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Caring for my partner's daughter - please help me

(13 Posts)
Born2Hula Wed 08-May-13 13:02:04

Okay, a bit of backstory, I've been with my partner for 6 months now, and she has a 19-month old daughter. My partner is an incredible mum and it shows as her daughter is the sweetest, loveliest child you could ever hope to meet. She plays, she laughs, she's affectionate, she helps you dress and undress her and change her nappies, she waves you off and kisses you goodbye when you put her to bed, never wakes up unless she's poorly, loves baths, hardly ever fusses at mealtimes and is sociable and friendly at nursery/playgroups/parks etc.

Her mum works nights, and she was having difficulty finding cover, relying on her friends and family a huge amount (which is tricky, many of them work nights as well), so I offered to take care of her 2 nights a week. I love spending time with her and I was free anyway so I figured it would be a good idea.

At first it was a bit difficult, she wasn't a huge fan of the change and would easily get upset, nothing major though, and it got easier when I started to take her out for an hour or two before bed so she wouldn't just sit at home missing her mammy. She particularly loved being walked round the supermarket with me.

A couple of weeks ago this all started to change, and she displays some really worrying, upsetting behaviour. She basically has "safe spots", the buggy, her cot, the bed, the sofa and, if all else fails, my arms. If she's not in one of these places AT ALL TIMES she becomes totally hysterical, screaming and screaming and screaming for hours at a time. Holding her only works if one of her other safe spots isn't nearby, if one is she will just point to it, cling to me for dear life and scream until my ears ring. If we are out of the house even looking like I'm going to take her out of the buggy causes a complete meltdown (by comparison, if her mum is around she cries to be let out of the buggy and walk all the time) playgroups, the supermarket, the park are all absolute no-no's, even though they were fine maybe as little as a month ago. Even if she's left in a "safe spot" she becomes bored and upset after between 2 and 10 or so minutes, will scream and beg me to pick her up, and when I do she stops crying for a minute or so, then starts pointing at the nearest spot and screaming again. This pattern just continues all evening until she basically passes out from tiredness - the whole ordeal can easily last 6 hours. Feeding her is completely out of the question, baths are done while she screams herself silly.

I'm totally at the end of my tether. I don't think it's just separation anxiety as she goes to nursery and her grandparents just fine. So far I've tried tempting her out with toys, music and treats. That worked a little at first, but now if she ever comes down from the sofa/buggy she realises and begins howling again within 10 seconds. I've tried stopping her from going to the safe spots all together but she either clings to me and screams or lies in the foetal position and does the same thing. She was able to keep this up, without pausing, for over 4 hours until I finally put her on the sofa, at which point the usual pattern resumed.

What's going on? What am I doing wrong? Why is she getting worse and worse and worse with me? I really love her and want to be a part of her life and it simply devastates me when she behaves like this. We used to have so much fun together. Please help me.

FoxyRevenger Wed 08-May-13 13:12:24

God, I've no idea. Poor wee thing! What does her mum think?

Born2Hula Wed 08-May-13 13:28:47

Honestly, I'm having a tough time talking to her mum about it. At first I didn't want to have her worrying when she went to work and I was hoping it was a phase but I opened up and gave her both barrels about it last night. All she said was "it sounds like she's just acting up".. I don't think she quite grasped how strong the behaviour is. Her level of upset is almost OCD. She just completely breaks down and is unable to handle anything in the world until she's back in a safe zone.

flossymuldoon Wed 08-May-13 13:30:57

Gosh, that must be exhausting for both of you.

My guess is that it is seperation anxiety. She is seperated from the people she knows and trusts to take care of her and i wonder whether she hasn't figured out yet that you will also do the same in the absence of her Mum. Maybe evenings are also the time when she is tired/cranky so that might be compounding it a bit?

I would make sure that she can stay in her 'safe spots' as often as she needs to and pick her up and hold her as much as she needs to so that she gets as much comfort as possible, and when she trusts you more then i feel sure that it will calm down. Please don't stop her going to her 'safe spots' as that it not going to help her trust you to take care of her and all that will do is make her anxiety worse.

You didn't mention whether you live with your partner so are you looking after her in her home or your home?

To save your sanity, Is there an option to drop it to 1 night a week until it settles down and then step it back up again?

Alwayscheerful Wed 08-May-13 13:34:57

I am hoping someone will come along with good advice for you but in the meantime I wanted to say you sound very caring and you seem to be doing a great job, I quite undtand you not wanting to worry Mum, it might be just a phase.

flossymuldoon Wed 08-May-13 13:43:40

P.S. Also, plaster a smile on your face and try to be as calm as possible as she may be picking up on your anxiety!

Born2Hula Wed 08-May-13 13:45:26

Thanks everyone for the support! Really making me feel better. I've been in the bath for like the last two hours unable to face the world haha. I look after her at her place, so that's not the issue, also I sometimes look after her during the day just to give mum a bit of a break (like this morning I took her to a playgroup) and the behaviour is exactly the same.

That does sound like good advice though flossy. I was worried that not trying to break the behaviour would cause it to get worse but if it's a trust and support thing I should just try and keep that up. Wierd thing is, she positively loves me the rest of the time when mum is around. She even clings to and hugs my picture when I'm not there!

Born2Hula Wed 08-May-13 13:56:56

Haha, I do try my best to smile and be calm - tends to crack after the first few hours!

flossymuldoon Wed 08-May-13 14:08:56

Awwww. Poor you!!.

I wonder if the reason why it has got worse after a few weeks is that the honeymoon period is over. I have an adopted DS who when he came to me (at 19 months incidently) he was fine, happy and fairly compliant. A month in, all hell broke loose and this is common as it is once they realise that the new situation is permanent. I know this seems like a very different situation, but it's the same as in her carer has changed (albeit for some of the week rather than all of it).

We rigidly kept his routine the same which helped a bit - same toys, same foods, identical bedtime routine etc. We even used the same washing powder so that i smelled as similar to the foster carer as possible. It might seem like overkill in your situation but it will certainly do no harm and it may be that she's just a sensitive little girl. You are halfway there because she clearly loves you, so just do whatever you can to help things along a bit!

Good luck!

flossymuldoon Wed 08-May-13 14:19:42

Oh and i forgot to mention, one thing that helped me when i left him was to leave something of mine (my fave stuffed doggy or a piece of fabric as i sew lots) with my DS and tell him to keep hold of it as i'd need it when i got back. He then knew i was definitely coming back. Maybe you partner could do the same?

Born2Hula Wed 08-May-13 14:22:20

Thanks flossy, that's great advice again. I thought I'd kinda been through the honeymoon period and out the other side already, as she was great the first couple times I looked after her, then worse, then better again but I guess that was jus the novelty coming and going haha.

mummytime Wed 08-May-13 14:40:22

I would also suggest you video the behaviour if it is that extreme, also keep a diary. If something doesn't happen soon, then your partner really could do with taking her DD to the GP with a view for a Paediatrician referral.

TheYamiOfYawn Wed 08-May-13 14:54:47

I agree that routine is important. Not a rigid 7.15 draw the curtains sort of routine, but a regular pattern to the time she sends in your care, so that things are predictable. Try planning activities like songs and stories in a safe spot as much as possible. You could even take photos or draw pictures and make a storybook that ends with mammy coming home and giving her cuddles.

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