Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Separation Anxiety

At church this Sunday, Ryan experienced his first brush with separation anxiety. We got to church a bit early and I brought him downstairs to the church nursery. We got there before the nursery attendant did, so I sat him down and took out some blocks for him to play with. He was contentedly playing with the blocks when she arrived, so I stood up, gave her a quick overview of what was in his diaper bag, and started out the door. As I did, Ryan turned, saw me leaving, and immediately burst into tears and crawled after me at top speed and in full wail. I gave him a hug and sat him back down with the blocks, and as soon as he was distracted, I slipped out the door.

The way our church is laid out, the nursery is directly below the sanctuary, and there is a door at the top of the stairway that opens into the front of the sanctuary, right near where we always sit. So if Ryan is screeching at the top of his lungs, I would be able to hear him during a lull in the service. I didn’t expect that he would have had a full-out meltdown, but I was listening carefully just in case. I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed he was fine and enjoyed the rest of the service.

When I went to claim him after church, he had just finished his bottle and was dozing off. The attendant said there had been a few moments when he would suddenly look around, realize I wasn’t there, and cry for a few seconds, but he was easily distracted and never cried for long. I was relieved that it hadn’t been an issue.

I hope that he never reaches a stage when he’s inconsolable when Mummy or Daddy isn’t around, but if he does, we’ll deal with it. The difference between Herb’s and my response to that theoretical situation provides an interesting (but not surprising) comparison of the general difference in attitude between mothers and fathers. Herb stated that if Ryan screeched when he left, he wouldn’t even look back, and he’d leave him for the entire service without blinking or looking in on him. I, on the other hand, would come back and give him a hug, reassure him that I’d be back in a little while (even though at this point he wouldn’t understand), and then linger out of sight outside the door for five minutes or so to see if he calmed down. If he didn’t, I’d check back in 20 minutes or half an hour and if he was still screeching, I’d stay with him. Herb’s thought is that it won’t hurt him to scream for an hour, so if it doesn’t bother the nursery staff, it doesn’t bother him. My thought is that I don’t want him to make himself sick with screaming for an hour, and if I’m worrying about him through the whole service I’m not getting anything out of it anyway.

I suppose it’s a bridge we’ll cross when we come to it. I may find that it doesn’t bother me to leave him after all, especially if he’s calm and contented when we do go to pick him up. When I taught the 2- and 3-year olds in Sunday School, I always reassured the parents that it didn’t bother me if the kids screamed at first, and they almost always calmed down after a few minutes. But now with my own baby, I understand how heart-wrenching it is to leave your child in misery when you know that staying will make him happy. It really is a case of “This will hurt me more than it hurts you.” And I’ve promised Herb that I won’t be a helicopter parent who hovers over my children and never allows them to make a mistake, or hurt themselves, or be lonely, and I’ll stick with that. But I suspect I’ll have a harder time of it than I thought I would before I had kids.

We strike a good balance, he and I. If it were up to Herb, Ryan would never get a hug when he gets a tiny bit hurt or scared, and that would teach him to be self-sufficient, but possibly also a bit less trusting and secure. And if it were up to me, I’d never let him be hurt or scared to begin with, and that would teach him that he will always be safe and protected, but it would also make him overly dependent and ill-prepared for the world. But between the two of us, he’ll grow up knowing that he can solve his own problems, but that Mum and Dad will be there to reassure him and help him out whenever he needs us. I think that’s a pretty good compromise.

Bookmark and Share