It’s one of those rites of new parenthood that is easier said than done: a night away from your baby for the first time. While the idea might initially sound appealing to the sleep-deprived parent looking for a brief respite from round-the-clock childcare, putting that plan into action can be a bit unsettling.
Armed with some tips from childcare experts and the right attitude, you’ll be ready to head out with a smile on your face and the assurance that your baby is well-cared for.
First Things First
“Leaving a child for the first time is an enormous step for parents, and each parent is ready for that moment at a different time in their child’s life,” offers Emily McMason, a parent coach at www.evolving-parents.com. “The first essential they need to have in place is confidence.” By this, she means the security in knowing that your child is in the right hands while you are away.
Regardless of whether your child will be under the care of a family member or a sitter, it pays to familiarize them with a basic schedule. “Provide a list of what-happens-when,” says McMason. This includes nap time, feeding times, bedtime, bath and bedtime. “All of those details allow a sitter to mimic a child’s schedule and provide a continuation of the family routine.”
When determining what essentials your child will require while you’re away, follow the ‘more is more’ approach. According to Kerri Yarsley, author of The Instruction Manual for Kids—Parent’s Edition (Balboa Press, 2014), that means plenty of prepared bottles, a stash of clean diapers, wipes, 2-3 changes of clothing and any favorite toy or pacifier. “Ensure that the sitter knows how to clean your baby and can do it properly,” she says.
Speaking of your sitter, setting up some one-on-one time together with your child can help ease the transition for both of them. McMason suggests having the sitter come over for a short period of time when you’re home, followed by a longer stint when you’re out of the house to run an errand, provides an opportunity for them to bond without you present. “This slow and steady introduction allows the child to be relaxed and feel comfortable with their new caregiver, and ready for the time when you leave them overnight,” she notes.
Even if you will be leaving your child in the hands of a grandparent or trusted family member or friend, giving them some alone time (even in small bursts) is helpful for you, too. “Remember, the baby can feel if the situation is uncomfortable, so the parents need to be relaxed and confident in the sitter,” says Yarsley. “The baby will be more able to relax if Mother isn’t jittery or fussing over everything.”
In Case of Emergency…
Because accidents do happen, make sure whoever is watching your child has the all the necessary information right at their fingertips. In the event of a weather-related emergency, show your sitter where the electrical safety switch is, and keep candles, matches and a flashlight on hand. Should your baby become sick while you’re away, leave important phone numbers, including both you and your spouse’s cell phones, your pediatrician’s and a family member or neighbor who can be called upon in case you can’t be reached. Yarsley suggests laminating and posting a sheet with this important information in an easy-to-spot place location.
Discuss when it’s okay to contact you—say, a fever above 100 degrees—so it’s clear what constitutes in an emergency. “When issues pop up, some parents want to be notified right away, and others would rather not know,” says McMason. “The more clarity parents can give a childcare provider, the better the communication during moments of stress.”
Keeping it in Perspective
Sure, it can be daunting to leave your child in someone else’s hands, even just for a night, but as experts agree it’s essential in the growth process for parents, just as it is for your child. “Do not feel guilty because you are having a nice time away from your baby,” says Yarsley. “It is important for your sanity and for the baby’s social development to not be totally dependent on the parents.”
To help manage your own anxieties, McMason believes going away with a purpose—say, the wedding of a close friend—is advisable. “When parents can go, be themselves and fully participate in the activities, the time flies by and they enjoy a well-deserved break,” she points out. Another suggestion is returning to a favorite destination or place you adored before your baby was born. “Spend time getting to know yourself again in familiar spaces,” she offers. “Then, return home rejuvenated and filled with love.”