Baby Woes: Separation Anxiety & Stranger Danger


Baby and I are pretty close. As a stay at home mom, this is probably a good thing considering how much time we spend together. Nevertheless, I still try to provide him with some non-mom time each week (and give myself some quality me-time in the process). He has lots of Daddy dates and hangs out with this grandparents whenever schedules allow.

When I leave the room (or the house), there’s usually little to no protest. I’m rarely gone long, as Baby refused taking a bottle, instead preferring his milk straight from the source. While my heart melts every time I come home and Baby is excited to see me, I never thought that he had much separation anxiety. Yet one morning when he was around eight months old, Baby was accused of exactly that.

With two sets of friends in town for different family reasons, all of our local and out of town friends planned to get together for brunch. The day arrived, and Baby woke up an hour early than normal that day (eager to meet his new friends, I’m sure). I tried to snooze him, but my efforts failed and we were soon playing. I tried to keep him awake until his normal nap time, but he protested fiercely and went down about 20 minutes early (and very very sleepy).

Forty minutes later he was up, and no amount of rocking, cuddling, or nursing was getting him back to sleep. Typically a 90 minute napper, I already knew this day would be an adventure. We took Sirius for a walk, nursed, then headed out to brunch. We’d be stretching his awake time again, but with so much excitement around him I hoped he would stay alert and happy.

As soon as we got to the restaurant, he was stolen from me and gradually passed down the table from friend to friend down. When he reached the end, Baby hung out on the lap of a friend’s lap he’d never met before. He promptly grabbed the friend’s sunglasses and shoved them into his mouth, happy as a clam. Amused, I relished in the adult conversation at the other end of the table. When Baby tired of the sunglasses, I passed down Sophie (his favorite chew toy).

After a while, Baby started to fuss. As he was slowly passed back to me, each friend tried to sooth him. They all failed. To be fair, it wasn’t their fault. Baby wanted milk, so their efforts were doomed from the get go. Comforted just by being back with me, he snuggled in my lap. One familiar friend tried to take him, and he immediately started to cry. I took him back, and headed out to the car to feed him. I am a huge supporter of breastfeeding in public, but our table was cramped and heading outside was an easier and more comfortable option for me in that moment.

Back inside, I sat down at the other end of the table. Heeding the disclaimer that he might spit up, the first couple of friends who reached for him decided to hold off. Another didn’t care and tried to take him a minute later. Baby started to cry, so she passed him back. As soon as he was in my arms he was quiet.

Soon spit up worries subsided, and one by one each friend tried to take him. Each time Baby would start to fuss and cry, reaching for me to take him back. A discussion about separation anxiety ensued. The 20 minutes Baby spent in their laps earlier was forgotten.

See, this is what happens when he’s with you all the time.

Baby has separation anxiety bad.

You need to just leave him with me so that he can get used to not being with you.

He needs to get over this.

And my personal favorite:

What do you do when a dog has separation anxiety?
Crate him.
What do you when a baby has separation anxiety?
Hug him.
Yeah, that seems to be working.

It did. Baby stopped crying.

OK. I believe that in the long run, it is important for Baby to be comfortable away from me. However, out of the group at brunch, only one of the people at the table saw him regularly (though he fussed with her at brunch, too). The bigger issue was that he was tired and we were pushing his nap for the second time in a row. I understood his fussiness, but my friends were not open to my explanations. It’s separation anxiety they said, and he had it bad.

Side Note: I learned later at our first Parents as Teachers Home Visit that what Baby was experiencing wasn’t technically separation anxiety, but rather stranger danger. It’s basically the same thing, but separation anxiety would have been if Baby got upset because he couldn’t see me. Stranger danger is when Baby is upset being with someone he doesn’t know well, even though I’m right there.

Once we were home, Baby immediately passed out and slept for almost two and a half hours. When he woke up all was right in the world. Yet my friends’ labeling of separation anxiety stayed with me. First, because I thought they were (partially) wrong. Second, because even if they were right, it wouldn’t change how I handled things.

I am Baby’s home base. His safe place. When he’s hungry or tired, I’m the one that takes care of him. Thinking about this from Baby’s perspective, I fully support his desire to be in my arms when that’s what he feels he needs. Similarly, if my husband had been there, Baby would probably have been just as happy with him (with the obvious exception of when he was hungry).

Even if it was stranger danger, I did not see it as a negative thing or something that I needed to fix. At eight months old, he was in the middle of mastering object permanence. Separation anxiety and stranger danger were natural results of this new brain development. It was something Baby would either grow out of or that we would need to work on if it’s still a problem in the future when it’s no longer developmentally appropriate.

If I were working out of the house, we may need to address it sooner rather than later. However, I would do so by providing Baby with a consistent caregiver who he would be able to get to know and bond with from seeing them every time I worked. Even in this scenario, I would still expect Baby to cry if he was hungry or tired and strangers were trying to cuddle him.

So quit labeling my baby. Or keep doing it. It doesn’t really matter. Because I (and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa) are the ones that care for him day in and out. We’re going to keep cuddling him because he’s a BABY and it’s what he needs.

Have your friends or family members ever thought they know your baby better than you do? What is the worst parenting advice you’ve ever received?

7 thoughts on “Baby Woes: Separation Anxiety & Stranger Danger

  1. Sara

    Great post. Lots of people say that I baby my girls and other similar things, and that it’s causing problems for them. I’ve always been a SAHM, and my 3 year old has always gone everywhere with me, it wasn’t until she was about 2 1/2 that she had her first night and day away from me (sister was born). Everyone figured she’d be terrible having to stay with someone or when she met new people, but because she knows that I am her safe place and that I wouldn’t let anything happen she’s been a lot easier to push into new situations. She loves to meet new people, though cautiously, and she loves to try new things. We’re treating her sister the same way and so far as long as she sees that her sister is happy and having fun she does great as well.

    4 out of 5 of my siblings have kids and I try and remember that every kid & family situation is different. Who knows better than a parent, especially a parent that is around them all the time? What works for one child or family might not work for another and that’s fine. It’s super hard being around people that don’t feel the same, but I’ve learned to just accept that they don’t really know the situation. Ah sorry for such a long comment but I absolutely LOVE this post!!
    Sara recently posted…Cabbage. Blogilates. Iron.My Profile

    1. farrahudell Post author

      I completely agree. My sister and I tend to parent differently, but I have still learned so much from her. It may sound cliche, but all children, families, and relationships really are different. Although maybe I should have mentioned that none of the friends we were visiting with have any kids of their own!

      I am hoping that by being attached and coddled now, Baby will have the confidence to go out an explore the world like your girls because he know’s that I’ll always be here for him. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

    People often try to explain what they don’t understand. As you said, you’re baby’s primary caregiver and as long as you don’t get muddled by what other people say (which it sounds like you don’t ).

    The worst advice I ever received… ignore her when she cries. She needs to know that you’re not at her beckoned call.

    This “advice” came from a woman who doesn’t have children of her own. It took everything in my power not to boil over. Fortunately I have an early childhood background and I was able to express the benefits of being responsive to our babies.

    That Parents as Teachers program sounds so awesome. Every time you mention it, it makes me wish we had something like that here.

    Thanks for sharing. Wishing you a lovely day.
    Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom recently posted…I Didn’t Get To Say GoodbyeMy Profile

  3. [email protected]

    You’ve got it down right Farrah.

    My 16 month old is my biggest fan, arm candy, constant companion, clinger. I guess there are many names for it, but she does like people she just likes me best. If I fight it, we are both miserable. I can tell you my 6 year old isn’t like that, so they will grow up and change and not need you quite as much.

    Thanks for sharing!
    [email protected] recently posted…My Food Face Photo Mommy RealityMy Profile

  4. Rebecca

    Go girl! I’m all about doing what you want on your terms with YOUR baby. It’s like we all know that we should ultimately parent the way we feel is best and yet we still hand out unsolicited advice, labels and reasons why someone should do it “our” way. I’ve been told a million things about how to approach Dylan’s attitude and sometimes I shut it down because I don’t want to hear it. 9 out of 10 times I know what he wants and if it’s just a hug, then so be it. I’m gonna hug that baby!
    Rebecca recently posted…Can Coffee Stunt My Son’s Growth?My Profile

  5. Kam Kay

    Most of them who opined this as separation anxiety, I wonder how many of them had babies. It’s so simple to label something without thinking much about it, but you as a parent know what’s going on with that little precious one. So, yup, enjoy his baby years and pay no attention to these labels.
    Kam Kay recently posted…DIY Beauty Treatments: Turn Your Home Into A SpaMy Profile


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