June 1st, 2009
12:43 PM ET

Separation anxiety: mom's first night away from baby

By Shahreen Abedin
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Leading up to Mother’s Day this year, I suspected my husband was planning something, but I had no idea it would be by far, one of the biggest parenting challenges I would face to date.

On Tuesday the weekend before, Daddy came home and announced he and I were going on a special night on the town on Friday, complete with fancy dinner, Star Trek movie (I don’t mind admitting I’m a fan), and … an overnight hotel stay in the city, sans the munchkin.

It was to be our first time leaving him alone the entire night, and while I appreciated the thoughtfulness of my hubby’s planning, I was immediately gripped by the anxiety of letting go. We had just gotten the hang of leaving our 18-month old son with a sitter on weekend nights, but never for the whole night. I told my husband that I needed a couple of days to think about it.

The plan was that our nanny, whom we all completely love and trust, would take the little man to her home in the afternoon, and he’d stay there overnight. On paper, it was a great arrangement. She has a dog which I knew he’d love, an amazing park in her neighborhood, and although she’s not family, she loves him to pieces and we had no doubt in our minds that he would be well-cared for and have a fun time.

However, my biggest fear had not yet been addressed: He’s never been to his nanny’s house before, and he was going to wake up in a room where he’s never awoken and wonder if his parents have given him up for good. He’s not really talking yet – just a smattering of words and phrases – so how will they know if he’s anxious or scared out of his mind and just can’t say so?

I knew that sooner or later, this day would come. We would need to let the baby stay elsewhere overnight so we could have some much-needed parental down-time. Focus on our relationship as husband and wife, and put the mommy-daddy show on the backburner. I went to my trusty “What to Expect the Toddler Years” book, and felt better when I read that waiting till he was older would not necessarily guarantee it’d be easier (and in fact could be worse), and that toddlers can only learn to be ok with separation when they experience it firsthand. Cognitively, I knew that it would ultimately be good for him because the time away would be good for me, and that usually it’s the parent who has more of a problem with separation than the child.

I knew all this, and I knew that we had even done all the right things leading up to this point: we started out only leaving him at home for a short while with a sitter, then we’d be gone for longer periods at home, and now we can even take him over to someone else’s house for an evening and he has still been just fine, no meltdowns. Timing-wise, he wasn’t going through any dramatic processes like potty-training or weaning from the bottle, so we were good on that front too.

Armed with all this knowledge, I finally agreed to the arrangement. I was proud of myself for getting to this point mentally and emotionally, and I was finally starting to get really excited about the fun night out with my man, just like old times before this life of sleep deprivation, sticky hands, and crayon on the carpet.

As my son waved happily at me, blowing his sweet little good-bye kisses my way, I did cry, as hard as I tried to hold it. When the door shut, I totally bawled for a good two minutes. These were tears partly from the of fear I felt welling up again inside me, but also tears of sadness from knowing that parenting - although joy-filled for most of the ride - is also a life-long process of grieving over letting go of your child, step by step.

Our toddler ended up having a great time, by the way. And so did we, I’m proud to say. Now we’re preparing to take longer trips away from him. So I’m looking for some advice on what’s helped you get through this whole ‘letting them go overnight’ thing – any tricks that helped ease the process, any traditions that have made the experience fun and relatively painless for you and your child? I need all the help – and reassurance! – I can get.

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soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Catherine

    Hi Shahreen, you sound amazing. I am going tfor business travel for 6 days. i have to leave my girl of 8 mths to a baby sitter and my son of 6 years to my hubby. From the day I know I need to travel, I find myself depressed. Everytime I think of the day I have to leave for airport, I cry. I cry so much till I ask myself why am I crying. They will be in good hands. I find it so difficult to let go. Do you have any tricks?

    June 1, 2009 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Alex Lickerman

    My wife is about to leave for a 5 day business trip–the very first time she'll be away from our 15 month-old son and she's not so much anxious as sad. It's just amazing how attached we get to these little creatures! My advice to her was to focus on the work she's going to be doing (which she'll end up doing anyway), enjoy it, and look forward to returning home to see him (and me). Sometimes I think when you're facing a challenging time coming up it helps to project yourself past it mentally and envision having already gotten through it. And just keep reminding yourself that your child will be fine!


    June 2, 2009 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Suzy

    My advice is to wait until he is older and not still your "baby." I left mine for the first time when I went into the hospital to deliver his baby brother. He was 2 1/2. Since then, he has been to grandmas without me overnight and I feel okay about it. I get to focus more on the new baby when he is gone. When I see him again the next day, it is like he's grown an inch overnight. It makes me realize how grown up he is now.

    June 4, 2009 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Daddy Files

    Wow. I'm not sure I can relate. My son is 18 months now but he's been staying overnight with family members and friends since he was just a few months old. I trust my family completely and I knew he'd be in great hands, so I've never had even the slightest problem letting my son stay overnight somewhere else.

    Honestly, I don't understand all the anxiety.

    October 7, 2009 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Kalia

    I feel the same way. My son is 2 1/2 and i get nervous and depressed when i leave him to go to work or if someone in the family wants to take him out. I trust everyone who has ever watched him but since i was a stay at home mom until he was 2 it just feels really hard for me all the time.

    May 7, 2010 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Stop Anxiety

    I am feeling anxiety at the moment but your story helped me a lot. I can relate to it and I have been truly inspired. Thank you.

    May 11, 2010 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lacey

    I have just completed mediation for a parenting plan for my 2 year old with her dad. He wanted her right off the bat, 3 overnights a week and 2 additional evenings. She has never stayed the night with him or away from me. I wanted to wait until she was older but I felt that I had to give in a little or else he would bring in an attorney. So I fought so hard to make the transition spaced on night at a time over a couple months. This is going to be so hard for me. My heart is broken but I guess its time that things need to change a bit. I don't think your worries ever go away.

    January 27, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Thank you

    Leaving my 8 month old for 48hr business trip was far harder than expected. This article was great source of comfort.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Agreed

    I'm in the middle of a 48-hr business trip and DH called in middle of the first night because 7-month-old DD wouldn't eat and wouldn't go back to sleep, crying. I am already feeling sad and horrible being away from DD but now I am also kind of mad at DH for waking me up and causing me stress when I can't do anything and it was the first opportunity I had for a full night's sleep! While on the phone, I had him try to feed her again, which worked. I guess he needed me to talk through his frustration and maybe that helped her be calm when he was calm but I have done this so many times, can't he do it just this once? And now I have to go to work jet-lagged and with only four hours of sleep.

    September 27, 2011 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.