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I Didn't Expect Separation Anxiety To Be Like This

Like many of my friends who grew up to get English degrees and find jobs in publishing, when I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian. It was all mapped out: I would work from my house, and my mother would be my receptionist. I couldn't fathom moving into adulthood without her.

It never came to pass, but I was reminded of it recently when I saw the horror in my son's 5-year-old face after I introduced the idea to him that he would one day live in his own house and do things without my necessarily being part of them.

Children cannot perceive this. And in my son's case, it felt scary and smacked of rejection.

He wanted to know where her mother was, and I told him sometimes you just want to have dinner with friends, and that he would do that too someday.

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It came up while we were having our Friday night dinner date, which has become our thing. Next to us at the restaurant was a long table full of 30-somethings, each carrying a gift for the birthday girl. My son was fascinated.

I explained that it was a party and that all the woman's friends had come to have dinner to celebrate. He wanted to know where her mother was, and I told him sometimes you just want to have dinner with friends, and that he would do that too someday. I had to reassure him that the woman would definitely spend the next day celebrating with her mother for him to move on.

It's lovely to know he's happy with us (although perhaps not so much with my housekeeping).

The things I worry that my kids are feeling anxious about are so often way off base, whereas they worry about things that never dawn on me to intercept. It takes only a small, innocuous comment to create or reveal a deeply rooted fear that they are harboring. For example, friends of ours were walking in town with their daughter last summer and passed by the apartment where they'd lived before she was born. They told her so and, only a few weeks later, realized she thought it meant the apartment was where they would soon live in—without her.

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My son has launched a campaign to ensure that he can live with us forever. He says he'd like to be a housekeeper when he grows up and then may as well work in our house. He shows me the contents of his piggy bank, so I know he can help out if we ever need. He's also said he could marry one of his sisters so nobody would have to move.

It's lovely to know he's happy with us (although perhaps not so much with my housekeeping). But I also know this will all change and one day he, as I did, will be clawing at the chance to get his first apartment, have a job, enjoy time with his friends. He reassures me, though, that if and when he gets his own place, I can have a key and come over every night for dinner. I think I'll ask for that in writing.

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Photograph by: Tracy Brown Hamilton

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