Separation Anxiety Sucks

Okay. I am tired and frustrated, so I hope this isn’t too much venting. I just need a place for it. I’m struggling with Baby J’s anxiety about being apart from Uno. There are times when I feel rejected and then, worst of all, I feel mad at him. Yes, mature, I know. Sigh. It’s often when he’s tired or teething or who knows – say he wakes up early from his nap in a grumpy-as-hell mood. I go up, try and soothe him with all my calm-mama mojo. No way. He screams until he gets what he wants, which is a nice cuddle from Uno and a nurse. Or it’s more subtle, as in: I come into the room, he’s basically indifferent, Uno comes into the room, his face lights up with utter joy. She hands him to me, he fights and fusses. Caveat: he IS often happy to see me, especially when he’s hoping for a tickle. He does seek me out for comfort and attention when it’s just the two of us out in the world (at the park, at the grocery store). I take him for walks, I take care of him, I know he and Uno need me. But…

There IS a difference in how he responds to us. And sometimes, it hurts my feelings. And then, I don’t respond with kindness or patience to my family. And then, I feel guilty.

Tonight, we came home late from a big family dinner; baby J was overtired. We did our usual – I went to give him his bath, put him in pj’s, and read to him; Uno got ready for bed and for a long nursing session. However, he threw a huge screaming fit about the bath. He was doing the silent cry. Heaving sobs. Purple face. The silent cry! Good god. My blood pressure was rising. I gave him a speed bath and carted him upstairs still screaming. Tried to soothe him to no avail. Books? Forget about it. (Oddly, when he gets like this, as he has when we’ve tried night weaning, he does get furious if I put him down. So he wants me to hold him. But he screams and screams). Then she came in, he reached for her, stopped crying (whew, like magic), and started nursing like he was a dying man in the desert. I was super rattled. And I said something jerky when she asked me to give him a goodnight kiss.

It’s not his fault, not her fault – is it my fault? It’s no one’s fault. I don’t know. I DO know this laundry list: it’s developmental, it’s especially affected by her being the primary caregiver, it’s related to their strong nursing bond. I know that it helps when I spend focused, intentional time with him, particularly one-on-one. And, yes, I’m aware that my reaction affects him – i.e. my frustration about his response escalates the problem.

Uno and I have talked a lot about this and it’s hard on her, because she wants, of course, for me to feel confident in my parenting. Confident and equal, not competitive, not anxious. She also can’t change the biological facts, and she enjoys their nursing relationship, and it might very well be her last/only time to do it. Indeed, she works hard at it, and it’s not easy. I really want to support her. I have, I do. But in some sense – I’m just gonna admit it – I’m jealous. I feel helpless, unable to soothe him. I’m tired of him nursing at night. I hate being snappy and mean when I feel rejected by him. I want to keep my mouth shut instead of saying negative things to him or Uno.

It’s been harder since I started my second teaching job and am distracted and dealing with more work. I’m the first to acknowledge that. I need to work on how I handle stress: I have been, will continue to – I’m an anxious brain; it’s my cross to bear. Also, Uno’s mom is staying with us until she gets her own place set up (she’s moved here, another story), and the sharing of our space isn’t always easy. They’re home with baby J all day, so when I come back I feel even more disconnected. Finally, we’re all sleep deprived.

Well, there you have it. I’ve held back writing about this because I feel defensive. I don’t want to admit this is a problem. As I’ve said, it’s not a problem all the time; baby J and I do have an amazing, intense bond. Irrational as it may be, it feels like admitting that our baby prefers Uno negates that. I’ve also held back writing about this because it frankly feels so CLICHE. As in, I read about parenting dynamics in queer families. I’ve worked on my own fears. Analyzed them. Written about them. Shouldn’t I know how to deal with them?

Oh, sigh. I’ll probably password-protect this later. Thanks so much for listening.

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20 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety Sucks

  1. I can’t imagine how hard it was to write this, but I, for one, am grateful that you did. Really: thank you. And for the record, nothing I read here made me question your bond with Baby J. Not in the least. Thought this doesn’t sound like any fun, it does sound like a part of parenting. Which means that even the outsider feeling is a result of your bond (i.e.: “right now that closeness that I know we have isn’t apparent, and I miss it”), and not a sign that it isn’t there. If you weren’t so connected to him, this momentary dynamic wouldn’t hurt you, right?

    Rabbit isn’t here yet (we’re 26 weeks today), but this is a big fear of mine. My particular character weaknesses are already instigated by the situation (jealousy in child birth class, jealousy when we talk about breastfeeding), so I know we’ll face some of this. As academics, we tend to think that if we understand something, we have command over it. I know the frustration of bumping up against something that intellect (more reading. more research.) can’t just solve. I’m so grateful for this community, though. For the ability to share these things and be reassured. To read of others who’ve faced particular struggles, who are amazing parents, who’ve gotten to the other side.

    My go-to blog for these complexities is First Time Second Time. I’m not sure if you already read them, but I’ve included three posts I’ve found particularly helpful in this arena. These posts are a little bittersweet for me because they’re about the give and take of each having one bio-child (and other than the daughter we lost, I probably won’t have a bio-child), but when I let my guard down, what I see here is that the opportunity to have to work harder (or at least differently) because I’m at a disadvantage can actually be a privilege. Can bring joy.

    Anyway, I hope you find something useful here. And thank you again for this brave, honest, extremely helpful post.

    http://firsttimesecondtime.com/2009/08/when-your-toddler-prefers-one-parent/
    http://firsttimesecondtime.com/2009/07/choosing-to-parent/
    http://firsttimesecondtime.com/2011/08/do-you-love-them-differently/

    1. Thank you for reminding me that if our bond weren’t so strong, this wouldn’t sting so much. It IS comforting. After I wrote this I went upstairs and just watched him sleep for a few minutes. He looked perfect and I just basked in my love of him. Those moments help me; I need to make time like that to reconnect. And thank you for these links! I do love that blog; it’s given me lots to think about and also lots of reassurance. Yes, the community – it does help, so much.

  2. hugs to you. I’m so glad that you took the time to write down how you are feeling about this. It is real…this preference thing. and you KNOW that it doesn’t make you any less…just different in his eyes…for NOW. not forever. I’ll admit that when our 2nd child preferred Cindy, I was relieved in some ways! It didn’t mean less bonded…it meant more “me” time. I know that sounds selfish, but when you are dealing with your 2nd you realize that there are different ways to parent/to be needed. Even now, when they are 9 and 6….they have preferences. For certain things…it’s me. and for many things it’s her. She wishes that when we sit on the couch that they’d crowd me out, like they do her….and I’m so thrilled that they don’t! so…..please remember this…it’s not a competition. and you’ve got miles to go before you sleep. parenting is multifaceted and a very long process. love and hugs to you 3!

  3. we are just starting to get to this stage — where Iz will prefer one of us over the other and I can already tell is HARD….hard to be the one she wants (at that moment) and even harder to be the one she doesnt. As the mom who was home with her for longer and who spends more time with her, I can see how hard it is for W when she grabs for me…and I really dont know if there is anything to do about it, other than acknowledge that its hard and that its a phase….any thoughts?

    1. It is hard! We are very honest about it – the feelings, the reality – and that helps us a lot. We also try to use humor and be playful and use distraction. We were just talking about how it’s important that we build in fun/relax time, because so often when I come home it’s time to cook, clean, get him ready for bed – we get into work mode and we don’t enjoy each other. It’s simple, but if we take the time to all three hang out on the floor and be silly, we all feel better. Conversely, it helps to have my special things with him. Three times a week I’m able to come home and put him down for his nap, which is midday, and that is AWESOME for us. Yes, he cries when I take him up and away from the boob, but then we have our cuddle time reading and rocking and he settles down. I also do bath time and reading at night, which generally works great, unless he’s overcooked as yesterday. Oh, and I love taking him grocery shopping – he’s so cute and excited in the cart, Uno gets a break, and I love talking to him about everything he sees in the aisles. It’s a funny niche area, but I recommend it. Errands.

  4. Thanks for your honesty. We haven’t had exactly the same dynamic since our little guy wasn’t able to figure out breastfeeding. But there are certainly moments/days/weeks when he prefers one mom or the other, and it’s very hard on both of us. These things are cliched precisely because they happen so much and because they are so hard on everybody.
    My only advice would be to hang on tight to the things that you know are true about your relationship with babyJ: the cozy one-on-one times that you mentioned, the tickles, the baths that didn’t involve screaming. And remember that it is a phase, and not a statement about your relationship forever-and-ever. The breastfeeding piece of the dynamic won’t last forever, this particular clingy phase won’t last forever.
    Your life sounds crazy-busy right now, but maybe you can find a few bits of time for more one-on-one time with you and babyJ (at times when he’s less likely to be screamy)? To help you feel more secure in that connection? Do you do any bottle feeding?

  5. We went through this when Will was about 9 or 10 months old and he preferred Justine (the nursing and at home mama) to me. But now he is 16 months and for the past several months he has been strongly preferring me. I think that he now realizes that I am not always around and so when I’m at home he wants me and only me.

    Which is to say, these things change with time (and undoubtedly in a couple of months Justine will be the preferred mama again). Will is still nursing with great enthusiasm and frequency, so it’s not as though it was weaning tgat changed the dynamic. He just grew up a bit.

    I’m sure in a couple of months we’ll be reading a post about how baby J will only let you change his diaper and dress him and read him stories and how he must be touching you at all times when you are home and oh my lord how can a mama get a break. Good luck!

    1. Oh, I hope so! You’re so right that these things wax and wane. For a long time he wouldn’t let Uno put him down to nap – I could do it quickly, she struggled. Lately (he’s 13 months) he just so vocal, strong-willed, quick to show preference. I think he’s discovering his voice on a lot of levels. I’m trying to remember that … also helps when I read / hear about how toddlers are so mercurial in general.

  6. Please don’t stop writing down these feelings and don’t stop sharing them. The Mama #2 jealousy is the worst and I felt so alone and just … like a terrible person! before I found yours and a few other blogs. It is such strange territory to be in and I appreciate you sharing about your own struggles figure it out.

    1. Oh, you’re welcome! Yes, it can be so lonely. That’s one of the reasons I like to read blogs. I don’t have any non-bio mom friends close by – er, make that any gay parent friends – so the blog is a great outlet.

  7. {{{{{BIG HUGE HUG}}}}}

    I want to echo everyone else in the “being glad you wrote this” department. These kinds of preferences are painful, but as others have said it is fleeting. Like everything else about babies, these things change so quickly. I know you know all of this, but I’m saying it anyway.

    Take care and glad you’re writing!

  8. This part is very hard and I’m glad you shared, too. It seems to me that the breastfeeding relationship is such a huge factor. Since we stopped breastfeeding around 5ish months, and were already splitting feeding duties by 3 months, I haven’t noticed Curly clinging to Nutella more because of that. There are definitely moments when he’s preferred one of us over the other, and man does that hurt. It’s hard not to take it personally, especially when you’ve invested so much. It was especially hard when Curly seemed to prefer me for a little while…I felt awful because Nutella had carried him and nursed him and he didn’t have the same draw to her at that time. But, as others have already said, it wavers a lot, especially as they get older. I know that doesn’t make it any easier NOW.

    You already mentioned in a comment that you need to build in more special time with him, and more fun, relaxing times. That’s really important, and probably how I created such a great bond with Curly. I made sure to be super silly, super positive and super nurturing with him (not always of course, but those times stick) I’m also big on discipline and I actually think he respects me and tries to please me because of that…I’m definitely more of a hard-ass than my wife, but that hasn’t lessened my bond with Curly and may have increased it except for times when he’s looking for ‘babying’ lol.

    Don’t be hard on yourself about your jealousy or your jerky comment. These are hard waters to navigate. But he’ll come around, promise. Keep your eyes on the prize of a sweet toddler who lavishes you with affection/appreciation, because he’ll get there eventually.

  9. Ah, yes, I’ve been there. Just about 15 minutes ago, actually. Since Lyn started a commute that has her away one night a week, it seems like Ira (who is about 2.5) has many more moments of feeling really really pissed off that I’m not Lyn. So this morning was my turn to get him up and he screamed at me for 15 minutes that he wanted her instead of me and that he didn’t want me.

    It does hurt more I think because of our lack of genetic connection because when he screams and screams for Lyn, I start to doubt my relationship with him. And then I get angry, and start to feel more like a toddler myself than a mother.

    [I wrote the above at about 6am and finally got back to the rest of my comment :)]

    I wish I had a magic bullet that would make it stop — I’d gladly share! But I don’t. I do believe that talking about it helps, because at least then we don’t have to feel so alone with the feelings. So as everyone else here has said — thanks for sharing, because I’m glad not to be alone. I also have been trying a practice lately when I get angry with Ira (or with my older daughter) of counting to 5 and reminding myself that I don’t want to be angry. It usually helps a little bit.

    I also know that it can screw with the whole family — I find that I get angry at my wife as well as my son. I have found it absolutely vital to have alone time with Ira because, as you say, when it’s just the two of us it is so much easier. So grab all that you can.

    You obviously know that you have to keep getting in there and cherishing those wonderful moments, and that you have to keep trying through all the shitty moments too, but also know that all of us out here are cheering for you, that we know it’s hard and sucky and no fair (!!), and you should feel free to throw a tantrum with us any old time 🙂

  10. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I read it. At 8.5 months, the turtles are just barely old enough to start expressing these kind of preferences. And as the mom with the milk boobs, they are typically expressed for me. The other day after being at work for 8 hours, I walked int he door and Tiny giggled and crawled over to me with glee. It made my heart burst with joy. So I can only imagine how it made my wife (who had been with him for the last 3 hours) feel. These things are tough and so valuable to talk about.

  11. i see signs of this looming in our future and hate that there’s nothing i can do.

    temporary reprieve is that since bunny is currently scared of strangers, dragon has to know she is special to him. he cries when anyone but the two of us hold him but often also when we hold him and then i can stop the crying with a boob.

    but i think my wife feels your pain. it sucks.

  12. Here is something I don’t typically share with anyone but cat and our therapist – I have the same problem with my daughter. Because I work out of the home all day and cat works from home while our nanny watches the kids all day button and I don’t get very much time together. When I come home she will guys and fight when I pick her up and when I let her go she happily goes right back to our nannys lap and sits and plays contentedly. The hurt, rejection and rage I feel during those times is like nothing I have ever felt. It makes me want to fire my nanny on the spot and because I can’t do that I often lash out at her in other ways (not to her face mind you, just behind her back. Its me at my worst for sure). I guess my point is that I understand and sympathize. Cat never understands why I get so upset. She tries to talk me out of it and trivializes it so I just want to tell you that it is perfectly normal to feel the way you do. It does hurt and make you feel insecure. With all that said though, I know that boy loves you more than life and I have a feeling that as he gets older and his needs are less primal, he’ll come to depend on and appreciate you in a much more complex way. Your relationship will be based on more abstract things like humor and play or his ability to confide in you things that he can’t tell Uno.

    Sending a hug your way.

  13. I’m so deeply grateful you wrote this. It’s something I’m absolutely *terrified* of doing as the NGP. I’m so sensitive that I KNOW my feelings will be hurt by my child who will prefer the mama with the milk over the other one. Thank you for posting, and I’ll try to keep this all in mind when I’m faced with the situation!

  14. Obviosuly this is well delayed from your original post date but I just recently discovered your blog. I am currently struggling with some of these same issues! It made me feel so much to know someone else went through this and I’m not alone or a bad person. Thank you for being so honest!

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