You can watch the video version of this post on my Facebook page.
Today, I want to talk about something that is close to my heart because I personally have gone through it this year and I see a lot of other parents struggling with it. I want to share my story with you in the hopes that it inspires similar action- and that is that your kids need time away from you.
This comes up when we’re talking about Dads a lot. Moms who feel guilty about leaving their kids with their Dad or who don’t trust Dad to do everything “right.” I also find a lot of Moms hear me harping on consistency- be consistent, consistency is key- and they take that to an extreme where they feel they can NEVER allow there to be any change or inconsistency in their child’s life and they take on this role of the Consistency Keeper. Without me, consistency will die. I am consistency embodied.
So here are some benefits your child gets from being in someone else’s primary care for a while:
1) They learn flexibility.
Flexible thinking is one of the core executive skills children need to behave. They learn to be adaptable. No- your sitter or daycare provider or Dad or Grandma IS NOT going to do everything 100% as you’ve prescribed. THAT IS OKAY. Children are very good at context and understanding that Dad does this, this way and Mom does it another. Having that experience frequently exercises their executive skills. As long as DAD is consistent with his care and the SITTER is consistent with their care and for the most part, the expectations are cohesive between caregivers- that’s all that matters. When I say that consistency is key- I don’t mean that everything had to be lab-level repeatable. I just mean that change takes time, and to that end maintaining consistent expectations and discipline over time reinforces acceptable behavior. Consistency is key- but if you never allow your children to experience the friction of someone else’s implementation of those expectations then you’re going to find that your kids become very rigid. Set-shifting and problem solving are best developed “on the job” quote unquote. Children need to practice it to become competent at it. And one really easy way to reinforce that is to leave them with someone trusted but new and go get a latte.
2) They learn to trust others.
As Moms, we put this impossible burden on ourselves to be EVERYTHING to our children. But we CANNOT be everything to our children. It’s impossible. And here’s the thing: if we don’t cultivate healthy relationships with our children with OTHER trusted adults and older children- our kids are going to confide in and seek advice from people that may not be trustworthy or accurate information givers. You’re their MOM. I don’t know about you- but when I was 12 and wondering about boys and sex and all that, my MOM was the LAST person I was going to go to. But I had other trusted adults who cared about me that I did feel comfortable talking about that with. And yes, even then I was pretty sure they were reporting back to my Mom- but I didn’t have to talk about condoms with my Mom and that’s all that mattered. My god-daughter- I was her babysitter when she was a little girl. And we keep in touch. And when she was worried about drugs- she didn’t feel safe talking to her Mom- she called me up and we had a really good chat. You cannot wait until your children are teenagers to start building that trust and that history. It needs to start when they’re little. The more people who love and trust your child and the more people your child loves and trusts- the better. By leaving them in other people’s care you’re starting to build that network for them. You’re giving them that space to grow those relationships that don’t center around you. Think of it like when you had your first boyfriend- if your Mom was hovering over you, it probably didn’t last long. It’s the same with other trusted adults. If you’re constantly hovering and micro-managing your children’s relationship with everyone buy you, they’re never going to truly develop that trust and connection.
3) It gives them responsibility.
When you’re in someone else’s care you have to kind of guide them on how to do things. We have an 11-year-old babysitter and I laughed my butt off when my 4year old was like “Um… we need to clean up the kitchen after making lunch.” He saw that she didn’t know how our household worked and he took on the responsibility of guiding her in that. They tell their daycare provider “Hey, I need my hat before I go outside.” They tell grandma “my chest clip isn’t right. I need a tickle check.” They tell their aunt “I NEED TO PEE.” These are SMALL itty bitty manageable responsibilities that a 2/3/4-year-old are capable of handling. And do they do it right all the time? No- but the fall out of that is minimal if any at all. And we coach them on that! “Hey- next time you don’t know where the washroom is, ASK auntie, she’ll tell you!” We often pontificate on giving children responsibilities but we tend to go the whole hog and are like “give them the responsibility to make dinner!” Well, that’s several steps up. And it’s a LEAP if you’re going from none to some- and that’s when I see parents melting down because they can’t fathom their child handling these huge responsibilities- because they’ve never trusted them with REALLY low-level ones, let alone moderate ones. Give them small, manageable, low-fallout ones first so that it’s safe for them to fail. We talked about that a few weeks ago- failure is part of success. Having an accident on auntie’s watch is a pretty darn safe failure to have. Mom coming home to minute rice from one of the of the kitchen to the other is upsetting but not the end of the world- it’s a safe failure to have.
4) They see you prioritizing YOURSELF.
We get really antsy about this as Moms. “Put the kids first” is drilled into our heads so much. But you can’t pour from an empty cup anymore than they can. Our kids learn by observing, they learn to regulate by being regulated. If they never see us taking care of ourselves- guess what? They’ll grow up not taking care of themselves either. It’s the whole “put your oxygen mask on first” mantra. You can’t take care of others when you’re not taking care of yourself. It’s not selfish to put them in daycare and go to a therapy appointment- because you’re going to be a better mom when you’re with them BECAUSE OF YOUR THERAPY APPOINTMENT. If you just need a couple of hours to sit and read a book and not have anyone pulling at you then it’s TOTALLY OKAY to hire a sitter for a couple of hours and go down to the beach and read your book alone. My personal one is when my husband deploys- I hire our sitter to come and do bathtime and get the boys ready for bed. I HATE bath time. I used to love it when I was a sitter, but with my own kids I am so done by time bedtime rolls around that I have no patience for it- and my husband is the one who typically does bath time so they REALLY give me a hard time with it because they’re also tired and they’re acutely missing their quality time with Dad. So for my own sanity, I hire my 11yo sitter to come to bath them, do their teeth, and get their pj’s on. It costs me like $20 to have her here for 2 hours, but those two hours are the difference between everybody having a calm easy night OR me throwing them into bed and chugging a bottle of wine. They see me trusting her, they see me asking for help when I need it, and they get a better experience- those are ALL the lessons I want my boys to receive. And I KNOW how hard this is. I had such a hard time finding a sitter both the boys and I loved. The first time I put my boys in drop-in daycare I did NOT go relax, I scheduled myself to the hilt with errands to run because I felt so guilty for putting them in someone else’s care so that I could go sip a latte and have my nails done- so I was like “well I might as well make it productive.” But it truly is just getting over that hump of letting go the first time that is the hardest. And I am so much more tolerant after having a few hours to myself. And the bonus was that my husband wasn’t tossing them back into my lap the second I got home because now HE needed a break.
Now, none of this is to say that you should just throw them into the care of the next person that comes along. For me, I started with my Mom, but my Mom lives two hours away. So then my next toe dip was leaving them with a friend I trust. And then I took the leap and started sending them to drop-in daycare for 4 hours at a time once a week. Then it took me almost two months to find a sitter I trusted- and I ended up going through SEVEN of them in two months! But then I landed on one that’s genuinely amazing. So just like anything- jumping head first into the deep end rarely leads to durable change. Baby steps.
You see- putting your kids in the care of others isn’t just for YOU- it’s beneficial for THEM. When I finally got over myself and started to accept the help- I started to remember who I was again. I started to FEEL like me again. My marriage improved because I wasn’t this walking talking auto-mom. We were reconnecting. And I wasn’t always relying on him to be my backup. Which took a lot of pressure off of him! When clients tell me that they feel like their drowning and they’re angry and they can’t even begin to figure out how to stay calm enough to implement what I’m teaching them- this is my first recommendation. Give yourself permission to NOT PARENT YOUR KIDS for a few hours every week.
There are lots of ways to accomplish this- but the crux of the matter is that it’s not healthy to be the ONLY influence in your child’s life- for you, or for them. We’re modeling all this amazing stuff for our kids- but we’re missing the one BIGGEST model we need to give them: self-care. And often when I see parents talking about these MINOR behavior issues that have BLOWN UP to be these huge issues- it’s because it’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill when you’re stressed and tired and out of touch with yourself. And our children are our mirrors. If we’re stressed and tired and out of touch, they’re going to reflect that back to us. So one of the best things you can do to improve everyone’s situation is to hand over the reigns for a few hours.
If you’re struggling with minor behavior issues and building critical thinking skills- I can take some of THAT pressure off- by reminding you to download my free script pack. Because often the biggest and easiest changes we can make for our kids have nothing to do with them, and everything to do with us.