Carolyn Hax: A mother’s separation anxiety

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 6, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

How do I get comfortable with the idea of leaving my baby with sitters — family members as well as qualified strangers? I’m okay when she’s with my husband; anyone else and I’m a wreck. This isn’t great for my peace of mind, plus I’m sure it’s VERY annoying for the sitters, as I’m calling home practically every half-hour to make sure the baby is still breathing.

Did I mention she’s almost a year old? Ordinarily I don’t have an anxiety problem, but I know how un-careful other people are when they’re borrowing other people’s clothes, for instance. I can’t help but assume the same would apply here.

Nervous


It doesn’t apply here. Well, it does, but only in the sense that you probably don’t want to trust your child to someone you can’t even trust with your sweater.

And only if you don’t run wild with this exception. If your sister once borrowed and lost your sweater, that doesn’t make her a bad babysitting risk. If she didn’t admit she lost it, or blamed you for blaming her, or some other such buck-passing, and if buck-passing is her signature move, then you put her on the emergency-babysitting-only list. That’s not because she’ll misplace the baby and blame you for it, but because she’s not likely to respect any of your instructions or household rules.

Another bit of throat-clearing before I answer your actual question: Your attempts to ensure that your baby continues breathing introduce a small, needless and rather ironic risk to your child: Those frequent calls don’t improve anyone’s breathing but do take a sitter’s attention away from your baby.

If you must check in, do it once a day. Or, go all the way and admit the calls are for you, not the baby or the sitter, and don’t call unless it’s necessary. When your baby’s talking, you can schedule times to say hello by phone or Skype — if she responds well to that. Some don’t.

Last bit of throat-clearing: Non-parents are often more careful with a child than a parent, because the stakes are higher when you mess up on someone else’s child.

Finally, an answer to your question: The way you get comfortable with babysitters depends on whether your anxiety is clinical or just the product of an overactive imagination. The latter can be largely tamed by having your sitter — familial or hired — care for your baby when you’re home. Really hand over those reins, and see how responsibly, how uneventfully, your baby can be held, fed, changed, read to, rocked. Set up this exercise by saying you have a lot to do around the house and would love a hand with the baby for two or three hours. “Act like I’m not even here,” you will instruct this sitter. Then lie low and stick to the plan.

If that doesn’t calm you down, then consider getting screened for anxiety. You might have had it since before you became a mother and managed it through life adjustments that didn’t seem out of the ordinary — until Baby came along and overwhelmed your coping mechanisms. Your OB-GYN or your baby’s pediatrician can help with a referral, if needed.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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