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Unhealthy Attachment: Going on Vacation Without your Child

Graeme and I are leaving Madi for 6 days to go to Hawaii for our friends’ wedding. After I booked our flights to Hawaii I immediately started panicking. I have left Madi before for 2 nights in the past for a medical conference and a bachelorette party, but I have never been away from her for 5 nights! Will Madi will feel abandoned? Will her attachment (the bond between a baby and mother) to me fade over the 5 nights? 

I know that Madi would be safe over the next 5 nights with her grandparents, but I worried that those 5 days of missed playing, cuddles, and bedtime routines could affect our relationship.

When does attachment develop?

Attachment develops at birth when your baby begins to respond to your voice and follow your movements with their eyes. Experiences you have with your child over the next years will help form the foundation of your child’s attachment to you.

Who will your child become attached to?

The medical literature on childhood attachment also indicates that children can develop healthy secure attachments with multiple caregivers. This is provided that you leave your child in the care of someone they trust.

My parents are very supportive and love to take care of Madi. Madi enjoys her “Gung Gung” and “Poh Poh”.  They are able to soothe Madi when she is fussy and upset.  When Graeme and I decided to go to Hawaii I was confident that her grandparents could help Madi feel cared for while we were away.

When and how can unhealthy insecure attachment develop?

Unhealthy insecure attachment usually develops from a parent being inattentive and unresponsive to their child’s needs or leaving them for very long periods of time (often over 3 months). An unhealthy insecure attachment doesn’t usually develop simply because the parent went away for 5 days.

How do I form a healthy secure attachment with my baby?

A parent who is able to sensitively respond to their infant’s needs such as crying, hunger, and physical discomfort helps to form a healthy secure attachment. When Madi was little I remember her getting startled when I accidentally dropped a glass and it made a loud noise. Madi immediately started crying. I ran over to her and picked her up and cuddled her, reassuring them everything was OK. The parent’s ability to relieve the infant’s distress is fundamental to the growth of attachment in the infant.

What if my child is fussier than other children?

Some children have different temperaments and are more difficult to soothe, but the process of attending to and supporting your child when they are startled, injured, hungry, or upset, is what is important to develop a healthy secure attachment.

Will my baby become attached to the Nanny or her grandparents if I leave for vacation?

The good news is that if your baby is responding positively to being in the care of a Nanny or grandparents that this is a GOOD thing!  After all, you want your little one to be loved and cared for while you are away at work, school, or for a quick vacation to rest and rejuvenate.

Children can develop healthy attachments to more than one caregiver, and so long as you return from your trip and continue to respond sensitively to your child’s needs then everything should be fine. 

I realized that going on vacation without Madi will not cause an unhealthy attachment as I have frequent, consistent quality time with her when I am around. I also realize that I need to use this opportunity to connect with my husband and recharge.  Self-care is very important in parenting and can make you enjoy the time you have with your family more.


Sadock, Benjamin J., Virginia A. Sadock, and Pedro Ruiz. Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/clinical Psychiatry. Eleventh edition. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2015.

This post was co-authored by Suzanne Black, MD, BSc and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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