Almost as soon as a baby is born and becomes (literally) separate from you, we begin this dance of letting them get further away from us, but being able to invite them back in again.
For some reason, as a society we don’t really do very well at recognising how difficult separation can be for mums. Especially if we are dealing with memories of how separations were handled when we were children, separation from our children can bring up very raw emotions for us.
We don’t talk enough about how it feels to not be pregnant anymore, to suddenly be two separate beings, to hand your precious baby over to other people, to deal with their distress (and yours) if you’re not together. When we talk about the fourth trimester though, and how close your baby needs to be held in this period of time, really that’s for us as well. Even though there may be pressure to become independent, don’t feel that you have to cut that cord before you are well and truly ready.
Of course, there also comes a time when you do need to separate – nursery, work, school. Often our worry about leaving our children can stem from our own experiences of being left as children. We are here to help you figure out how to navigate this to make separations feel like a surge towards independence, not a fear of abandonment.
Here we want to open up the conversation about the difficulties of dealing with separation. Get involved yourself by writing a post or sharing on your stories on Instagram, and let's get the conversation going and #LetsTalkAbout Separation Anxiety. #MotherhoodTheRealDeal
The most consistent separation challenge for us has been bedtimes. It starts with the classic stalling for time. Separation anxiety can show up in all shapes and sizes - it's not just about leaving them with another carer. My eldest daughter is nearly seven and we've been on a winding journey of velcro baby to clingy toddler to anxious child, with plenty of sensory needs thrown in. We've struggled settling her into nursery and school, at parties and playdates, and it's all hands on the emotional deck through times of transition.
ith one more story/cuddle/drink/wee... but then as she gets more tired (and I get more frustrated) it escalates into a full blown panic about being left alone, which is very hard to come down from. She doesn't want physical contact, just presence. But she'll often reject offers of anyone else (including Daddy) and night after night this can leave me feeling drained, suffocated and resentful of not having my own adult time in the evening.
Often my first instinct is to shut it down: "We've been together all day and I'm ready for a break - surely you are too?!" But I have learnt the hard way (and confess I could have arrived here sooner!) that the more you try to shut down their need, the bigger it gets. Turns out that 5 or 10 mins of focused, love-bomb investment can save you hours of crying and fighting.
Olivia's top tips
My top tip is to reframe what they are asking of you (I often forget to do this in the heat of the moment, especially if I need to go out!) - to give into it knowing that investing that time now will reap huge rewards later.
So I try to use the time for something productive - it's my window in the day for some breathing and stretching, or a short meditation. Sometimes we do it together, sometimes she prefers to just watch me and snuggle her toys. Either way, I am calm, she's happy, and we both relax. She doesn't always fall asleep, but I can now leave the room before she does without that ninja escape across the creaky floorboards.
Our absolute fave resource on the Nourish app is the Take 5 breathing exercise (she calls it 'finger breathing') which is calming and grounding and great for both of you, especially if you're feeling frustrated and want to feel more present. We also love Emma @mumologist's 'hug button' which we charge before bed and before school so that she always feels topped up.
When you hear the words "separation anxiety" you usually think of a baby or toddler crying out for their parent. Not often do you think of the mother being the one to shed a tear. But that was me.
The thought of leaving my baby boy filled me with dread, the thought that I wouldn't be there to comfort him or check on him made my heart race and tears prick my eyes. I could barely be in a different room, let alone leave him with anyone else. I managed a couple of hours a few weeks after he was born for my best friends birthday, but I cried before I left, it took me an age to get out of the door, and once I was there all I wanted to do was get home.
It has been a journey, and of course the thought of leaving him was way worse than the reality, in fact I think he rather enjoyed being spoilt by grandma or daddy. It did affect me for months as I battled with my anxious feelings but also the need for a break and some "me" time. It's a bit like the fear of getting on a rollercoaster or doing that big presentation, you physically feel the nerves but you know deep down that you can do it, and when you finally take that step, although it was somewhat uncomfortable, it feels so good afterwards.
I did seek professional help and I had Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT), which changed my world. I have still had to work on myself since then, but it really did alleviate the weight of the anxiety that I had been carrying for months. After my RTT I could finally feel my brain was more free for me to pick up my mindfulness practice again and I would use that to regularly bring myself to the present moment rather than fixating on a worry in the future.
Mindfulness also teaches us to let go of our thoughts and not get carried away with them, whilst also being kind to ourselves for having such thoughts. I also started taking pure magnesium supplements which has given me that final bit of relief, I don't feel so tense so regularly anymore. The other thing that was important was to just slowly start to leave him, for a few minutes, then an hour, then a few hours. The more I did it the easier it got and I am finally now at a place where I look forward to some "me" time. And I get the biggest smile when I return home, which is the best feeling ever.
Amy's top tips
My top tip would be to be 100% honest with yourself, and others, about how you are feeling. Keeping it to yourself or not admitting that you need help just makes it worse. When you start to recognise what doesn't feel right you can address it, whether that's professionally and/or by working on yourself.
Talk to friends or family, or anyone that you trust to support you, so that when you need that extra bit of help it is there. And trust me, when you start sharing, you will realise that more people are in the same boat as you than you thought, and we are all in this together.
My favourite resources on the Nourish app to help with separation anxiety are the meditations.
When my eldest started it school I was excited for her but on the inside I was very nervous - how would someone else care for her 5 days a week like I would, how would they meet her needs the way I do?
She’s highly sensitive and I was terrified that this wouldn’t be recognised or nurtured properly! I remember feeling extremely emotional and quite angry and sad that I had to hand her over to someone else!
My husband was a great buffer. We talked about how we both felt, supported each other, but also spent time recognising how far she had come and how she was personally ready to start.
I was conscious that for her it was such a positive milestone and wanted to also celebrate that with her! Talking to her teacher and other parents already at the school gates helped massively to reduce my fears and worries.
Karen's top tips
Don’t feel like you can’t be sad. It’s a massive thing to let go of your child and wave them off into the world of school! But don’t suffer in silence too - talk to other mums who have already experienced the first year of their child at school, and get involved with school activities like bonfire night and the Christmas party. We always join in with these occasions and we feel really a part of the school community!
I love the Coping Skills section of @thenourishapp. There are some good tools in the Mind and Breath sections that you can do really quickly to feel calmer and refocus your worries - great for when you’ve just dropped your child off for the first day at school and you need a bit of a virtual hug. You can even sit in your car for a moment and do one before you set off for the rest of your day and feel a little less stressed about it all!
The tug on my heart, my whole body in fact as a little two year old stands bellowing “MUMMY,” at the Nursery gate. I am torn between one last cuddle and a race to feed a screaming, ravenous baby. Who do I Nourish first? That guilt that sits in my stomach for hours. And then, a reassuring look and hand holding by Nursery staff when I pick her up an hour later, whereby she emphatically tells me to leave because she is too engrossed in a game of making a tea party. Sound familiar?
Separation Anxiety is part and parcel of a child’s development. It’s necessary and often painful for both us and the child to go through. It’s helpful to recognise the importance of those changes, those transitions in both your and your child’s life, and to be reassured that in moments of change, the most significant caregiver in your child’s life will remain.
Watch as your baby changes from just dropping the toy to the floor from their high hair and carrying on in their play, to crying, reaching and grasping for their prized object. This, I believe is all developmentally entwined in those moments of separation. i.e. babies develop an understanding that objects and key care givers exist when they are out of sight. They know they are safe, warm, fed and cared for when with their main caregiver and therefore once they develop what we term 'object permanence' they will naturally seek out their main caregiver and not wish to be separated.
Hannah's top tips
Babies and young children up to the age of 10 and beyond all find it difficult to naturally regulate their emotional responses. The fear that “my main caregiver has gone and I don’t know when their coming back” induces the primitive fight of flight response. Scream or run. It’s for us as parents to hold that fear and confusion for our children and calmly get to their level. Reassure, name the feeling to tame it. “it’s ok I know you’re scared right now, it’s ok.” Often prolonging an exit means prolonging and increasing the distress for you both. Ensure there is another key adult there to comfort them as you do. Help them to quite literally hold your child’s feelings too.
As a psychologist and a mother, I have often berated myself - if my child screams and is distraught when I leave, is it something I have done wrong? Is this all my fault? Are they anxiously attached? Although unless there is a specific trauma, it’s very much to be expected that a child gets upset on separation from their mum (or main caregiver). The key is for my children to know that when I leave, I come back again. My beat is regular. When I do make mistakes, I reflect on them to nurture my parenting, and indeed to nurture my children.
Separation anxiety triggers us as parents, it will awaken feelings, experiences and relationships from our childhood. Therefore in those moments of dysregulation I often turn to @SuzyReading's mindful micro moments and the soothing tones of @Tenofzen which can all be found on the Nourish app.
Of course we all know that babies can have periods of separation anxiety from their parents, it’s a natural part of those first few months in this world & it shows you have a good bond with each other. But no one ever spoke to me about the fact that parents can feel it too.
I felt like I had a very strong bond with my son even before he was born. I loved that it was me and him, only I could feel his little flutters and kicks, only me and him were awake at 3am every morning. I felt like superwoman with him growing in my tummy.
When he was born I had a c section, immediately I felt it. My husband held our son for the first 24 hours, did his first feed, nappy change, cuddles. I felt helpless.
Then we got home and I watched as he was passed around like a game of pass the parcel. I felt like my baby had been taken away from me. The anxiety would be boiling up inside me and I wanted to scream to give him back to me, but I didn’t want to upset anyone.
As he got older those feelings never went away. I have fear that if I leave him and he needs me he’ll be upset & someone else won’t know how to comfort him like I do. I have fear that he might learn something new while I’m not around and I’ll have missed out on his special moment. I have fear that he’ll fall out with me for leaving him. I have fear that as he learns to talk and has all his own little words, other people won’t understand him and he won’t get the help he needs.
Above all I have a fear purely that he’s not with me. That a part of me isn’t there. I don’t know who I am without my son anymore. All I want to be is mummy to him, just as we are forever. I have separation anxiety about the future. When he gets older and independent.
I have recently been diagnosed with post natal depression 2 years after my son was born. It has been tough on us all, but slowly I’m getting there. I am now starting to understand our relationship better and ensure that I get some ME time.
My son is now starting play-school 2 mornings a week which is a big change for us both. But it’s a step in the right direction in us both getting confidence in ourselves.