Separation Struggles and the High Maintenance Mother


So happy together

Emily is going through a developmental stage that I am not enjoying: separation anxiety.

She recently switched classrooms from the baby/toddler room to the older toddler room at her wonderful daycare. She has the same two teachers Jack had as a little fellow. We know and trust their abilities to be warm, engaging, and appropriate with our children.

Prior to this classroom change, Emily trotted confidently into school, squealing for glee. She would enter her room and barely even glance back at me.

But these last few weeks, she begins to cry almost as soon as we pull into the parking lot. She clings to me as we walk down the hallway, and begs me to pick her up when we get to her class.

You have to understand she is a really easy kid to soothe. To see her miserable, anxious, and difficult to redirect is truly concerning.

This morning she clung to me, begging for her blanket, pacifier, Cookie Monster.

“Momeee! Momeee!” she screamed if my embrace faltered for one moment.

I sat down at a table to show her some toys and engage her with her cohorts. She seemed interested, but as soon as I tried to slide her off my lap she bawled.

The younger of her two teachers sat down next to us and chirped, “Mommy is going to leave now! It’s going to be hard, but we are going to do it fast, just like pulling off a bandaid!”

I then punched her in the face.


Wait. . . What?

Okay. So, I didn’t punch her in the face, but I was tempted. How dare she suggest that I was going to leave my distraught child as casually as removing a used up, old bandaid?

I’ve never left Emily crying at daycare. And I only did it a couple times with Jack until I realized how awful it felt. It just feels wrong in the deepest pit of my mommy gut.

Much to this young teacher’s chagrin, I stayed with Em on my lap and attempted to soothe her. Her other teacher, a kindly and slightly older woman (read: more grace and experience than that young upstart), came over and offered to indulge Emily in her latest obsession, hand washing. We walked towards the little sinks, but when I started to inch my way to the door, again Em started to weep.

I snatched her up, on the verge of tears myself.

“I’ve never left her crying at daycare,” I explained to her teacher. “I’m sorry. I just won’t do it. I don’t believe in it.”

I had said nearly these exact words five years ago to one of Jack’s teachers. I understand that it might be easier for them to “rip off the bandaid,” but for me and my child it is just awful. I also do not believe that it instills trust and confidence in my child. So, I’ve made a reputation for myself as a “high maintenance mother.”

Emily’s teacher could feel my pain. She reassured me and suggested I go for a walk with my daughter to help her “reset.”

We walked to one of the baby rooms and peered in the windows. Emily is enamored of babies. The sight of the tiny tots calmed her instantly. We hugged and I talked to her gently about what the babies were doing.

I brought her back to her teacher and suggested that if she brought Emily to look at the babies that it might help her to transition. We three walked back to the baby room.20130712-075824.jpg

With one more kiss and hug, I was able to drift out knowing she was calm and comfortable.

Anguish knotted in my stomach as I drove to work. Although it was a relief for me to leave Emily in a state of peace, I felt I caused her teachers trouble. Then my cell phone rang.

It was Emily’s teacher calling to say that looking at the babies worked really well. They found a doll  that Emily really liked. With the baby in her arms she made it back into her class for circle time with her buddies. Her teacher said they could try that from now on to make the transition easier for us all.

She said, “I could see how hard it was for you. I thought a little call to let you know that she was okay might ease your mind a little bit.”

Profusely, I thanked her.

I’m not the best mother, and I don’t know if I did the right thing today.  I do know I will never regret it.  I will never regret holding and comforting my child.

Rather than creating more anxiety, I believe helping her transition builds healthy attachment, confidence and trust. I also know from my experience with Jack that being there to ease that separation struggle helps expedite this developmental phase. 

Armed with that knowledge, I am mindful of my own anxieties and not projecting them onto my children. 

I’m going to give younger teacher the benefit of the doubt and assume she wanted to make my life earlier, or keep me on schedule by attempting to initiate a fast drop off. I’m going to assume she just didn’t know that is NOT my style. I also hope maybe she learned something today.

But it makes me wonder why the heck we are always in such a rush to rip off the bandaid?

Why are we so quick to push our kids on to the next step before they are emotionally, developmentally, or cognitively ready? What is wrong with taking our time and helping a child to get comfortable and confident before foisting them onto the next new thing?


14 responses »

  1. Oh wow, thanks for writing this! I’ve wondered if my fast drop off has been causing some struggle with Potamus since we came back from vacation…but normally he’d stop crying as soon as I was out the door. Sigh, now I feel so conflicted!

    • Heya Monk-Monk! I think you just have to do what feels right for you and your child. My way isn’t the only way, and I recognize that, but it seems to be what works for me and my kid. If Potamus stops crying as soon as you leave, then that may be what is appropriate for you guys. It’s all good! I just know that the teacher told me she cried for ten minutes the other day after my hubs left, and that is a really long cry for my daughter. She almost never cries for longer than a couple minutes, unless she is sick or really tired or somthing is really off… So, for me, seeing that 180 in her personality and comfort with school tells me that something is up for her. I am sure with my whole heart that you are doing whatever is right with your child as well. Hopefully this phase passes and we will be on to other challenges (potty training, anyone?). Big love to you, mama!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I do not believe in the cry it out theory. Ok, the cry out theory is for sleep but goes for other areas of life too. If my baby needs me, I will be there, call me high maintenance or what. Even when we go through nanny transition or what so ever, I never just closed the door and let R cry. Call me high maintenance but I am not going to shatter the trust my daughter has on me.

    • Good for you Lail! I call myself “high maintenance” kind of tongue and cheek, btw. I think I am actually pretty laid back about most things, but this is one area where I feel pretty strongly. We tried cry it out with my son regarding sleep training, and it was a miserable failure for everyone involved (I wrote a post on it a couple months ago…) I think I will have mommy-guilt forever on that one. Sigh. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment! It is so nice to hear from you again.

  3. Individual parents do it the way they can. Our society is imbued with the “suck it up” “big kids don’t cry” and so one syndrome. What works for you is what works for you and it is kind of you to share yourself so openly. I think it is good to do things gradually, however, she might have been ready, just reluctant. Some kids hate change and will resist it for no other reason.

    • Yes. I totally agree that for the most part we do the best we can. I also know that my way might not work for someone else and their child. I do have a problem, however, when I feel bullied into making decisions for my kids (eg., leaving my daughter screaming at daycare) when it is goes against my grain. Knowing my daughter, we really thought that she was too little and not developmentally ready to actually switch classes due to her slow language development and some other factors. But they kind of pushed her along and now we are paying the price. I don’t see it as resistance or reluctance on her part so much as her just not being “there yet.” We will get through it fine, I am sure. Just a bump in the road. It is a blessing that I am able to process these little parent traps on my blog and have such fine friends as yourself leave me such thoughtful and compassionate comments. Thank you! xo.

  4. This is such a tough call. L. was in a daycare situation for a little while where he regularly cried and I was regularly pushed out the door. I couldn’t get any work done for worrying, and finally, I pulled him out of the daycare because I disliked the way they dealt with his emotional needs. (Funny/cringe aside: we were Skyping with my folks and L. told my mom, “Mama goes to the coffee shop to work while I’m at daycare, crying for Mama.”) Now, at his current school, they have a tradition of pushing US out the door. For some reason, the kid giving you a big push out the front gate seems to soothe them immensely. Good luck!

    • I actually just lol-ed when I read your son’s quote! Too funny, and also sort of cute. It is nice when the kids get to the point of feeling secure enough to push us away a little. Good for you for pulling your son out of a daycare that was a poor scenario. My daughter’s daycare is actually wonderful… sometimes they just need a little reminder that mom knows best and is the expert on her own child, eh hem! Great to hear from you!! I have been missing your posts and comments, busy lady!

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