As parents, we love it when our kids need us; we want to be needed by these people we helped create. There are times when their needing us interferes with our schedule or agenda and it gets hard. We love these little humans with every thing we've got but, what happens when they won't let us go? When we are desperate to leave the house on a long-awaited date? Or, when the church service is starting and they have their precious paws around your neck! How about when you just need to use the toilet and there are little fingers waving at you from under the door? I remember wondering to myself, how did my kid get this idea that I was never coming back? I mean, I always came back.
Each of our kids went through a "don't you dare leave me" stage. It wasn't easy and we didn't make the right choice every time but, we came through separation anxiety with each of our kids and it never lasted long. I know each child is different and our children are no exception, they are as different as fruit loops in your breakfast bowl. They had separation anxiety with babysitters, school, going to bed, play dates, staying with Grandparents and even me walking into the other room. Don't take our experience as gospel but, maybe it will give you some hope or ideas!
I am going to use Sunday School as an example because I honestly believe that the way we handled Sunday School drop off had a huge impact on the way we navigated separation anxiety in our family. Sunday School is a safe place with capable adults to watch our children. We had to trust that the teachers would call our number if our kid could not get it together. It was a short amount of time for us to be apart from the kids, in the same building, and we got to practice separation on a regular basis, every Sunday.
One of our sons would silently cling to our side with the strength of a thousand bulls, as a single crocodile tear rolled down his cheek, we passed him over the gate into the arms of a volunteer. Our daughter would scream, cry and fall to the floor kicking her legs at anyone who dared come close. I remember, one Sunday, walking away from my son's classroom as he cried by the door saying, "You don't leave me here! I come with you!" Those are the moments that rip your heart out as a parent. The reality that your child thinks, for even a moment, that you don't love them? That is horrifying. It is in this moment where my husband and I decided to be brave.
That moment between walking away or running back to grab my child and exclaim, "I love you from the top of the sky to the bottom of the ocean!!! How could I have I left you for even a second!!!" That's when we made a very real decision to walk away. UGH. Hard! As they got older, we were able to talk with them and explain that we, in fact, would return after church service to pick them up. We proved it, every Sunday. It got easier on us and our kids because we made a point to be consistent. When we determined they were going to their classroom, we didn't look back. We pried their tiny fingers from our shirts and walked away from them reassuring them that we would return and we loved them dearly. I had to remind myself that we were not leaving them in a back alley, we were leaving them in the hands of loving volunteers.
There were some Sunday's when we realized that the breakdown and separation anxiety was a result of little sleep, not feeling well, or they just needed Mommy/Daddy time. We would always explain that they could sit with us in big church but, next Sunday, they would be going back to their classroom. We would also have conversations on the way to church explaining that they would be going to their classroom and we would pick them up after service. (This usually gave us a heads-up if there were going to be any meltdowns about drop off.) It got even trickier when one of the twins would want to stay with us and the other wasn't sure they wanted to be without the other in Sunday School!
Our youngest two will be in Middle School and our oldest will be a Freshman in high school. We realized as we sat in church a few Sundays ago that we no longer have to stay on guard for our "number" to summon us out of church. For fourteen years we checked our kids into Sunday school and never once did our number get called, not once. We waited and expected to be called out of service because someone threw up, fell off a slide, or didn't stop bawling their eyes out. Our number just never showed up. This was not our brilliant parenting skills because we certainly made some wrong choices.
Separation anxiety showed up in other areas of my kids' life, it wasn't just Sunday School. We approached it in the same way we handled Sunday mornings, consistency. As long as I was leaving my child in a safe place, with safe adults, I knew half the battle was mine. I couldn't let the sad faces, tears, and pleas alter my decision to leave them. I realized it wasn't good to allow my child to think that pitching a royal fit would get them what they wanted. It also allowed my kids to learn independence and trust in Mom & Dad.
I'm not an expert parent, I just know what worked for us. One thing I wish I had done more with my kids is pray with them when they struggled with separation anxiety. The enemy will use fear in your child and in you, don't let him win. Memorize the following Scriptures and teach them to your child, its a great way to remind them that even when Mommy can't be there, God is ALWAYS with them.
Psalm 55:22 MSG, "Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders—he’ll carry your load, he’ll help you out."
Philippians 4:6 The Voice, "Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come."
1 Peter 5:7 NIV, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."