Q&A: Leaving 16-month-old overnight

Anon writes:

"When is the first time you (and your readers) left your kid overnight?  My daughter is 16 months old and we have never been apart a night.  My husband had a 30 day work thing, a few day work thing, and 3 or 4 amateur sporting events that have separated them overnight.  My daughter is a great sleeper So I don't really worry about her waking in the night. (I wrote earlier about her maybe sleeping too much.) She cheerfully weaned herself at 11 months so that isnt a factor.

We are going to visit my ILs this weekend.  They live an 8 hour drive from us.  We are staying at a local uncle's house while he is on vacation (house sitting and getting a place to ourselves with plenty of bedrooms, IL's only have 1 spare room so other visits have been a little cozy but doable).  Uncle is a 15 min drive from IL's. DH is putting pressure on me to let DD have her first Overnight at myIL's. I am up with a migraine at 4:10 am at the thought.

He wants them to experience a DD's "first." He says this over and over.

A little more background:  DD is only child, only grandchild for both my parents and his.  My parents see DD a few days a week when I work and probably at least one social visit that is not babysitting for them.  They adore her and my mom and I talk every single day.  My husband used to live 2 hrs from his fam and moved here (8 hrs from his fam) to be with me 7 years ago.  My ILs ( retired) have been here 3 times to see DD.  DD HATED the car until she was 6 months old (could scream more than 3 hours in the car - we never tried longer than that) and flying is not financially feasible for us.  This will be our 3rd visit to ILs since she was born. DH has occasionally  expressed sadness/anger/grief over the fact that my fam gets to see her multiple times a week and his has only seen her 5 times (for five day visits at a time).

Don't  think I am a monster preventing a relationship with my IL's and DD, though.  I call my MIL once a week and give her details on what DD is doing (MIL is tech savvy but never ever initiates contact.  She always either answers the phone or promptly returns my call).  I make sure DH skypes weekly with IL while I work.  I text pics at least 3x week.  I mail packets of photos for mothers day, fathers day, etc. I send flowers on birthdays and cards on holidays.  I ask about their church friends and family events when I call.  ILs always seem to welcome contact and are happy to hear from us, but never initiate contact with me or with DH.  (he jokes that he'd never hear from them if he didn't call).  ILs always seem happy when we visit and always stay a long weekend when they visit.  We rotate thanksgiving and christmas yearly between the families.

Between our infrequent visits and her being my only baby, I feel nervous about leaving her.  Last time they saw her, she was barely crawling and standing shakily.  Now she is running.  They have a two story house with no gates on either staircase.  I have a daughter with no sense of life-preserving fear.  She is fast and they are older.  But do I give my husband this gift?  This first for the IL's? I know it would mean a lot to him and to them. I feel conflicted."

This is a tricky situation, but it's not really a zero-sum game: You could decide not to leave your daughter overnight with people she doesn't know when you aren't comfortable with it, while still letting your in-laws be the first to have her on an overnight.

I can absolutely understand your husband's point of view on this. It is one of the great sadnesses of my life that my parents can't be in my kids' lives several times a week, especially since I know they'd love to be. If we lived in the same area my mom would see my kids all the time and my dad (who's not retired yet) would see them at least once a week. It makes me so sad that they don't get to have each other while the kids are growing up. So I'm oh-so-sympathetic to your husband's feelings.

But.

Your daughter doesn't know his parents, even though they know her extremely well. If you think about it, how old was she when she last saw them? Will she remember them? They, on the other hand, know her intimately because of all the photos and skype time and stories and reports on her that you give them. But she doesn't know them.

16 months can be a weird time anyway for some toddlers, so she could be extremely upset about being left overnight with people she doesn't know. And people (especially older people) who are not around a careening daredevil toddler really have no idea how exhausting it can be and how closely they have to supervise her every single second (especially if their house isn't toddler-proofed).

What if you leave her and she starts crying horribly because she's scared and misses you, and they can't console her, and they feel like she's rejecting them?

I think I'm telling you everything you already know, and what your heart is telling you, which is that it doesn't sound like the best idea to leave her alone overnight with your in-laws.

But.

That doesn't mean that they can't be the first to have her overnight. You can make a plan with your husband and with them to have her have her first overnight at some point in the future when she's more aware of who they are and, more importantly, when she's better able to talk and communicate. And when her physical judgment is better, too. So much development happens in the second year, so a 16-month-old is nothing like a 21-month-old is nothing like a 27-month-old. Once she's older and more able to talk, an overnight will be fun for everyone. (Honestly, an overnight with a 16-month-old sounds about one step up from having blood drawn to me. The wake-ups, the random screaming because you don't understand what they're saying, the never sitting still...)

And now that she's better in the car, you can make more visits, so they will get to see her more frequently and your husband might be a little more at peace with the relationship. (Or he might not, as I'm not. That's ok, too.)

But setting everyone up for failure by leaving her alone with them overnight at this age isn't going to fix the heartache your husband feels, and it might ruin everyone's weekend. So come up with some super-polite excuse about why you can't (18-month molars coming in are a likely story) and then plan another visit for when she's older.

Readers? Am I on or am I full of it? When did you leave your child overnight for the first time, and with whom? Who would you rather spend the night with--a 16-month-old or a feral monkey?