If dropoffs are almost too much to bear for you (but maybe not your child), you may be suffering from Parental Separation Anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a very real struggle for many parents—especially in our new worklife reality where many of us have spent at least some time working from home and having our child and loved ones with us at all times.
If you’re struggling with Parental Separation Anxiety, you’re not alone, and we’re here to offer tips and support to help you get through some of the most challenging transitions for new parents.
What is Parental Separation Anxiety?
When we think of separation anxiety, we likely picture a scene of our child crying as we wave goodbye to them at dropoff. Separation anxiety is hard on them. But it can be hard on parents, as well.
Parental Separation Anxiety can present as feelings of loneliness when your child is not around, or as overwhelming guilt when you leave your baby at even the most trusted child care facility.
Anxiety affects people in a myriad of ways. Some signs of Parental Separation Anxiety may be more obvious, while others you may ignore until they start affecting your daily life, and physical/mental health.
Here are signs to look for:
- Excessive worrying and catastrophic thinking
- High levels of anxiety, depression
- Unusual distress and panic attacks
- Feelings of anger
- Physical symptoms when separated from your child (headaches, nausea, stomachaches)
- An incessant need to know where your child is at all times
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Refusal to take time for yourself
An Overlooked Struggle for Mothers and Fathers
Although it rages on privately in offices and digitally in parent Facebook groups, Parental Separation Anxiety is still somewhat overlooked.
Many parents have overwhelming emotions when leaving their children and are unaware that this is related to separation anxiety. These feelings have for so long been referred to as “mother’s guilt” or “parents’ guilt,” perpetuating this belief that you are not a good parent or that you’re missing out if you are not constantly with your child.
Experts have talked about maternal separation anxiety openly, but often associate it only with early stages of parenting. There is lots of Googleable information about new mothers finding it hard to leave their baby for the first time—whether they are returning to work or having a date night with their partner—but hardly any information about separation anxiety for fathers.
Compounding that for fathers is the general lack of paternity leave across the nation. The quick return to work can be a very emotional and anxious time for fathers, even if they know their partner is caring for their child at home.
You’re Not Alone
If you are a parent struggling with separation anxiety from your child, you are not alone. At Vivvi, we value and deeply care about each of our families, and compiled this list of Parental Separation Anxiety information to support you during this time.
If you’re concerned your level of anxiety about being separated from your child is beyond the appropriate amount, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional about working through your Parental Separation Anxiety.
When Do Parents Experience Separation Anxiety the Most?
You can experience separation anxiety at any time, but certain milestones can be strong triggers for Parental Separation Anxiety.
Many of these occasions happen within your child’s first year and are painfully unavoidable (first day back at work, first day at daycare).
Being aware that these situations will happen and may cause you to feel overly anxious is the first step to recognizing the signs and putting coping mechanisms in place.
Trigger Warning List:
- First Day at Child Care
Your child’s first day at child care may be nerve-wracking for both parents and children. While you will undoubtedly choose a child care provider you trust, that doesn’t mean you won’t still feel the anxiety of being away from your baby.
TIP: Practice leaving your child before they start childcare. Start small with quick outings to the neighborhood coffee shop, sans bebe, until you’re able to make it an afternoon away. Baby steps.
- Returning to Work
The return to the workforce, whether part-time or full-time, is a much larger transition than we realize before faced with it. The last time you were in the office you were solo. Now, you’re a parent. It’s true that it can feel like half of your heart is outside of your body.
TIP: Many parents find it difficult to concentrate fully and switch back to the employee mindset. Try setting small time-based goals for yourself, like setting a timer for 20-minutes of solid work before you grab your phone to check for a text update or look at a picture.
- First Date Night as Parents
That first date night or weekend away as new parents is a major milestone. But it can also trigger major Parental Separation Anxiety, causing new parents to find it hard to stay present and enjoy their time together.
TIP: If the thought of being far away is too overwhelming, forget about going for the biggest splurge and zero in on location. Book a table at the restaurant down the street and just accept that you’re going to check in on the baby monitor.
Coping Strategies for Parental Separation Anxiety
It can take time, but there are coping strategies you can use to ease the intensity of your Parental Separation Anxiety symptoms.
Here are some coping strategies:
- Acknowledge your feelings: Recognize how you are feeling and label the emotion.
- Talk it out: You’re not alone in this. Talk with other parents and ask them for tips on dealing with feelings of separation anxiety.
- Make time for yourself: Self-care is essential as a parent. You need to meet your needs too. Find time to do something meaningful for yourself, whether you indulge in a book, work on a new craft hobby, or take a glorious bath.
- Practice mindfulness: When we’re anxious, it is harder to stay in the present. Practicing mindfulness will help you to focus on what’s happening right now. What are you seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling with your fingers in this exact moment. Notice those things, and notice how it grounds you.
- Speak to a professional: Parenting isn’t easy, and if you’re struggling, this doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. It just means that you are human. A mental health professional can help you come up with an effective treatment plan for your exact situation.
This Too Shall Pass
Most of the time, Parental Separation Anxiety, and separation anxiety in your baby, is just a phase. Take solace in the knowledge that time is fleeting, feelings change, and this too shall pass.
Our team is happy to talk one-on-one with any Vivvi Families feeling anxious about starting childcare. For prospective families, our campus tours are designed to put minds at ease.
If you have more questions we’d love to chat, please get in touch.