My kids have always struggled with stranger anxiety. I used to be super self conscious about it when they would scream as I handed them off to the nursery worker or when they wouldn’t sit in the lap of a friend while I tied my shoe for crying out loud without causing a scene reaching for mama. My husband and I are social! My kids are around people a lot. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t like many other children I watched who were willing to go to anyone, walking casually into the church nursery, staring blankly as my kid literally lost their mind. Certainly some kids are more social and extroverted than others and that is just the way they are wired—never met a stranger—but I wondered if there was something I was missing as a mom. I started blaming myself for failing to prepare my girls to go out into the world. I wondered if we had spent too much time at home together and too little out with strangers. I faulted myself for unknowingly making them too dependent on me. We had long talks about how “Mommy always comes back” and “I want you to be a big girl today and walk right in without any fits.” But alas, to no avail.
One day, while reading a book on child development, it hit me. Not only was stranger anxiety quite normal, but it can actually be a healthy sign that a child has bonded with their parent. HOPE! What if my child’s freak-outs didn’t mean I was a bad mom or that my child was going to have trouble being a helpful member of society one day? What if they actually pointed to quite the opposite—showing that I had done my job well and created a bond with my girl that was strong?
I started thinking about it, and it made sense. I’m the first face she sees every morning and the last she sees as she falls asleep. It is MY hand that meets her every need throughout the day—feeding, clothing, diapering, holding her hand as we cross the street. It is my arms that carry her safely down the stairs and my feet that walk her down the sidewalk for our early morning walks. Its my voice that sings her lullabies and my ears that know her cry. My laugh that makes her laugh as well. My hip that she rides on, my belly she lays on as we read books on her floor. I always think about how I know her every detail—I’ve studied her every hair. But I realize that she knows me as well—maybe more than I give her credit. Jesus talked about this in John 10 when he said: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
So, while it would be nice for her to easily go to someone else every now and again (and trust me, I do hope to this end one day!), for now, I will wear it as a badge of honor. I’m her person, her mama, her shepherd. And she knows my voice.
So, the next time you hand your child off to a teacher, a nursery worker, a friend, a babysitter and start to cringe as they lunge for you and wail as you walk out the door, hold your head a little higher, mama. You’re a good mama. Your sheep know you. They love you. You worked hard for that wail.