When my son was eight months old, we traveled with him to Buffalo, NY, to attend our best friends’ weddings. My husband and I were both in the wedding, so we planned to leave our son with my in-laws for the evening of the rehearsal dinner. Because my in-laws live out of town, we only see them about every 6-8 weeks. Still, our son had stayed with a babysitter a few times at that point and I wasn’t concerned that he’d be uncomfortable. We were thrilled to be in our friends’ wedding and we were even more excited for a few evenings out. Considering that my son was only about eight months old at the time, my husband and I were still new at this whole parenting thing and apparently we were pretty naïve, completely disregarding the possibility of any problems that weekend. But low and behold, two hours into rehearsal dinner, I got a phone call from my mother-in-law, and I quickly headed home to my inconsolable, crying infant. I felt equally ad bad for my in-laws as I did for my son. I’m fairly certain his two hours of tears traumatized all of them. And so began a long stretch of some serious separation anxiety.
Apparently, attempting to leave my baby with his grandparents in a hotel room for two hours completely scarred him, urging him to assume that every time I took more than three steps out of his line of vision, I was surely leaving him permanently. It was like all of a sudden, he was old enough to realize when he was near strangers and the thought of letting his mother move freely around a room full of people he didn’t know was completely outrageous. He clung to me and cried for me every time I attempted to leave. Having a child with separation anxiety is like the equivalent to being grounded when you were a teenager. You’re unable to go anywhere, you have absolutely no privacy or rights, and you can kiss your personal space a sweet goodbye. The only difference is that being grounded as a teenager lasted for a very specific length of time, usually a few weeks depending on the offense, and then granted you back your freedom after you’d completed your sentence. Separation anxiety, on the other hand, surfaces unfairly without warning and lasts for an undetermined, sometimes unbearable, length of time.
Looking back, maybe I had brought this onto myself without even knowing it. I’ll admit, maybe I was a touch overbearing in the beginning. Plus, by that time, my son was home full time with me, so we spent every waking moment together. Somewhere along the line, I had taken over routines like bedtime, assuming that I could most definitely do a better job than my husband. However, around eight months my son could have been considered an appendage, an extension of my body, for the entirety of the day. I was exhausted. By bedtime, I was dying for a break. But I had been putting him to bed every night for his whole life. If I was home and available, he simply would not allow anyone else but me to put him to bed. I had a little mommy attached monster and it was probably partially my own fault. In order to break the beast of his clingy ways, I would have to start separating myself. I started “hiding” around 7:45 so that mommy wasn’t an option at bedtime. I made sure to leave the house alone now and again. And within the next six months, I realized that I wanted to return to work full time by the time Grey reached 18 months.
As the months passed and I transitioned back into working part-time, something very strange happened. Slowly but surely, my son’s separation anxiety had thankfully dissipated, but so had his mommy obsession. To my surprise, he wanted daddy. He wanted daddy to play with him, he wanted daddy to hold him, he wanted daddy to feed him, and he wanted daddy to put him to bed. He even told me to go away during bath time one night. At first, I felt like I had won the mommy lottery. A break, at last. I had seriously lucked out in some respects. I got out of poopy diaper duty solely because he only wanted daddy to change him. I enjoyed a quiet glass of wine at night while daddy rocked out bedtime routine. I assumed that it was a stage, that I better enjoy it while it lasted, because sure enough, he’d return to his mommy infatuated ways at any moment. If anything, I knew that as soon as I switched to full time in January, he’d definitely be craving some serious mommy time.
So here we are, two months later, and you know what? The daddy streak continues. It was an amazing break at first, but as time passed, I started feeling hurt. I heard him tell my husband that he loved him and I was jealous. Mostly, I missed rocking him to bed every night. At two years old, he almost never wants to be held anymore, so bedtime is like a gold mine for snuggling time. And now, he only wants daddy to do it.
Last night, I decided that I had had enough. I wanted my bedtime back. So I did what any rational mother would do. I bribed him. I let him take two flashlights upstairs with us to play with while I sang him his songs and rocked him to sleep. We had a mini baby rave in his bedroom, swinging two small flashlights all around the room to sound of “Rock a Bye Baby.” He absolutely loved it.
And tonight, when bedtime rolled around, he wanted me again! I had won the bedtime battle by bribing him with two little LED lights. Tonight, I sang him another song as he pointed his flashlight in my face when I heard him say, “I love you, Mommy.” Maybe he really meant it, or maybe it was because I let him play with flashlights, but either way, I’ll take it <3