Tag Archives: toddler anxiety

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?