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Separation Anxiety: when Mama/Papa feels it

An urbanMama recently emailed:

I am curious about people's thoughts on time spent away from children.  How much is essential, at what point do you feel guilty, etc?  At what age do you think your kid needs a break from you as much as you need a break from him or her?  Do parents sometimes foster separation anxiety in children?

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I work full time and do not attend fter work social events with coworkers because I feel that I spend enough time away from my kids as it is. Other coworkers who are parents do attend those events. It makes me feel weird, am I too much into being a mother?

When I was home all day with pre-school aged kids, I was desperate for time away from them. I don't remember ever feeling guilty when I left the baby with my husband and spent an entire afternoon alone, as I did every weekend. I knew his dad was just as capable of caring for my son as I was. I know that not everyone feels the same way, but I found it impossible to be happy without getting a regular break from day-in, day-out mothering. And for me, it was essential to have that break built into the schedule, to know exactly when I'd be able to count on time off.

When I worked full time, with my first son until he was two, I felt horrible separation anxiety all the time. Every time I left my son, I torrent of guilt poured over me. I think I was actually genuinely depressed about it for a while. For myself, begin a parent evening and weekends (again, this is how I felt myself, and no judgement on anyone else) wasn't being a parent at all.

I cut out almost all social activity on evenings and weekends to spend more time with him. Ultimately, this wasn't healthy for me, either.

I was able to go back to work three days a week after I finished my maternity leave with my daughter, and it's been that way for three years.

It's a struggle, because I basically still have my full time job. I just do it in three days a week at work. I'm often totally falling behind at work. But, in the end, it feels much, much more sane to me to work three days and be at home four days. I don't feel so guilty about going out with friends for a Saturday afternoon. I don't mind staying late at work to finish a project on occasion.

I don't think I will want to work full time anytime soon, even when both kids are in public school (which is two years off). As long as I can make it work at work, I want to be at home for my kids when they get home from school.

Time away and time for yourself is absolutely essential (whether you work FT, PT or not at all), I feel. No need to feel guilty about it at all. I don't think there is any magic age for this. Time away helps, it balances, and allows us to appreciate our kids/families (in whatever shape or form they are) and ourselves. I also think kids can benefit from it as well as it's important to form all kinds of relationships in life.

I've always been pretty good about giving the kids space to be themselves and myself time to get work done but as my daughter nears leaving for college an anxiety I have never experienced and sense of loss is defintely setting in.

I always look so forward to time alone, or time to do something with other adults, but usually, I end up setting up an overnight for my daughter and sit at home watching reruns on Hulu instead of doing something I enjoy. My daughter enjoys sleepovers with her friends, but not as much with my friends, and throws a bit fit whenever I tell her it's going to happen (maybe once every 3 months?). I try to call around bed time to check on her, and she refuses to talk to me on the phone, but I can hear her in the background.

I am hoping that sometime soon she will value the time apart too (she is almost 7) so I won't feel so bad about her guilt-inducing goodbyes ("I want to stay with you, all day every day, Mommy, please don't make me go....")but I also need to make more of an effort to make these nights more meaningful to me so I don't just end up moping.

This is a tough question. I personally found it very difficult before the age of two. However, with my second, my very good friend and I established Friday night Happy Hour at my house because we didn't want to leave the littlest ones but we knew we needed time for ourselves. Our youngest children were both one and our older boys were 5 & 7. We sat at the kitchen counter and talked for three hours, drank wine, ordered pizza and let the kids play until bed time. We told the husbands to stay away (they loved that). We may not have been going out but we had something to look forward to each week and we did it with the kids who entertained each other. It was a godsend through that age period. It's so important to have a social life but I learned that I didn't have to leave home to do it. One really important part of this story is that I didn't clean my house for her arrival and we had a "no cooking" rule. I realized how much that worry of "what will she think if she sees my house like this?" got in the way of us spending time together for our own sanity. My friend and I have great memories of those nights. That said, breaks are entirely necessary but they were pretty sporadic until my kids turned two. Now I try to get out at least once every two weeks and I always make sure it's during the witching hour so I really do get a break. I also started running and really enjoy that 30 minutes to myself.

@Debby--I have the same problem. I've been a single (pretty much only) parent for 13 years. I am so out-of-sorts when my daughter is gone overnight (or longer.) I so anticipate the FREE!TIME! but then end up working late and watching tons of Hulu.

Sigh. I miss mine. I want to spend *more* time with them. It aches.

Except from about 4:30pm-7pm every single day; um, and during my sacred morning coffee 'n' newspaper time in the AM; any time anyone is teething; most toddler nursing sessions; the first two days of my period; if the house is a mess and I actually have the energy to clean...hmm...

Seriously, though, I started "letting go" of my first in kindergarten, when I was pregnant w/my second, and I needed resting time. We developed a lovely relationship with close-by neighbors. When I'm going nuts, I send them (the kids, not the adults) outside; sometimes, I join them, and, like as not, I find the other parents also eager for adult time, and then we're all happy to be together again (usually).

MUCH easier to separate from the second child, whether bec of personality, stage of development, or changes in me, I don't know.

Separation anxiety takes on a whole new meaning when your only is about to take off for college. Biology makes it so you're at each other's throats. but still even though I have had a separate identity from being "mom", I can't imagine when the tears will stop.

As a single mom, when she was younger and would go to camp, it was PARTY TIME. After I spent two days crying holding her clothes. Now I stay home and enjoy the quiet and lack of scowls. And ice cream and soda. But I still get misty.

She has mostly been fine, unless she had a mean girl incident at camp then she would miss me like crazy. Now realizing that our time is coming to an end, she needs check-in time daily and mentions how much she'll miss me. Right before she starts fussing about me being "all up and through my life".

Wasn't this supposed to get easier after preschool?

ProtestMama: oof! sounds harder, actually! thanks for chiming in about the leaving-home transition...eek.

When she was a tiny baby I only worked two days per week (and was thrilled with the time away). AT around 6 months I took a very demanding job and I think I was honestly so exhausted I didn't have the time or energy to feel separation anxiety.

I actually didn't really feel it until I had to go out of town (even though it was only for a couple of days) for work. In our training class there was another mom and all we could talk about were our kids and how desperately we missed them.

We were all at dinner one evening and a mom with a similarly aged little girl were at another table. We both stared at her so longingly that I'm sure her poor mother was completely unnerved. I've felt that way EVERY time I've had to travel for business.

My daughter felt that way when she went to outdoor school and during certain sleepovers. She even showed twinges of it when she went camping with her dad. Though I actually enjoyed THAT time alone.

Otherwise we both do stuff separately and together during the weekends and other downtime. Our family generally has a nice balance of together activities and independent ones---I always encouraged her to be able to entertain herself.

As for vacations: I'm not one for "couples/no kids". To me it really IS the time to be a family. HOWEVER, my husband gets a month of just vacation time, so he does go to visit his mom in Florida (in fact he leaves on Tuesday)---and we'll be doing stuff with my BFF and HER daughters when they visit in June.

But I think an entire vacation, no kid, just wouldn't work for me. Maybe a weekend.

This is such a personal decision. I think if everyone is happy with the amount of time together or apart, then it's the right amount and what other people tell you to do is their own thing. If someone is unhappy with it, you'll know and you can decide to handle it! I was never one for leaving mine any more than I had to during those early years, "had to" meaning I had to go to work 2 days/week and I really wasn't apart from them outside of that. But I do remember wondering "what's wrong with me" that I never spent weekends away or had sitters, because everyone else seemed to. But then I realized, we just didn't want to and that was okay!

I've always been worried that I should have had more separation anxiety, but honestly, I was very ready to return to my part time job when my daughter was 5 months old. I never feel guilty or bad about going to work because I know that daycare is good for her and she enjoys it. We have found a nice balance between work, family time, and individual free time. I think that having a balance is crucial for everyone to be happy.

I can't believe it's happening. I am like " I really can't go. Whoo is.gonna ask about her veggie intake?". "What about mean professors?" "Roofies"? Mind you, ProtestMama ran with quite the wild crew, and Protest Jr. Has rebelled by being super straight.

Mine was always happy to get away from her helicopter mom.

I want to turn the clock back. Maybe back to age 6.

oh, protest mama. i always enjoy hearing what you have to say. but, are you sure? 6? i've got two 6-year-olds and many days i'd happily loan you one!

i had awful separation anxiety when i went back to work (daughter was 18 months and we had adopted her at 10 months old). it was maybe the worst 6 months of my life as we all transitioned to some kind of rhythym. it didn't help that my job was incredibly intense and filled with unpredictable demands. daughter was traumatized every single day by drop off - and again at pick up. now, on the VERY occasional night away (i can count them on 1 hand), i don't miss the kids. is that awful? with full time job and all the rest, i think i'm chronically sleep deprived and alone time deprived.

so i look forward to more independence on their part. but last weekend i walked to the park with 1 daughter and was acutely aware for 3/4 of a mile how good her hand felt in mine. i wondered how much longer this sweet time lasts.

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