As a new mum, leaving your little one behind for any amount of time can be difficult. From hiring your first date-night babysitter to going back to work after maternity leave, those first goodbyes come fully loaded with every type of feeling. And then, there’s the big one: travelling for the first time without your baby. That means leaving them (pause for effect) overnight (deep breaths) with someone other than you taking care of them (don’t worry, you got this).
When my son Sonny was only six weeks old, I was pulled to New York for a work opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up. Being as it was SO early in his life, it forced me to face the fact that separation is bound to happen, and it actually helped me get comfortable with it faster than I expected. Now, by no means am I advocating that new mums should all peace out on a holiday just weeks after giving birth, but I do feel that if I had waited too long it would have made future trips away from my child harder for me. I’m the kind of person who probably would have delayed leaving Sonny’s side as long as humanly possible, but that first unexpected flight proved that both of us would be okay, and that taking care of myself is a necessity too.
After a whirlwind 24 hours in New York, I remember feeling so appreciative and re-energised in my role as a mother when I returned home. That’s why I believe it’s vital to take full advantage of those hours and days apart and enjoy the freedom they can afford you. We mums need time to reconnect with ourselves as individuals. So, whether it’s a quick work commitment or a romantic getaway with your partner, don’t let the guilt of leaving overshadow your trip. Your baby will be fine, and you will return refreshed and ready to be the best parent possible.
When it’s time to travel without your little one for the first time, here are a few things that have helped bring some peace to my spiralling mum mind.
CHOOSE FAMILIAR FACES AND PLACES
This may seem super obvious, but I think the best way to reduce the sting of separation is by leaving your baby with someone they know and who knows them well — not an out-of-town relative who’s only met them twice, for instance. Babies don’t have a frame of reference for time, so it’s important to remember that they don’t really realise how long you’re gone, especially when they’re home having fun with someone they love in an environment they’re familiar with.
A child development expert actually gave me a great idea for the first time my husband and I travelled without Sonny: make a picture book. We made a booklet of photos of Sonny with the people who will be taking care of him. There were pics of him with our nanny Ofelia, my mum, my sisters, close friends, and at the end, one with us (Mum and Dad). Sonny’s caretakers showed him this book every day while we were gone to help him make visual connections and feel more comfortable with the people around him.
FEEL THE FEELS
The first time I left Sonny, I was fully prepared for him to cry, but I refused to let my own guard down until I was out of the house. I didn’t want him to pick up on my stress or think that something was wrong. With that said though, I full-on Justin Timberlake cried myself a river as soon as we got in the car.
Going away for the first time is a huge deal, and you should let yourself feel the emotions that come with it — just maybe not in front of your baby. You may feel guilt and sadness. Or you may feel a sense of relief and be looking forward to some space, sleep, and grown-up stuff. Just remember, your feelings are totally natural. Yes, your child will miss you, but you will have done everything you can to ensure that they’re safe and happy while you’re gone. It’s important for babies to build relationships with other people, learn new things, and have some independence from you because those experiences can help make future separation easier.
WRITE IT ALL OUT
Before you leave, write down your baby’s schedule in as much detail as possible. I must have drilled down to the half hour with Sonny’s… and colour-coded it… and laminated it (okay not laminated, but close). Try to provide options and contingency plans, such as “If he doesn’t take his first nap, put him down earlier for the second one,” or “Here are five different options for breakfast.” Not only will this help you get organised, but it will make things easier for your caretaker too. You may also want to email the schedule to a few other people in case your main caretaker needs extra help or another copy.
It can be tempting to just sneak out the door while your baby is preoccupied, but I’ve learned how meaningful goodbyes can be. The more you normalise leaving and saying goodbye, the more your baby realises that you will always come back. Leaving without a word can be confusing and cause challenges as little ones learn to separate in the future. Making a point to part with a snuggle and a “see you soon!” teaches them that being apart is okay and that you won’t be gone forever. Quick Tip: Video chat can be an awesome way to be “there” when you’re not, but I’m living proof that it can also backfire. A first FaceTime attempt when Sonny was six months old left him hysterical and me ugly crying for hours. So, while technology is the perfect tool for keeping families in touch, it may not work for everyone.
CARE FOR YOUR CARETAKER
I always want to make sure my caretaker feels as safe and comfortable as possible, and a little effort can go a long way. Find out what they like to eat and drink, and fill the fridge with their favourites. Make sure they know how to work your TV and AC, and consider setting regular check-in times so they feel in control and at ease. Set them up with all your alarm codes and of course, provide lists of important phone numbers (police, fire department, paediatrician, family, friends, closest neighbour, home security company, etc.).
I hope these tips help calm some of your new-mum nerves when that first trip finds its way onto your calendar. And if it’s any consolation, I speak from experience when I say that homecoming hugs are the BEST. ONES. EVER. So that’s definitely something to look forward to. Safe travels!