One of the toughest parts of leaving our kids with a babysitter while we are out on a date is getting out the door. There have been a lot of time when our kids are crying and begging us not to leave. I'm left feeling guilty for the first half of our date night and wondering if we should have stayed home. But we know that our marriage needs date night and we spend a lot of time with our kids and as a family so we don't feel guilty about leaving our kids while we go out.
Luckily for us, those nights of our kids crying while we walk out the door for date night are over. I think that both of our toddlers look forward to the nights that we leave them with the babysitter now. If leaving your kids with a babysitter is hard for you because of the emotions and guilt, these tips will hopefully help relieve some of that pressure and make going out for date night more of a happy occasion for all parties involved. I know that seeing that my kids are happy and having fun makes it easier for me to enjoy date night to the fullest and not feel bad that we left the kids home.
Get to Know the Babysitters Ahead of Time
Some kids are ok being left with someone that they've never met before, but I know for my kids, that's a no go. We're lucky to have two awesome nieces who live nearby and babysit for us most of the time. This summer I want to add a few new babysitters to our list for times when our nieces are out of town together or I need someone in the neighborhood to stop by for a short time while I take care of work things. To make new sitters less traumatic for my kids, I know that I need them to be someone my kids already know and trust.
If you're thinking about trying out a new babysitter, invite them over when your kids are at their best (not when they're tired or hungry) and let them get to know your kids. I make sure that I am right there with the kids while they are getting to know the person and over the course of about an hour, slowly put space between myself and the sitter and kids. I'll leave for a couple of minutes to switch the laundry out or walk to the opposite side of the yard or house to take care of something little. The kids can still see me and I always come back so they know that I'm not leaving them.
Have a Trial Run with the Babysitter
I like to do a trial run for the babysitter's sake as much as for the kids. Short babysitting experiences will let your kids get to know the sitter better and give the babysitter an opportunity to become familiar with your family and your home. This can happen when you are going to be gone for a short time, like a quick run to the grocery store. I also like to have the babysitter come over while I go down to my office and work for a little while. During your trial run, you can introduce the sitter to your house rules and help them get to know your family's routine. You will get to see how they interact with your kids and will have peace of mind when you're ready to leave them for a longer period of time.
Let Your Kids Have a Say in the Sitter
I remember when my parents were planning on getting a babysitter while they went out, they'd usually ask who we wanted to come play with us while they were gone. Sometimes we were given two choices and other times we had free reign. Giving your kids a choice will make them more excited for the sitter to come over and more likely to be ok with your leaving.
Prepare Your Kids for Date Night Ahead of Time
Kids take comfort in knowing what is going on during the day and react better when they've had time to prepare themselves for a change in their routine. We start preparing our toddler for date night about 12 hours before the babysitter comes. If it's a morning date, we'll start talking to him about it the night before and if we'll be gone in the evening, we bring it up first thing in the morning. Older kids might like knowing a few days in advance, and for some families, discussing date night at their weekly family meeting might be best.
When we are letting our kids know that a babysitter is coming while we go out on a date, we keep things positive and exciting. We'll say something like, "Guess what?! Tonight, (insert name of babysitter here) gets to come over and play with you while mom and dad go on a date! That's going to be so fun!" Throughout the day, we'll mention it a few more times as we discuss our plans for the day, or right before naps. "And then after naps, (insert name of babysitter here) gets to come over, remember? And you guys can play outside, have a picnic and watch a movie while mom and dad are on a date." Preparing them for the transition ahead of time and making it a positive thing will make it easier when it happens.
Redirect Their Attention as You're Leaving
Even when we've done our best to prepare our kids for date night and know that they'll have a lot of fun with their babysitter, there are some nights when it's still a struggle to get out the door. Teething babies, toddlers who boycott nap time, and other situations lead to a lot of emotion and just wanting mom and dad. Our babysitters have always been great at capturing the kids' attention and getting them off to do something fun but sometimes they need a little extra help.
Our toddlers love to watch out the window while we're leaving and wave goodbye. So when they're clinging to our leg and trying to sneak out to the car with us, we'll excitedly suggest that they run upstairs to the window and wave to us while we drive off. Then we make sure to roll down the windows, stop for a second in front of the house and wave wildly or blow kisses to them. We'll also distract them by letting them go outside or pulling out a new activity that they've never played with before.
Always Say Goodbye and Let Them Know You'll Be Back
The biggest thing I tell people is not to just sneak off and leave your kids without saying goodbye. The resulting meltdown that can occur when they realize that you are gone is not pretty. We make sure to always tell our kids goodbye, and they usually request a million kisses and hugs when we're on our way out. We tell them to have so much fun and that we'll see them in the morning or after their naps or whenever we'll be back.
Getting a babysitter can be hard, and I know how guilty you can feel as parents when your baby doesn't want you to leave but you head out on your date anyway. It can help to start by leaving them with people that they know well and working up to babysitters in your area. I know some kids who are so used to their parents going out for date night and babysitters coming over, that they can invite a variety of people to watch the kids and their kids think nothing of it. Using these few tricks and knowing what your kids need specifically will help make date night less traumatic and more fun for everyone involved!
Photography by Sadie Banks Photography