Separation Anxiety: It’s Not Just for Kids

Do you remember the first time your child spent the night away from home? An over-nighter with Grandma and Grandpa doesn’t count. I’m talking about the sleepover at a friend’s house, that milestone event that pushed your child’s independence level up another notch… right along with your separation anxiety.

Do you remember the feelings?

Packing a little suitcase with a Disney princess on the front, assuring her it’s going to be so fun, sneaking her favorite stuffed animal inside when she reluctantly says she won’t need it.

Then dropping her off and leaning in for the hug, which ends up being something quick and distracted and not even close to a hug because she’s got a full agenda and you’re not on it.

Then you find yourself sitting in a quiet house, adjusting to the solitude while watching the clock and wondering what she’s up to, hoping she’s outside playing on the swing set or inside playing restaurant, not spending the afternoon in front of the TV or on an iPad playing Candy Crush.

When the clock tells you it’s dinner time, you worry if she’ll eat because she’s kind of picky, and you wish you’d have thought to put snacks in her suitcase just in case.

Then the sun and moon switch places and the real test begins. We were kids once and we know nighttime is the worst time when you’re sleeping away from home, and we never forgot that feeling.

This time you’re the mom and suddenly you realize you may have a choice to make. What if your baby calls you to say goodnight…but really she’s calling because she is homesick? Will you be able to reassure her, so she can hang up feeling loved and secure and like she’s not a million miles away from you?

What if she asks to come home? Do you encourage her to stay, because you know if she stays this time it will be easier next time? Or do you assure her you’ll be there in 15 minutes–or less if no police are patrolling the streets between home and her?

But your phone doesn’t ring, and now you worry she may want to call but is too shy to ask if she can. Or maybe she’s trying to be the big girl you reminded her she was while you stuffed her favorite bedtime story in her suitcase.

Or, maybe she doesn’t want to call at all, because she’s too busy having fun and forgetting she has a mom whose been in her bedroom three times to rearrange the stuffed animals on her bed and straighten the pillows and tidy the books she won’t be reading before bed tonight.

So…maybe you should call her, you know, just to check in. Except what if she’s really fine, but your voice is a trigger and then she’s not and you ruin a perfectly good sleepover?

Do you remember those feelings?

Me, too.

It’s 10:45 p.m. and the first night of a semester-long sleepover for my daughter in a dorm room with a stranger who will hopefully become her friend. We packed the most necessary things in her life, including a stuffed grey elephant hidden beneath her clothes, and transferred three heavy totes to her dorm room. We lofted her bed like she wanted it and then hugged her good-bye while she was busy hanging twinkle lights to decorate her room. The distraction was good for all of us.

Now the house is quiet. As I become reacquainted with solitude, I can’t help but wonder how her day was, if she likes her roommate, if she’s anxious about sleeping in her new bed tonight, and if she’s going to call me.

But it’s almost 11:00 and I haven’t heard from her yet. I check my phone–no missed calls, 72% charged. I’ll wait a bit longer before going to bed.

Because I know she is fine. And even if she’s not, she’s a big girl.

So I can’t call. She’s not five. She’s 18. And this isn’t a sleepover. It’s college.

But…I can text. I shouldn’t…but I can’t resist.

Good day?

Yep! 🙂 I like my roommate the girls on our floor love our dorm room LOL got a thing so gotta go

Ok. Love you.

I watch the screen on my phone and wait for a reply. But it doesn’t come. Because she’s got a thing, and that’s good. I look at the clock one last time. I think she will sleep well tonight. Me, too.

How was your first sleepover experience as a mom? Do you have any tips for handling separation anxiety…both a mom’s and a child’s?



  1. Elizabeth Nash says:

    I guess all we can do is pray they remember their teachings from us & most of all let them know that we’re here for them no matter what. I’m going through that now with mine going off to college herself. I know she likes her roommate, yet, when I talk to her, her voice sounds different. So I ask myself, is she ok? Is she sleeping enough because the sound of her voice tells me to investigate like there’s something not quite right, maybe homesick, maybe she’s just trying to find her place in this new environment? So I ask… everything ok? Her voice is tired sounding, almost sad. So I ask her what she’s been up to these last couple of days. She recaps & we have a laugh, but wait, she’s not really laughing, just a quiet chuckle. She is tired I find out, but mostly good. I’m glad I asked further, she was too. I Wasn’t trying to pry, I just know she’s trying to be that big girl. I reassure her that no matter what I’m hear & ready to listen about anything she wants to share because nothing is too great or small, I’m totally interested in her experience & I’ll recap some of mine. It’s awesome this new phase she’s coming into. I’ll always be her mom but now it feels more like we’re becoming friends on a whole new level. Wow

    • Karen Sargent says:

      This move is so huge for kiddos. I tell my seniors every spring that they are leaving a place where they know who they are and how they fit into their world, and they’ll be entering a phase where they don’t know who they are in that world or how they fit in…and it’s an uncomfortable feeling until the new world isn’t “new” anymore. It’s a tremendous transition for them (for us, too!). Lots of prayers for all the kiddos and mommas in transition! 🙂

  2. Pat Wahler says:

    Such a sweet post, Karen! It reminds me of more than a few years back when I sent my own kids off to school.

  3. LM says:

    All I can say is well said, but, YES, it is a huge adjustment. Love you girl!

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