Separate but Attached

DSCN2261aI slipped into the apartment at 5 pm, kicked off my sandals, and looked around.  “Where’s the baby?” I asked my husband.

“She’s in the crib.  She cried herself to sleep.”

My heart froze.  “She did what?

He looked as  uncomfortable, unhappy, and upset as I felt.  “She cried from the moment you left until she finally fell asleep.”

I shouldn’t have left the house, I thought.  Without another word, I swept into the bedroom and lifted her out of the crib, holding her tight against my chest and burying my face in her thick, dark hair.  “I’m so sorry, little girl,” I whispered, guilt welling up in my chest, my throat tight as I fought back tears, “I’m so, so sorry.”

My husband walked over and wrapped us both in his arms.  Our daughter woke up, looking up at us, her dark eyes serious and her brow furrowed for a moment with sleepiness.  I felt judged.  Then she smiled, raising a hand and pressing her fingers to my lips, and I smiled in return, gently biting her fingertips to make her laugh.

I felt forgiven.  But there’s still a lump of guilt in my chest every time I think about those words: She cried herself to sleep.

You see, at seven months old, our daughter is going through a serious separation anxiety phase. A lot of the time, I can’t walk away without her starting to whimper and whine, and as soon as I exit her line of sight those little sounds of discontent grow  to full-blown wails.  I never try to slip away from her stealthily; I kiss her forehead and tell her, “Mama will be right back,” before I walk away.  There are things I need to do — use the washroom, get dressed, pour some coffee, feed the dogs — that are infinitely easier and faster without having to hold her in my arms.

When she wants me, she doesn’t want her Daddy.  She doesn’t want her blanket.  She doesn’t want her teddy bear, or to listen to music, or to be read to; she wants her Mama.  Now.  I could be standing on the other side of the gates we use to block off the kitchen, talking to her about what I’m doing, and she’ll start screaming and bashing her hand against the gate because I am not holding her.

But on that day, I had to leave the house.  Right now, my husband is unemployed and so am I; I needed to get out and apply to some jobs.  I made a plan as to where I’d go, plotted out the most time-efficient route between them, and made certain she was nursed and happy before I left.  I knew she’d be upset when I left, but I had no idea that when I walked into the house an hour later, she’d have cried for fifty-five minutes straight as her Daddy tried desperately to comfort her.

She loves her Daddy.  Every few days, they leave the house together for awhile and go out to the park, mall, or library for several hours, and she’s giggling when they leave, just as she is when they return.  They have a great time together!  When we take her to playgroups, she’s the baby wandering everywhere, exploring everything, and greeting everyone, not once looking over her shoulder for her parents.  I know she knows we are always here for her.

So why did she cry so relentlessly, exhausting herself, that day?  What am I supposed to do when I get a job and I need to leave her at home with her Daddy? This guilt, this sickness in the center of my chest, knowing that she suffered, makes me cringe.

Can someone out there help us?

12 thoughts on “Separate but Attached”

  1. Awww..that’s so hard! My son is just now (well, the last couple months) going through this kind of ‘attachment’ phase at 21 months – he is okay for certain babysitters, but he cries for me when he’s with Daddy, especially when I’m in the house (taking a shower, etc). I had to go for a 3-hr. glucose test early yesterday morning, and my husband said that when our son woke up, he cried for about a half hour because I wasn’t here. It is so hard. As far as the ‘going back to work’ thing, I don’t know what to tell you. I guess all I can say is that, yes, those first few days will probably be hard, but hopefully your daughter will be able to adjust quickly. Keep in mind that you are doing what is best for your family – and I know you wouldn’t be going to work unless you absolutely had to. Your daughter can’t understand this yet, but she will be able to someday.

  2. Hi Tatiana! My sweet baby (now 12 mos.) is exactly the same! He is very secure and loves exploring and interacting as long as I am close by for him to climb into my lap for snuggles or to hold him when he needs some extra Mommy time. When he was about 7 mos. he went through an intense separation anxiety time when only Mama would do. He would happily play with Daddy but if I had to leave the room he would cry and cry when he realized I wasn’t there. The phase passed in a few weeks and through it we just continually loved on him and took turns consoling him, especially Daddy, though our baby didn’t like it at first, it’s important for him to understand that Daddy can comfort and love him just as Mama can, even if it’s in a different way. Unless our son was inconsolable with Dad, we helped him settle down while in Daddy’s arms and he soon learned to be content in Daddy’s arms just as well as Mama’s, though he still does show a preference for me, particularly when he’s hungry and wants to nurse! 🙂 As with most aspects of a baby’s life, it’s just a phase, and as you love them through it, this too shall pass!

  3. As hard as that is for you…remember that she is still with a loving parent. She doesn’t feel abandoned…she just wants something specific that isn’t immediately available. She’ll be okay! And you will too. It took me a long time to get over the guilt. But now, at 2, my daughter is happy, attached, independent, secure, and has a wonderful relationship with her daddy! Hang in there. Trust the love your husband has for the baby…and know that she’s aware of that, too.

  4. I don’t have any advice…just wanted you to know I was thinking of you and your family. Just keep loving on her as much as you can…and she will know that you love her!

  5. The very first time I left G with daddy and went out (with my mother, horseback riding for my birthday) she was about 3 months old and she cried herself to sleep while I was away. I was only gone for about 3 hours and it was devastating to hear that she’d been upset.
    But all is well! And all shall be well 🙂
    Best wishes!

  6. Hi. My daughter is 15 months now and when she was smaller she cried when I left her with her Dad and her Granny so I could shower, teach a few yoga classes, and work at home part-time- even though it was hard, I knew she was in loving arms with them. She now and for a long time is very happy to be with them- they were creating a strong bond back then. I’m sure your husband can be with your baby and be calm and patient even though it’s hard to have non-stop crying going on. Let him know that she will soon be happy to cuddle and play with him.
    We can be totally devoted mothers and still do the things we need to do. We share the care of the little ones- and it’s important for them to have more than one person to love and be safe with.
    I hope this helps. It will be okay. She’s got such a sweet and loving Mom.

  7. I am so so sorry. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your daughter was in the loving care of her father. The good news is, it will get better. My daughter also had (and still has to some extent) severe separate anxiety and no one but Mommy would do. What helped was having 2-3 of her favorite activities or items that my husband could engage her in when I left.

  8. My little angel Emilia is 11month and I have to leave her at the nursery as both of us have to go to work. The other day when I droped her at the nursery, she gave me a big hug and then did not want to let me go. Big tears started to run and big sad eyes were staring at me. Guess what I did? I started to cry too! I just could not leave her there. I know it is a lovely nursery and girls who work there are very nice, but still it is very difficult to leave my little girl there. I played with her for a bit, then I said a sad goodbye and left. I was late for work and my eyes were full of tears…

  9. Two thoughts. First, in this type of situation, maybe she and Daddy can head out some where (anywhere, a walk, whatever) BEFORE you leave. That we she is getting to go out with Daddy, rather than being left by Mommy. As long as the time frame works where they can hang out elsewhere while you are gone, maybe it will work.

    Second, is just my experience. When my daughter was about that age she went through a phase where I couldn’t even take a bath without her crying inconsolably. We finally solved it by my husband just bringing her and they would sit in the bathroom and visit with me while I was in the tub. He found it highly superior to trying unsuccessfully to jump through every hoop in the book trying to keep her happy in the other room.

    Oh, and third, this too shall pass.

  10. I feel for you. I really, really, do. And I’ve been where you are, more or less. The separation anxiety is really hard on everyone.

    The good news is that it’s normal and she’ll outgrow it. Eventually. In the meantime, I think you have to go easy on yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and if your daughter is with a loving parent who is offering her as much comfort as possible, it is NOT the same thing as leaving her to cry. It really, really isn’t.

    Having said that, I think that if you do need to leave her for short spurts it might be helpful if your husband cares for her outside the house. We’ve found that our babies are happy to go to the park or on a walk or to the store with Daddy, but not so happy to sit at home with him. If you’re talking about an hour or two here or there, having someplace for them to go might make it easier.

    Good luck. It sounds like you’re in a tough spot, I hope that you’re able to find some solution that works for you.

  11. Thanks for all the support & great ideas. I think it’d work really well if Maia & my husband went out for a walk before I left.

    Funny enough, right now she’s going through a phase where she ONLY wants Daddy to put her to bed, but she wants me within her sight the rest of the time. Babies make no sense!

  12. oh, poor mama!

    all of this is very normal, but still excruciating.

    follow your instincts, and do what you feel is best for your daughter…

    still, try to get out when you can because a happy mama = a happy baby. (having your partner take your daughter for a walk before you leave might help, especially in the beginning.)

    it’s been my (limited) experience that each day is different when you have a baby or a toddler, and while you may be struggling now, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

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