Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: When my son was a toddler and in daycare, he had extreme separation anxiety. The hard part about it was that some days were better than others, so I could talk myself through it, like, “it’s just a phase” or “he’s just getting used to it.” I had a lot of trouble dropping him off myself at daycare and making it to work on time so we had a babysitter who would take him in for me in the mornings.
My son would cry and cry, saying, ”Don’t leave me, Mom.” “Don’t go!” And the look on his face was of complete despair while he reached out for me to hold onto him while his babysitter was trying to get him into his car seat. I remember one teacher at his daycare saying that watching him was like remembering how she felt when her parents left her at college; like he felt a sadness he just did not have a choice in.
At a certain point my son’s crying and sadness were paralyzing, and he could no longer participate in daily activities at daycare. We had multiple meetings with his teachers and school directors about how to handle it, but just never found a good solution. It was really heartbreaking to think of this warm, intelligent, and loving child spend so many hours of his day struggling like this.
I had hoped that in time it would work out, and get better, but it never did. Since then, I have heard other moms talk about this feeling, the You-know-when-something-just-doesn’t-feel-right feeling. And that is what it felt like to me: Something wasn’t right, but it had just been hard to see it and accept it for that with all of the competing forces playing in on me as a working parent. One of the daycare teachers talked with me about it, which confirmed my feelings. My son just wasn’t happy there. He wanted to be home.
One thing that did help a little while he was in that phase was to send in a small photo album of him with separate pages of all of the important people in his life. He would carry it with him, at times, during the day. He recently found it and said, “Look at this, Mom. I don’t need this anymore, though, because now I’m a big boy.”
I truly feel that the changes we made in our lifestyle for him have made him such a happy, well-adjusted, confident child. I am so proud of the decisions that we made about our lives to ensure that.
—Sigrid Payne DaVeiga, MD, a mom of a six-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter and a pediatric allergist with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in Philadelphia, PA