“I’m going to take you to the library today, then we’re going to have lunch together,” you tell your three-year-old. “Won’t that be fun?” you ask her with a smile.
“Ok,” she says, indifferently. “I guess.”
“And then,” you continue, “daddy and I are going out tonight, so Suzie is coming over to take care of you later today.”
“YAAAAAY!” she shouts with pure joy. “I CAN’T WAIT for her to come over!”
Ok, that’s a good thing, you think. It’s good that your child is excited to see her sitter. Her love of her sitter makes it easier for you to leave home for a relaxed, worry-free evening.
But deep down, you wonder — why don’t I ever get that reaction when we spend time together? Aren’t I fun, too? Does she have to like Suzie SO much more than she likes me?
These feelings aren’t uncommon. When your child becomes particularly attached to another caregiver – a sitter, nanny or grandparent – it can be difficult to understand why he or she doesn’t seem to have that same love for his or her parents. Your child may think your sitter is fun to be around, or that she loves your sitter or prefers her sitter over you.
In reality, you probably have nothing to worry about. Childhood is full of phases and most attachments to other caregivers end up being short-lived. But here are a few tips for getting through this phase in the meantime.
- Understand it takes a Village. Remember that it’s good for your child to have affection for and from more than one authority figure as he’s growing up. Different caregivers can provide a different perspectives and experiences, and learning how to follow rules and respond to another adult is good practice for school or any organized activity.
- Make a point of unplugging from life when you get home. When you walk in the door after being gone for a while, it’s tempting to start in on your to-do list without missing a beat. Instead of starting dinner right away or folding a load of laundry, change into play clothes and spend some one-on-one, uninterrupted time with your child. This will not only be good for your soul, but also help him realize you can be just as fun as the sitter!
- Establish shared daily routines. If it’s hard to schedule more actual “play time” with your child, figure out ways to integrate your regular daily routines. Eat dinner together every night, spend time reading together before bed or go for a short walk together before or after school. Just having that regular time together will make both of you feel more connected and loved.
- Schedule regular “date nights” with your kids. For many busy families, schedules drive our regular activities. So if you’d like to make a point of doing something special with your kids to establish or re-establish a bond, don’t wait for a free afternoon or evening. Put it on the schedule! Write down when and where you’ll be having that movie date with your daughter or two-hour Lego-building session with your son. If it’s on the schedule, it will happen, and you won’t be sorry.
As you’re going through this sometimes trying chapter of parenthood, remember too much love for another caregiver is better than no love at all. The fact your child looks forward to his sitter means he feels comfortable with her and he has fun when she is around. And this means you can leave him confident that he is being well-cared-for while you are away.