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My Problem With Separation Anxiety

Since the day my daughter was born, I have wanted to be her everything. I never let anyone else take care of the overnight feedings, I delayed day care as long as I possibly could, and I swooped in each and every time she cried; I was convinced that only I could soothe her.

It was important for me to have her know she could always count on mommy to be there.

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And for the most part, that worked to our advantage. I was never the mom willing to let her cry it out, but it didn’t matter—she was putting herself to sleep by 3 months and has been sleeping 13 hours a night ever since. I could play on the floor with her for a few minutes and then get up to do laundry or clean the bathroom and she wouldn’t fret—she knew mommy was coming right back.

I was full of pride in raising this secure and confident little girl who had a smile for everyone she met and who never seemed to worry that she might not be loved.

Then, right around 10 months old, something shifted. We wound up taking a few big trips in a row, and her surroundings got a little shuffled. Suddenly, she wasn’t quite as secure as she had been before. In fact, she began wailing anytime I left leave the room. And forget about handing her off to other people—she only wanted mommy.

And all of a sudden, I felt guilty. Every time she cried at the sight of a stranger or shed tears because I put her down, I worried that I had done this to her. I feared that in my obsessive need to be her everything, I had somehow stunted her independence.

Logically, I knew that was a tad overdramatic. After all, separation anxiety is a normal stage that babies go through. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these phases can start as early as 4 months and go all the way until preschool. Anything in between is considered normal. Healthy. Expected.

I worried people would think that this was my fault.

And realistically, I have known babies who have suffered from separation anxiety much worse than she has. My daughter seems relatively comfortable in our own home, even when I leave the room. And most the time if I give her a few minutes to warm up to new surroundings, she will go to others without too much drama, particularly if she can still have an eye on me. I have definitely seen worse.

Then again, I have definitely seen better.

I felt myself starting to cringe a little every time the mommy separation tears would start. It tore my heart out to have her suddenly sobbing every single day as I dropped her off at day care. And I hated that she now refused to go to her aunties, the other adults in our life who love her so. I worried that people would think this was my fault, that I was to blame for the clinginess she was now exhibiting.

I still struggle with it a little, if I’m being completely honest.

I want my daughter to know that I will always be there for her, but I am realizing something ... I don’t want to be her everything. Not because I don’t love being her favorite person in the world—I absolutely do, and there is a selfish part of me that wouldn’t mind never having to share her again. But she would miss out on so much. I am a fiercely independent woman, and I am realizing that I want to raise my daughter to be the same. That means I can’t be her everything, because there is so much more of this world for her to discover.

So, yeah, the separation anxiety phase is normal, and I am working on curbing my own stress over this current stage. But it has also taught me that I want more for her than just me. I want her to learn how to trust and rely on others as well, and on herself. I want her to grow to be strong and independent, and to know that even when mommy says “goodbye,” she is always going to come back.

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I don’t have to be her everything to show her that.

I just have to love her, remaining consistent and stable in that love until she learns to feel secure in her place in this world once more.

And then, watch out. Because I am pretty sure the day will come soon enough when I will be missing the little girl attached to my hip, missing the days when she believed I was her everything, even as I watch with pride as she spreads her wings and flies.

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