MOMTOURAGE: Reverse Separation Anxiety: 5 Steps To Set Worry Aside

Written by Lea Grimaldi for Momtourage

When I was pregnant with my first son, near my due date, a woman I did not know said to me, “Your child is as safe as he or she ever will be, right now, inside your body.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but now, 20 years later, I get it. Once our babies are born, we lose control. They cannot move around much when they are infants, but they become more independent each day.

With each age and stage, they are moving further from us. Walking, talking, becoming who they are. When our children go to school, we can no longer control their environment and who and what they are exposed to. The years will go fast when you have a baby: pre-school, elementary, middle school, tween, and teen years. It doesn’t feel fast when you are in the thick of it, but it is a blur in hindsight. Each step takes them further from us, which is how it is supposed to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

All mothers of toddlers are familiar with the term separation anxiety. It is what the baby, toddler, or young child feels when separated from Mom or Dad. But what happens when that child is 16 and has just received their driver’s license? They go out at night, and Mom cannot sleep because her not so little baby is out driving around. Reverse separation anxiety!Or when that now-grown baby is going off to college, the military, or moving across the country.

What is Mom—or Dad— to do then? You thought you were ready. You prepared and helped them shop and pack what they would need on their new journey. You went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and bought the dorm-sized microwave, new towels, and bedding. You went to orientation with them, and you were ready. Or so you thought!
But now that the time has come for them to go, you are starting to panic. Feeling nostalgic when you see that once-treasured stuffed animal looking at you from the dark closet’s recesses instead of the place of honor on the bed where it used to sit. You look through their baby pictures and think, “how did 18 years go by so fast?”

You are getting teary-eyed when you happen to hear Cat’s in the Cradle on the radio, bursting into tears at a cheesy movie on the Hallmark Channel, heck, crying as you browse the greeting card aisle at the grocery store. It’s terrible! But even worse than the sadness is the catastrophic thinking that can come with it. Your imagination goes wild, with all types of horrible visions crossing your mind.

When your new driver daughter is out past her curfew, you think, “Where is she? What if she got in an accident? What if she’s hurt, and no one knows?”These terrible thoughts play and replay in your mind, over and over, until you think you are losing it. Finally, you hear the key turn in the lock, and you know she’s home safe, and you can sleep.

Even worse, when your son is at college and hasn’t returned your texts for a day or two, you start to think terrible thoughts. Is he okay, you wonder, and you begin to visualize all types of scenarios to your dismay. You want to drive to see him, but you know these are irrational thoughts. They are irrational, right?

It can be challenging when your child leaves home, but this is what we’ve prepared them for. They need to be on their own to learn life skills to help them lead successful adult lives.What can a nervous mom do when she is experiencing these panicked feelings about her nearly-adult children?

I reached out to an expert for help. Danica Copp, the founder of Copp Coaching, LLC, is a Masters’s level licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience with adolescents. She has a parent coaching program to assist parents in successfully launching their teens to adulthood, and this is how she suggests moms tame the worry beast: “Anxiety is a beast we feed with our thoughts. The more parents allow themselves to circle the rabbit holes of irrationality, the greater the anxiety and worry become. As a licensed professional, I recommend using logic to face the fears.”

Copp recommends asking yourself these five questions:

1. What specifically am I worried about?
2. What is the worst-case scenario that could happen if my worry came true?
3. What would I do if the worst-case scenario happened?
4. What is the likelihood that the worst-case scenario will happen from 0 – 100%?
5. I have worried about this…you have gone to the worst-case scenario, and you have a plan to execute should the worst happen.

What else can parents do to prepare for their children to leave home mentally? You can remind yourself that this is a normal part of the lifecycle, and children are supposed to grow up and leave home.

“You don’t want your 30-year-old child living in your basement,” Copp said.

Parents can also use this as an opportunity to focus on their other relationships and interests as the children are growing up and leaving home. This may be an excellent time to go back to school or start a new job or business venture.

According to Copp, parents need to remember that the goal of parenting is to launch successfully, so helping teenage children prepare for life away from home will also help tame the anxiety beast. The better prepared they are, the more secure you’ll feel that they’ll be able to handle whatever comes their way. It’s also helpful to remember that you left home and went to college or got a job, and you survived just fine.

You’ve got this, Mom!

Lea Grimaldi is an author, intuitive guide, reiki master, yoga, barre, and meditation instructor with more than 20 years’ experience teaching yoga and barre classes to people from age eight to 88. Her first book, Increase Your Peace from A to Z: Simple Steps to Find Calm Amid Chaos, is a mini-directory for stress relief in which she shares her daily practices to keep anxiety under control.

She has developed her own signature RAISE™ reiki method of emotional release, which releases deeply held emotions and traumas from the body. She also works with clients’ angels and spirit guides during healing sessions, offering angel card readings to help clients realize they are never alone. Her mission is to help people manage anxiety through their self-care practice—encompassing mind, body, and spirit—one breath at a time. You can find her on Instagram: @lea_grimaldi