Sunday, June 28, 2009

Separation Anxiety

My friend Margaret had a baby a little over six months ago. And this weekend will be the first that he's spent the night away from his mommy (other than a necessary surgery).

Margaret is a mess. Judging from her FaceBook entries, the very idea of her baby not being under her roof freaks her out. Never mind that he'll be sleeping at Grandma's, a woman who presumably knows what to do since she successfully raised one of the parents. Forget that since he's been born, Margaret hasn't had a decent night's sleep and really, really needs one. She feels guilty about not being there.

It is still early enough in the game for her that she doesn't realize that birth is just the first separation of many to come.

I relinquished the computer to my son after logging out of FaceBook and watched him sign into and start playing one of the games he plays online.

As I sat there watching him, my big strong 10-year old, leaving me to join his online community, I thought about all the ways our children separate from us.

If you work, daycare/preschool is the first major trauma - for mom. Baby may scream and scream as Mommy tries to leave. She will return for final hugs and kisses and reassurances several times before wrenching herself away to cry in her car. It took me two weeks to get past that, and when I was finally able to walk away, I felt bad because I was no longer distraught. And honestly, he wasn't either. ZBoy put on a good show, but the second I walked out the door, he stopped hollering and started playing.

Then there's the first spend-the-night. It's easier when it's grandparents. They're people you know and trust. Still, you call to check in. You call to say goodnight.
But then there's the first spend-the-night with friends. You maybe don't know the parents very well, but gauge your trust based on how well their kids are doing and what the interaction is like between that parent and child. You still call to check on your kid. And tell them to call you to say goodnight.
ZBoy was always really good about this. He had a friend, Jesse, that he liked to spend the night with. Jesse's mom fed them pizza, let them play video games and didn't monitor when they actually went to bed or even tell them to do it. Once my son stayed up until 4am and was so exhausted when he came home that I sent him to bed right after dinner and he fell asleep promptly. I wasn't sure if this was good or not. But he always called. Until the last time, when I didn't hear from him at all. He felt secure enough without me to not feel the need for contact. And honestly, I knew he was okay so I didn't worry.

He's only 10. There will be many, many more separations. First camping trip with the guys. First dates. The first time he leaves home alone in a car.
Will I worry? You bet. It's in my job description. But all of these separations are part of growing up and are necessary whether you like it or not.

I'd been ruminating on this stuff all day. Finally, I called my own mom and asked her about her first night after I moved out of the house.
She said she couldn't remember. That the idea of her baby moving out was so threatening that she'd blocked it out. I know she worried. She probably cried. I also know it was different from when she moved out of her own mother's house. There was lots of anger and fighting about her independence.
There was none of that with me. She even helped me fix up the apartment before I moved into it. But still, it must have been a shock to the mommy-system when baby number one declared her independence. It happened much sooner than she expected. Some of the plans she'd made would have been different if she'd realized it would happen so soon. And she felt hurt. Like I was pushing her aside and saying I didn't need her anymore.
Honestly, I didn't think about her feelings when it happened. I was so proud to be on my own. I knew I could make my own way and be an adult. I had to work three jobs, go to school and pay the rent on my own. And I did! Sometimes Dad would show up with a bag of groceries, or Grandma would slip me a $20 from time to time. And Mom was supportive in every way she could think of. But I was on my own, living away from her and being fairly successful at it.
And as wrenching as that whole process was, isn't that the way it's supposed to be? The sole purpose of parenting is to produce a happy, healthy, self-sufficient adult. My parents did an excellent job, and I try to emulate them as I face the whole process with my own son.

So far, so good. But Margaret... the first thing you have to be able to do - is let go.


Margaret said...

Awww...crap. I hadn't cried in like 3 hours and now yuou got me going again. :)


Margaret said...

p.s. - ZBoy is getting SOOOO big.

Jan said...

Great post.

Janis said...

When Zboy leaves the nest, he will not think about your feelings either. We tend not to appreciate our parents until we are way older.(Sad but True). Your right though, it is our job as parents to raise a successful, independent and responsible person.

Pamela said...

I was #8 -- I think my mom was glad when I left. heh heh.

yup. Birth is the first big separation from mom.

nikki said...

Thanks for making me cry.

margaret said...

Aww Sayre. I wondered how Margaret fared this weekend. I'm sure your thoughts and advice were helpful. You are right - a parent's job is to keep his/her child safe, while at the same time, giving that child wings. I can't imagine how difficult that must be at times. Thanks for sharing!