Our El Nido trip would not have been possible with the support of my mom and sister, who took care of Tala for four days, giving us our first 24-plus hours of alone time in nine months.
To me, the decision to leave Tala alone with family members for a few days was a no-brainer. But as I told friends about our plans, I ran into a surprising variety of reactions from thumbs-up happiness (“That sounds awesome!”) to concern (“Are you sure?”) to mild horror (“I could never do that!”).
Is it just a cultural thing? I wondered. In the Philippines, where extended family members are abundant and hired help is affordable, leaving babies in the care of others doesn’t seem to meet as much with as much struggle or controversy.
Curious, I tuned in to the conversations of moms in my little English-speaking expat bubble, and discovered women who claimed they would never feel right leaving their babies alone for more than 24 hours with a) third-party caregivers, b) family members, or most surprising of all, c) their own spouses.
I was pretty shocked, to be honest. Is your spouse mentally challenged or physically incapacitated? I wondered. You married him and had a child with him, and now you can’t trust him to keep that child alive for 24 hours? I began to question the part of me that was positive that this was the right thing for us. But I also began to suspect that it came down to control and trust.
Despite the occasional doubts and a last-minute case of the nerves, I did end up leaving my baby alone. We survived, she survived, and it went great! Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Familiarity is essential. As Tala’s mom, nobody knows her better than me. It was my job to familiarize family members as best as I could without going all Momzilla on them.We planned to leave Tala at the end of our three-week stay, giving Lola two weeks to observe Tala’s daily routine.
The day before we left, I wrote down Tala’s daily routine, took my family through it, and posted it on the fridge. I’ve never read Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, I thought her E.A.S.Y. framework would be a good way to explain her routine to my mom and sister.
If you have friends who are stay-at-home moms and wonder what the heck they do the whole day, this is a good reference for you! Please note how short the “you time” portions are!
As the baby of the family, I got a huge kick out of “briefing” my mom and sister and having them hang on to my every word. I think it’s the first time they’ve ever seen me as an authority on anything!
Do it while they’re young. Short of having a high-needs child, I don’t see why some moms postpone much-needed time off until the babies are two, three or even older. Then they really know you’re leaving them!
It was almost disconcerting to see how little Tala actually cared that we were gone. I had to remember that it wasn’t personal—that it was just her age. After a tight family hug, we literally just walked out the door. My mom took her on a walk down the street as our car drove off, and that was that. Not a single tear was shed.
On our return, Marlon scooped her up (yes, he got to her first!) and she happily bounced in his arms, but it was just like he had come home from the office. So easy, I would totally do it again… but I know it won’t be as easy next time.
Your relationship must be airtight. Truth is, I’m blessed to have a great relationship with my family. That’s the foundation of it all, really. If we didn’t have the relationship we do, I’d consider myself irresponsible for leaving Tala with them.
While I’ve heard of strained family relationships transformed by the arrival of a new baby, the first time you leave your baby with family members is not the time to look to the skies for a miracle!
Give up control. While my mom got to observe how I did things, it didn’t mean she agreed with them. For example, she didn’t take well to baby-led weaning at all, while I resented the presence of processed baby food (Cerelac and Gerber) at the table. I could see part of her itching for me to go so she could do things her way!
While we disagree over how to feed Tala, she would still get fed one way or the other. And that was the most important thing: I knew my family would never do anything to harm Tala. If any “bad” habits formed in those four days, I had all the time in the world to correct them. This helped me give up control and accept that it’s okay for things to be done… well, not my way.
I know from experience that my giving up control has given Marlon room to grow into a father. In the same way, giving up control gave my mom space to become a grandmother, and gave my sister room to be an aunt. And if Tala developed an appetite for processed baby food for that to happen, I would deal with that—I’ve dealt with worse, I’m a mother! It was worth it.
While I like to think of Tala is mine, the truth is, one day I’ll have to share her with the world. I might as well start practicing.