Separation Anxiety Not Just Kids Stuff

Our youngest child suffered severe separation anxiety going into kindergarten. It is a disorder in which a child becomes excessively anxious when separated from parents.

I tried to assure him that he would make friends and learn many new things. That didn’t impress him, so I told him, “Well, we’ll just take it one day at a time.”

He misunderstood and interpreted the one day at a time as he only had to go one day, and if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to go back.

The next day I met him outside the school with his brother and sister. They were excited about their first day at school. I asked our youngest child, “How was your day?” “Good,” he said. Then he proceeded to tell me about his day. “Great, I said. Tomorrow will be even better.”

He let go of my hand and stood solemnly still. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “You said I only had to go one day!”

His brother and sister laughed at him, but his distress was genuine

We understand it when our children experience separation anxiety. But what do we call it when we want to hold on to them when it is time to go off to college or their new adult life?

“Empty nest” syndrome is a term popularized in the 1970s to describe the prolonged and significantly distressing identity crisis, loss, and emotional reactions that some parents experience when their last child moves out of the family home and becomes more independent.2

Parents feel pride and gratitude when their children continue their education and become mature, independent adults. Still, it can be tough to pack their bags and watch them go.

Like many other moms, I experienced it. Even though I worked and had a busy life, being a mom was what I loved the most. Of course, my family and friends laughed and teased me about it, and I worked hard to shrug it off, but my sadness was genuine.

Our daughter was the first and probably the most difficult for me. We struggled through the years of her tugging for independence, and when it seemed we were meeting on even ground, it was time for her to go.

The college she chose was only two hours away, but it seemed like a world away from me. I fought back the tears when we took her to school, and to some extent, she did, too.

We unloaded boxes and placed them in the small dorm room, void of personality, with only two single beds, two dressers, and a desk.

I wondered how she would survive since she was used to having her own space. Later as we stood in line for what seemed like hours to register, I kept having these flashbacks of her childhood and all the things I should have done. This long list kept appearing in my mind of things I hoped I had prepared her for and things I wish I had told her.

Suddenly everything in life that had seemed so important became very small compared to the time I had spent with my daughter. The feeling repeated itself when our two sons went away to school. It was like a hole inside me, and the emptiness grew larger with every goodbye.

Leaving home for the first time can also cause separation anxiety in young adults. But, surprisingly, it didn’t happen with our youngest son, who didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Instead, it was our middle son.

He did things at school that was very unlike him in the beginning. For example, He would call home every few nights to say he was considering quitting.

It is great to finally be free without mom and dad looking over their shoulders, but they are also leaving their home and friends.

Our son’s problem was he was shy, and making new friends was difficult. After he made friends and got involved in his classes, he couldn’t talk enough about how great it was to be in college.

I have found that parents have to do the same thing. We must make new friends and try new things when our children leave home. For me, it was writing.

Writing about my children, the medical world, the wonder of God’s creation, and life, in general, is something I love. But, for others, it may be just changing the bedroom into something else or going back to school.

My daughter went through the empty nest syndrome three years when our granddaughter left for college. I was there for her even though she was sure I couldn’t possibly understand how she felt. Her son graduated this year, and we smiled at each other because we understood.


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Deana Landers
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I have had many roles in life
Pastor’s Wife , Mom/Nana , Nurse/Health Educator, Writer , Christian Speaker
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing stories, either in my head or in my journal.

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