Raising Davis: Separation Anxiety

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Raising Davis: Thoughts from a working mom

Tell us your experience with separation anxiety.

Paul and I decided that Davis was ready for preschool. 

It was time to take him out of the home daycare where he would be losing the company of his four little companions and the coziness of the private home environment. He would now be in a larger preschool with daily routines, a huge playground and over thirty little new friends. It would be kiddy Shangri-La!
He is very sociable and, as we expected, he adjusted immediately. The first three days went smoothly – and then came day four. We arrived at the preschool. We said our, ‘good mornings’ to the teachers and children and then I gave Davis a hug. He clung to me as if we were hanging on the top branch of a fi fty-foot tree! He cried, and begged me not to go. It took two teachers to grab him out of my arms so I could make my exit. I couldn’t believe it! What had happened? Why is he behaving like this? I drove to work, crying, as if I had left him in a lions den with a steak tied around his waist! This went on every day for four weeks. “Mommy, turn the car around.” “Mommy, I don’t want to go”. I was fi lled with fear about what was happening at the school to make him so upset. Was there a bully? Were the teachers not as nice as they all appeared? Is there a secret dungeon that the kids are sent to after the last parent drops off their tot? What the heck could be causing this?
This state of neuroses (mine, not Davis’s) went on for weeks. I met with the owner of the preschool who assured me that this behaviour was normal. Paul and I discussed rearranging our careers so we could stay at home more and shorten his time at school. We asked Davis a million questions, every day, about his routine and the goings-on at the preschool until he would put his hands over his ears and say, “I don’t want to talk any more, Mommy, and I am going to bed.” This drama went on for four weeks!
No one told me that kids go through this when they start preschool. Where is the chapter that says kids may need weeks to adjust to preschool and will behave as if they have experienced post war trauma? It didn’t make sense. This was not a child that had been by his mother’s side every minute since his birth. Quite the opposite. Davis had been in daycare for two years prior to starting preschool. Paul and I often go out and he is left with various sitters – all of whom he loves. Paul and I love to travel, and he has stayed with family or friends without any problem. So, why does he have separation anxiety at this transition? I still don’t have the answer.
Now that I look back on the whole experience, I feel silly about those mornings I drove to work in tears, feeling like a bad mother. He is now in his eighth month at preschool and he loves it. The teachers are as nice as they appear. If anyone is the bully, it is Davis (and I have yet to find the trap door to the dungeon). All of this craziness was for something that is as normal as a temper tantrum in the mall except that this separation anxiety phase can last for days or weeks or sometimes months.
A co-worker just announced that she is switching her toddler from the daily care of her mother to preschool. I might just have the tissue box ready and a shoulder to lean on when she comes in on… day four!

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