Can a single parent ever really have a moment alone?

The most common instruction on baby gear is probably, “do not leave infant unattended,” which sounds like a pretty common-sense idea. Sure, in a perfect world, you’d never be tempted to leave your helpless little one – who can’t talk, stand, or maybe even hold his head up – all by  himself. But in the hectic world of new parenthood – especially new single parenthood – there just don’t seem to ever be enough hands to do everything that needs to be done or enough eyes to never let Baby out of sight.

So what’s a new single parent to do when Baby is up and chirping bright and early with the birds, but you just really, desperately need to focus on what’s on the stove for a minute, put the trash out by the curb, and grab a lightning-fast shower? In some ways, when you’re in the moment, you’ll always need to make your own judgment call, but there are a few guiding principles you can use as you’re deciding how to best handle things.

If you find yourself wondering if you’re in a situation where you can look – or even walk – away from Baby for a few minutes, ask yourself these questions:

Is he awake?

Look, constant supervision is all well and good, but if you can manage to get your little duckling to settle down into his nest for the night, as long as you stay in the house with him and would be able to hear him if he woke up, that time is your own. And though the length of sleep is shorter and the time can feel more fragile, the same is true of naps. Even if Baby happens to wake up while you’re catching up on Netflix, writing the great American novel, or scrubbing off the last remaining traces of spit-up from your body, as long as he is in a safe, confined sleep space and can’t wander off anywhere until you’re done doing what you need to do, then you should be a-okay.

Is he in his high chair?

This is a tricky piece of furniture. While it may seem like it’s so good at containing your little rugrat that it’s safe to pop into another room to answer the phone once Baby is safely strapped in, high chairs are tall enough that a determined baby or toddler can throw his weight around in them in ways that could, potentially, be dangerous. So while a high chair can be a good additional babysitter when you’re in the room – like, for instance, when you’re cooking – it’s probably not the best idea to trust Baby to stay in one while you step away.

Is he anywhere he could roll off of?

This includes couches, beds, and even strapped into a changing table. Even if Baby isn’t actually rolling over yet, you never know when he is going to learn. Leaving Baby in a room on his own for a few minutes now and then isn’t a bad idea, since it encourages him to explore the world around him and get a taste for independence – it’s also pretty good for your sanity. But when you do so, you’ll want to make sure that he’s at ground-level and preferably inside some kind of enclosure, like a playpen or pack ’n play, or in a safely baby-proofed room with a baby-gate on the door.

And for the times when you can’t

One thing single parents learn pretty fast is the smoothest way for them to move through their daily lives with their little ones attached at the hip. When Baby is little, a baby carrier or sling can be a great way to keep him close without taking away the use of your hands. As he gets older, you’ll get used to having an extra-special helper there with you through every step of your day.

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