Mental Health,  Motherhood,  Productivity,  Self Care

Parental Separation Anxiety: Why Summer Camp Was A Must For Me

When a good friend of mine reached out to me with the idea that our daughters would go to summer camp together this year, I was over the moon ecstatic. My first thought: this would be the perfect preparation for kindergarten, and so far at day one I realize that…I have a lot of work to do, not so much my baby girl.

I didn’t realize just how severe my parental separation anxiety was because up to this point I’ve never had to walk away and believe that strangers will keep my daughter safe, and the situation is more emotional than I ever imagined.

The way parenthood has played out for me, and my husband so far has been a dream come true. Thankfully, I’ve been able to work from home and go to school online, while also working part-time on nights, so when I’m not with my daughter, I know my husband is, or at least our family and friends and I can get updates whenever I need them. She’s never had to be in daycare other than at the gym where I’m just 100 feet away at most. I was able to do all of our preschool lessons from home to prepare her for school; and when it comes to events or date nights, loved ones have always helped, so I always felt sure that she was with those I trust. With this all being said, you’ll understand that separation isn’t an easy subject for me whatsoever, and this “One Day They’ll Leave The Nest,” crash course is killing me.

We all have to face these fears and, some handle this better than others whether it’s just a few weeks after birth, months, or years because of so many reasons including work, play, or even sanity. We reach a point where we have to separate and, it’s not always easy.

Sunday night, as I way to prepare and calm down, I was on top of everything. Her lunch packed (I’ll be writing about my healthy & whole lunch packs next week, so keep a lookout), all of her belongings marked with her initials, clothes laid out, sunblock and bug spray ready to go; the morning was set to be perfect. Anxiety tends to make me overprepare and overcompensate –all that anxious energy put to good use or else I’ll freak out. I also had a good idea of where we were going in the morning, but I made sure to set my timers early that way I could leave well ahead of time; because, if there’s one thing I’ve learned by experience it’s that I always get the address wrong. Oh, and I did…such a mess.

My husband and I reassured her that she was going to have a blast as we were tucking her into bed, even though, I’m in my head worried about her recently rolled ankle and insane mosquito allergy- while still convincing myself with every ounce of energy that she’ll be okay. That’s when I notice the tears welling up in her eyes and I had to hold my shit together.

My precious baby girl is five. She’s remarkably innocent and sweet, and up to this point, we’re all she knows. So the moment she tells me that she doesn’t want to go and that she wants to stay home with me, it takes everything I have not to scoop her up, squeeze her as tight as I can, and tell her “OF COURSE, I GOT YOU, BABY!” But knowing that this experience is precisely what both she and I need, and it will help her as an individual; instead, I lay down with her and reassure her that she’s going to have the time of her life because I know she will. I refused to let my fears get into her head.

Ohhhh the fears. I’ve always been hyper-aware of my surroundings and one that is regularly prepared to take on and handle worst-case scenarios. I don’t trust people easily, and now that I have my daughter, everyone’s even more suspect. Not to be offensive, because 90% of the time I’m sure they’re all fantastic people, but the truth is there’s a lot of messed up people in this world and I won’t be blind to it -I can’t. My Mama Bear instincts that want to keep her close and fend off all danger are continually going, and the fact of leaving her all by herself, into the open arms of people I have no clue about scares the hell out of me.

If I’m not there,

who’s going to protect her with every fraction of their being?

Some people call it overprotective or being a helicopter mom. That doesn’t bother me one bit. Yes, I am incredibly protective, and I’m happy being that well aware and involved mother. Am I there in the summer camp parking lot having my own awkward stakeout with a pair of binoculars and thermos? No. However, the thought did cross my mind…

That’s my one and only baby girl, and I was not prepared for this regardless of how many pep talks I gave myself. As everyone suggested, I’ve been keeping myself busy. I drove directly to the gym after dropping her off and assumed that a good sweat would cheer me up and get my head somewhere else, but it only made it worse. I couldn’t even put on my Girl Power station and kick butt because I felt awful, and listening to that type of music, and being peppy just felt like a disservice to the circumstances. The last thing I felt like doing was celebrating, so I put on my hoodie and slowly moved about the gym going from one workout to another until a few hours passed me by -being ridiculously sad and mopey. On my way home I realized that I hated how quiet it was. I had already used all of my “phone-your-hubby” lifelines and quickly realized that talking to pets and houseplants wasn’t for me.

Day one has been a tough one but I know it’s going to be better. It’s just that I haven’t had to experience this separation yet. Truthfully, I’m glad I am even if it’s incredibly hard for me to step back and let her go, and trust that it’s all going to be okay.

Even though I’m “over” protective and utterly involved in my daughter’s life I know I don’t want to be forever. I know I want her to move on and figure out how to protect herself. My number one parenting goal is to raise her so that she will be a well rounded and intelligent human being. A girl who believes that she is capable of doing anything and everything while knowing that I am right here supporting her every move -even it’s from a distance.

I may be home crying randomly, and quite often, but I know this feeling won’t last forever (at least not to this magnitude), and that itself breaks my heart a little bit. My daughter is growing up, and I think that’s what’s making this day harder than ever because I want her to grow up, and I want her to blossom into an extremely independent woman, I just love her so much that it pains me to be away because that is MY JOB. The day that I don’t care that she leaves my side and goes on without me…please send me to a specialist because there is something wrong or I’ve been body snatched. I will always worry when she’s away, and a part of me will still wish she didn’t have to grow up so quickly but I take comfort in the fact that it will get more natural, and that’s why I needed to do this.

I needed summer camp so that I could take that first step and prepare myself not only for kindergarten but the reality that is she WILL grow up into that strong-willed, independent, and amazing young woman that she is. I’m just so happy to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way or has these type of fears, that gives me comfort without a doubt.

So many women experience separation anxiety because this reality is difficult. These are our babies. They are the loves of our lives -how could we not feel these powerful emotions at some point regardless of when the first time comes. It’s nothing to feel ashamed about and I dare someone to shame a mother for feeling so deeply -it won’t be pretty.

I’m happy to love so much that it hurts, that’s who I am as a mother, and I don’t know how to be any different so all I can do is learn and figure out ways to make the process easier.

The first step was recognizing my feelings.  Oh, was that was an easy one. Haha. Hot mess, right off the bat.

The second step was talking to other parents who understand or have felt the same way in the past. Thankfully I have a fantastic group of women and mothers in my life who reassure me that everything is okay and didn’t make me feel like I was overreacting. I love you all!

Now, the hard part, keeping myself busy. I’ve planned my week out and it’s filled to the brim with meal prepping, deep cleaning, writing, and working (this article helped A LOT), lunches with friends, and some of my favorite activities to do that are hard with her -like going for a long run in nature keeping any pace that I want. I can’t remember the last time I could do that bright and early.

Now, I know this isn’t going to be easy, but just like every amazing mother before me, I will get through it. 

Maybe after this I will, in fact, be more prepared for kindergarten; I’ll let you know come August.

 

 

 

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