With my first child, it took me almost three years to warm up to the idea of leaving her overnight with my parents.
I was afraid that she would experience separation anxiety -- that she would reach towards me with her arms outstretched as tears streamed down her face, sobbing uncontrollably and begging for me to stay as I walked out the door. I imagined that she wouldn't sleep, crying for me throughout the night, calling out "mommy" to the dark, empty room where she laid her head.
I feared that she wouldn't eat, hanging her head low as she wandered aimlessly through each day, convinced that I had abandoned her for good. And most of all, I worried that I wouldn't survive the separation -- that I would yearn for her day and night, and that the guilt of leaving her parent-less for the weekend would forever damage her fragile little soul.
All of this, of course, was ridiculously untrue.
When I finally did leave her, she waved happily goodbye and went on to play gleefully with her toys. While I was gone, she enjoyed new adventures with her grandparents, and when I returned, she was excited to see me -- not broken, but possibly more whole as a result of our time apart.
With my third child, I'm more than confident in our overnight separations. Perhaps because I know that valuable time spent with my parents is almost as important to her well being as spending time with her parents. Perhaps it's because I know that having time away makes me a better parent, and that exposure to varying environments is important for early childhood development. She feels comfortable with our nights apart, as do I.
The one thing that might take awhile to accept...
But there's one thing that sometimes comes with overnight separation that took me awhile to accept. When I returned from my time away, my children weren't always excited to see me -- at first. They would reach for my parents, rejecting my outstretched arms in favour of Nana and Papa. It wasn't because they had grown to love my parents more than their own, or because they were traumatized by the experience of sleeping in a different place.
According to my Mama Dina, it's natural and completely healthy for children to "punish" you for being away. While at first they may seem to reject your advances, they quickly learn that you come back. Which is a good thing. After a few experiences with being apart, they grow comfortable in their new environment, and confident that their parents will be back soon.
And these "punishments" will quickly pass, I promise.
How to make it easier?
I'll leave you with some quick tips on how to make an overnight stay a little more comfortable for your toddler:
1. Make sure that you are leaving them with someone familiar. Leading up to the overnight stay, pay a few visits to the place where they will be staying and enjoy some time together in that new space. It'll be easier to say goodbye if they feel comfortable where they'll be.
2. Bring comfort toys. My youngest has a favourite stuffed bunny that she likes to sleep with, so I make sure to always pack it for her. I also include a photo of the family so she can see our faces regularly (my mom tapes it near the crib where she sleeps).
3. Let them hear your voice. If you aren't able to call, leave a little voice recording for them to listen to - there's nothing more comforting than the sound of a parent's voice when feeling unsure of a new environment.
4. Prepare them for what to expect. Talk to your child about how long you'll be gone and when you'll return.
Good luck, and don't fret -- your little one will be just fine.
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