week, she’s been crying and clinging to my leg — arms pointing “up” — as soon as she sees me go for my coat and laptop bag. She stands at the gate to the kitchen and cries. It’s absolutely heart-breaking. As soon as I pick her up … the tears stop but I see that tomato-red face streaked with tears and my heart heaves … a lot. Eventually, though, I need to get to work or I’ll be late.

It’s become a daily struggle and it’s not ending any time soon. Apparently, between 18 months and 2 1/2 years it levels off — we just happened to get to this stage pretty late … for better or for worse.

Each workday (except Fridays, when I work from home with my peanut) Luis does drop-off and I do pick-up because it’s what makes the most sense for our family (we live closer to his work than mine; daycare is a mile from his office) but also because, frankly, I can’t handle the idea of willingly leaving her. I’d much rather pick her up at the end of the day.

This system has worked for us from the very beginning … but now even at pick-up, she’s often hysterical when she sees me. One of two things happen.

1) She’ll see me and burst into tears immediately …


2) She’ll be mid-play, hear my voice, turn around with this huge grin on her face, run toward me … only to dissolve into real tears as soon as she gets into my arms. And every time this happens, a piece of me dies. It’s like she worries I’m here, and fears I’m going to leave from the same door from which I came.

This weekend was a huge test for us. I was a bridesmaid in my BFF since 6th grade’s wedding in the Berkshires (Massachusetts). Well, it was the same weekend as Luis’s real MBA graduation from University of Michigan (the December graduation Maya and I went to on her birthday was actually the winter commencement, not the Ross Business School’s graduation in particular) so he stayed behind with Maya and went to his graduation and they had a lovely daddy-daughter weekend  … but it was my first time away from her more than 24 hours, and certainly my first time being so far away from her geographically.

Given the recent spate of separation anxiety, I had deep hesitation about going. Fortunately, my flight was at 5:40 AM so it’s not like she was awake to see me leave, but it was a really bizarre feeling to be SO far away from her.

As it turned out, we didn’t have cell reception at the venue (where I stayed two nights) so I had to trust that things were OK at home and, when we went into town, I was able to connect with Luis and confirm that things were, indeed, fine. I did like hearing I was missed by both of them 😉

Unfortunately, when she heard my voice on the phone, she cried. It totally crushed me. Luis said she was tired, but I knew better. She knew I wasn’t there. I forgot that this same thing had happened in February when she and I went to see my family and he had stayed here with Rocco — she cried when she saw him on Skype. Kids know who Mama and Dada are, and they know when they’re not there!!! In a way, it was a tease to her — to hear me, but not be able to see me. ;(

Anyway, this is a whole new phase for us. I know the best way to deal with it is the Band-Aid method, but it’s so hard to just walk away when you know how needed/wanted/loved you are. As a mother, you’re your child’s everything … and there’s truly nothing more powerful than that.

Last night, she was rubbing her eyes at 6:30 so after dinner and a little play-time, I put her in her crib and rubbed her back. She seemed to be asleep quickly so I tip-toed out. I heard silence, and then ten minutes later, some whimpering. Whimpering that, had I not been away from her for two nights, I probably would have let her cry it out.

So I went in and put her over my shoulder. She lay there, breathing into my neck that sweet baby breath that touches ever fiber of your being. She was definitely sleepy, so we moved to the rocker where I cradled her in my arms as she curled her legs into a comfortable position (chubby ankles crossed).

[I couldn’t help but remember days when she was so itsy-bitsy tiny that she’d slip from my arms while breastfeeding, had I not had the Boppy pillow in my lap].

Within minutes, her eyes were fluttering. I looked down and smiled at her and she just let out the world’s biggest, double-dimpled grin I’ve ever seen, the smile playing on her lips, as if saying to me, “I’m OK now that you’re back, Mommy. I had fun with Daddy, but I missed you. I’m happy now.”

With that, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

It’s moments like that when I realize I’d suffer through all the separation anxiety and teething drama again if it meant we’d have precious moments like that.

How about you? When did your kids experience separation anxiety, and how did you handle it? Any tips for this mama?


9 thoughts on ““Mommy, Don’t Leave!”

  1. I think mama is also going through some separation anxiety and I totally understand. It’s gut wrenching to see your child cry not only when you leave, but also in anticipation of you leaving. I understand because I lived through it with you and I know how helpless I felt seeing the tears well up in your eyes and then hearing you cry. A very wise, very loved nursery school teacher told me to go. She was so gentle as she told me I was doing more harm by prolonging the good bye and assured me that you were always fine once distracted after I left. It’s all just another learning experience for you, and for Maya too. As long as you always come back to her, or she to you, that confidence and independence will grow. That’s not to say she won’t miss you or you her. She’s just beginning to get her wings Lis and sometimes shel’ll fall, but eventually with all of the love and support she gets, she’ll fly.

  2. I feel your pain. Nate went through horrible separation anxiety for months and months. He would cry even when I left him with Tom – and he occasionally still does cry when I leave for work, but not often. I promise it gets easier when it’s not every day, all the time. At one point, I couldn’t even go into the bathroom without him having a meltdown. It was super stressful. But it’s just them learning permanence and reappearance. She has to learn to trust that you’ll come back – that you’re not walking out, never to return. (What a horrible thought that they actually think that and have to grow out of it. Poor little things. Imagine that every time Luis walked out the door, you were pretty sure he was never coming back. How terrifying that must be.)

    So the best thing is just not to make a big deal of it – stay sunny and cheerful. I would always be super smiley and wave, give one big hug and kiss (no need to drag it out), say “See you later!” (even if I wouldn’t b/c I’d be home late), and walk out quickly… and then I’d drive away in tears, sometimes crying half the way to work. But it gets better over time, for both of you.

    This mothering stuff is not for wusses. lol

  3. Aw that had to have been hard on Tom!! That’s good to know it gets better … and you’re right, it’s about learning about us coming back. Today she was hysterical when I picked her up — it breaks my heart!!!!

    Great advice–sunny side up 🙂 Oh and no, it’s most certainly not!

  4. Oh yes, we had to deal with separation anxiety. The best thing I did was be consistent and leave, despite his cries, because usually he calmed down after a few minutes.

    I would also give him something of mine, like a hair clip, and ask him to hold on to it and give it back to me when I came back. Other times he would have his special lovey the whole day for comfort.

    When it was between me and my husband and my toddler preferred me, we made sure that the two of them had enough daddy and me time alone, especially on the weekends.

    Good luck! I know how stressful it gets!

    1. Thank you–and that’s a great idea about encouraging more solo time with Daddy when that happens. Right now she isn’t showing much preference to one over the other, but often if she is crying or upset, she wants me. Good call, too, about giving them something of yours.

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