Tag Archives: separation anxiety

Guilt, mammy style

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one, I’m just going to tell it as I see it. Other mammies reading this, please don’t take offense. I’m talking about me and only me here…

Mind the Baby, Mammy Guilt, www.mindthebaby.ie
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When I went back to work after maternity leave – 16 long months ago now – I thought I was going to fuck up my kid.

I was going back full time and he was going to creche. He was 11 months old and very, very attached to me.

Everything worthwhile that I had read about parenting said that children under two were better off in the full time care of their mothers or a primary care giver. They also said that a shared childcare option with children of the same age was the least desirable. That made me feel pretty crappy. But theory is all well and good when reality is beating your door down with a ball wrecker. Anecdotally, I noticed that daughters of friends seemed to adjust better to childcare than their sons. The little boys found it much harder to settle. As did we.

I wondered if my working full time was going to affect his development and our relationship. I wondered if I was interfering with the person he was meant to be by not meeting his needs on a full time basis. We had bouts of separation anxiety where I couldn’t be out of his sight for a minute or he’d want to be up in my arms all the time. And the little voice said “this wouldn’t be happening if you were at home full time…”

Then during the summer the three of us had three weeks off together and I remember wondering – stupidly – “is it a good idea to take such a long holiday? Will it make it harder for him to settle back into creche?”. A fleeting thought and a stupid, stupid, stupid one. This is what the constant gnawing of mammy guilt does to you. Essentially, my eejit brain was suggesting that I spend less time with my son so that when I’m not around anyway he won’t feel so bad. WTF? That sounds like some kind of Gina Ford shit to me.

Instead, two whole new revelations were uncovered. The three weeks off together as a family was just brilliant but even though Pip had access to me literally 24/7, he still wanted me all of the time. Only I could carry him around. I had a companion for every trip to the loo. Many suggestions from Daddy were answered with “no, mammy do it”. So in many ways, this was a relief because it was obvious to me that even if I was at home full time, he would be just as demanding of my time, my attention and my touch as he is anyway.

That helped to alleviate the mammy guilt. I have no issue at all with my son wanting to be with me all the time, in fact I cherish it. It gives me comfort to know now that it’s not specifically because I work and he goes to creche. It is just the type of person that he is.

The second revelation was that my concerns about our “too long holiday” were completely unfounded. He toddled into creche the following Monday we were back with a cheerful wave and a spring in his step. Nobody saw that coming, let me tell you!

To come full circle, a couple of weeks ago Mr Mind the Baby was away for work over a weekend and it was just myself and Pip together. We had a really great weekend. There was nothing particularly special about it but it just felt like a lovely old time. Monday rolled around, and he was like a sticking plaster come creche drop off. Ah hello mammy guilt, I wondered where you’d been hiding.

I love this woman, she speaks much sense. Read her book! Image courtesy of www.pantley.com
I love this woman, she speaks much sense. Read her book!
Image courtesy of www.pantley.com

I think there is no win to this feeling of guilt for me. There is no “right” solution, just different decisions. I can’t guarantee that if I was at home full time with the full concentration of a toddler down on top of me that I wouldn’t be resentful, no matter how much I think some days I’d love to be a stay at home mother. I do know without a doubt that I’d need a “something” just for myself, for a couple of hours at least everyday.

I think I’ll probably struggle with the greener grass of motherhood on some level for the rest of my life.

Am I alone?


Mammy gone! And other tales of separation anxiety to make a mama’s heart ache

There’s that great quote from the writer Elizabeth Stone…

Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

…it makes me catch my breathe because it resonates so strongly with me. That’s exactly what it feels like – a vital, beating heart running around you in circles that makes you ache when it aches.

It’s interesting though, I never think of the quote when times are good and I’m watching my son reaping all the joys of life and revelling in new experiences. It only comes to mind when something bad happens and I feel like I’m watching helplessly, knowing that try as hard as I might, there will always be some things in life that I can’t protect him from. Those unknowns that just appear on the horizon without warning. All I can do then is love him and let him know he is loved and safe,  as safe as I can possibly make him.

I unexpectedly found myself a guest of one of our fine Dublin hospitals last month. Something that should have just taken an afternoon manifested itself into an unplanned four night stay. Nothing serious but mildly unpleasant and, most importantly, all over now.

In any other circumstances, my short visit would have just been a minor blip in an otherwise routine life work balance which would have returned to normal as quickly as it had occured. But this time, a little 22 month old boy’s mama disappeared into thin air for four long days without so much as a by your leave or a kiss goodbye.


We thought everything was fine though. He hung out with his dada and they had great fun messing around the place. He asked for me a few times but  seemed happy enough that I was somewhere else. Then a Skype phonecall, that I thought went well from my side, ended in tears and a long night of settling to bed for Dad.

After getting special permission for a normally forbidden visit, he toddled in to see me the following afternoon. We had lovely cuddles and he sat tightly on my knee for about ten minutes but then the curiosity of his surroundings got the better of him and we decided it might be best they head off before they were escorted out! But there were no tears and a big bye bye kiss and a hug.

The night I was discharged, I got some serious silent treatment. When I arrived in the door, I got a look and then he proceeded to chat away to his grandparents and his dada but looked right through me. Of course I completely understood this, I’d be fairly miffed myself.

But the next day, when he realised I was home for good, everything changed. We had a lovely relaxing bedtime where the three of us hung out singing songs and having chats on our bed to wind things down. I was still quite weak so T was going to put him down for the night.

That’s not how it worked out though. Each time one of us softly suggested giving mama a kiss goodnight, he jumped out of his skin across the bed at me and clung to my chest with a little whimper, saying “mama?”.

Oh then how my heart ached and the silent tears flowed.

photo credit: Monroe's Dragonfly via photopin cc Mammy gone! And other tales of separation anxiety to make a mama's heart ache Mind the Baby blog www.mindthebaby.ie
photo credit: Monroe’s Dragonfly via photopin cc

And I was angry with myself because I didn’t want him to see that I was upset too. I wanted to be strong for him but I couldn’t hold it in. I don’t think that he noticed, but it does make me worry for when he’s older and more aware of these things. I have no memories of my own parents being upset or vulnerable when I was a child. I only have memories of strength, confidence and support. I’m sure this wasn’t actually the reality but I think is it reassuring for children to not feel they have to “mind” their parents and that being with mum and dad means you’re safe and everything is okay.

I put him to bed that night and it took hours. For the first time that night, he woke several times, crying hysterically and shouting out “mammy gone! mammy gone!”


It’s been like that ever since, well not so many night wakes but at least one with the screaming and calling out. Although it is improving slightly. Even during the day, if I make a move to leave a room or if his Dad wants to take him downstairs for breakfast: “mammy gone? mammy gone?”

The thing is, we know its separation anxiety and we know we can link it to the simple fact that I disappeared suddenly. I went on a business trip for four nights when he was 17 months old and it wasn’t a problem. Okay, I got a half hour of silent treatment and then some angry kicking and screaming when I got home but that was it out of his system then. The difference is he was prepared for my leaving. I spoke about it often before I left and we had regular Skype calls at the same time every night I was away. He might’t have understood literally but he certainly understood on some level.

This has been going on for much longer.

We’ve been giving him lots and lots of attention and I’m taking extra care to ensure he knows where I’m going, when I’m going and when he can expect to see me again.  We’re reassuring, try to build up his confidence and his trust.

It’s feels so awful that I created this situation for him. My poor baba.

I also think it might just have happened at a particular time in his development when it would have such an impact, but I don’t know.

Last night for the first time, we got “Daddy gone! Daddy gone!” It wasn’t very nice for my husband to hear but at least it seems change, and hopefully improvement, is underway.

In the grand scheme of things it’s just a very small thing. But sometimes the small things are distressing, for everyone involved.

Has anyone else experienced something similar?

A baby no more – rocking on up to the tweenies

It’s a milestone week in our house this week.  The creche have decided that the baby is a baby no longer so he has started the five day process of graduating to the tweenies room.  When my husband told me last week about the big move I immediately panicked.

But he’s not ready.

They’ll eat him alive in there!

We’ll be back to square one with the morning tears and general freak outs.

But when I saw him through the baby room window running in circles around the little ones sitting but not moving and giving away kisses to his minders as they held sleeping babies in their arms, I knew it was time. And I was delighted that he was being cared for by lovely, experienced and empathetic women who correctly identified the sensitive little soul that is my first born and hung on to him for longer than they normally would until they knew he was emotionally ready for the big leagues.

A baby no more: rocking on up to the tweenies www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby Blog
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I was doubly reassured when he arrived home yesterday with a little pack containing a letter of confirmation about the move, the new handbook for the tweenies room and a development observation sheet that his main minder in the baby room had prepared.  As I flicked through it – it was five pages long – I felt a huge rush of warmth and love for this woman who wrote the most detailed and careful observations of my son’s development: how he loves to play hide and seek and peekaboo by hiding behind chairs; how he can climb up and down stairs the safe way (I did NOT know he could climb down, the monkey); how he loves jigsaws (we have no jigsaws! They’re on my to do list for the weekend); how he can scribble at the easel with a paintbrush (seriously, the boy’s a genius); how he loves playing musical instruments and chats to everyone in the room; that he refuses to wear shoes and loves to pull off his socks; that can use a spoon but isn’t quite there in making sure the food is still on it before it gets to his mouth.  Bless!

It is such a relief to me that I know he’s in such good hands. When I was going back to work I really struggled with whether I was doing the right thing for him and I flip flop regularly between knowing that the creche is a great experience for him where he getting all kinds of good stimulation and social interaction and knowing that he would be better off if his mama was taking care of him at home.  But then sometimes I think if it was just the two of us all day he would miss out on mixing with the other children and adults and he wouldn’t have the range of experience and activity that he gets in childcare.  I also wonder if my natural inclination to get stuck in trying moments – like a nap that just won’t happen – and the self-torture and analysis I put myself through around something that  doesn’t need that level of philosophical evaluation would have a negative effect on him (What am I doing wrong here that this isn’t working? Why won’t he take a nap when he’s clearly exhausted? How can I still be trying to figure this out…ad nauseum). Then I flip completely the other way: he wouldn’t have to go through this separation anxiety if I was at home with him.  Clearly, he needs me and I’m doing him damage by putting him in childcare…

Of course all of this flipping and flopping is completely theoretical and moot because there really is no choice to be made here between one option or the other.  My bank manager requires that I continue to contribute to the household finances, end of.  In all honesty, the flip flopping thoughts are just fleeting but of course that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt like hell when I’m doubting myself!

I think coping with the separation anxiety has really been the hardest aspect of going back to work.  Being in work? – no bother at all, at all. A breeze in fact. But the saying goodbye each day hasn’t been nice.  It really did take a long time for him to settle into creche, to actually toddle in, humming to himself, to reach whatever toy had just caught his eye.  There were several weeks at the beginning where I couldn’t be out of his sight without hysterics and I’ve already accepted that it’s unlikely I’ll be able to sit on a loo without a small boy on my knee for quite some time. The separation anxiety has made a return since the breastfeeding stopped but it’s different this time, thank God.  Yes, I still have a toilet companion but instead of the tears and refusing to leave my arms, he is coming to me for many many cuddles.  He’ll be playing away and then suddenly remember he’ll need a hug and come flying over to climb into my arms for a quick squeeze or a cheek press.  He’s also really gotten into making sure there’s skin on skin touch between us.  He’ll wrap his arms right around my waist and get in under my t-shirt to stroke my back or he’ll lightly pat my chest.  He also likes to get a toy or a book and come over and sit on my knee and then play away.  I feel he’s reaching out to make a physical connection to replace the intimacy of breastfeeding and I’m only too delighted to facilitate extra cuddling.

So I’m really proud of him that he’s ready to move up. Apparently they have a kitchen corner which has kitchen units full of plastic containers and cutlery for him to play with which is music to my ears because he might get it all out of his system before he comes home to wreck my gaff.

In honour of the graduation from baby to tweenie, I’ve decided to rechristen him because he’s not Baby S any more, he’s a little boy now. Arise Baby S! For the purposes of this blog, I rechristen you Pip! 🙂