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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Happens When Parents Never Leave Their Children With Others

I sat on a bench across from the elevator on the maternity ward in the hospital the morning after my one and only son was born, waiting for the arrival of my (now ex) husband, my oldest daughter, and my youngest (at the time) daughter. Keeley was 13 years old and Lindsey was 15 months old.

My ex and I went out only once every year on our anniversary where we "celebrated" in a bar (his idea of a celebration). On those once-a-year occasions, his parents babysat. Our only other outings consisted of family get-togethers, weddings, and funerals but at those social events, we brought our children with us.

So, with the exception of the one time my ex and I had to attend a wedding with his parents and Lindsey was left in the company of one of my sisters (who swore that she would never again babysit for anybody – horror story to follow), Lindsey had never been away from me.

On the day after I delivered her brother, Lindsey was, in a word, MAD – that I had left her. Even at the age of 15 months, she had decided that I had committed an unforgivable offense by leaving her home with her father and sister WITHOUT me.

The elevator doors opened and I saw her look at me, though she immediately turned her head away as she folded her arms across her chest and looked everywhere but AT me. She refused to allow me to hold her or hug her, her way of letting me know how upset she was with me.

Looking back, I can see that one of the biggest mistakes I made was in never leaving her to learn how to trust others. Her world consisted of me, her father (who never changed a diaper, never read her a book, never fed her, never bathed her, etc.), and his parents. Period. 

Our once-a-year excursion to a bar, where we left her with his parents meant that by the time she was 15 months old, she had been away from me only twice in her entire life. She must have felt completely abandoned by me when I left her to give birth to her brother.

I'm sure she remembered the time I had to attend a wedding three months prior to her brother's birth when I left her in the care of my sister. Lindsey didn't know my sister very well, because we had gotten together only during holidays, and she felt traumatized. (The "she" in that sentence was meant to be ambiguous, because it could refer to Lindsey or to my sister.) 

I was pregnant with my son at the time of that wedding, and in the days before cell phones, I could call my sister only occasionally throughout that looooonnnnng day when every time I called her, I could hear the panic in my sister's voice and Lindsey's screams in the background. 

By the time I was able to leave the wedding, I was an emotional wreck, and my sister was in a state of apoplexy. Lindsey hadn't napped and she had screamed the entire time my sister had cared for her. Probably hungry because she hadn't eaten, my baby's convulsive sobs took nearly half an hour to subside once I got home. I felt horrible.

If "do overs" were possible, I'd have introduced Lindsey to other caretakers before she turned one-year-old instead of stressing my baby by leaving her with strangers (yes, even family members can be strangers to a baby who doesn't know the person). 

If I could leave you with one suggestion, it would be this: allow your baby to learn to trust people other than you, your spouse, and your parents. Otherwise, an occasion will arise when you have to depend on somebody to watch your child, and you will have to deal with the guilt of knowing you've frightened your baby.

(The photo is of my grandson, Nolan.)

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