I love all of the great things that come along with raising my son. I love that my boy gives kisses - big, open mouthed, drooly kisses with a "ahhhhhh" sound for effect. I love that he has learned to walk and is still trying to gain his balance so he wobbles about with both hands outstretched resembling an orangutan. I am thrilled that he has learned so many words and now says "thank you" "up" "yes" and sometimes, "kitty" (And don't think I haven't noticed that "mama" is still missing from his vocabulary). However, with every developmental accomplishment, there is a downside. this one comes in the form of wailing and tears the moment I have the audacity to leave his line of sight, unfortunately.
As a new mother (and former therapist), I was foolish and thought I could help our little guy acclimate to new situations and avoid the "separation anxiety" phase by getting out every day and exposing him to new things and all sorts of people. My reasoning was that separation anxiety was possibly a learned response brought on by a child who was rarely away from his mother suddenly being separated from her. So, I figured that by hiring baby sitters on occasion, taking my son to the day care at our gym, and leaving him in the nursery at church, he would gradually become used to other adults and not feel so anxious to be away from me. As the months went by and he seemed comfortable in various situations, I began to feel confident that this plan was a success and that we had avoided the horrible developmental pitfall that I had heard so much about. (Are any of you out there laughing at me yet? It's okay, I would laugh at me, too)
So, as you have probably guessed, I was somewhat shocked last week when my angelic and extremely adaptable child started voicing his displeasure at being left with unfamiliar adults. Suddenly the church nursery volunteers, the staff at the gym day care, and even his own dad were UNACCEPTABLE substitutes for yours truly. If I am being honest, I was a teeny bit flattered by this unadulterated devotion initially. But, then I tried to leave the room without him. And went from feeling the joy of being loved best to feeling the horrible guilt of inflicting pain on my child. Pain that he chooses to express with screaming, wailing, and enormous tears that usually results in the most heart rendering sobbing I have ever heard.
Now it feels like a punch in the gut every time I leave him with someone else or even in the living room alone for five minutes so I can go to the bathroom!(Side note: Nothing quite says motherhood like trying to pee with your toddler screaming at you from the next room.)It turns out that separation anxiety is just part of a developmental stage brought on by a child's increasing independence. When you think of it in that context it's actually a positive occurrence. It means that he is learning that he is independent of me and that he can do things on his own. From that perspective, I am pleased as punch that he learning this and has started down the path to independence but that's not always easy to remember when I am feeling like the worst mommy in the world because I dare to leave him with someone other than me. I just hope that this phase doesn't last too long. I also know that I can't wish it away too fast because there will be a time before long when I will wish he wanted to be with me instead of his friends, his teacher, his dad. And then I will have separation anxiety.