I went back to work early with each of my children. With my Grizzly Bear, I returned to work at 10 months and with Polar Bear, 5 months. Each time, I was anticipating returning to work and leaving my children in the care of their allomother (see Blog 5), so I prepared myself, as well as my children, for the eventuality of separation anxiety.
I found, through research and attending KARA’s Grow With Me program, that separation anxiety was a wonderful developmental milestone that all children go through when developing the awareness of object permanence and apprehension to new situations. I know what you’re thinking, did you just read the word “wonderful”? Is this woman out of her mind? My child screaming and clinging to my body while other people pry him off so I can dash to my car is wonderful?
Let me be frank. My children never experienced the type of separation anxiety that you hear about. The ones that make you anxious and dread the day you need to drop your kids off somewhere. I’d like to say it’s because I’m a phenomenal mother or because I raised my little Bears to trust the entire world around them (which would actually be more frightening tome) but probably more likely that genetics played a role or that their dayhome allomother is a better caregiver than I am… (something else I’d like not to think about) so let’s get back to it!
Because I did experience an over the top, sweat behind your knees, and cringe in anticipation separation anxiety disorder the likes of which you’ve probably never dealt with, for a grand total of five years. Yes, five years. My experience with separation anxiety story occurred before doing my research and attending Grow With Me.
Before knowing that object permanence means that “Mom still exists but she isn’t here!? Where did she go? Did she just leave me here? If I scream loud enough, she’ll hear me and come back, right!?” Or before knowing children are genetically apprehensive of the new and that recognition is a huge component to cognitive development, so if I change my hair colour,the child is thinking “I don’t know this person! She looks completely different than yesterday!
This is not good, it’s just not good and she’s dead wrong if she thinks she can pull off black hair!”If you’ve guessed that my black hair phase was right in the middle of my babysitter career, you’d be correct. I babysat a child (and his siblings) for five years during my undergrad. And this littleboy loved his Mommy. In a way, I’m actually jealous. My Canadian Bears never put on a show of love like that. But I’m also grateful, because that child went through a turmoil of emotions each and every day.His Mom would call me up and ask if I had time to watch them for just a few short hours here and there, it was never a full-time gig.
She also would invite me over for help so she could complete chores around the house. This would also entail her going outside for a cigarette, where she’d only be absent for a few minutes, but the briefness of the absence didn’t seem to matter.Her child would shake the house with his displeasure. After a while, even the sight of me would trigger the anticipation of his mother leaving, and silent tears would start to role down his face hours before she would leave.I’m sure you can pick out the wrong strategies his mother and I used from these small windows now. As it wasn’t full-time and the days/hours were never consistent, the child never developed a sense of routine. It was always sprung on him and we never gave him time to adjust. When his mother would go outside to smoke, he could still see her through the window. The “out of sight,out of mind” combined with distraction practice that many of us use didn’t apply here.
Furthermore, seeing me well in advance of his mother leaving the house, lingering and anxious herself, never sat well in his tummy.Still, we had our fun with playing hide and seek, crafts, taking walks, and watching his favourite programs. You may think that five years of separation anxiety is a bit extreme but I know for a fact that they were able to overcome it because I still babysit them from time to time (althoughher youngest pretty much babysits mine while I have a lie down). And I know that their bond is undeniably strong.
Just this past weekend, their Mom told me “My youngest son brings me soup, he is my sweetest,my oldest daughter talks with me, she is my confidant, but he, he is enduring with love.”If you want more information and tips on how to make separation with your young child easier on both of you, I strongly recommend Parents Canada magazine and KARA’s Grow With Me free drop-in program. Parents Canada is full of advice from experts and their information on separation anxiety stems directly from the University of Toronto and pediatricians. I use ParentsCanada for research on behavioural patterns of children, mostly to see what stages my children are coming to next. They also have fantastic recipes.
The Grow With Me program I attended at KARA during both of my maternity leaves was educational and inspiring. The ladies that facilitated that program introduced me to the importance of routines and being honest with my children. The do’s and don’ts really did work as I sought the perfect dayhome for my kids. If you and your child are struggling with separation, give these two resources a try; they won’t disappoint you!