Thursday, October 16, 2008

Separation Anxiety

My 15 month old son very recently entered the phase where he refuses to be carried by anyone but me. Also, where he used to be fearlessly independent, charging all over the place and leaving me or his father to run after him, he now wants to be in my arms nearly all the time as long as we're outside our apartment. Even old familiar areas by the pool or at the playground seem strange to him now. He is clingy, and refuses to ride in his stroller at all. Even his car seat tolerance has gone down. 

Initially, I put it down to mild trauma from the Hong Kong trip, one that started when he woke up twice from naps to see his grandmother minding him instead of me. Add that to the fact that he was in a strange new place and may have been feeling under the weather (the hand, foot and mouth disease became evident two days later), and there are all the factors for comfort hunting. And Little A's greatest comfort object comes in the form of his constant companion, his mother.

It's two weeks later, but the separation anxiety shows no sign of waning. Yesterday, we went for high tea to celebrate my mother's birthday. Little A fell asleep in the car and slept through most of the tea, which allowed me to eat and drink my fill, but once he woke up he realized that, once again, he was somewhere new and surrounded by the same faces who (it may have seemed to him) tried to take him away from me in Hong Kong. Once again, he refused to leave my arms, save for five minutes when he sat next to the pianist to play the piano. 

My reading on separation anxiety says that it tends to be more difficult for toddlers who aren't used to other caregivers, and Little A is just that. He has no nanny and has never been apart from me for longer than an hour or two as I've given up all attempts at a social life because my husband works such long hours and often needs to entertain clients in the evenings. He sees his grandparents every week to ten days or so, but they don't spend enough time with him for him to feel comfortable being left alone with them. 

How ironic that it is the planned parents, the responsible ones, who have what is perceived to be badly-adjusted children. We who want our own parents to enjoy their grandkids instead of being burdened with their constant care end up making them feel unloved by the same grandkids who see them as slightly familiar but not yet trusted companions. 

Both my sisters and many of my friends' kids consider their grandparents as surrogate parents. These children were all unexpected surprises, and so they either live with their grandparents or are in their care for most of their early years while their own parents carry on with the lives that were simply interrupted by pregnancy and childbirth. 

My older sister would leave her kids at my parents' house daily, and when my younger sister gave birth twice in 10 1/2 months, my parents would stay at her house all day at least thrice a week to help with the babies. Both sisters rely on my parents to pick up their kids from school when needed (which is once a week for one sister) and have them stay at my parents' house when they travel (which is also fairly often.) 

My best friend from school lives with her parents, ensuring that an entire family and battalion of househelp will look after her sons, picking them up and taking them to school, the doctor's and such, when she is busy with part-time work and law school. Another pair of friends drop off their kids (and nannies) at their parents' house every day on their way to work, leaving the grandparents responsible for the 8-6 shift. 

Naturally these kids are completely comfortable spending time in their grandparents' care, and usually suffer from separation anxiety when their nannies leave, not their mothers. But since Little A is an exception, he is suddenly a cause for concern because he seems overly attached to me.

My parents love having their brood of grandkids around, of that there is no doubt. But I also know that they have difficulty rearranging their schedules, tidying up after the kids and get physically exhausted from keeping them entertained for hours or days on end. Not to mention feeding, bathing, nappy changing and the rest of it. They may be young grandparents, but they still don't have the stamina and strength to cope with more than two toddlers at a time. I have a hard enough time coping with just one. 

Little A was, until this year, the newest grandchild, so naturally he couldn't get as much time and attention alone with his grandparents as the others did, particularly as the two cousins prior to him are in their constant care. And with a father who works such long hours and no other caregiver available, it seems only natural that he develop a strong attachment to me.

I know this stage will pass, and I will need to get back to even part-time work soon, which means Little A will have to be left in someone else's care. So we're starting slowly, getting him reacquainted with old familiar places, and seeing if he can build back his confidence. Funny how a few weeks ago I worried that he was becoming too independent too soon. Looks like the joke's on me.

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