My In-Laws Want Us Out!

Dear Mamas,

My in-laws have asked to come and take care of our 22-month-old for two weeks. They live in Chicago and have only met him a couple of times for a few days when we were there visiting. He doesn’t really know them and I am afraid of leaving him alone with them for so long. They are great people in their 60’s and want my husband and me to take a vacation and also to be able to spend time alone with Michael. But we have a good routine going now and I don’t want to get it messed up. Plus I just think he would really miss us and to be honest, I would miss him, too. What should I do?


Amelia in Santa Fe

Hi Amelia,

Wow! That’s a really amazing offer from your in-laws but I can definitely understand your hesitation. Two weeks in the life of a child that age is practically an eternity. And given the fact that he doesn’t spend time with them on a frequent and regular basis, it could be extra hard for him.

Stranger anxiety is still going strong with this age group. Even though your in-laws are “family,” Michael is still learning what this means and he isn’t bonded to them yet. So, in a way, they are still strangers to him. On the other hand, he is bound to be totally bonded to you now and would feel your absence keenly.

But it’s wonderful that they want to come and get to know him and also very kind to be offering you and hubby a chance to ditch the diapers and take some time off together.

Thank them from the bottom of your heart for making such a generous offer but let them know that at this point you feel it might be a little overwhelming for him since he’s not used to being away from you. Make it clear that you are all for having them come and spend longer periods of time alone with him once he’s a little older.

For now, encourage them to come and stay for a week or more to get to know Michael while you are there. That way he will have a chance to check them out in what will feel like a safe way with you around. He will be relaxed and get to see that they are accepted by you which will make it easier for him to connect with Grandma and Grandpa more naturally.

They will also have time to get accustomed to life in your household and a chance to see how Michael’s day goes — what his schedule is like and how you handle behavior issues and things like that. I’m glad to hear that you have a routine in place. It’s so critical for Michael and something that must be respected by everyone.

They can play with him and assist with feeding, bath time and bedtime and get into the swing of things gradually. Once you’re sure that they know the ropes, you and your husband can go out to lunch for an hour or so. Michael will see that you go and come back and if all goes well you can try dinner and a movie a couple days later.

Little by little you may feel comfortable leaving him with them for longer periods of time — perhaps a whole evening or afternoon. By doing it this way you won’t worry about him feeling like he’s been abandoned and you also increase the chances that the three of them will develop a good, loving relationship with each other.

Grandparents can be a real blessing in the life of a child, so this is something you definitely want to encourage. Good luck!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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