We've only just reached the six-month milestone and my maternal apron strings are already loosening. Apparently, from this moment on my little boy will spend the next few years of his life working subconsciously to build up his own independence. How scary is that? Six months as a mum and I'm already becoming redundant. According to my many childcare books, babies don't have a sense of themselves as individuals in the early weeks and instead think they are still part of their mother. Their thoughts are focused only on what they really need - food, love and attention. Oh, to be three weeks old again. Then at around six or seven months of age, infants take a huge cognitive leap forward and suddenly realise they're individual human beings, independent of their mother. Obviously, it comes as a bit of a surprise to them and their behaviour reflects this new understanding of separateness. It's all part of them finding their independence so they can forge their identity as they grow.
I read about this developmental stage a few weeks ago in anticipation of baby Charlie reaching the six-month mark. I wondered how it would affect my baby, and how hard it would be for me to deal with. My initial reaction was that this discovery of independence didn't sound too bad. The child becomes aware that it's not attached to you and then, well, what's the worst thing that can happen? Then I turned the page to discover the answer - separation anxiety.
The majority of babies feel scared and anxious when the reality sets in that they are their own person. The books say babies sometimes demonstrate this by crying every time they are left alone or when meeting strangers. Fear of abandonment makes them yearn for their mothers 24/7. Oh joy. I discussed this stage with several friends who had been through it and horror stories surfaced. One said her child screamed every time she left his side, even when she was just making a quick dash to the bathroom. Another said she was unable to return to work because her daughter wouldn't stay with the nanny and cried inconsolably on arrival at the nursery.
Ironically, I thought I had it pretty easy with my son. He's generally happy to amuse himself for short spells and has always been easygoing when meeting new people. But this week, the first signs of separation anxiety started to show. A friendly stranger at the supermarket attempted to return a toy that Charlie had launched out of his pram. My usually happy baby took one look at the woman, glared at me and burst into tears. Later, I took a step out of view to pack my shopping only to hear a protesting wail. He would not stop until I scooped him up and hugged him close.
As Mother's Day approached, I was secretly hoping my husband would whisk me away for a romantic evening for two, to say thank you for all my hard work over the past six months. Fat chance. It turned out he'd planned a lunch date instead. For three. Looks like Charlie's not the only one searching for independence.