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Stepping Up the Separation Anxiety

You know the separation anxiety is getting
bad when your daughter cries because you’re going to the
grocery store.

Your older daughter, that is.

Since we’ve moved to Texas, both girls have become only more
clingy, more anxious when away from me. I expected it a bit when we
first moved – new environment, no friends, and so on. And
when we moved in January Cora was 8 months old and four months into
her official separation anxiety stage, so I was trying to grit my
teeth and deal with that as well. I kept thinking it would get
better – that gradually Cora would begin to become more
confident without me, let me go to the bathroom by myself, for
pete’s sake!

Instead, I’ve ended up with a baby
who is even more insecure than when we moved here: for many parts
of the day, only Mommy will do – not Daddy, not Gamma. And
she’s not content to be simply in the same room with me, or
holding my leg; she has to be held by me, which is incredibly
inconvenient when I’m, say, dicing fruit or cooking with hot
oil. I can hand her off to someone who will distract her with
pieces of cheese or orange, but that only works for a few minutes
before she’s once again climbing my leg like a monkey. And
since she’s started walking, she’ll circle the island
in the kitchen, walk between my legs begging for a pickup, cry,
then do the whole thing again, over and over until I comply.

As disturbing as that is, I somewhat expect it; separation anxiety
is par for the course with a baby and we’ve all been through
it. What I did not anticipate is Maddie’s anxiety, and how it
now shows no signs of abating.

Maddie didn’t really go through separation anxiety as a baby:
she certainly had stranger anxiety and would refuse to be left in
the church nursery unless someone she knew was there, while also
hating to be held by strangers (who wouldn’t??) but she never
did the “Only Mommy is good enough!” thing. I went back
to work a couple nights a week when Maddie was only four months
old, so she had Maddie and Daddy time several hours a week and got
used to being fed, attended to, put down for naps, etc., by other

But since we’ve moved to Texas I have been around her All.
The. Time. And she’s definitely gotten used to it. Maddie
really did cry when I told her one afternoon that I was going to
the drug store; Gamma (who lives with us and is around 24/7) and
Cora were both still home, but when Maddie saw me walk out the door
she freaked out. Another day, the family took two cars somewhere
and I drove the car without the kids. Apparently, Maddie cried the
entire 20-minute car ride. And nearly every afternoon Maddie wakes
up from her nap while I’m at the train station picking up
Brian, and nearly every afternoon Maddie refuses to get out of bed
until I come home and go in to get her. Gamma checks on her,
reassures her that someone is here, then leaves as per
Maddie’s request. Many times this too is accompanied by
tears. When this happened yesterday, Maddie explained to me later,
“I called out for you, Mommy! I wanted you! I didn’t
say the word ‘Gamma’, I said, ‘Mommy’! But
Gamma came!”

I’ve spoken with Maddie about this during calm times and
asked her what she’s so worried about. She’s confessed
that she’s afraid I won’t come back, which of course is
a knife in my heart. I’ve reassured her countless times that
though I sometimes have to go away, I’ll ALWAYS come back,
and she says she understands, but loses it again a day or two

I don’t know why this is so hard for her; is it losing all
her friends? Does she feel deserted by all things familiar from New
York? I do truly believe that at least part of the problem is that
I’m simply never gone from her side for any significant
amount of time any more, and hope we can tackle that in the near
future when I can start teaching a bit again. Otherwise, I
don’t know what to do. Unlike Cora, Maddie is just fine as
long as she knows I’m in the house; she’ll play with
family members, run around, whatever – but Mommy better be
within calling distance.

And as for the more physically pressing issue of Cora’s
anxiety, well, like I said, I’m trying to grit my teeth and
wait it out. I’ve hardened my heart to her
middle-of-the-night anxieties, refusing to go in until morning, but
it doesn’t change her daytime anxiousness. What I need is to
hire someone to carry her around, right next to me, so she can
stroke my hair or play with my shirt or whatever, yet I can get
things done.

I know that I shouldn’t complain – that I’m lucky
I’ll never experience having my kid cry for half an hour
because she wants Daddy and not me, and I’m simply not good
enough. I should be grateful, feel indispensable.

But here’s the thing, and it’s the last bit of
complaining I’ll do on the subject, I promise:

There’s a big difference between being wanted and being
needed. The first implies you have a choice, and the second
requires mandatory reciprocation. One makes you feel desirable,
while the other makes you feel tired. One is flattering.

The other is suffocating.


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