Leaving children for the weekend isn’t easy for anyone. But at one time or another, all parents need a weekend getaway – whether it’s to take a break, tend to out-of-town family matters, or attend a wedding or other adult occasion without the kids.
When this need arises for the first time, they might have some concerns – especially if their child already fusses when a sitter comes for just the evening.
If the sitter can be someone your child already knows, such as an extended family member or good friend, so much the better. There is already a relationship forming and the sitter knows some of the family routines and where to find things.
However, if none of these options is available you may have to choose a sitter your child has never met, but has good references and is recommended by someone whose judgment you trust. As parents, you will want to meet her and interview her before she comes to your house to meet your child.
Preparing for departure
Not too far ahead of the time you leave, you will want to tell your child of your upcoming plans and who will be staying with him/her while you’re away.
Your child will probably protest and won’t understand why she cannot go with you. She will feel angry and left out. The best way to get over left-out feelings is to have your child be a part of the planning. For example:
- She can help you pick out the clothing she will wear while you’re gone and put it in a special place.
- She can be a part of planning the menus for the meals she and the sitter will have together.
- She can pick out the games she might like to play with the sitter.
- You could take her to the library to pick out some new books they can read together.
- She could help make a plan for an outing while Mom and Dad are gone – the park/playground, the zoo, a movie suitable for young children.
As for you, Parents: Even though there may be protesting that makes you feel guilty about leaving your unhappy child, don’t be tempted to try to sugarcoat the feeling by telling her about all the fun things she’ll be doing with the sitter while you’re gone. Instead sympathize with her and tell her the things you’ll do to help take the sting out of her missing feelings. For instance:
- It would be very helpful if you would leave short notes for your child to read – one for each morning you’re gone and one for each evening.
- Making a plan for a telephone call each day you’re gone will reassure her that you’re thinking of her.
- Suggest that she draw some new pictures for the refrigerator to show Mom and Dad when you come home.
- Leave a picture of the family together for her to look at so that she will have a tangible connection when she feels the “missing” the most.
When she can still feel “connected” she is less likely to be sad and angry because of a left-out feeling.
Time to leave
When the leaving day arrives, you as parents hope you’ve thought of everything – notes for the sitter, the name, number and address of where you’ll be beside the telephone. The bags are packed and in the car. The sitter has come and already has your child engaged in the game or book you suggested. You look at each other and are tempted to sneak out without saying “goodbye” and risking an upset.
Don’t you dare! When your child finds that you have gone without a hug or goodbye, she will really feel abandoned. It’s better to go to her, tell her you are leaving and give her your hugs. Tell her you will call her at the time that was arranged and now she and the sitter can finish the story or game. There will probably be tears, but you know that you and she will live through them.
Let me tell you a true story that one of our Grannies told about when she stayed with her 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter while her parents were on a trip.
It was bedtime. They had called and after they hung up, she was crying on her bed. I said, “Oh, Jadey, I know how hard it is to have Mommy and Daddy away. Would you like me to read to you before you go to sleep?” She raised herself up on her elbows and cried out, “NO – I just want to lie here and miss my Mommy and Daddy!” and she again flopped down on her tummy. Jadey’s Granny reminds us that “We all want to do that at different times in our lives – well beyond 4 or 5 years of age.
So, you did it. You spent a weekend away and feel refreshed for it even though the planning felt endless. Don’t be surprised if, after the first hugs and kisses when you return home, they are followed by signs of your child ignoring you. She might even find a reason to become angry with you about something. Maybe the gift you brought her was “dumb.” Maybe what you’re preparing for dinner smells “yucky.” She might fuss about going to bed because “it’s not fair” that you get to stay up later.
This reaction is pretty normal for a young child who has had to “suck it up” and stay with a sitter overnight for the first time. She felt left out then, now it’s your turn.
All of the careful planning and good preparation in the world can’t make up for the fact that you left her behind and had fun without her.
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