Oh babe, I hate to go

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The first time Jen Buchalter of Burlington, Ont., left her daughter with someone else, it was to go out for dinner with her husband, Rory. They were celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary. Zoe was just shy of six months, and Jen’s parents came to their house to babysit.

As soon as Zoe realized her parents were leaving her behind, she started to cry. “That upset me, but Mom told me to go, so we did,” says Jen.

“And Rory said we had to learn to leave Zoe so she’d learn that we’d come back.” Before Jen could go, she needed to know that Zoe was OK. She crept around to the back of the house, crawled into the bushes and peeked in the window to the family room. She saw a smiling Zoe playing with her parents – and promptly burst into tears. “I thought, she’s forgotten me already and doesn’t need me!” to which a calm.

Rory replied, “She’s fine – let’s go!” They enjoyed their date and, two hours later, had a happy reunion with Zoe before putting her to bed.

Jen’s nervousness was normal. “The first time a Mom leaves her baby with someone else will be hard, because it’s an evolutionary response to be connected to her baby at all times,” says Judy Arnall, a Calgary-based parenting expert whose most recent book is The Last Word on Parenting Advice. “A bit of anxiety is natural. After all, it’s the first step in what will become a lifetime of learning to let go. But it’s healthy for parents to have some alone time.” Judy offers these tips on how to best prepare to leave your baby with a caregiver for the first time.

1. Ask Another Mom

Whether it’s your mother, a neighbour or a friend, she’ll know how to hold your baby’s head properly and what to do if she won’t stop crying. You might not be as confident hiring a teenager, even one who has taken a babysitting course, until your baby is older.

2. Do a Trial Run

Before your outing, have the caregiver come over at the same time of day you’ll be gone to go over what you think might happen and what she’ll need. This run-through should help quell any anxiety you may be feeling.

3. Leave a Checklist

Write down what your baby likes including how he likes to be held, what soothes him when he cries, what and when to feed him, how to bathe him and what time he goes to bed. “If he has any quirks or you have special instructions – for example, you’d like him to be picked up right away when he cries – list those too,” says Judy.

4. Don’t Linger at the Door

When you’re ready to leave, bid a quick goodbye with a hug and a kiss, then scram. This will let the caregiver know you trust her and send the message to your baby that it’s not a big deal that Mom and Dad are going out.

5. Make Sure Dad is Supportive

“Fathers typically have an easier time separating from their baby,” says Judy. But if Mom wants to call home to check on things, Dad shouldn’t stop her. If that’s what she needs to feel confident when she’s away from her baby, especially the first time, she should do it.

6. Trust Your Instincts

Can’t relax and want to go home early? Go home. “If you don’t have a great experience the first time, you probably weren’t ready – try again in another month,” says Judy. “One of the most important things to remember is that babies are resilient. Even if your daughter cried the whole two hours you were away and wouldn’t take a bottle, she’ll be fine as long as your caregiver was loving.”

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