If you would have asked me 6 months ago whether I would have wanted two days in a hotel with no Lily, I would have jumped at the idea. The first 7 months of parenting were the hardest so far and by the time they were over, I was begging for a break. These days, though, my little hell-raising toddler is much more a joy than she is a burden. A few months back, Andy started planning our annual Napa trip while we would be back home in California and I said I think it’s time we do this one just the two of us. He was on board, to say the least. Andy has spent a lot of time away from home since Lily has been born (mostly for work & team bonding) and he believes it’s been crucial for his sanity and well-being as a parent. So, with grandma and grandpa available for baby and doggie sitting, we were set for June 22 & 23.
If you would have asked me before I had kids when I thought I would leave for the first time, I would have definitely told you within the first year. I really can’t believe that I haven’t had any days to myself in almost a year and a half. It’s not that I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving, it was mainly logistics. My family lives in New York and Andy’s family in California. Neither of them, until recently, has gotten a long stretch of quality time to really get to know her schedule and needs. I know that people like to say “they raised you, they’ll be fine,” but every child is so different and while other people’s influences in her life are crucial, I like for Lily to have a nice consistency to her days. My parents had gotten to spend a week with us in Europe and got to know Lily’s habits and patterns, making it much easier for me to feel comfortable with them watching her alone. It totally helps that she is at an age where she can talk and interact because she is able to express when she needs something.
The thing holding me back the most from a night away was not childcare or separation anxiety, it was most certainly breastfeeding. Our tumultuous first year of nursing made it nearly impossible to leave. At the beginning, she needed me constantly and I needed her to help manage my oversupply. In the middle, my pump stopped stimulating me the way she did and I needed her to keep nursing to keep my supply up. By the end of the first year, I just felt like it was easier to stay with her and let her nurse than it was to leave and have to pump 4 to 5 times a day. Nursing has all sorts of challenges, of course, but being glued to your baby is one of its most onerous. I’ve honestly been afraid to leave for fear that my milk supply would drop, she would stop nursing all together, or I wouldn’t have a place to properly store my pumped milk while I was away.
Finally, the day came where leaving was no longer a day in the future. I’m not going to lie to you, I was panicking. I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information I needed to lay on my poor parents, the fact that I have had a plugged milk duct for the last few weeks that won’t seem to clear and the thought of actually saying goodbye to Lily for two full days. To prepare, the day before we left we gathered up all of her necessities and left them out for my parents, prepped meals and I wrote a survival guide for baby and puppy sitting.
While we were away, I missed her more than I ever thought I would, I even considered driving home at 10 pm the last night instead of staying another night in the hotel. I’m happy to report, though, that the alone time did make a positive difference. No, I didn’t sleep till 10, get to take naps or get a total boob vacation, but I did get to see, really see my husband again. We’ve been quite good over the last year getting in date nights, finding moments of alone time and maintaining a healthy sex life, but it’s never the same as it was before having kids. We needed this time to just connect, talk, laugh and be together without being tuned-in to what the dogs or baby needs. I remember sitting in the car with him and both of us were belly laughing over a story he had already told me. I got to enjoy real, though tiny, moments of feeling carefree. We did FaceTime twice a day and got lots of picture updates, but I really was more “okay” than I thought I would be. I did get to enjoy myself and it was something I hope to do again with him in the future. Oh, and pumping wasn’t as bad as I thought. I did get less milk than I usually would from nursing, but we managed and now I’ve got some extra milk to put in our freezer.
If you’re thinking about leaving, it’s important to feel comfortable with who’s watching your child, how they are caring for him/her and how you will be able to cope with the separation. I wanted to leave you a little list of suggestions that helped me survive my first time away! Being prepared will help you maintain your sanity and maximize your relaxation time. Fear not, mama, you can absolutely survive (and enjoy) this one!
How to Prepare for Leaving Your Child:
- Find the “right” childcare. It’s great to find someone who has spent a good amount of time with your child has really gotten to know what your little one’s habits and schedules are. If you haven’t been using regular childcare or have a present family member, you can consider having dad watch baby so you can go away on your own or “training” someone. You can find a trusted sitter, family member, or friend and ask them to come by the house several times in the weeks leading up so they can get to know your child’s needs better. A great time effective solution: planning different visits at different times of the day. Have the sitter come in the morning one day for a few hours, another day in the afternoon for a few hours, and at night /before bed the other day. This way, your sitter will be able to have hands-on experience during every shift and have a better idea of what a normal day is for your child.
- WRITE IT DOWN! In the days or weeks leading up to your trip, open a note on your phone and every time you do something you would like the sitter to do, write it down. I like to write my little “guides” by time. For example, my guide this weekend started like this:
“6:45-7am: Lily wakes up. Before going into her room, open the doggie door and get a bag of breastmilk from the freezer and defrost it to room temperature in warm but not hot water. Bring the milk in a bottle to her room and sit on the rocking chair with her while she eats. After she is done, take off her sleepsuit, turn off her sound machine and let her play until she poops. When she’s done being changed, put out the dog food. Pick up the dog bowls after eating and wipe eye folds.”
My guides (whether for dog or baby) have always been in great detail, which helps me feel more confident and gives the sitter something to refer to. I find this gives Lily the consistency she is used to, but in between “scheduled events” she gets tons of free play time with someone else and can learn from and adapt to them. You can also leave a little miscellaneous section at the bottom where you write random notes like where to find the bottles, how to calm the baby down if there is a crying fit, to make sure they put on sunscreen or to ask them to limit or stay away from TV time.
Bonus tip: If you type up your guide, you can keep it as a template for every time you go away!
- Figure out if FaceTime is for you or not. Before I left on my trip, I posted on Instagram asking other moms for their advice about leaving your child. Some said FaceTime was great and others said they stayed away from it. A good way to test this out with your child is to have a caretaker or your husband FaceTime you while you’ve been gone for a while. See how your child (and you!) react over the screen. Once you hang up, get a detailed report from whoever was with your child to see if watching your face go away made them sad or angry. For us, FaceTime seemed to work well. We both got our fix and she loved seeing our faces. My parents said she only did the “mama, dada” cry after one call and they were able to distract her pretty quickly.
- Prep. Before we left, we not only organized and left out all of the materials they would need, but we also fully prepared meals. We are sticklers about healthy eating for Lily, so one way to make sure she was getting what she needed was to pre-make it ourselves. We cooked up a big batch of chopped veggies, wild shrimp, sliced avocado, quinoa, and pasta. It was easy for my parents to then just mix them together, warm them up and give them to her! Make sure you include snack and portion sizes if needed!
- Make a list of activities. If your sitter hasn’t been providing regular childcare for you, they can really benefit from a list of activities in or out of the house that your child likes to do. Suggest parks to take them to, play classes, playmate parent information or activities like blowing bubbles or playing in the kiddy pool outside.
- Fully load a diaper bag. Before you leave, have your child’s bag packed and ready to go. Leave a list of anything that needs to be added in the bag before outings & let the sitter know to replace anything that is used during a trip (diaper for a diaper).
- Run through. In the days leading up to your departure, give your sitter a hands-on teaching lesson for anything you feel needs refreshing. Show them how you like baths done, how to fill up the humidifier, or how to take out the diaper garbage and replace it. There is nothing like hands-on learning for retaining information and, again, it gives you peace of mind.
- Emergency info. NOTHING is going to happen to your child while you’re away, but just in case it is always smart to leave a piece of paper with all the info a caretaker might need should something come up. I like to include our phone numbers, the closest family member’s phone number, the number of where we are staying, the pediatrician’s information, the phone number and address of the nearest emergency room & her important health details: birthdate, how much she weighs, allergies, ways to comfort her, medical history, etc.
- Breathe. If you are confident in your choice of childcare, you can rest assured your child is in good hands. Even if things don’t go perfectly according to schedule or your child has a crying fit, he/she will survive and so will you. At some point, we need a break to protect our sanity, our friendships, our marriages and our ability to be the best parents we can be. Sometimes a little refresh is just what we need to come back better than we were before!
How old was your child when you left him/her for the first time? Do you have any tips/tricks to help other mommies who are leaving their little ones? If you haven’t left yet, what’s holding you back? Do you feel the urge to leave or are you happy just sticking with your day-to-day?