It doesn’t matter where you’re going or how long you’ll be gone. You could be stepping out of the room to go to the bathroom for a 35.7-second pee. You could be leaving for an 10-hour work day. Or you could be running out for a quick errand while your neighbor watches your child. No matter where you’re going or how long you’ll be gone, your toddler’s reaction is the same. His lower lip juts out, his forehead creases, and his mouth quivers. A tear forms in the corner of his eye as his arms reach for you.
Then the wailing starts.
You know it’s normal. It means he’s bonded with you. He feels connected. He knows you’re the most important person in his life, the person who feeds him, loves him, and takes care of him, the person he needs and loves most in the world. It means he loves you.
But it still feels awful. Because no matter how much he needs you, sometimes you have to get away from him. And since he has no sense of time or proportion, any time you’re leaving feels to him like you’re leaving forever.
In that moment when he’s reaching for you with tears streaming down his face, it feels like forever to you, too. It feels like you’re the worst mom who’s ever lived. It feels like you’re doing everything wrong. No matter how important the reason is that you need to leave him, you feel guilty. Selfish. Evil.
You hate that feeling, so you try to ignore it. You push it to the back of your mind, telling yourself that you don’t have a choice, that it’s okay for you to leave, that everyone needs a break, that you trust the person you’re leaving him with, that he’ll be fine as soon as you’re gone. All of which is true.
But there’s a better way to handle this awful feeling of guilt.
Instead of mitigating it, embrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t push it down. Don’t try to make yourself feel better. Instead of turning away from his crying face, study it. Instead of pushing away his reaching arms, reach back for one last hug. Instead of trying to forget this feeling of being needed so desperately, imprint it on your memory forever.
Because someday, all this will change. Someday you’ll have a three year old who snaps that he doesn’t want to be friends with you anymore before he stomps to his room and slams the door. Someday you’ll have an eight year old who tells you you’re stupid and don’t know anything before he runs outside to play with his friends. Someday you’ll have a twelve year old who will push you away in embarrassment when you try to hug him at school drop off. Someday you’ll have a kid who wants nothing to do with you.
But in that moment, you’ll still have this one. You’ll be able to close your eyes and see the puffy lip, the streaming tears, the sweet reaching arms of a toddler who thinks the whole world revolves around you. And you’ll know then that it’s okay. That the child who’s pushing you away now will come back to you. You’ll know that no matter what cruel things he says to you, deep down he loves you. He needs you. He trusts you.
So you won’t be hurt when he pushes you away. You’ll be thrilled. You won’t think of it as a sea change; you’ll recognize it for a temporary burst of independence that will probably be all-too-fleeting. Instead of worrying that he hates you, you’ll enjoy the brief separation. You’ll sit down and put your feet up. You’ll get a glass of wine. You’ll draw a hot bath and pick up a good book. You’ll savor every second of your time alone.
Because you know it won’t last. All too soon there’ll be a knock on the door and a little voice saying, “Mommy?”
And you’ll smile, knowing things are back to normal. You’ll close your book, gulp your wine, and go back to being Supermom.subscribe.