It’s wonderful to be needed. But it’s also quite tiring. Ben is currently going through a phase that the parenting books refer to as “separation anxiety” and it’s driving us all a bit crazy. Rachel never really had this problem. You could pass her from stranger to stranger and she’d stare at all of them delightedly and coo and giggle and generally be amazing. But if I try pass Ben to someone he doesn’t know, he will act like I’m abandoning him in a field full of hungry leopards.
His eyes fill with tears, his face scrunches up and he begins to HOWL. He does the same thing if I even think of leaving the room to fulfil such necessary functions as having a wee or fetching my cup of tea. He’ll be playing happily on his playmat with his favourite toys (a tractor and a purple plastic ball) and I’ll be sitting on the couch next to him but as soon as I stand up, point one foot towards the bathroom or kitchen and turn my back, well then, the end of his little world is nigh.
It’s not just that he gets sad, he also gets MAD. He seems so angry at his potential abandonment that he starts to arch his back and flail around. I used to scoff at this exact type of parenting mumbo-jumbo, but I’m coming to believe that separation anxiety is a very real thing and what’s more, I need some help with it.
What to Expect the First Year says that it normally starts to manifest at about 12 months (Ben’s 10 and a half months) and that it’s actually a sign that your baby is maturing. Apparently his brain is starting to understand the concept of “object permanence”: that even though an object isn’t there, it still exists. “When he was younger and you left, he didn’t miss you – if you were out of sight you were out of mind.” says What to Expect. So now my baby MISSES me when I go and this causes him to get anxious. My heart.
The book recommends a number of things including leaving him with a loving caretaker (tick because of the wonderful Norma), being very obvious about saying goodbye (i.e NEVER sneak out, this makes it much worse), making a happy ritual out of leaving (i.e a hug and kiss) and reassuring him that you’ll be back (not that he can understand this yet I’m sure). Also, it’s very important that once you leave, YOU LEAVE. Repeatedly coming back only makes it worse.
Now all of this is very helpful if I’m leaving for work or taking Rachel to school, but howabout popping to the loo? Or fetching my phone from another room? Surely he needs to learn that I will come back and besides, his father and sister are still right there with him.
“It’s just a phase” is one of my favourite parenting mantras and hopefully it holds true for separation anxiety too. Because as much as I love him, it’s really quite difficult (and unhygienic) to take your baby into the bathroom with you.
If you have any tips I’d love to hear them!
Here is the rascal in his favourite place (i.e my arms)…