Attachment parenting and babysitters

I don’t know exactly how we ended up in this situation, but I find that one of the toughest things about being a single parent with three varied age kids we’ve raised with attachment parenting ideals is that they’re not babysitter friendly.
What do I mean by that? Simply that they aren’t responsive to babysitters, don’t listen, and generally are anxious and upset if they’re with someone other than Linda or I. Not during the day, I’ll note, but I’m talking evenings, bed time.
As I have written before over the years that I’ve run this blog, bedtime has been a perpetual challenge and frankly it seems like bedtime problems are a great unspoken problem for parents in our society, particularly those of us that are trying to create a “safe container” for our children. (do I sound like I live in Boulder, Colorado, or what?)

I can’t remember a week, even, where bedtime was quick, smooth and without hassles, and though my 13yo A- is definitely completely cool with her bedtime ritual and turns off her light at the appointed time (well, after complaining that she has “just a page or two” and pushes for more reading time, but I’m okay with that), the other children still seem to have issues.
My 5yo still won’t go to sleep unless we cuddle up, read a book, and then I lay in bed with her until she conks out. It’s nice, it’s sweet, but when it takes up 45-60 minutes/night, that means that my older kids really lose out on some non-5yo time with me, and that’s a bummer for all of us. The vision of “tucking them in, giving them a kiss, and they fall asleep all by themselves” is lovely, but not my life.
So how does this relate to babysitters? I’m not sure, but they are sure attached – go figure – to Linda and I and just have a hard time with someone else replacing us, even for an evening.
This kinda sucks because it means that the evenings I have my kids, I am essentially trapped and can’t have any other plans, be they drinks with a friend, dinner, or even an evening out. And worse, it feel self-reinforcing: since I am 100% focused on them when my kids are with me, they’ve learned to expect that and get cranky if I’m even on the phone for five minutes with a friend or colleague.
I know – and fully intend – to introduce a trusted babysitter into the picture, starting with them taking care of the kids of an afternoon while I do something else (the gym anyone?) and then gradually try longer evening stretches, but when nighttime is a super hands-on experience for me, how is an inevitably more detached babysitter going to handle things?
And I am very aware of the AP friends I have who talk about never having time to themselves and having, year after year, been there every single night for their children. That feels almost like parenting as martyrdom somehow.
The long and short of it is that this is one of those dimensions of attachment parenting that fall into the “unintended consequences” bucket and it does make me wonder just how independent my children are when babysitting just tends to fizzle out and fail.
Thoughts? What are your experiences with babysitting AP kids?

16 comments on “Attachment parenting and babysitters

  1. I agree with you that’s it’s not easy to do.
    With our five year old, we never really taught her the skill of how to fall asleep by herself. We’d read to her until she fell asleep, and then leave her in her room.
    With her soon-to-be two-year old sister, we tried really hard to give her the skills she needed to be able to fall asleep by herself. It was really easy when she was in a crib.
    But once she was able to start to climb out of her crib, then it got more difficult.
    Now, my trick is to put them to bed at the same time and read them both books.
    The good news is that they share a room, so that makes it easy.
    The more challenging part is that the two year old still takes a long nap during the day, so it’s usually her five year old sister who falls asleep first.
    Not so easy!!
    — Jeff

  2. Is your 13 year old able/willing to babysit? If she isn’t, she likely will be within a year or so, I would think.
    Also, have you considered letting the 5 and 2 year old sleep together when you are out?

  3. Thanks for the suggestion, Katie, but I have a 13yo, a 9yo, and a 5yo. No 2yo since a long time ago. 🙂 The problem is that the children overall get a bit anxious at night without me present, so just leaving them won’t result in any progress and I’d come home at whatever time I did with them all still up. It’s tough. I know that if it were just the two girls (13yo and 5yo) it’d work, but add my boy to the mix and the dynamic just changes.

  4. Oops! Meant to say 5 and 9. Trying to type too fast! My kids get anxious when we are out too, so I can relate, but we do try to leave our 12 year old in charge for short (up to 2 hours) times so they can get used to it, and we get a break without having to pay for a sitter. In fact, I am about to leave for a meeting at school and he will be the boss while I am gone. 🙂 We will do special things like rent a video or allow extra computer time while we are gone to distract them and make things go more easilly for him. Our kids are almost 13, almost 11 and 8, so a bit older than yours, though.

  5. Ok this scares me. We have a 4 month old and the perpetual debate between my husband and me is about attachment parenting. I am all for it and have been trying to convince him that if we spend a lot of time with her at bed time now (we start bed time rituals at 7:30, take her in to the bed room at 8:30 and she finally falls asleep at 10 pm), then she will be more secure and more independent later and that she will outgrow needing us to fall asleep every night and there is some time in the future where we can both spend time alone. Now I am re considering…help!

  6. We’ve never had a sitter other than an extended family member, and we’re ok with that (and now we don’t have family near by, so we’re really up a creek!). Our kids are 11, 4, and 6 months old, so we can’t really leave them with the oldest yet.
    Our thinking is that our kids are the most important things (?) in our lives, so giving up on some outside of the home entertainment in favor of family time is cool with us. Our kids know they’re cared for and loved, and that’s our goal – not catching the latest movie or going to a club. Some think we’re nuts, but we don’t care… haha.
    I do think my attitude might change if I was a single dad, but can’t say for sure.

  7. Anu, you have to admit, a 2 1/2 hour bedtime ritual is eating into your life big time. At four months your baby should be sleeping most of the day anyway, so perhaps it’s the very rituals you partake in that keep her up and curious about what’s going on?
    Derek, I appreciate your comment, but I will say that from my own experience, sacrificing your solo time with your spouse, sacrificing date nights, etc, so that you can “always be there” for your children is a very risky proposition. I’m sure that they can survive a babysitter once a month, for example, and being able to go out for dinner and have a quiet evening without the kids is good for the two of you and will help keep your relationship strong. I’ll also add that the best couples I have seen are those that value their *partner* as #1, then the kids as a very, very close #2. Something to think about…

  8. Finding babysitters can be tough. My wife and I went through an arduous selection process and came home early to find ours with her boyfriend. Needless to say she was let go. This article has some good tips on how to select a babysitter.

  9. I love your comments on the bedtime ritual. We have an 11 year old and have basically co-slept with him since infancy in one fashion or another. Meaning our bed or his. Now, at 11, he still loves his “snuggle time.” I must point out that he is an only child. I am not sure if that matters. So, for the last six years, I have been trying to decide should I force him to go to sleep on his own or give him the secure sleep space he wants. Obviously, I didn’t make any decisions, but will say that the thought of just putting him in his room and walking out and going downstairs feels like abandonment at this point. He will, if hard pressed, go to bed on his own now, if I am super tired or it’s really late, but it’s not his first choice. With only a few years until he’s a teenager and I am not the only woman in his life, I don’t want to give up snuggle time either. 🙂 We had the same experience with babysitters. He wanted to wait up with the babysitter until we got home. He would say, ” is she putting me to bed?” Then, freak out if we even suggested it. Mother-in-law to the rescue. She lives reasonably close so he could go spend the night with her, but again only if he had to and he would sleep with her in her bed. With all this said, he is the most loving, independent, self-assured young man. This way of parenting just came right from the heart and feels so right.

  10. I just stumbled across your blog (literally, by searching “attachment parenting” in Stumble!) and am bookmarking it. It’s not often that AP dads blog (well, that I’ve found yet), and the fact that your kids are so spread apart in age makes it interesting. So many of the parents in my local AP group drop out after their kids hit 6 or 7, but I’m sure they still hold AP ideals!
    Looking forward to reading more.

  11. Hey, try introducing a sitter slowly. Have the kids spend time with the person when you’re around — so they’re comfortable with the person. Also, be sure to talk to your kids about the bedtime situation. Any change isn’t going to be overnight, but you can gradually teach them bedtime skills over time — working with what they’re comfortable with. Likely, their bedtime insecurities have roots in other parts of their lives they perceive as insecure — figure out what these are and try to approach the bedtime issues through a wholistic view on the whole parenting front.

  12. Hi Dave,
    I know I’m late on this subject, just wanted to let you know what we did when I was growing up. I was the oldest, 11/12 when my youngest brother was born, and my other brother was 8. When the youngest, M, was about a year old I started distance education and took a huge part in the care of my younger brothers, especially the baby. We are an AP family (my Mum never had a word for it, but I am on the more extreme end of the Autism spectrum and she did what she had to to cope, so I was breastfed til I was almost four, worn and carried until I was six, co-slept until I was six, when I started co-sleeping with my two year old brother, not vaccinated as I reacted violently – I was always a bit weird, but who knows whether the infant immunisations I had, only the first round, made it worse?? Anyway, you get the drift. After me, Mum just applied these basic ideas to all the kids, and we all thrived. Of course, we were all different. The middle one slept in the family bed til he was 15, the baby slept with me until I moved out of home when he was six, and then back into the family bed sporadically to this day. He’s now 13). Interestingly as a side note, perhaps due to my Mum’s AP practices, people rarely have any idea I have a social disorder, and sometimes even I don’t notice it. I am now 25, and have my own four month old daughter, who I am raising in a similar manner – we’re both snuggled in the big bed right now for her afternoon nap!
    Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand, I was never babysat, neither were my brothers. I looked after them when I was old enough. The rule was that while the parents were out, my word was law, but when they were home it was back to three kids. It worked well for us, and fostered an amazing bond between my youngest brother and I in particular – he’s also autistic and had tourettes, but is well adjusted and happy, albeit hormonal at the moment as he’s entering puberty.
    I would suggest spending some times with your eldest, teaching her how you and hour ex wife settle your younger two for bed, and getting her involved with the general evening routines while you’re around to supervise. Once she has it worked out, you have the best babysitter ever, as your kids will already know and love her, and she’ll probably enjoy the time she gets with them. At that age, she’s unlikely to go power tripping, but should be quite capable of a few hours care.
    It may not work for every family, but it was fantastic for ours, and even with our age gaps my brothers and I are still to this day the closest siblings I know of.
    I do suggest that if you do try this, you make a point of setting aside some “kid-free” time for the older one, either with you or your ex, to de-frag after a babysitting session. Not only does it make it more enjoyable to feel respected and included in the adults’ circle when you’re taking on more adult responsibilities, but it also just serves as some stress relief, so that she doesn’t come to resent the times she’s left in charge.
    I’m thrilled to have found your blog, it looks like you’re a wonderful Dad and I look forward to following your posts from now on!

  13. Hi–AP here, who just had the experience of babysitting a 3yo and 9mo TWINS who have all been attachment parented. I was there with the babies’ grandmum and my daughters, 13 and 17, for 24 hours while APmom and APdad were away for a wedding.
    Those babies did not want breastmilk–they wanted to NURSE! They were not hungry, they wanted to nurse. They threw the breastmilk on the floor, all the while screaming to nurse.
    Shoot the messenger if you like, but in my experience, even with babies that age, to go away for the night and not nurse them was cruel. They were simply to young to understand that mummy was ever coming back.
    My 17 yo and I have had many conversations since. We have come up with the following agreement: When someday she has babies of her own, she will leave her AP babies with me under the following conditions: 1- I will be allowed and expected to breastfeed those babies myself, while co-sleeping 2-iif they do not take to my breast, it would be more cruel to try to comfort them with non-nursing measures as they cry inconsolably all night long, then it would be to give them a weight appropriate amount of baby benedryl to help them sleep.
    As she reads this over my shoulder, she comments that it sounds so weird to talk about nursing other peoples’ babies, but in the moment, it seemed like the only solution the made sense to her. Although she did not act on it, (nor did grandmum nor I), we are all in agreement that had we had it to do over, we’d have been sure to get the okay from mom. Remember, these comments are from a 17yo virgin high school senior in Chicago, not some hippy dippy earth child.
    I think she’s got great instincts.
    As for getting my own to sleep alone…we co=slept until they were 8 and 4, and then I moved into my own bedroom and we replaced the party bed with twin beds. The girls slept together (in a twin), by mutual agreement, one at the headboard and one at the footboard, until they were tall enough to kick each other in the night.
    When you decide to attachment parent–you are in it for the long haul.
    However, teachers, doctors etc. are always telling me how really terrific my kids are–how different they are from their age mates. They can hold conversations, look adults in the face, talk without mumbling. They form attachments to their peers in a more mature, healthier way than other kids. In 7th grade, a “mean girl” moved into the older ones class, and she proceeded to make friends with DD’s best friend from the year before. The best friend told DD that she wanted to stop being friends, out of the blue. DD got in the car, fuming. She knew that the best friend was under the influence of the mean girl, and that after mean girl had ruined her life, she was going to discard her and laugh. DD asked me for my phone, and I figured she was going to let the argument continue. DD took the phone and dialed it, and she said to the girl. I heard what you said about wanting to stop being friends with me, but I refuse to stop being friends with you. I can’t talk about it now, but I will call you Sunday at 3 and we will talk about it then. By Sunday, the girl was falling all over herself apologizing.
    The three of them all ended up on good terms, and it probably saved the class dynamics.
    I can give you a hundred other examples of this kind of thing from both my kids.
    So there you go.

  14. Resently I was hired then fired by AP parents…..parents went from Home with baby back to work and by that I mean the mom flew to Dallas TX for a week for a conference….the Dad in 3 days had flown to 3 different states…..excause me but the baby cried so much she went from all parents all the time to none……I’am a professional babysitter for over 13 years and come with outstanding referrals……I was sad and tearful for the baby….she at 6 months was very confussed by it all…..unfortunately with the babys crying the parents felt it was my fault and I was let go………advise would be to gently bring in a sitter, let go alittle, and by all means save your child the confussion and heartache of missing the attached parent…’s not the same as a attached nanny/sitter!

  15. Dear Dave,

    I hear your pain and frustration… I thought that AP was supposed to be a bit tough in the beginning but would certainly get easier with time. After all, it is supposed to promote more independence and happiness in children. What you are describing certainly raises questions about striking the right balance between our desire as parents to see our children thrive and our need as individuals for some personal space.

    Our son is 19 months old. He has never slept through the night and doesn’t know how to go to sleep on his own. He associates going to sleep at night with nursing and so every time he wakes up at night he calls for mommy. Mommy has no social life to speak of and has to refuse missions and projects involving international travel, which means that she puts her career on hold for now. I believe that child rearing entails some parental sacrifice and I can do it with joy when I am convinced of the benefits. But are the benefits clear and confirmed? It seems like in trying to be a good AP parents we can easily go over the top, which could have many negative outcomes, including putting too much stress on the relationship between the parents. Dave, do you see any connection between your commitment to AP and your divorce?

  16. Well It looks like it has been a while since anyone has been on this page, but it is still here so I will add my thoughts! I raised my kids AP too and very rarely had babysitters. Since my kids are older, I want to help out taking care of my friend’s kids, but i just can’t babysit the old fashioned way, just show up and take over while mum and dad disappear! I think it would work really well for anyone to start having babysitters very early, but to always return to home when the baby shows signs of distress. This would best be proceeded by a similar approach to babycare in general, whereby baby is handed off to many other people whenever possible, even while they sleep, but always returned to Mom or other attachment figure when distress builds up. I have recently been doing this on a very small scale with a neighbor and I think it is working pretty well! Her baby is very fussy and wants to be held all the time, but after we have done a bit of handing over back and forth between us, he always relaxes, knowing that his distress signals are being responded to. Hope this helps some people out there!! I know we are all doing what we think is best, hope is best, and love our kids, but it is practically impossible to do AP without great sacrifice unless you are very wealthy and can hire the help you need, have an amazing collection of friends and family around you at all times, or live in a village where you can easily find old ladies and kids and other people to share babycare. Someday I would like our culture to have this sort of understanding about human needs and the ability to give parents and children the support they need in order to enjoy life as much as possible.

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