Personal Story

My Therapist Told Me to Leave My Baby for 3 Nights—Here’s Why and What I Learned

written by MIA REVAK
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

We were nearing the end of an hour-long therapy session when my therapist assigned me some “homework.” I was to book a three-night getaway by the time of our next session in one month. The catch? No baby allowed. I nodded in agreement but secretly assured myself that this trip would never happen. I couldn’t possibly leave my 16-month-old for three nights. She needed me, and quite honestly, I needed her more. 

It wasn’t until I talked to my husband, family, and friends about this “crazy” idea that my opinion started to change. Seeking validation, I instead was met with multiple versions of “You need this,” which opened my eyes to how badly I really did need to make time for myself. I also was confronted with the fact that I was struggling with separation anxiety about leaving my baby overnight, and it was time to rip off the bandaid. 

A few days later, I begrudgingly booked a three-night trip with my husband to New Orleans, only to learn that everyone was right. Here’s why I did need some time away from my daughter and why my trip was good for both of us.

Overcoming Separation Anxiety About Leaving Baby Overnight

As parents, we often hear of separation anxiety in children, and we do our best to help them cope with the strong emotions they feel about us leaving. But what about parental separation anxiety? Many parents experience feelings of sadness and guilt at the thought of leaving their child—if only for a few days—and intrusive thoughts may rear their ugly heads. Thankfully, my therapist recognized my struggles and knew the only way to tackle these thoughts was to face them head-on. 

When struggling with parental separation anxiety, it is important to address your fears. If we never unveil our fears, they remain faceless, difficult to interpret, and impossible to overcome. No matter how silly it sounded, my homework assignment made me realize that I feared leaving my daughter with someone else would break our bond. I struggled with the idea that I would not always be my baby’s everything. I didn’t worry she would be traumatized; I didn’t worry she wasn’t in capable hands; I worried she would love me less. 

I didn’t worry she would be traumatized; I didn’t worry she wasn’t in capable hands; I worried she would love me less. 

Once I said these fears out loud, I realized I needed this trip because I needed to learn that it would be OK. I needed the experience of coming home and seeing my daughter safe and happy in order to combat these intrusive thoughts. We could be apart for a few days, and she would still love me the same. But without the actual experience, I would never fully believe it. 

Source: Canva

Lessons Learned from Leaving My Baby Overnight

1. Time Apart Benefits the Child

The most important thing I learned from my time away from my daughter is that it was good for my daughter. Research has shown that it is beneficial for young children to not only build trust with their primary caregivers but to also build trust with adults who are not related to them. They need to learn that they are part of a community of people who love and care for them and that they have all different types of people to turn to when they need someone. I want my daughter to have a vast network of people she can trust throughout her life, and developing those bonds with others has to start at an early age. I needed to let go of control and let others in. 

Additionally, I learned that goodbyes are hard but essential for maintaining trust between my daughter and myself. It’s important for her to learn that her Mom and Dad will come back and that she can depend on us. I didn’t try to trick her and sneak out of the house, leaving her with someone else. Instead, I tearfully said goodbye and walked away. To my great surprise (and relief), she didn’t shed a tear. 

2. Parents Need Time to Rest and Recharge

I officially allowed myself to relax once we arrived at the airport. Not having to console a screaming baby on an airplane felt downright indulgent. Exploring a new city with my husband allowed us to reconnect in a way that we hadn’t in over a year. Our conversations were intentional and not rushed, we ate full meals (not baby’s leftovers) while seated instead of standing, and slept in until (gasp!) 8 a.m. We felt renewed and fully ready to give our daughter 100 percent when we returned. A break from the routine of childcare, work, rinse, and repeat was what we needed to be more appreciative and present for our baby. 

I also believe it’s important to acknowledge that being able to get away for a few days takes a certain amount of privilege. Not everyone has family nearby who are able to help, plus finances and work schedules need to fall into place. All that being said, if you are able, taking a break for yourself is not selfish. It is important. You need a break from all the giving. You cannot pour from an empty cup. 

3. We Were OK

On the plane ride home, I had visions that my daughter would take one look at me walking through the door and start sobbing in either complete elation at my return or in complete sadness at the realization of my deep betrayal. None of that happened. Instead, coming home was entirely anti-climactic. Once she saw me, she gave me a soft smile and a hug, and then quickly went back to her grandmother… and I was OK. 

I was OK with the fact that she was seeking comfort from someone else. It was “business as usual,” and I was thrown back into feeding her lunch, knowing that her world doesn’t and shouldn’t revolve around me. Our bond wasn’t broken, but perhaps is actually stronger. The love between a parent and child is not fragile, or based on the condition that you always stay in close proximity, but instead transcends time and space. 

She was OK, and I was OK. And in the midst of my daughter chucking her mac and cheese on the floor, I began to plan my next trip.