Oh, that morning separation can be painful

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 7, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hello, I leave every morning to work, and my baby cries for 25 minutes non-stop.

It makes me upset. I try to play before work, then I try to separate with him.

By the way, my baby is 18 months old.

From: Alda, Amman, Jordan

Dear Alda,

This is so hard to endure as a parent, especially if the crying at your departure is new. There are several reasons why this might be happening:

1. To start with, he's likely reached a new stage of development where he realizes that you and he are separate, that is, two independent people, and that you sometimes leave of your own accord. This is a leap in cognition that's normal and healthy but it can also bring lots of anxiety for him: Will she come back? Experience and practice teach him that you will. Kids can go in and out of this separation anxiety at different stages. It's common sometime between seven and 10 or 12 months, then typically goes away and sometimes but not always resurfaces between 18 and 24 months.

2. What compounds the problem is how mom deals with it. Babies take their cues from parents and they are far more observant and sensitive to our moods than we realize. It's very possible that you anticipate that he will get upset so you start to get anxious yourself 10 or 15 or 30 minutes before you are going to leave. He picks up on it. Even though you are setting aside play time with him, you probably are not as relaxed and easy with him as you are when you aren't about to leave.

Of course, in order to leave him comfortably, you have to be comfortable and happy with the care he receives in your absence. You don't mention if he stays at home with a caregiver or if he goes to daycare. Either way, are you satisfied that the arrangement you have is a good one? If not, that may be leading you to be even more anxious.

Some general rules of thumb about daycare separation include having a routine that you follow each day and always saying goodbye before you leave rather than trying to sneak out without him seeing you. You can also leave him something of yours -- a piece of clothing, for instance, that has your scent on it -- that he can use for comfort.

It's also best not to drag out the goodbye. Work out with the caregiver (hopefully, the same person each day), so that as you are leaving, the person is there to instantly engage him in a new activity. Give him a little advance notice -- "Mama will wave and kiss you and then she will go!" -- and then do exactly that. Quickly.

I hope you can trust that this is a stage that will pass. The more confident you are that he is safe and happy while you are gone, the easier it will be on you, so talk with your caregiver and share your anxiety and concerns, whatever they are. A caring caregiver will be helpful. If she/he is not, perhaps you need a change.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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3 comments so far...
  1. Try looking at it like this: It's your baby's job to cry when you go. Let him or her do his or her job, and you go do your job. You'll both be fine at the end of the day.

    Posted by Steve in W MA October 8, 10 02:18 AM
  1. So you leave to go to work and your baby cries. Ok but once you leave the home/childcare whatever..your baby stops crying and is already playing with toys or a caregiver Guaranteed. Welcome to the world of parenting!

    Posted by JD October 10, 10 10:39 AM
  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked.

    Posted by ghd uk October 20, 10 05:16 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. Try looking at it like this: It's your baby's job to cry when you go. Let him or her do his or her job, and you go do your job. You'll both be fine at the end of the day.

    Posted by Steve in W MA October 8, 10 02:18 AM
  1. So you leave to go to work and your baby cries. Ok but once you leave the home/childcare whatever..your baby stops crying and is already playing with toys or a caregiver Guaranteed. Welcome to the world of parenting!

    Posted by JD October 10, 10 10:39 AM
  1. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked.

    Posted by ghd uk October 20, 10 05:16 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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