Why I Cried the First Time My Baby Reached for the Babysitter

Last week, it happened. The moment I knew was inevitable. The thing other moms had warned me about, but I’d brushed them off. My babysitter showed up to relieve me for a few hours so I could work, and my daughter, just 9-months-old and sweet as can be, broke her mother’s heart. She wrenched her little body away from me and reached for the sitter. As soon as they left, I broke down in tears.

It’s weird, really, because I always babysat. I never understood the way these moms would say goodbye and then run back in for one more kiss. I adored all the children I watched, but my logic was, Don’t make this hand-off worse than it has to be. Then, in the event that the kid seemed happy to see me, I felt a little sorry for the moms who acted hurt. It seemed a little silly, honestly. But, now I’m the mom. And now I get it.

My sitter is a mom herself, but her experience was a little different than mine. She stayed home with her kids (who are now in college) and she “soaked in every minute,” as she tells me. I enjoy the privilege of staying home to take care of my own daughter, too, for now. But I also work. So a few days a week, I pay her to take the baby off my hands and let me power through my deadlines (and sure, some laundry, too). I really like this woman and I trust her implicitly. I also want my daughter to feel safe and adored — after all, she’s my baby. To use a classic line, she’s my heart walking around right outside my body. Her joy is my own, so if she’s comfortable and having a great time, that’s my biggest win.

But I also felt a pang of betrayal when she reached for the sitter the other day, excited to play and head out on one of their adorable adventures. These two do things together that I don’t always have the time for. The swings, walks along the water, treats. The sitter is a great singer and she’s trilingual; the way she speaks and the noises she makes in the presence of my little girl are expansive and exciting. I understand that I’ll always be Mama, but seeing a rush of excitement on my little one’s face as she was handed off from boring old mom to the loud, musical, exciting sitter just sucked.

Here’s the thing: It’s deeper than a basic rejection. I never thought I would see the day, but my identity has shifted since I had my daughter. So much of who I am now is wrapped up in being her mom. The newborn days, while exhausting, were ours alone. I worked, but I did it with her lying on my chest in our living room. As she started to become more aware of her surroundings, her first smiles, giggles and movements happened right before my eyes. Detailing her daily accomplishments to my husband has been such a joy. I like being the one who does this. As my sitter says, the one who “soaks in every minute.” But I can’t always be that one. Mama’s gotta work. And I also need — I’ll be honest — a break sometimes.

My daughter is getting older now and my work responsibilities have picked up, which is great! And sad. As I’ve shifted to more hours and found some part-time help, my little girl is discovering a feeling of comfort in her new routine. Objectively speaking, it’s natural that she would reach for the caregiver she trusts and associates with fun adventures. But to my broken, ridiculous mama heart, that first time she reached for her felt like one more grand old reminder that she won’t need me forever.

So, yes, I cried. And I felt silly about it after. What kind of mother would cry when her baby is happy? But I did give myself a few minutes to feel the sting before I got back to what I had to do. And sure enough, a few days later I got a phone call from the strongest new mom I know. She’d just dropped her baby off at daycare for the first time and was a wreck.

We know we have to let go, little by little. We know that we have to live, and so do they. But I think it’s okay to give ourselves the space to feel the pain sometimes. Because after all, we’re moms. And no matter what else the world requires of us, at the end of the day what we really want is for those sweet little people to need us. As I seek to find a balance between keeping our bond and letting my daughter grow, sometimes there will be hard moments. But later that fated afternoon with the sitter, I had the ultimate win — when they returned from their adventure, my baby reached for me.

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 Photo: Getty