It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Separation Anxiety v.2

Emily sits atop her mummy’s 8-month tummy, chubby legs straddling the bulge of her immanent sibling, cheek nestled into the crook of mummy’s neck. Oh, the sweetness. Mama and I chat of this and that – notably, their plans for Emily’s part-time attendance once Sibling has arrived.

Two days a week or three? Which do I prefer? Will two days be too disruptive for Emily – would three give better continuity? Do I care which days? Does it have to be the same days each week? Will we contract for three days or do pay-as-you-go?

We discuss the pros and cons of each possibility.

During all this time, Emily retains her pose, which, as mentioned above, is very, very sweet, but the longer it goes on, the more I know that mama’s in for trouble. Normally, you see, Emily would snuggle for a bit, then wriggle to get down and on with her day, bored of grown-up inertia. However, Mary has been on holiday, Emily has just had two solid weeks with Mama, and we’re all out of the routine. Emily, I suspect, is not going to head into her day without a fight.

And finally – “Okay, sweetie. Mama has to go to work. Give mama a kiss?”

“Nooo.” It’s not loud, but it’s filled with pathos. “Nooo.”

“Well, then, mama will give YOU a kiss.” And mama does. (Which is very, very good mama-ing. She didn’t coo and try to coax away Emily’s reluctance – which would only give it power and extra-strength durability. Instead, she exudes cheerful and upbeat confidence, modelling and thereby encouraging the desired behaviour. Well done!)

“And now,” says mama, “you can say ‘hi’ to Mary.” And with my assistance, we peel leech Emily off mama, and set her astride my hip.

“NOOoo.” (Which only goes to show that even Excellent Parenting doesn’t always achieve the desired results every time.)

“NOOooo.” A little louder, and Emily’s famed lower lip makes its appearance. No one does The Lip like Emily. (It’s really very sweet. When she’s aiming for severe, it rather detracts from the intent, but when she’s aiming for attention, it works awfully well. All we adults know better, of course, but once in a while, we crack under the strain… Which is not to say The Lip isn’t a sincere expression of a genuine feeling. It’s just a very Useful Sincere Expression. Who says toddlers can’t multi-task?)

It doesn’t work this morning, though. I plant a kiss on top of her head, say goodbye to mama, and begin to turn into the living room.

Emily pulls out all the stops. She turns her torso to her mama, she stretches her arms full out and grasps great chunks of air in her clutching fingers. “Mamaaaaa! Nooooo!” Big, fat tears roll down her fat little cheeks. Oh me, oh my.

I cast a sympathetic look to mama and sweep the child out of sight. Mama, distressed but wise, gives me a wavering smile and leaves.

(Anyone made too miserable by this picture? Anyone wondering why Mama is not comforting her child?

It’s because Mary has A Rule for drop-offs. A pretty-near carved-in-stone Rule (a rule whose exceedingly rare exceptions are determined only by Mary) which says, “Once You Have Handed Your Child Over to Mary, The Child Will NOT be Handed Back.” Because, when you think about it, that back-and-forth thing? Where you hand over the baby, and the baby cries, and you take back the baby, and the baby calms, and you hand over the baby, and the baby cries, and you… THAT back-and-forth thing?

It’s just not good for anyone. Not for you. Not for the caregiver. Not for the baby.

Everyone in this situation needs clear parameters. It makes for much less anxiety all round. So, once the baby is in my arms, the parent’s role is to say goodbye as cheerfully as they can manage.)

I give Emily another kiss and a squeeze, stroke some tears off her round pink cheek.

“Oh, Emily. What a thing to do to poor mama.” This really is how I see it, you know. I know Emily’s feelings are passionately real. She is not faking this for the effect. BUT – Emily’s feelings are also transitory. In another three minutes, she will not feel this way. In another five minutes, she’ll be playing happily, all trauma forgotten. But mama, poor mama, will carry that last image of her daughter with her for the rest of the day. The wailing, the reaching, the tears – her unhappy baby being swept away unwilling. Who’s really being traumatized here?

I’ll tell you this: It ain’t Emily.

“Okay, sweetie.” Who is now wailing on my hip. “Want a snack?” Most days we read a book when this happens. Today I happen to have a mild sore throat. Crackers are easier.

“Yaaaaah.” Tears, sob, sniff.

Off to the kitchen, back to the dining room, where the girl, sitting on my lap and still wailing, is presented with a cracker. She looks up through her tears.


Aaaawwwww! Even in her misery, she maintains her manners. She even manages a smile when, for no reason Emily can fathom, Mary busts out laughing. And, as I knew would happen, by the time the cracker is finished, she’s cheerful and chatty and ready to join the fray.

And that’s when I called mama, who, given that not quite 4 minutes have elapsed, had not yet even arrived at work. I hold the phone out over the tots as they trundle about the kitchen playing with blocks. I let her hear the happy chatter. Anna even gives a well-timed shout of laughter.

“Oh, she’s laughing!” Mama is giddy with relief.

(Yes, I know it was Anna, not Emily. Any good reason she needs to know that? Accuracy would be an unkindness.)

And we both proceed with our days, me to the now-happy crew of tots, and Emily’s mama with a different, better picture in her head.

September 5, 2007 - Posted by | daycare, Emily, individuality, parents


  1. How sweet to ensure that Mama had a good day, too!

    Comment by LoryKC | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  2. I completely agree with your Drop Off Rule. It’s the only way it works, I learned that early on. Every once in a while, I hesitate for some reason or other, and all hell breaks loose.

    Nice of you to call. It does ruin my day when I have to leave the Boy in tears.

    Comment by nomotherearth | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  3. Oh, that was very kind of you, Mary!

    I have a rule for my daycare dropoffs, too. I stop at the door of the room. The room is HER place, where she has fun with her friends, and she goes in there without me. All hugs take place in the halland then she is scooted (or more often, runs happily) through the doorway. On the few occasions when it’s tougher, we sit and chat for a moment in the hall, then I hand her off.

    Comment by kittenpie | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  4. Oh Mary, you have no idea how good your timing is on this post! I dropped my two year old off at preschool for the first time yesterday and it did not go over well with her. I was miserable all day and cried so much I gave myself a headache. Of course, her teacher said SHE calmed down about 20 minutes after I left and had a great day. Thanks for your advice!

    Comment by Kellie | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  5. You are an awesome and wise care giver. Good job!

    Comment by Carissa | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  6. Lovely story with a warming ending. Except, I couldn’t help thinking of myself at 8 months pregnant. The last thing I’d have wanted was to trundle off to work. Life’s so tough for mums of little children nowadays.

    Comment by z | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  7. I have always followed that rule with drop-offs. But LMD STILL does the lip & tears thing fairly regularly. As each evening when I come to pick her up she wails that sh doesn’t want to come home and that she wants to stay at school I have no real worries about the day care!

    But that vision of your child raching out to you and sobbing as you leave is something that really ruins your day:-(

    I have been known to hide outside the (open) window until she thinks I’ve gone properly and starts payig & giggling!

    grrrrrrrr. manipulative little ********!!!!

    It’s easier to be hard with the third though – I wasn’t so sanguine about it with Mstr A – or even LMB who would refuse to feed if I wasn’t there!

    Comment by juggling mother | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  8. What a great post. There is nothing worse for my morale than handing over a wailing Jeffrey to his teacher and then 7 hours later picking up a wailing Jeffrey because he wanted to play longer.
    I spend all day feeling bad about leaving him and then annoyed (just a little) when he doesn’t want me when I get there.
    It’s such a pleasant thought that he’s happy and smiling when I leave. My daycare will occasionally take pictures of the kids and so I get to see how happy he is after I’ve left.

    Comment by Dani | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  9. Excellent rule, and Kittenpie, I’m going to use your parental addition, starting tomorrow. Since Maya starts a new class/classroom, it’s perfect timing!

    Mary, I especially love your calling the “then I’ll kiss you,” part Excellent Parenting. It’s exactly what I do to Maya, and that leaves me feeling all warm and fuzzy to get a Mary P compliment (indirectly, but still)!

    Comment by Allison | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  10. Lorykc: I see this as one of the advantages of a home daycare: the more personal relationship between caregiver and parent. With daycare centres, the staff turnover is higher.

    The other half of this equation is that I am older than most of my parents. I am not their peer. It took me a while, but I’ve settled nicely into the role of being a mother to “my” mothers. Not the dads. Either they don’t need it, or they’re embarrassed by it (or to admit to the need of reassurance, perhaps?). (Or they find me attractive, not motherly. Been known to happen.)

    But I do mother my mothers. Who needs mothering more, I figure?

    NME: Hesitation spells disaster, doesn’t it? It took me about three years to see clearly that I needed to be directive about drop-offs. Of course the parent can hold and chat with the child as long as they feel the need (within reason), but once the child has moved from parents’ arms to mine, there is no going back. Once I figured out to make that a Rule, drop-offs got soooo much simpler.

    Kittenpie: Excellent thought! I have that rule, too. The parents stay in the entry. They are not to come into the living or dining rooms. (Well, they sometimes do after daycare hours, like when we have a party, but never at the beginning of the day or during working hours.)

    It helps the child so much to have a clear delineation of who ‘owns’ which turf. Additionally, when the child isn’t sure who is the adult in charge, things become so much more fraught. Too often, in well-meaning attempts to soothe and reassure, parents only reinforce the idea that the child can’t cope, and confuse the boundaries. Brief, contained, and cheerful drop-offs with clear transition markers are best.

    Hmmm… I think we have the kernel of a post here…

    Kellie: Drop-offs. Keep them short, keep them clear, keep them happy. And by short, I mean SHORT, particularly if the child is uncertain. Two minutes short. The longer the uncertainty continues, the greater the strain on the child. When you leave, taking with you a) the possibility of leaving and b) the tension between his/her two worlds, much of the strain and uncertainty leaves, too. (Am I saying that a parent who lingers tends to make matters worse? Yes, I am.)

    “Keep them happy” does not mean the child must be happy, of course. That’s outside your control. It means YOU be (or playact) happy. When you act calm and assured, you let your child know you trust their capabilities. Your confidence will, in time, be contagious.

    Carissa: Thank you!

    Z: I agree. Emily’s mother is looking forward to her full year’s maternity leave, though, so there is a silver lining to her large and burdensome cloud! I do pity my American readers who work till the very end and then get a whopping 4 – 6 weeks, most of them, before heading back. (There is no paid leave in most areas. They get to take 12 weeks unpaid leave without losing their jobs. Aren’t you just bowled over by the generosity?) Blows me away. You haven’t recovered physically from the birth yet, you’re still getting up three or four or millions of times a night, and your baby is SO LITTLE. It’s barbaric. Ugh.

    I’m happy to pay more taxes if it means there’s some compassion in the system.

    Rant over.

    JM: Sounds like LMD just doesn’t like transitions. Doesn’t matter which end of the day – she fights them!

    I once had a parent whose child would wail and sob, and the parent wanted to stay longer and longer to comfort him. (And it was a DAD this time. Rare.) I suggested he leave, and then wait in the entry. Of course, the child stopped crying the instant the door shut. The very instant. As he had been doing for weeks, but dad just couldn’t imagine it was so.

    I called dad a few minutes later on his cell phone. Dad’s response?

    “I’ve been HAD!”

    Uh-huh. Things were much better thereafter. 🙂

    Dani: Wailing when you leave, wailing when you pick him up. No pleasing the boy, is there?? Though I suspect that wailing when you leave and sobbing with relief when you picked him up would be worse. (This is me, ever able to find the silver lining.) I’m glad you get to see that he is indeed happy between those two rather moist ends of his day!

    Allison: Isn’t the blogosphere great? You learn so much out here!

    If that’s what you do with Maya, you did just receive a MaryP compliment. Well done! (And knowing that a compliment from me makes you all warm and fuzzy makes ME feel all warm and fuzzy.)

    Isn’t the blogosphere great?? 😀

    Comment by MaryP | September 5, 2007 | Reply

  11. I know! I have been known to send a camera phone picture to the parent a few minutes after they have driver away of their child laughing and smiling!

    Comment by jenny uk | September 6, 2007 | Reply

  12. Oh Mary! Thank you for this!! I’ve been saying this for as long as my kids have been in daycare. I’m going to send it to all of my friends who think daycare is barbaric because of that one minute of crying.
    I can’t convince them that it’s certain that within 5 minutes the kids will be engrossed in something, completely forgetting about me — and chances are when I come to pick them up, they won’t want to LEAVE!
    I see those parents who hang on for 15, 20, even 30 minutes in the mornings, and their kids are just miserable. It seems to me that all that babying just confirms the little one’s fears that being at daycare is bad. “Bye honey, I love you. Have fun and I’ll see you after nap!” is so much easier and more pleasant, imo. For ALL of us.

    Comment by Dawn | September 7, 2007 | Reply

  13. It is a wonderful thing that you stick to your rules, and that you eased Emily’s mother’s worries.

    Comment by mamacita tina | September 7, 2007 | Reply

  14. Oh Mary, I love your drop off policy. We started back to bible study last week and drop off with my 4 year old was a long drawn out affair. Mainly because the TEACHER insisted that I stay and make him comfortable before leaving. I have always been a kiss, hug and run kind of mom. My 6 year old for 4 sraight years did the tears, hysterics, needing to be held back for the 30 seconds it took for me to get down the hall and then was fine. My youngest has never done this but really doesn’t like large groups (okay, groups over 2 others) and didn’t want to go. However, he had no choice. He was safe, he was in good care, he had a bin of Legos and a table of playdoh and other children to play with. There were THREE teachers in the room and not one would take him as I peeled him off me. He reattached 3 times before I INSISTED that really he was fine and I was GOOD with leaving him in such state. I should print this post off and hand it to them with him next week!

    Comment by Wendy | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  15. Oh I so wish the daycare my kiddo goes to shared your philosophy! very few staff members at the centre have been willing to do the peel & distract technique. *sigh* Finally worked around the way-too-clingy-and-emotional drop-offs by having my girlfriend drop my kiddo off with hers in the morning & I pick both kiddos up in the afternoon; much nicer for EVERYONE involved!

    Comment by Tori | September 14, 2007 | Reply

  16. Yup. We walk into the classroom, say hi to his teachers, and then I peel D off me, as in prying fingers off my clothing, and away I go, amidst his hysterical screaming. It is by far the worst part of my day and the time when I feel the most primal about my offspring. But he is fine. I am bad at transitions, and it’s no surprise they are tough for him, too. But it’s nice to see one’s feelings–all of them–validated on one blog post. 🙂

    Comment by stefanierj | November 7, 2007 | Reply

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