Becoming a parent is an experience fraught with emotion. It’s common for new parents to be blissfully happy and joyous at the birth of their baby one moment and experience an overwhelming sense of responsibility—and sometimes downright fear to do right by this new life—in the next. Unfortunately, as noble as your intentions undoubtedly are, sometimes this intense desire to protect your child from the world outside can lead to a number of problems for you, your child, and your relationships.
Many first-time parents can’t even entertain the thought of leaving their babies in the care of another person, no matter how much they may need time to themselves—even if it’s only to catch up on some much-needed sleep. The idea of leaving their child for just a short amount of time is enough to fill them with dread and guilt. “Of course I believed that no one else could possibly take care of my daughter better than I could, not for even a minute,” says mom Penney Jordan. “If I found myself fantasizing about how much I would enjoy a long bubble bath I would immediately be filled with intense guilt. How could I even of think of myself when Emma was the most important person in my life?”
Jordan recalls that it took extreme fatigue to get her to realize that she needed time out. “When I finally reached the stage where I was so tired that I couldn’t function properly and literally hadn’t let Emma out of my sight since her birth, I realized I was probably doing my child more harm than good in this state,” she says. “I also realized how desperately I needed a break, not from my child but from being a mother.” Jordan was finally able to ask her own mother to come over and look after Emma while she had some time to take a nap and a bath. At first it was a struggle even for her to be in a different room than Emma, but eventually she was able to leave the house while her mother babysat.
What Penney Jordan experienced was maternal separation anxiety. We typically hear about children experiencing feelings of distress when they’re separated from a parent, but in fact, mothers can become victims of this syndrome, too. “Maternal separation anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state of worry, guilt, and sadness experienced by mothers during a short-term separation from their infant” says Hui-Chin Hsu, Ph.D., in a report “Antecedents and consequences of separation anxiety in first-time mothers: infant, mother, and social-contextual characteristics” for the Department of Child and Family Development at the University of Georgia.
The report states that while feeling anxious about separation from your child may be normal—and even healthy—for parents of young children, excessive separation anxiety may be maladaptive and detrimental to parents’ mental health, which in turn may wield negative impacts on their parenting behaviors and the child’s development. The study also found that mothers express higher levels of separation anxiety when their infants suffer from colic or other health-related vulnerabilities. So what’s a mom to do if she needs a little time for herself but just can’t tear herself away from baby? Try the following tips on dealing with maternal separation anxiety:
Maternal separation anxiety is a common phenomenon that many new mothers experience when they have to leave their babies with someone else, such as a caregiver, family member, or daycare provider. This anxiety can range from mild worry to intense fear and panic, and it can make it difficult for mothers to focus on other tasks or enjoy time away from their babies. If you are dealing with maternal separation anxiety, there are several tips and strategies that you can use to cope with your feelings and make the most of your time apart.
Acknowledge your feelings
The first step in dealing with maternal separation anxiety is to acknowledge your feelings and accept them as a normal and natural part of motherhood. It’s okay to feel anxious or worried about leaving your baby, especially if you are a first-time mother or have had previous negative experiences with separation. Don’t try to suppress or ignore your feelings, as this can make them worse. Instead, try to be gentle and compassionate with yourself, and remind yourself that it’s okay to take time for yourself and trust others to care for your baby.
Build a strong support system
One of the best ways to cope with maternal separation anxiety is to build a strong support system of family, friends, and healthcare providers who can offer you emotional and practical support. Talk to your partner, family members, or close friends about your feelings and ask for their help and understanding. Consider joining a support group for new mothers, where you can share your experiences and learn from others who are going through similar challenges. You can also talk to your healthcare provider about your anxiety and ask for recommendations for therapy or other treatments that can help.
Self-care is an essential component of coping with maternal separation anxiety, as it allows you to focus on your own needs and recharge your batteries. Make time for activities that you enjoy, such as exercise, reading, or taking a relaxing bath. Practice mindfulness or meditation techniques that can help you stay present and calm in the moment. Get enough sleep and eat a healthy and balanced diet to support your physical and mental health. Remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish or indulgent, but a necessary part of being a good mother and role model for your child.
Establish a routine
Establishing a routine can help you and your baby adjust to separation and make the transition smoother and less stressful. Plan ahead for your time apart and make sure that your baby’s caregiver has all the necessary information about their feeding, sleeping, and play routines. Create a schedule that works for you and your baby, and stick to it as much as possible. This can provide a sense of predictability and stability for both you and your baby, and make it easier to transition back to your regular routine when you are reunited.
Staying connected with your baby while you are apart can help ease your anxiety and strengthen your bond. Consider using technology, such as video calls or messaging apps, to check in with your baby and see how they are doing. You can also ask your caregiver to send you updates or photos throughout the day, so that you can stay connected and informed. Remember that your baby can sense your emotions and respond to your voice and touch, even if you are not physically present, so make sure to express your love and affection in whatever way feels comfortable for you.
Take it one step at a time
Dealing with maternal separation anxiety can be overwhelming, especially if you are facing other stressors or challenges in your life. Remember to take it one step at a time and focus on small, achievable goals. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem, and don’t beat yourself up if you have setbacks or moments of doubt. Trust that you are doing your best and that you are not alone in your struggles.
In conclusion, maternal separation anxiety is a common and normal experience for many new mothers, and there are several tips and strategies that you can use to cope with your feelings and make the most of your time apart. By acknowledging your feelings, building a strong support system, practicing self-care, establishing a routine, staying connected, and taking it one step at a time, you can manage your anxiety and enjoy the benefits of being a confident and empowered mother. Remember that your love for your baby is powerful and resilient, and that you can overcome any challenges that come your way.