Monday, August 05, 2013

The Origins of Abandonment Anxiety

He's in there somewhere, being four years old.

The blanket is the original Hide and Seek tool, and everyone loves Hide and Seek, which is surely all about working out abandonment issues.

My daughter and her partner took a work vacation to a far away land, and FD and I volunteered to babysit for a several days.  That meant I was a single mother for the first time in a long time.

FD entertained the three boys by day, when he could, but the life of a family practitioner is defined by paperwork and long nights at the office, figuring out what in the world Medicare wants from him. Our lives have always been this way. Bring it on Affordable Health Care Act.

Parenting, of course, is like riding a bike.  So the ways I had with my own children carried over, bridged a twenty-five year gap.  Prone to giving children as much space and as much intimacy as they oddly indicate they need works best for me, communicates respect and understanding. We had no problems, during these past ten days, with the exception of dangerous open drawers and cabinets, as well as an occasional toilet that needed attention.

One night I'm putting the littlest-on- legs to sleep, following the routine, one that mirrors the routine I had with his mother. Either young parents have some type of subliminal unconscious memory, or people in their thirties really do remember the original bedtime drill. Ours works like this:

books in bed, a story,
a prayer,
eyes closed.

The dim light from the hallway makes it hard to read, but is a soporific. The little guy tires early, but that doesn't mean he wants to sleep.

I stay.  Meaning, just because the routine ends doesn't mean it is time to go. I read my own book or nap, play Scrabble on my phone, check Facebook.  I use this time in the dark to plan the next  day, too, or obsess about my problems, stretch, do leg lifts at the end of his bed.  He trusts that I will stay with him. He wants me to stay with him. He has won this war, the Stay With Me War.  We even have a song, one sung a hundred years ago, passed on to future generations.

Stay with me.
Don't go away.
Stay with me.
HaShem (God) Please stay!
Stay with me.
Don't go away.
Stay with me. Please stay.

Fairly simple, and children of all ages seem to get it. The tune is from Damn Yankees, pretty sure. Can't remember which original song.

Quite contrary to the Ferber method, isn't it, this way to get kids to sleep. It is at odds, even, to the ghost method discussed elsewhere in this blog.  Ferber (and I haven't read the best seller, wish I wrote it, having used it so many years ago) upon hearsay seems to recommend that at a certain age perhaps whenever a baby has object constancy,* you let the kid "cry it out" in a crib.

They don't usually head-bang, babies, and if they do, need rescuing. Crying it out merely express consternation at being alone. Adults do it, too. And when they realize there is no one coming to save the day, we all give up and go to sleep. We can flex our muscles very young, however, given that chance, as babies who have to deal with being alone, abandoned, and probably, because they are pre-verbal, mostly, in that first year, somehow forget the ordeal. Their little bodies, minds, remember however, and bedtime gets easier with every passing test.

This is great when they are captive, in cribs. When they appear in the family room and interrupt your show, their legs many inches longer, some of us feel they can be treated as ghosts. One partner says to the other,
 "I hear a ghost."
 And the other partner declares,
 "Well, if we ignore ghosts they go back to bed. If we pay attention to them then they won't go to bed. They will stay up and annoy us. So let's pay NO attention to this ghost. Pretend he's not there."  
This worked for me and FD and none of our offspring ever actually feared ghosts, so it kills two birds with one stone.

Makes sense, assuming no china is broken. At that age, Stay With Me is over, is counter-indicated, assuming a parent has done an emotional check in during those hours before the kids go to sleep, has heard a recap of the day, attended the child, really listened, did fake it, allotted Special Time, somehow banning other children, interruptions, from the airspace.

Ghost is another game of Hide and Seek, really, except the seeker won't play. But between, say, 9 months and 4 years, it is all about staying with the little tykes in their beds, or in the same room, and it can be for a long time, up to 90 minutes, crazy as that seems, two 90834's as we think of time in the therapy biz, quite a commitment. It probably only works for a therapist if she doesn't mind a longer day, or merely likes to relax in the dark, doze off to the sound of a pre-schooler complaining, chattering.  I've always liked this time, took no calls. And stayed.

Have the cup of water ready.

So here I am, in deep Routine with my grandson, only four years old, a sliver of my age, not statistically significant, waiting to see who falls asleep first.

Then, one night, while stretching to leave, the bed creaks too loudly. He opens his eyes, recognizes me, knows full well what is going on. He waves at me, dismissing me with his little hand, then closes his eyes again, as if to say,
 "You can go now."  
But I stayed.


* object constancy-- knowing someone, something, exists even if it isn't visible.  The Piaget test is a ball rolling under the sofa, whether or not the infant attempts to retrieve it.


Anonymous said...

I just loved this post about little ones' bed-time. It brought back giant memories of my own 5 children - - - I would stay with the youngest, the next, the next, and so on, till prayers were done - - - then go back to the first one who would be sleeping and kiss the forehead - and receive a dreamy puckery kiss back! That was one of the sweetest things I can remember about checking on the children; this routine went on until they were all up in teenage years.

I have moved back to the east coast and - for the time - live with my son and his family of 5 children. At first, I was a bit timid to make this move; but, there are NO LONELY SPIRITS in his house. That is a very comfortable and secure feeling for me.

I could not resist commenting on this blog; it was truly a very meaningful and beautiful post, for which I thank you.

Anonymous #1

Anonymous said...

absolutely beautiful.

therapydoc said...

Hugs back, anons. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What are dependency issues? Why do people come from? Are they really as big a deal as some therapists make them out to be?

Mound Builder said...

What you wrote seemed beautiful to me, too. I was reminded of when my children were little and the bed time rituals and how much I enjoyed them, most of the time.

Donna H. said...

My mom lived with me the last year of her life (she had Alzheimer's). Sometimes at night I would sit in the rocking chair in her room when she didn't want to be alone. All I wanted to do was go to bed....but I stayed.

Prof. E.Browne said...

This was a really nice blog piece to read as I go thru my morning chore of latest research in MS. Reminded me of bedtime rituals when my kids were small.