My Son Has Separation Anxiety, and It’s Breaking My Heart

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The alarm goes off. I walk upstairs to wake the boys up for school.

Gentle back rubs. Extra snuggles in the warm sheets as they bat their eyes open with a smile.

Just a few more minutes of this bliss, please.

Then it starts. “Do I have school today?”

“Yes, you do have school today. But it’s Thursday already, so only two more days until the weekend!”

But that doesn’t help. Tears start rolling down his cheeks as I try to comfort him. I try to tell him that he will be okay and that school is always fun.

“I just want to (sniffle) stay at home with you, Mama.”

I know. My sweet boy, I know. I wish you could stay at home with me.

We dry the tears as best we can and head downstairs for breakfast. His brother makes him laugh about silly things. Thank the stars for their relationship. They try so hard to make each other happy (most of the time).

Brush teeth. Put clothes on. All while continuing to tell me that he doesn’t want to go to school. But we have no choice.

The drive to school is tense. My husband and I know that at any moment, all hell could break loose. He could start screaming about school at the drop of a hat.

Finally, at the carpool line. This is the worst part. He’s repeating to me that he doesn’t want to go, and I’m repeating to him that things will be just fine. He always has a good day at school, it just takes some extra effort to get through that threshold in the morning.

I step out of the car, slippers and all, while I hold him, as he cries. (I should have learned by now that I shouldn’t wear my pajamas to drop off in the morning just in case this happens.) 

The teachers all try to come and console him. They ask him about his birthday. They tell him they have a special surprise waiting for him. They try so hard, and so do I.

He only wants me.

Then something clicks. His homeroom teacher comes out and asks him to be the teacher’s helper today. The school bells rings – time to begin.

He slowly looks up and goes to his teacher. He still has tears in his eyes and all I want to do is hold him just a moment longer and tell him I love him.

But he’s okay.

As we drive home, I think of all the moms who went through this along with me this morning. I know I’m not the only mom who has a child that has separation anxiety. And I know he’s not the only child who would rather stay home than go to school.

He’s always been a mama’s boy. When we started him in daycare at two years old, he cried at drop-off every morning for two months. It was heartbreaking.

We tried all the tricks.

Reading books about going to school, practicing quick goodbyes, bribing him with treats after school, distracting him with screen time before school, and even encouraging him to bring a toy from home to “share” with his class.

Some of these worked better than others, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking I was doing something wrong.

I questioned my motives for sending him to school. Maybe I should just not go to work? Maybe I should stay at home with him?

But I knew that wasn’t an option for me. I’m a better mom when my kids have a break from me. And I’m not a good teacher, so I knew they needed to be in school.

And I know every morning won’t be like this. Some mornings are beautiful and tear-free. But these mornings make me wish I had the ability to keep them home. I wish I had the strength to homeschool my children and keep them home when they wanted to be.

But for now, I find peace in knowing that he is okay after drop off. His teacher checks in with me and lets me know that he is having a great day. And he is learning so much.

For anyone who has a child like mine, know that you aren’t alone. Know that your child loves you. And know that you are doing your best. We are all doing our best.