As a working mom, dealing with V’s separation anxiety has been tough for me. Although I am well aware that it only speaks of an attachment and is a completely normal behavior, my heart breaks each time she cries her lungs out while I leave. With time, I learnt a few tricks and tips for surviving this anxiety. It demands preparation, brisk transitions and a lot of time. The fact is we parents suffer as much as our children do when we leave. The first time I stepped out for an overnight work trip without V, I kept mourning the parting whole night. While the next day I tried to keep myself as busy as I can to avoid the guilt and thoughts about her, I realized I will have to consciously work towards make it easier for both of us. And months down the line, after a lot of effort I could successfully stay away for a week last month. Here are few tips that worked for me and worth giving a try –
- Familiarity: Familiarity always breeds comfort. Sometimes, it gets difficult for adults to adjust to unfamiliar situations, leave alone the little ones who consider their parents to be their whole world. It is very important to keep one familiar person constant, be it one of the grandparents or a caregiver. It is inevitable that your absence is bound to make a difference in the mood of the baby, but good news is babies forget everything too soon if they are comfortable with the surrounding. So, if there is a routine around a constant person, it makes things easier. Also, keeping security objects close to the baby (any favorite toy, blanket etc) makes them feel secured.
- Reassurance : As a practice, I have played the game of “Peekaboo” with V right since she started being cognizant of her surroundings. The whole idea behind it was to reinforce the idea that even if she cannot see me for a while, she would know that I will be back. Also, when I am home and my husband is in office, I make video calls to him and let V interact with him(although she would any way get to see him in the evening) so that when I do the same while I am away on work trips, she doesn’t long for me and wouldn’t cry during the video calls.
- Good bye Rituals: Good byes should be kept short and sweet. If you linger , the transition time will linger too and make things more difficult eventually. As a practice, I try to keep my departure at the same time every day. So, we follow a ritual of her bidding me goodbye at the door and then she heads out straight to the bath. Gradually, she has realized that there is something to look forward to after Mommy is off to work.
- Keeping promises: We all feel heartbroken when promises are not kept, don’t we? These little darlings are no different and rather more vulnerable. So, whenever you promise that you will be back by 6 pm, try to keep it. If you promise to come back with a toy, then do it. This mostly makes a difference to toddlers because they understand what you say and actually look forward to your commitments. Keeping promises helps build trust and credibility with your child.
- Customized approach: Every child is different. What works for my baby may not work for you and therefore, you need to keep trying until you are successful. Lot of people insist on letting the baby sleep in a different room in order to build a sense of independence. It never worked with me and I never had the courage to let her be out of my sight through the night but if it does for you, go for it. I have believed in attachment parenting and I always ensure someone is around her at all times until she maybe learns to speak for herself.
- Practice distance: Even when you are home, try and practice staying apart while the baby engages in fun activities. I typically like to send her for playdates with other toddlers (of course under supervision of adults) or leave her with grandparents for an hour or so. This helps in adaptability with new faces and gradually they learn to enjoy some time off familiar faces.
- Do not impose the concept of “No crying” – According to me, crying is not a negative trait by any means. It is just a way of expressing an emotion and babies have every right to express their displeasure regarding something, The ability to be aware and express the feelings itself is a major milestone and an important emotional foundation. While, we mothers can’t stop feeling guilty about it, babies outgrow this feeling very soon(unless the baby is sick or has any other problem). So, next time the baby cries when you are stepping out, give her a tighter hug and say ‘goodbye’. She will be fine with the care giver, trust me. Just make sure she is comfortable with the care giver on normal days.
While I am no child psychiatrist, I can say that most of these things worked for me and the suggestion are purely based on personal experiences.