Q: My baby is 9-months-old and I just found out that I have to go on a 2-week business trip. My husband and our nanny will be there to care for her, but I’m still worried about how this separation may affect my daughter and our relationship.
A: Your worry is understandable. It is very hard to leave a baby at such a young age, but it is something so many working parents are faced with these days. It’s hard to predict exactly how your baby will react because every baby is different. Some babies are more flexible and make changes easily. Other babies have a hard time with change and may have a bigger reaction. Either way, if your baby has developed strong, stable relationships with her Dad and her Nanny, the separation will likely be easier.
The good news is that by 9 months, most babies understand that things they cannot see still exist. That is why, at this age, babies protest when they are separated from loved ones (also known as separation anxiety). This means that your baby can now picture you in her mind. And she will surely recognize you when you return.
There is a lot you can do to help make this separation easier for your baby:
- Take some photos of you and her together. Have her Dad and Nanny show them to her while you are away.
- Make some audiotapes of you singing and reading to her that she can listen to while you are gone. You can even make the tapes together as you read her a favorite book. Record what she “says” too.
- Call her every day so she can hear your voice.
- Have her Dad and Nanny keep her routine as normal as possible. When there is a big change in a baby’s life, it is important that the rest of her world stay as stable as possible.
Dad and Nanny should expect that your daughter's moods may change throughout the 2 weeks. She may withdraw, be clingy, cranky, and more demanding. If she rejects their care at times, they should not take it personally. All of these behaviors are her attempts at coping. It’s important to stay patient, comforting, and consistent.
How might your daughter react when you return? Babies respond to separations in very different ways, all out of a deep love for their parent. For example, babies often break down when seeing a parent again after a separation. It’s as if they are saying, You have been gone so long! I want you with me always and I am really mad at you for leaving! These are natural and expected feelings from a young child. It doesn’t mean you did something bad. Separations are a part of all our lives, and helping your child learn to cope with them is a gift you give your daughter.
How you handle your daughter’s reaction is very important. It is not uncommon for children to reject the parent who has been away and cling to the caregivers who have been around (i.e., dad and her Nanny). This can naturally be quite upsetting, and elicit hurt feelings, guilt, anxiety, and even anger. All are normal. But remember: You did not harm your relationship with your daughter. She is simply coping with a confusing situation (Mommy was here, then gone, then here—will she disappear again?) What you can do is let her know that you love her and accept her feelings (happiness, distress, ambivalence, anger, or sadness) no matter what. As you get back to your normal routine and she experiences that all is well and nothing has changed, she will be back to her old self. Remember that your sensitive, loving support is teaching her that she can show you her true feelings and you will still love her and be there for her…always.