I get a weird, quivery feeling in my stomach when I think back to the time, 8 years ago, when I first left our first child in the care of a sitter. That sitter, Keri, has gone on to become a part of the family -- a central figure in our lives and the reason I can function on a daily basis. But on that day, I had horrendous visions of the damage that would be done to my daughter. How could anyone care for her as well as I? I had to force myself away from them -- Keri holding my daughter's arm up to wave "bye bye" as I drove away. I cried on my way to the meeting I had to attend.
Of course, all went very well that day, and for all these years since. But that day ranks up there with one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Here are some tips for those of you facing that fateful day:
Ease Into It Slowly
You and your baby will adjust more smoothly if you plan to be away for progressively longer periods of time. Start out slow: figure out the least amount of time that you'll be able to handle being away, even if it's just for a few minutes. Arrange to have the sitter come anyway, and explain to her that you'll be coming and going as you all adjust to the new arrangements. Or if you're leaving her at daycare, work out a "transition" time with the teacher so that you can come and hang out for awhile at drop-off and pick-up times, helping your baby (and you) to adjust. Eventually build up to the length of time you'll usually be away. For some, this may take days -- or weeks. That's OK.
It May Be Harder For You Than It Will Be For Your Baby
Regardless of baby's age, talk to her about your plans to leave in advance. Even if she doesn't understand your words, the tone of your message will sink in. It will also be therapeutic for you to talk about it. Up until about 5 or 6 months, your baby will be pretty cool with you being away for awhile. Older babies and toddlers will need more "practicing" in advance, but for most, their protests will only last a few minutes at most after you leave. A good sitter will have a plan to distract her quickly after you've gone. Have the sitter call you when the baby calms down -- you'll feel much better.
Know That You'll Feel Like A Part Of Your Body Is Being Removed
You're supposed to feel that way -- Mother Nature makes sure of that. Know it in advance and make plans to deal with the feelings: Call an understanding friend after you leave, and make plans for a fun thing you haven't been able to do because of the baby. But don't let the feelings keep you from getting the sitter in the first place.
Each Time It Will Get Easier
As long as your sitter is good, you'll feel better and better each time you leave. And then you'll start to feel a developing sense of relief and gratitude that you don't have to do it all yourself. You have help now! HOORAY!
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink