sitting not so pretty

Before our daughter was born, I remember thinking, we’ve waited so long to hold a baby in our arms, this child will never be put down. Ha!

As strong proponents of bonding and attachment activities (e.g., baby-wearing, co-sleeping, etc.), we’ve done everything possible to promote a strong connection with our daughter. She has formed strong attachments to each of us, and often exhibits normal separation anxiety for her age when we leave the room or when someone else wants to hold her.

That’s right. We do actually put her down.

Not only did she grow so fast and get too big to constantly carry around, but of course we’ve wanted to encourage her development and independent play. Finally, sometimes we actually have to get things done around the house, like cook dinner, for instance. Then there’s the 2.5 days per week I try to work from home. I’ve been struggling with that for six months now, and realized it was finally time to bring in some help.

See, we’ve never used a babysitter. Not even our families. Not that our families are particularly helpful anyway. Or our friends, who each have two kids to keep them quite busy. It’s not really important for us to get nights out. We’ve had plenty of time for that. But it would be nice to be able to do some work during normal hours instead of waiting until everyone is asleep and staying up too late. You know, when I could be reading blogs or writing or something, or sleeping maybe. And it would be nice to go to the dentist.

I was hoping to find a long-term, part-time babysitter or nanny type to help me out two afternoons a week, just a few hours a day. Someone I would trust implicitly. Someone who would respect our parenting philosophy and decisions. Someone reliable and wonderful. Someone Baby J would adore. Someone reasonable within our budget. I didn’t even plan to leave them alone together. I just needed someone to give her the attention she deserves while I try to do the work I committed to doing.

All the long-term nanny options charged too much or weren’t very flexible. We ended up hiring a well regarded 18 year old who’s been babysitting since age 10. The only downside, I thought, was that she’d leave for college in August and we’d need to find someone else. But I needed someone now.

The day before Baby J’s birthday party was Sarah’s first day. She came over for just a couple of hours. After an introduction and some warming, the plan was for her to play with the baby so I could prep, cook and clean, just a few yards away. But it was not to be.

Baby J’s schedule has been somewhat unpredictable as she’s transitioning from two naps to one a day. That morning she refused to nap, after nearly an hour of coaxing. Just as Sarah arrived, she started to get cranky. After a few minutes of play, it was clearly bottle and nap time. Of course she would not let this perfect stranger feed her, so I put her down for a nap and began my party prep. So there I was, paying a sitter to sit while I raced around and the baby slept.

Then I realized I was out of eggs for the cake. Uh-oh. The plan was never to leave her alone, at least not yet. But I had to go to the store. Baby was asleep. While not the best napper, I knew I had at least 30 minutes and possibly a couple of hours. So I did it. I left the baby alone with the sitter for 22 whole minutes. Count ’em. Yes, she was asleep. But I did it. I even saved the receipt to commemorate the occasion. When I returned, Sarah helped me in the kitchen. I paid her to zest limes before her time was up.

Last week we began what is supposed to be a regular schedule for Monday and Wednesday afternoons. I’m trying to ease them into each other and view my time early on as an investment.

On her second day, Sarah arrived in the middle of nap time, so I paid her to read a book and listen to the monitor while I worked. Aside from an occasional email or phone call, the only work I can get done during the day is while the baby sleeps. Sarah didn’t need to be there. But I was able to take a long shower without worrying about her waking. Yet as I soaked in the steamy goodness, I realized that if the baby awoke and Sarah was there, she would freak out that a stranger was in her room, reaching into her crib. Smart girl.

When she did wake, we both went in to get her. Baby J was not pleased at this new bubbly person in her space, talking to her and disrupting our little routine. She wailed. Unperturbed by the tears, Sarah put the baby into her chair for snack time and fed her while I went about my business. Occasional cries were halted by chunks of cheese and berries and milk.

After snack time, I set up her toys and told baby J that Mama was going to work and Sarah was here to play with her. She would have none of it. She cried cries I’ve never even heard before. Animal cries. So a change of scenery. We laid a blanket outside. Brought some toys. More tears, tempered only occasionally by mild but cautious amusement with a ball and her purple dinosaur, followed by more tears.

The third visit was Monday. Tears the minute she walked in. Fierce clinging. The only distractions were snack time (but only if I was in the kitchen too), when Sarah showed her belly button, and, in a desperate attempt to stop her crying, let the baby play with her brand new i-phone. In three hours, I was able to get maybe 25 minutes of actual work done.

Now Sarah is a kind young woman. She exudes happy sweetness. A little vivacious and high-energy, compared to me, but darling to Baby J. The baby simply wants nothing to do with her. She rejects her presence. Only when we spend time together as a trio does she warm up at all to Sarah. Even when they interact, the baby looks to me to ensure my presence. Only then is she content. If I leave — whether I explain where I’m going or quietly slip away — she wails. Inconsolably.

Now I know this is largely normal behavior for her age. Once she gets used to Sarah, this should get easier. The few times she has been well distracted, she grew a little more comfortable. I imagine some day my being out of sight will be out of mind and she’ll be fine. Maybe some day, eventually, she’ll be happy to play with her new friend. Then they could take a walk with the stroller, go to the playground, etc. But right now the baby will not be alone with her. Her favorite distractions (i.e., other kids and animals) are not available.

So how long will this take? The posts I’ve read are not too encouraging. This is apparently just a tough age to introduce new caregivers, I think. Maybe it would have been easier earlier? In any case, I need to decide whether this is worth it. When should this be easier? At what point should I give up?

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~ by luna on June 23, 2010.

25 Responses to “sitting not so pretty”

  1. I think you need to just leave and let her get used to the caretaker. The more you keep coming back to “rescue” her, the less she will bond. You see this often in kids who have been exclusively parented at home with one or two caregivers (parents). My kid was in daycare at 2 months (had no other choice) and she is the most social, easy to warm up to people kid ever.

    Crying is not horrible trauma for a baby when she has another caregiver there to be with her. You’ve got to adjust to the fact that she’s so enmeshed that she will cry like this in almost any scenario with another unfamiliar caregiver.

    Others might feel differently, but this is this pediatrician’s take, FWIW 🙂

    • @liana it’s just that her cries were so bloody awful. interestingly, she is SO social when we’re out, but way more sensitive at home.

  2. Long time lurker here (old mother of 4 grown kids), with a couple of thoughts. I remember well those heartbreaking cries of a little one left with a sitter, and I know how hard it must be for you. Mine always stopped crying when they realized I was gone, and carried on fine with the sitter. That said, I think Baby J would adjust more quickly if you were not there for her to turn to. It also might be easier on Baby j if Sarah came on two consecutive days rather than skipping a day in between. I do think that the longer you wait the more difficult it might be. Good luck!

    • thanks @shelley for delurking. I know it will take an adjustment, and I imagine my presence is not helping matters. I just feel so awful leaving her when she’s wailing like that. We’ve never been big on letting her cry it out. That said, you may be right the adjustment could be easier if I wasn’t there. I just wondered if it was especially cruel to leave when she’s suffering such fierce separation anxiety. Thanks again.

  3. I’ve been a nanny for 16 years and I agree with the previous commenter. As hard as it is for you, you need to just leave her and be out of sight. Trust Sarah to do her best to calm the baby down, at your baby’s age distraction can help a lot. If you can’t leave their sight try having Sarah take the baby on a stroller walk. In all my years I can tell you that the baby’s all stop crying within 5 minutes with a compassionate care giver.

    • thanks @erin for your comment. so far the 5 minute thing hasn’t worked so well. I’ve left them alone for longer, but they’ve been at the house or in the yard. maybe it’s time to try a walk?

  4. Long time reader. I actually agree with Comment #1 (despite being into attachment parenting). I spent a good decade babysitting and it is really hard for a kid to learn to trust a new adult when their mom is around (honestly my baby wouldn’t go to my husband for a while unless I left the room). This does not have to be as scary for you as actually going away, but you can wave bye-bye, say you’ll be back soon, and then head upstairs and close the door. That way you are around in case of emergency but not to jump in for grumbles/frustration. Even babies this age can learn to associate certain activities with different adults, and it is important developmentally for your baby to learn to trust other adults and to adjust to someone who does not know her every routine (i.e. how you rock her to sleep, how you hold the bottle, etc.). My worst babysitting job ever was for a family where the father was home and disabled but not physically able to pick up his daughter because he spent the entire time ‘supervising’ me and the baby spent the entire time watching his judgments and reacting.

    I would be pretty sure that this is going be much harder for you than your daughter. Another idea is to drop them at a park so that she is out of the house and all of her visual cues reminding her that you should be there and then go sit someplace just out of sight. It’s hard to imagine that she is going to enjoy playing with another new person when one of her most-favorite-people in the world is within sight regardless of separation anxiety, etc.

  5. The walk idea sounds great! Luna, my son has development delays and he is exhibiting stranger anxiety now (6 months later than the normal 7-12 months phase)
    He is comfortable only with his nanny and us. I will be checking this space for tips!

  6. Little Miss started going to nursery for a couple of mornings a week at around nine months, and really struggled to settle in. When I asked whether it would help if I perhaps stayed with her, the staff were adamant that it wouldn’t. They said that the best thing I could do would be to give her a kiss, tell her I would be back after she’d had her lunch, and then go (and not to pop my head round the corner for one last wave). She was fine within a couple of weeks, and now goes off to nursery without a backward glance.

    I know how hard this must be for you, and I speak as someone who’s very much into attachment parenting and who would never dream of allowing my daughter to ‘cry it out’, but I have to say that I agree with a lot of the other commenters. I liked Rachel’s suggestion of taking yourself off upstairs – that way, you have the reassurance of knowing that, if there is a genuine emergency, you can be there in a matter of seconds. Alternatively, if you feel strong enough, you could pop out for a coffee if there’s somewhere nice near your home. That way, you won’t be tempted to keep popping your head round the door to see what’s going on, but can still get home quickly if need be.

    Whatever you decide to do, good luck!

  7. I can only tell you that I started doing exactly what you are doing when LB was about 4 months of age. Since I work 10-2 m-f and need to be on the phone, I quickly learned I absolutely needed the help. I don’t remember much of a difficult transition – certainly not like yours. Perhaps it was because it was every day? Perhaps just the age.

    Today that babysitter is LB’s most favorite person in the whole world. She isn’t a regular babysitter anymore but she sees her once a week normally. I think she enjoys her so much because it is always play-play-play when Kayla is around. I sometimes have other things going on (like making dinner).

    Now her regular sitter is a very nice 20 year old who is fabulous and getting LB to nap and is just fine when LB isn’t napping, but not nearly as fun as Kayla.She NEVER naps with go-go-go Kayla even if she hasn’t napped all day. She often won’t even eat if Kayla is around.

    When LB knows the regular sitter is coming, she is less than pleased but always does well once she is here. I think she knows new sitter = nap time.

    So another thought would be that this person just isn’t the right person for Baby J or she could maybe ramp up her play mode for a bit so that it is always action and fun when she is around. Just my 2 cents and probably only work 1 cent.

    Good luck. I know it is a wonderful thing to have those moments of time that is all yours.

    • @kami, I’m surprised you’re the first to suggest that she just might not be the right person for her. I wondered that myself. I would LOVE to get to the point where someone else besides the hub could get her to take a nap. many days it is quite a struggle. thanks so much for your comment!

  8. So, take this with a grain of salt cuz I’ve been a mom less time than you, but my two bits would be to just hand her off to the sitter and leave. If your sitter is tough enough (or if you don’t care because you ARE paying her), she’ll get through it, and it’ll get better every time. I think. As for Baby J? I personally think she’ll get over it too – at least if she’s anything like D. Because D? Well he’ll scream bloody murder over something one minute, and be giggling his ass off the next. Babies are resilient in ways I didn’t expect.

    As for why I think all this… which again is only from lil ol’ me who hasn’t been doing this long… is we did this with D. The first time he cried insanely for 2.5hrs. Next time not at all. And never since. Whimpers when we leave, but nothing after. All babies are different, but with D at least, he will cling to me no matter who’s there. Versus if he can’t see/find me, he has to adjust, and he does.

    Hang in there. You can do this. Really.

    • thanks @chicklet. today went a little better. there was still a period of painful wailing, but there was some quiet and play too, with a nice walk in the stroller that involved no tears at all! success! she does best outside, I guess. good thing it’s summer.

  9. I ended up having to move Maya and I from one house in Guatemala to another when she was jsut 13months old. She had an awful time transitioning, I sure alot of it had to do with your coming off my feelings but I think its a difficult time as well. I am like you and never leave Maya if I have an appontment I take someone with me, prehaps leave them at a store nearby but none the less they are near. I did nanny and babysat and really for kids like that it might be best to actually leave them alone and make sure you tel her goodbye and that you will see her in 1 hour of whatever, sneaking away works but I never agreed with it because then how can achild learn to trust. Another mom leving with me in guatemala had a child that would throw screaming fits as well and it mostly got better but then again she was right at 1 year, just a tough time.

  10. I’m with Chicklet on the handoff, say goodbye, and leave technique. I’ve been lucky, because a dear friend of mine has a girl about a year older than V who has been around him his whole life. So we do baby-swaps a few times a week as needed, even if it’s just at naptime. Are there any friends who you could do that with? Maybe offer to watch a child during evening hours and they could watch your sweetie a few hours during the day?

  11. I don’t know for sure and I can’t remember exactly how old she is, just over a year I think? but it might or might not have been easier when she was younger.

    I think she probably needs to know you are still there and that you have not gone away forever but she also needs extended periods of time with the new babysitter to get used to her. Longer than 2 afternoons a week might be better – she’ll get used to it much faster.

    Can the babysitter come for the whole day, play with you both for part of the time, and do regular check-ins to your office while you are working?

    • thanks @katie for your comment. yes. she’s just over a year. funny you’re the only one to acknowledge that she might need a transition time with me there. this does seem to help. she still cries when I leave, of course, but I expected that. then I do leave for extended periods and try not to come “rescue” her. last time though, she wailed for 45 minutes and I did come out to give her a hug and calm her before they went for a walk. leaving her there cold-turkey just seems to make things worse, as she doesn’t calm down in minutes like other babies but rather escalates into a sad fit… thanks again.

  12. I apologize if this duplicates some other responses, but I think you need to leave them completely alone for a few hours to get to know each other. If Baby J knows you are there she will never let Sarah play with her/feed her/put her down until she gets used to her.

  13. Luna- having been a caregiver and a nanny for many years I understand what you are going through with Baby J. It can be very difficult to leave your child alone with a stranger- even if it is a trusted person that shows love and kindness to Baby J. I think you have received some really great words of encouragement and words of wisdom. It may be that Sarah just isn’t the right person for your family or Baby J just hasn’t the right amount of time to transition to having Sarah around. I know that this is a difficult time in your lives- leaving your beloved little one with someone that isn’t you. Whether it continues to be Sarah or someone else, after time I am sure that things will straighten out and everything will get easier- it just takes time and trust. I am wishing you all the best of luck and will be keeping you in my thoughts. Hang in there!

  14. Chiming in with the nut gallery. Probably need to either have you leave or them. If she knows you are there, she will want you to be with her. I’ve found with all 3 of my kids that babysitters have very little authority in their minds if I am around. The crying is never going to stop if she knows it makes you come running. I know it is AWFUL to hear, but I believe those little ones,as young as they are, can manipulate the life out of us with their cries.
    If b/c of your work you can’t leave, try the walk or the the park for them and then when they return DON”T let her know you are home. It shouldn’t take too long for them to bond. It doesn’t sound, to me anyway, that your sitter isn’t a good ‘fit’, rather more likely Baby J wants you to be with her if you are home. It’s a good idea to break this cycle now b/c as she gets older it absolutely will get much harder to do. Reassure her that she is fine, that you are leaving and Sarah is here to play and care for her, then walk away after a hug and a kiss. (And, as I did, when I had to leave my daughter for a few weeks in tears at her pre-school when she went through a phase like this, cry buckets when you get alone, but know that you are doing the right thing by allowing her to develop self comforting, independence and trust with others.)
    It’s hard, but it is only temporary and you both will be fine!:)
    xxoo

  15. I have so much catching up to do, but have had similar struggles with the babysitter thing (maybe it’s with the age our kids are in?). It really hasn’t been as simple of a process as I had thought — especially trying to do the thing where you work at home while they’re there. So far, we haven’t had much success (though I haven’t pushed it TOO hard yet), and have tried 3 sitters.

    We also tried a part-time drop-in daycare situation for a few weeks, and that was a complete disaster, too. Just could not get my son used to it. So I don’t know! I’m hoping to learn a lot from these awesome comments you have here!

  16. […] The Babysitter. I was not surprised to read the comments about my dilemma with the new sitter — i.e., those of the ‘you just need to leave them alone and she’ll be fine’ […]

  17. […] our number wrong). Baby J really likes her though, and she’s probably a better fit than our first sitter. Plus it’s just 6 hours a week. And I’m home, locked in my office (trying not to have […]

  18. […] to Jaye’s first noticeable “stranger danger” reluctance to bond for weeks. That first month was really hard on everyone, with lots of tears, even though I was just on the other side of a door. Jaye did best on stroller […]

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