Thursday, September 7, 2017

Separation Anxiety: Parents

In one of my previous posts, "Back to School", I wrote about easing the anxieties of young children who are entering school programs for the first time. It's important to acknowledge that parents also experience anxiety when separating from their children.  In fact, parents' anxieties probably outweigh the children's fears. Moreover, our separation anxiety is not limited to starting school.  We'll have to say goodbye to our children many, many times as they grow up.  And it does not get easier.

Leaving a child in a daycare or toddler program is often the first prolonged separation.  We choose the program that best fits our family.  We're comfortable with the facilities, agree with the program's mission and educational philosophy, and trust the faculty. We've done our homework.  We've prepared our child.  Now the time comes to say goodbye.  Ouch.

As an early childhood educator, I have found that the very best way to say goodbye is to make it short and sweet.  The worst thing to do is linger.  One memorable mom brought her 2 year old to the first day of school.  He joined a group at the play-doh table and quickly engaged in play.  But the mom couldn't tear herself away.  She stood near him for several minutes saying, "I'm leaving";  "Goodbye"; "See you later"; "Here I go"; until he finally broke down in tears.  Is that what she secretly hoped for?

It will always hurt to say goodbye to our children.  But that's our job as parents.  We learn when and how to let go, bit by bit, until they're fully independent.  The first day of school will be followed by the first play date, first sleep-over, first time crossing the street, first time at sleep-away camp, first time home alone, first time driving..........

Parenting is incredibly hard work, usurping all of our resources:  physical, mental, emotional, financial.  It brings both great joy and deep pain.  We want our children to grow up as independent, capable, emotionally healthy adults; and the only way to do this is to let them go.  It hurts to separate from our children because of our deep, eternal connection to them.  But when we do our homework and let them go, we gift them with their purpose in life---to grow, to thrive, and to find their own path.

Ironically, children who are raised to be independent never really leave us.  They recognize and appreciate our trust and support in their journey toward independence.  As that appreciation strengthens over time, they become our life- long "friends".

Regardless of the age/stage of separation, your tears are normal.  Your baby is growing up.  Gird yourself before you say goodbye.  Put a smile on your face.  Pat yourself on the back for sending a self-sufficient citizen into the world.  Then go home to a box of Kleenex and a quart of ice cream.


  1. Love this! Especially hearing that "children raised to be independent never really leave us"- that's a really smart point that I've never thought about because sometimes it's hard to see the bigger picture when we're emotional in the moment.

  2. Life long "friends" - love that:) great post! Letting go is so hard and I struggle with it so much but it was good to hear how necessary it is for my children's independence!