Don’t leave me this way – on nursery blues and separation anxiety

January 8, 2013

Being happy at nursery, and her new bagIt’s all change in our household at the moment; I’m returning to the world of work, which means this week is all about settling the youngest member in at the nursery that she’ll be attending for a couple of days a week.

I’ve written before about parenting worry, but my worries since becoming a parent have covered a wide spectrum, from the potential and possible (illness, the pram falling down the gap on the tube) to the ever-so-slightly irrational (what if a heron flies through the window and plucks a sleeping Eliza out of her cot?*).

Yet I’ve never really worried about the idea of leaving her at nursery –  she’s always been pretty robust, independent, fine with non-parent people and loves playing with other children. Actually securing her place was stressful – seriously, do not get me started on London nursery waiting lists, or the fees! – and I knew I’d have to man-up to deal with it, but we thought she would be just fine.

Over Christmas, Eliza did start crying whenever she couldn’t see me or Alex, but we put it down to teething / colds / nap disruption etc etc. And the first nursery session yesterday went well; I envisaged today being more of the same, just with me making a quick exit.

This morning she was most decidedly Not Herself, but I thought a change of scenery would cheer her up. I was wrong! I put her down, she cried. We played with some toys and I tentatively backed away, she cried. Her key worker tried to entertain her, she cried. Even lunch didn’t cheer her up. The staff told me I could leave her, but it was so not what I wanted to do when she was so unusually upset. Already feeling very emotional about the whole thing anyway, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

My practical side tells me that of course it’s going to be fine, she’s having a one-off off-day, if she has separation anxiety then she needs to be with other people, it’s natural for her to be upset and the staff are skilled at dealing with it, I’m only working part-time, she’s teething, I’m tired.

But there’s nothing practical about the emotional side of parenting is there? The thought of her crying when I’m not there is killing me. How do you deal with this? Help!

* I’m not kidding. No idea why a heron though, let’s just blame post-birth hormones shall we?


  • Selina

    January 8, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    There’s a hella lot of guilt and tears that go into leaving them! And there’s no magic cure. You really do just have to grin and bear it as do they. It does only take a few days for them to get settled but the more you worry and fuss, the more they play on it. I just left both Emilia and Marianne very quickly with a cheery wave and no looking back. As soon as they work out you come back, it’s ok.

    Then you have to deal with the pain of them not caring that you’re leaving them which is when you learn in parenting, you can never win!

    1. gillian

      January 8, 2013 at 5:04 pm

      I probably should have done this today! I was planning on making a quick exit without her seeing, but she was just so upset. She is actually a lot better after a nap and Nurofen, so it must be teeth. Will try again tomorrow. Thank you for the reassurance xx It is SO HARD though isn’t it? And I know I’ve said this before but your baby names are just brilliant 🙂

  • Cathy

    January 8, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Aw, good luck Gill. Very relevant and timely for me as Cherry has started screaming blue murder if Noel or I leave her. It took me completely by surprise when I dropped her at my sister-in-law’s to go to the dentist and she cried the ENTIRE HOUR. My poor sister-in-law! Cherry’s totally used to her and she loves her cousins, so I was very surprised.

    I’m leaving her again with my sister-in-law tomorrow to go to a few work meetings. The thought of her crying the entire time (because she’s the kind of baby who WILL cry the entire time. You know how people say ‘oh they’ll just stop after five minutes?’ Nope. Not my girl!) is horrible, and the thought of my poor sister-in-law having to put up with it is also horrible as she has two children of her own – but there’s no alternative. I need to go to the odd meeting to make a living. That’s just the way it has to be.

    Unemotional I know, but there’s no point tearing myself into pieces about it. It won’t kill her.

    Anyway, nursery is a big change for Eliza and I guarantee you she’ll know more about what’s going on than you think. Yesterday was a nice break – today she probably realised ‘hang on, something’s going on here’…she’s only little, bless her. I’m sure she’ll settle down but until then I reckon just remind yourself you don’t have a choice, and it won’t do her any lasting harm! As Selina says, soon she’ll barely bat an eyelid when you head off and then you’ll be in bits about that too 🙂 Good luck xx

  • Anna

    January 8, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Oh it’s the worst feeling isn’t it. We are on our second nursery (house move) and going through it all over again. We’ve had everything from our little one ‘punishing’ whoever dropped him off at nursery (by ignoring that parent, lashing out, only wanting the other parent…) to screaming fits on arrival after a year of being hugely content there. We are comforted by the nursery / both nurseries that this is very normal. Most kids settle within seconds (I sneak a peek through the window and it’s true of my Max!) – their advice is that it takes about the same time for a child to recover from being left as it takes for goodbyes to be said. So drag it out and they are distressed for longer. Other tips we’ve had are to stay a little when you collect them, make them see it’s an environment you like too (and so you learn friends names so you can refer to them at home). And always explain, regardless of age that you/daddy/granny will be collecting them later so they know you go but always come back…

    It’s the crappest feeling to leave a crying child in nursery but eventually they don’t give two hoots that you’ve gone, they just want to crack on with their busy day 😉

  • fritha

    January 9, 2013 at 10:12 am

    my NCT friend wasn’t going to return to work, then out of the blue she was offered a job she couldn’t turn down, within a week she had to get her head around sending her little girl to Nursery. She had never even left her with her husband let alone anyone else so it was a big deal..turns out she LOVES it. I’m not saying this is the case with you but I know with me and my friend we have a tendency to multitask parent, I’m saying ‘wow look at this!’ whilst emptying the dishwasher/replying to emails. At nursery she to do stuff my friend was just to busy for most of the time like painting/singing/storytime all day long. Now she leaps out of my friends arms and into the nursery workers as soon as she see’s her! I’m not saying its going to be easy and mum guilt is a terrible thing but I think you will both be fine. Good luck!! xx

  • Charlotte

    January 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    I went back to work at the beginning of November and I have to admit leaving my daughter at nursery was one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever done. I think before nursery, the longest time Betsy and I had had apart was about three hours. It was difficult for the both of us, but once I had left her every morning, Betsy would very quickly settle in and enjoyed being at nursery and has formed a really lovely bond with her key worker. When I returned to pick her up however, she’d realised I’d not been around for the last ten hours and burst into tears. This past week she’s still a bit upset in the morning, but is happy as Larry in the evenings and will run up for a cuddle and be in the best mood ever. She’s also become a much more rounded person, if that makes any sense. Being around lots of other children for that amount of time has given her a huge developmental spurt and that has been amazing to watch. Also, the days I’m not at work and am with Betsy feel much more special in a weird way too. I’m really not sure if that has made any sense at all.

    Basically, it’s an emotional time, but you and Eliza will be fine and she will love nursery. Good luck!

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