At the time that I was an infant, having separation anxiety meant you were too attached, spoiled, or you were not socialized enough. Feeling anxiety because a baby is separated from their mother was a sign that the child was not properly taught independence. Today, specialists recognize the fear of separation in an infant as a normal stage in their development. Yet, I still receive comments that my child needs to be socialized more because she cries when she is away from me.
At around six months, infants begin to realize that they are separate entities from their main care givers. Understanding that their mom can walk away means that she might not come back. Fear of being left behind is a legitimate fear, especially for someone who is completely dependent on someone else for survival.
At almost eight months, my daughter is currently experiencing separation anxiety. She cries when I walk away from her, she looks for me in a crowded room, and she reaches for me when she wants to be soothed. I respond to her every time. I respond because I understand that the fear of abandonment is real. I understand it because I know it all too well. The fear that someone might leave and never return is a legitimate fear and when it comes to my daughter, I don’t take that fear lightly.
I refuse to listen to any person tell me that my daughter should gain independence. In my mind she is too young for that. She is an infant. She needs someone to care for her. She depends on me for food, shelter, clothing, and support. Yes, I celebrate the small moments when she can sit on the floor and play alone. I clap my hands and I call her my big girl when I catch her focusing on her toys. She’ll flash me a two toothed smile and go back to playing. When she cries, however, I respond to her, every time. I don’t give her a moment to wonder where I am, I don’t let her panic and think she’s alone. I call to her, tell her where I am and that I am coming. And then I go to her. I go to her because letting her know that I won’t leave her is not spoiling her. The fear of being left behind is a legitimate fear, and I don’t take that fear lightly.
When she cries for me, even when dad is holding her, I take her in my arms. Even if I have spent all day with her. Even if I spent all night awake with her. When she calls to me, I go to her. When she utters “Um,” and “Uma” and refuses to eat because she want’s mom to feed her, I go to her. I hold her close and I give her the attention she needs. The fear of no one answering when you cry out for them is a legitimate fear, and I don’t take that fear lightly.
When she tosses and turns in her sleep and cries, even though she is not awake, I make my way to the side of her crib. I whisper that I am close, I rub her back and stroke her hair. I ignore the best methods on letting her sooth herself, because waking up alone is a legitimate fear, and I don’t take that fear lightly.
I was thirteen years old when my father walked out. Just three short months later, my mother followed suite. Both of my parents turned and walked away. I was left to navigate this world alone, as a child. They didn’t come when I called, they didn’t respond to my cries, and I woke up alone with no one coming to my side. The fear of being left, alone, crying in the dark, is a legitimate fear at thirteen years old, and it’s a legitimate fear at 8 months old. A fear that I will never take lightly.
So tell me I spoil her when I go to her when she cries out. Sigh at me when I pick her up when she reaches for me. Roll your eyes when I take her anxiety seriously. I promise I will never take someone else’s negative feedback personal. Separation anxiety is a normal part of her emotional development. Her fears of being left behind are legitimate fears and I will never take those fears lightly.
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