Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

You've incubated them for 9 months, watched them make your tummy move, tried to fathom their scan images, planned for them, shopped for them, squeezed them out of your body, fed them, changed them, bathed them, checked their breathing and watched them grow. But there is a truth universally acknowledged that at some point you are going to have to leave your children with someone else.

It could be a family member, a childminder or a nursery. It may be a regular happening from the beginning (I have heard an extraordinary tale of grandparents who look after the baby overnight once a week to give the parents a break. Nice), or a necessity when you go back to work. Either way I would encourage you to leave your baby with a babysitter when they are fairly young, even for an hour while you pop to the supermarket, just to get you both used to being apart. Basically the longer you leave it the weirder it's going to be. I vividly remember the first time I left the twins - my husband and I dropped them off with my sister and went out for an anniversary dinner. They must have been about 5 weeks old, and I felt like wearing a sign around my neck saying "I've just had twins!". I couldn't believe that the world was still going on with its business as if nothing monumental had happened.

Leaving your little darlings with someone else can be tricky in terms of the children's reaction, but also yours. You might feel a variety of emotions: anxiety, guilt, worry, sadness, lack of control, joy, ecstasy, uncontrollable elation. It's going to be a bit strange, but you get used to it and every time you leave them it feels a bit more normal.

When I started leaving my twins with family, and then later with childminders when I went back to work, they were too young to really grasp what was going on, so I just used to disappear when they were distracted. This worked well at first and I would definitely advocate spending as little time dropping them off as possible. As they became more aware of what was going on around them, I realised this wasn't working. When we were at home I couldn't pop into another room without them screaming the house down, and I quickly realised that they didn't trust me not to disappear for hours. So, I started saying goodbye and giving them a kiss whenever I left them. I still got going as quickly as possible (no long drawn-out, emotional farewells here), but telling them I was going to work or shopping, even if they had not idea what that meant, seemed to satisfy them and they quite often gave me a kiss and a cheery wave goodbye.

Of course there are still times when my lovely childminder (who has the patience of a saint) has to peel a hysterical screaming child off my leg so that I can leave. This is always a bit traumatic and definitely not the best way to start a day, but if this happesns she usually sends me a text a few minutes later to say that they are happily playing. She has even sent me pictures messages of my twins giggling manically a mere matter of minutes after I have left them in the throws of a massive tantrum.

I think the main way of dealing with leaving your children is to always remain calm, be determined to leave, say goodbye quickly and ask for an update from whoever is looking after them. They are usually so much better as soon as you are out of the picture, it's actually sometimes hard not to get quite offended!!

In terms of casual babysitting, I will generally ask family or my friends who have children. This is usually on a reciprocal basis, which I find works really well. If you and your husband want to go to see a film, and so do your friends then why not babysit for them and then they can return the favour. Guilt-free, payment-free and you get to watch someone else's television and eat their food. Delightful!

There's no real magic formula to leaving your children in someone else's care; you have to relinquish control and trust them to do the job. My twins usually look quite relieved to be in the care of a professional for a change!

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