I used to take care of my niece weekly when she was a baby, which gave me great preparation for having my own daughter a few years later. We don't have as many family members around, but we definitely take advantage of any "free babysitting" offers that may or may not come our way. When you're leaving your baby with a family member for the first time, the goal is to make the experience as smooth as possible for both parties involved. After all, if you need or want their help in the future, it would be nice if any subsequent babysitting moments are even easier than the first time. So, time to read up on these important things you should do the first time you leave your baby with a family member.
When I was taking care of my niece, the most helpful thing her parents did was to make sure I understood her schedule and her cues. I could almost always figure out why she was getting fussy at a certain time and, as a result, give her what she needed. The second most helpful thing? Releasing me from her schedule and explaining that her not napping or napping too long wasn't the end of the world. It was such a relief to have that combination of information and lack of pressure when they dropped her with me. Because I was caring for her regularly, we quickly settled into our own routine that I still remember fondly.
With my own daughter, I can't say I was quite as chill as they seemed. I could say the words, "Don't worry if she doesn't nap," but for a long time I didn't really mean them and would panic inwardly about whether my parents had been able to get her to sleep or, in the early days, to drink her bottles. The older she got, though (and thankfully) the more I chilled out and now I have a whole host of ideas for making sure family members succeed in taking care of our daughter so that we can call them again and again. Kidding! (Not really.)
Write It Out
When you're first leaving your child with a family member, write out their schedule, cues, and any other information that might make the time go more smoothly. When our daughter was only a few months old, the only sleep cue she had was that she'd zone out and stare off into the distance when she started to get tired (and her window of awake time was ridiculously short before she needed to be put down for a nap). While it was very difficult for my parents to put their first grandbaby down at all, they knew what they were looking for and were delighted with themselves when they saw her sleep cue, followed it, and gave her a good nap without fuss.
You don't need to overwhelm anyone with information, but a handful of tips can go a long way. Additionally, it's a good idea to keep a sheet with emergency numbers in your diaper bag at all times; not just for times with family members or babysitters.
Even if your child will potentially be difficult, encourage everyone that they're going to do great, both family members and kids or babies. If you start with an expectation of success, sometimes even difficult kids will rise to it.
Honestly, babies can smell fear a mile away. If your family member feels confident and encouraged, everyone will be calmer when you walk out the door.
Do A Practice Run
If possible, let your baby or child spend time with the family member who is going to be minding them with you right there. It can just be an hour watching your kiddo play, but do point out any cues or likes/dislikes that your child has so that your family member knows what they're looking for when they're on their own.
Plan A Special Treat
This won't work for babies but, for small children or even toddlers, consider planning a little special treat for them to do or eat while you're away. It could be a new or well-liked dessert, or a craft that isn't terribly messy. Something that's going to distract them from your absence and build a little adventure into their time with their family member.
Don't forget the huge benefit of you getting the opportunity to do what you need to do for a few hours, is that your children get to build a relationship with your family member that they might not otherwise get.
Stock A Few Groceries
If your family member is watching your child at your house, make sure to stock the fridge with a few groceries for them in addition to what your kids will need. A bag of chips or a few baked goods will just be a nice treat for the adult, too.
Pack A Bag
If you're dropping your child or children to your family member, pack a bag with what your child will need over the course of their stay, including any special food they might need as well as a change of clothes.
If your baby is prone to blowouts, remind them there's a change of clothes in the bag and even remind them that onesies with split shoulders can be taken down instead of over the head. That's something even the most experienced grandparent might not know.
Turn Your Phone Ringer On
If they do need to contact you, make sure they can. Turn your ringer on if you usually let your phone vibrate so you can be ready if they call.
That said, try to keep yourself from worrying. Most likely, the worst that will happen is that your child might be a little fussy or not nap, but more often than not, they surprise everyone and behave perfectly for someone other than their parents.
There's no point in going to any of this trouble if you're not going to enjoy yourself. (If that's the goal, at least. Sometimes you need to leave children with a family member in order to go to a doctor's appointment or a funeral, in which case "enjoy yourself" isn't really appropriate advice.)
As much as possible, try to let go of the worry of having someone else mind your children and try to remember that the best way to make it easier in the future for everyone is to practice.
Return On Time
If you want your family member to enjoy their newfound babysitting gig, return on time (if possible).
On the other hand, returning much earlier than expected can be a little disappointing for say, grandparents, who are eager to have their grandbabies all to themselves. I suggest a solid way to go is to take enough time to enjoy yourself, but to avoid taking advantage of someone offering to watch your little one.
Say "Thank You"
Finally, say thank you. Whether in a text later or a note mailed or dropped off later, showing your appreciating for the effort someone put in to making sure your baby was OK without you is never a bad thing.
Acknowledge what a help your family member was to you and how much you appreciate their help and the relationship they're building with your kids. Hopefully, you'll have a new babysitter on your roster for years to come.