Our daughter is 20 months old. My husband was getting his masters degree so he has been with our daughter from the beginning. Now he is teaching, I am working full time and she has been put in daycare. She is good at day care and one on one with her grandparents. The minute I, mommy, walk through the door, she whines, cries, screams continually. She is the baby that people turn around and look at in stores!! She throws a fit and will not stop. We do not know what to do. This is our first child and we are older parents.
From: Bonnie, Shrub Oak, NY
This is a phase. It will pass. That doesn't mean it will be easy.
The most likely explanation for why she's fine while you're gone and then angry when you return, is that it only dawns on her that you "abandoned" her once you are back on the scene. Many kids have this kind of reaction, to more or lesser degrees -- each child is wired individually, after all -- and you need not worry that this will affect her development. Kids also go through stages where they prefer one parent over the other.
Obviously, this must be painful for you. How you react is what's important, however, because the risk is if her behavior pushes you to distance yourself from her. Consider two scenarios:
In the first, you get more and more fed up with your daughter -- How could she do this to me? -- and you withdraw from the relationship.
In the second, you feel inadequate -- Why am I such an awful mother? What am I doing wrong? -- and you become overwhelmed by guilt and withdraw from the relationship.
In both cases, there are serious risks: that your feelings get in the way of your relationship and create an ever-escalating, negative dynamic that feeds on itself -- she thinks you're angry with her, you think she's angry with you. The other is that you get depressed and become unavailable as a mother.
Here are some suggestions:
Try to be as patient and supportive as possible. Don't give in when she pushes you away, but don't force yourself on her, either. Just be there and be loving.
Don't take it personally.
Minimize the places that are uncomfortable for you to be when she reacts in this way. It's an awful feeling to imagine that people that people are looking at you and wondering what you've done. And btw, maybe they are looking at you, maybe they aren't. Don't be too hard on yourself. It's natural to imagine they are in this kind of dynamic.
Create and nurture the good moments between you. The bedtime story, bath time, playing on the floor together.
Here's the caveat: If you truly feel that there are never any good moments between you, you may already be in a downward spiral and need professional help.