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Separation Anxiety and the 20-month old

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  • Separation Anxiety and the 20-month old

    I am a working mother of a 20-month old boy. I went back to work when he was 12 weeks old (out of necessity) however I have been fortunuate enough to have a flex schedule. I typically only work in the office three days each week (and they are usually the same days each week). They are very long days (10 hours in the office plus an hour each way commute). I do get to spend 4 whole days a week with him and rarely leave him on those days.

    But, here we are. 20 months in and he is still soo frustrated on the days that I am home. The grandmothers (his caregivers while I am away) report that he is happy and fun while I am gone. Yet, the days that I am around he is usually distraught. He follows me around the house crying and reaching for me most of the time and has begun to nap for only one hour one time per day on the days I am home (the gma's get 2, 2 hour naps usually).

    Because I still hold a full time position ( which typically means 50+ hours a week at my job) I still have to spend time working at home given my 3-day-a week schedule. Of course there are house chorse and the shopping to do as well. We do co-sleep and despite his size I carry him frequently and wear him while shopping.

    The problem: How do I help him feel comfortable on the days that I am home so he knows I am not leaving? I feel so weighted down by my other responsibilities but I am battling a frustrated and screaming baby most of the days I am home, making it even harder to make progress. I want to be the best I can be for him and want him to feel comfortable during the time that I am home, but I just don't know what else to do. Discipline is getting harder because I am reluctant to be the cause of any additional screaming.

    I am open to suggestions, stories and shared experiences! Thanks to all in advance for the help.

  • #2
    Wow, that's great that you can have such a flexible schedule, though your work days sound intense! It might be beneficial to your relationship to take some time to let ALL household chores go (or as many as you possibly can) and just focus on your son. So when you are home, you are together and that's it. Taking walks, cooking together, eating together, reading, naps, baths, etc...everything. Can you get some help for other stuff? Like having groceries delivered, or hiring a cleaning service once a week? That might sound tough to swing, but if you can let go of every other responsibility you have--just temporarily-- and give 100% of yourself to your son when you're home, his sense of security will return and you'll be able to add that stuff back into your routine again. Maybe try it for just one week and see how it goes or see if anything changes? So the 4 days your home that week, you are fully present for your son with no other responsibilities weighing on your mind...My guess is that it might take more than 4 days, especially if you're working in between those 4 days, but this clingy stage will pass, and it will pass even more quickly if you can embrace it 100% and physically and emotionally connect with him as often as you can when you're home.


    • #3
      sounds tough! my only real suggestion is just to try to have a routine on the days that you are home. like even to have the same thing for breakfast or something. you could say "good morning. mommy is staing home today and that means we are going to have oatmeal for breakfast." i would be willing to bet that would help him to know for sure that you are home that day and you could get off to a good start. i notice my son seems to really love routine. when his dad is at work i always say the exact same thing and he seems to really understand and be comfortable with that. (daddy is at work today he will be home for dinner)
      also, just remember...these phases always pass so dont spend too much time stressed about it. as soon as you figure it out it will be something new.


      • #4
        Thanks ladies. It seems I always forget to just go back to basics. I get so used to running at warp speed all of the time that sometimes I become one-minded. Because he is not verbal yet, I also forget how powerful my words can be in letting him know that I am not leaving. Returning to a routine and devoting all of my attention to him needs to be priority one right now.

        When does this get easier?? By this, I mean constantly feeling like you are not doing enough. I have always been such an ambitious person that I just can't seem to slow down and enjoy the ride with my son. I am very present for him, but know I could be doing better. How does anyone ever get anything done while being committed to AP?


        • #5
          That's a very valid question...and it DOES get easier! My kids are 4 1/2 and 6 now, and things are SO much different than they were when they were little (like your son's age). The development that occurs in these years is really changes the way to parent them.

          During the first few years, AP is so much about physical connection and physical responsiveness and takes an extraordinary amount of time & energy. While they don't totally grow out of the need for physical connection, there comes a time when early childhood parenting approaches like babywearing, breastfeeding, constant redirection, picking up, etc. are simply no longer needed. Then you move on to more verbal connection, positive discipline, and communication strategies.

          Their imaginations develop and their play becomes much more independent. My son will sit for a long time with just a couple of action figures and act out all sorts of scenes. Plus they become physically capable of taking care of themselves in so any ways...going potty, getting a drink by themselves, getting things out on their own, knowing what they want and being able to take care of it on their own. Their sense of logic starts to develop, and they can talk to you about a lot more things--in complete sentences!--rather than making sounds and crying to communicate.

          My daughter has hit the "friend" age--where it's no longer parallel play, but actual, cooperative, interactive play with other kids--and wants to play with her friends all the time. This is an age where you can definitely get more things done around the house! So things change dramatically over the next few years, and how you relate and care for your son now has a huge impact on his social/ emotional development. Hang in there!!


          • #6
            Thanks again to everyone. I have started wearing him more and including him in as much of the daily chores as possible...and letting go of the chores that can wait. We'll see how this goes. We spend time playing at the park on the days I am home, eating together, etc. No improvement yet.

            One last question: Is working outside of the home part of the problem? I always figured that most moms make this work, but I am wondering more and more if this is just going against the natural grain? I realize that for most it is not a financial possiblity to stay home, and I am not sure that it is for us either. But, I would love some opinions on how much impact my job is having on my son.

            Thanks again for the helpful words!


            • #7
              Regarding your concern about working outside the home...

              I read in "The Emotional Life of the Toddler" that the biggest effect on the mother-child relationship when the mother works outside the home is the mother's attitude about. If your work is important to you and brings you joy and fulfillment, your child will pick up on that. He will trust your decision to leave him at home while you go do something very important for yourself. On the other hand, if the mother feels guilty or resentful about having to work, the child is more likely to experience intense separation anxiety. He can sense the mother's unhappiness and it makes him scared. The take home message is that if you work outside the home (and can't change that) and it's causing issues with your toddler, try working on your own attitude about it. I don't work so I can't say, but it seems to make sense to me.