A Guide To Expanding Your Care Circle
For the first 18 months of Bodie's life, I was quite headstrong about keeping Bodie's care and subsequently his routines consistent. In the early stages, it was my unfounded nerves about if other people would "do it right" (I know how ridiculous that sounds). In retrospect, it would have been fine if someone didn't wash each eye with a cotton ball or talk to him as much as I did. But even as I grew out of the neurosis, I still felt good about establishing his sense of security by keeping his care circle intimate for the first year. So until recently, Dan, our regular babysitter who has been with Bodie since he was 5 months old, and I were the only three people to care for Bodie.
There's a lot I loved about that and have seen to benefit us and Bodie, but there's also the inadvertent downsides to any choice - Bodie feels extremely happy to chat and play when the three of us are around but is much more hesitant with unfamiliar friends. And when Dan and I have plans outside of our sitter's two days and a scheduled date night, we run into a roadblock.
So this summer, we started to grow our care circle consciously. The first and most obvious choice was both sets of Bodie's grandparents who are more than eager and willing to help. When we were with them on summer weekends, they would wake with Bodie and play and feed him without us to distract him or give him a preferred option on a caregiver. We found that if we removed ourselves from the room, they had the freedom to get to know each other in a different way. I think this time let us all get a bit more confident.
When we left Bodie for the first time overnight at Dan's parents' house, we stayed at their home a day and a night prior to get Bodie feeling comfortable in their space and to give them time to have a dry run putting him down for sleep with us available if they needed. The full days they got with him that weekend only built everyone's confidence more and we definitely feel 100% more ready to do it again.
More recently, we invited a new weekend sitter to do a trial with us. We found that by inviting her an hour to an hour and a half earlier than we needed, we had time to play with Bodie with her so he could grow his confidence that this was someone that we trusted. About a half hour into playing together, we had Bodie and her play together in his bedroom so that we were near but he could grow comfortable being just with her. We had her feed him dinner while we were still sitting at the table so that he could build a relationship with her as a carer. Then, we had her and Bodie walk us to the elevator for a quick hug and a reminder that this was his special time to play and that we would see him in the morning. Involving him in the goodbye - asking him to get my shoes, ring the elevator, and blow us a kiss seems to help by putting him in control.
Finally, we've just begun a playgroup for a couple of hours a week that is about gentle separation. The concept is that I, along with other parents and nannies, sit in a part of the playspace for up to 6 weeks and the teachers observe how often the kids check in with us versus playing with them and their peers. We're halfway through the 6 weeks and Bodie will still come sit with me a handful of times through the course of two hours but it's a far cry from day one when he observed his playmates while sitting on my lap unless he was actively lured away. The cues the teachers look for before "separating" are whether or not Bodie lets them change his diaper, hold their hand, take food or water from them and his general level of engagement with the group activities. Once we separate, the goal is that Bodie can enjoy time with friends in a small classroom setting while I sit outside and pretend to do e-mail while I'm wondering what he's doing inside.
In the beginning of September, it felt like a lot of change and I felt very funny about suddenly opening Bodie up to lots of different environments. But the thing that has helped me is realizing he is able to communicate his needs and my summoning confidence when I say goodbye. I find looking him directly in the eye and explaining that this is his special time to play with his friends, or his grandparents, or his new sitter and that I will be home very soon is so helpful.
In the week ahead, Dan and I have a few plans and appointments that we would have had to miss had we not started growing this group.
For some people, they start off open to help from day one, others wait for longer - where were you on the spectrum? What advice do you have to add? I'd love to hear in the comments! xo
Featured Image via Be Ok