After taking part in a recent discussion on Twitter with @NTFFC, @feelslikehome and @phdinparenting regarding the fact that we all were experiencing various degrees of separation anxiety about leaving our kids to go to BlogHer, I felt certain that we weren’t the only moms feeling this way. Moms and children alike have dealt with separation in the past, but I began wondering what ways there were to get through it that would make it easier on everyone involved.
I should first note that I’m writing this article from the perspective of a mom who practices Attachment Parenting (AP) with her children. It’s what I know, it’s what I do, so it makes the most sense that I write from that angle. That said, every mom knows their child’s and their own needs better than anyone else. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to parent, just offer suggestions for those who are looking for help.
Although I really wanted to go to BlogHer last year, I didn’t feel the timing was right. My youngest, Julian, was a little over a year old at the time I would’ve needed to commit to the conference. He was still nursing (and never took a bottle), and I knew that several days apart wouldn’t go well for either of us. Although I whined about it plenty on Twitter, I knew I made the right decision for us to stay home. As it was I was still able to virtually attend BlogHer in Second Life from my own house, where I met some new people and had a great time. Not the same thing, but it allowed me to experience a small bit of the awesomeness that is BlogHer.
Fast-forward to this year. Julian is a year older, night weaned (though still nursing during the day), no longer co-sleeping (with me, though he shares a room with his sister Ava), will go to sleep for someone other than me (if I’m not home), and can comprehend that mommy is leaving for a few days (just like daddy sometimes does for work) and that I will be back. I feel it will go much more smoothly. And so, after four and a half years of blogging, I am attending my very first BlogHer(!!) and leaving my kids for an extended period of time for the very first time as well. The only other time I’ve been away overnight from my kids in five years (yes, five years!) was when my husband and I went to Boulder for a night away two weeks ago while the kids were with my parents and my sister. My kids (ages 2.5 and 5) did really well, but we were gone for less than 24 hours. My BlogHer Chicago trip will require me to be gone for three nights and yes, I’m a little nervous about it.
However, I was much more nervous about it before Jody and I had our night away. I think of that getaway as kind of a trial run for the kids. They did great with my parents and sis here and I feel quite confident that they will do just as well, if not better, when it is daddy taking care of them while I’m away. I’m sure I will be OK too, but I have a feeling that for me and many other moms it will be harder on us to be away from our kids than it will for our kids to be away from us.
That said, I believe that there are ways to make the separation easier on the children and, if they are old enough to comprehend what’s going on, they should be prepared in advance for mom’s departure. I also believe that moms know their children best and can likely tell if leaving them in the care of another for a few days will be minimally disruptive to them or if it will cause more difficulty than its worth. If the separation would be too much, there’s also always the option of bringing little ones with you either to keep with you (in a sling or carrier) during the conference (perhaps have a relative or friend stay with you to allow you some time sans child or, if your child is up for it, take advantage of BlogHer’s childcare option) or bringing the whole family and letting your partner and the kids enjoy a little vacation too, but still have the opportunity to hook up with you during the conference as needed.
Annie at PhdinParenting (who will be my BlogHer roomie) has some great suggestions for minimizing the separation anxiety for the children and for mom.
- Having an attached dad helps. If your partner is more than just a “babysitter” then the kids will feel comfortable with him.
- Waiting until the kids are old enough to understand that Mommy is going away for a few days and will be back soon (rather than just being distressed that she isn’t there). My first time away from my son was when he was almost 2 years old. I wouldn’t have considered it before that. My daughter is now over 2 years old and I think she is ready.
- Getting help while you are away from another relative or friend that the kids trust to take some of the stress/pressure off of your partner. My mother-in-law will be here while I’m away at BlogHer, so my husband will have help and the kids will be distracted by her being there.
- Take photos with you to look at and show others.
- Set up a time to call your kids and check in with them. Having a time set in advance ensures that you are both available and there for the call and no one is disappointed.
- Give them something to look forward to. Promise a special gift from your trip or a special activity upon your return.
- Have your partner plan some fun activities while you are away. Special outings or play dates or special foods.
Alison at GreenMe jokingly said that mommy BlogHers should update their kids via Twitter and perhaps do some Skyped bedtime stories during their absence, but is that really that far off the mark? Others don’t seem to think so. Even Alison admits that her friend Skyped her 18-month-old every night when she was away for a recent trip and the child barely noticed mom was gone!
Maria from A Piece of my Mind said when she has to leave her son for an extended period of time, “I talk to my son about my leaving, how long I will be gone, if he will visit, what I am doing, etc. I also call/video conference with him.”
Ally from In the Middle of Somewhere said the longest she’s been away from her one-year-old daughter is five hours and they were “not easy” on her. Her daughter, on the other hand, didn’t notice she was gone until she returned. Ally said taking a picture of her daughter with her would’ve helped her separation anxiety and if she was gone longer than five hours she thinks Skype would have come in very handy.
Sandy from Between Lightning suggests making some recordings of you reading their favorite books. And for babies, “I’ve also heard it helps to give them your shirt for scent.”
Bits of Myself, who is currently battling cancer for the second time, offered up what she does for her daughter when they have to be apart. “When Nugget (age 2) and I have to be apart for chemo or hospitalization, we talk about what will happen, what she can expect, visiting, who will be helping to care for her, etc. We also make a special Build-a-Bear together for her to hold when mama’s away.”
Lynn from Organic Mania has this AP approach:
Explain to them that you’re taking a trip, show them on the map where you are going, talk to them about the plane (so fascinating!), promise to call from the plane, tell them what type of plane, call when you land, call every night for night-night routine, and promise to bring back a present (eco-friendly, of course). Begin talking to them about a week prior…then remind them the day before, tell them when you’ll be back, what you’ll do….I think the message here, as with Attachment Parenting, is that you want them to KNOW what you are doing, and to be ENGAGED and INVOLVED. NO hiding. No sneaking around.
Angela from Breastfeeding 1-2-3 suggested some tips she gleamed from a friend.
When a friend of mine needed to be apart from her children for several days while she recovered from a planned surgery, she made a book of photographs for each of her children. That could be done like a scrapbook or photo album, but she used an online photo site to print and bind an actual book. The book included photos of the child, the mother, and the family, and it was meant to be read both before and during the separation.
It could also help to have a calendar — possibly made together as a craft — to count down the days apart. Another idea is to make a construction paper chain to count down the days, just like many children do before Christmas. The mother could take the idea one step further and write a little note on each of the ‘rings’ so that there would be a special message from Mom for the child to read each day.
Lisa from Crazy Adventures in Parenting said:
When I went to Disney Mom Bloggers Mixer two months ago, only bringing my breastfeeding infant, I called throughout the day to my husband and children, and they were told to call me if they missed me. I had the phone on me constantly. We had good practice with mommy being away with the birth of our youngest, luckily she latched to sleeping with just hubby pretty well while I was in the hospital delivering. My toddler is definitely more of a daddy’s girl now. We reiterated his putting her to sleep just before we left, and now it’s his job because, as I said, she’s a daddy’s girl and she loves him and prefers him now! My older children coped well because I called a lot and emailed them pictures.
Books are a good thing to turn to when you need help with a new situation. One that is great for kids who are facing an upcoming separation from mom is “The Kissing Hand” which was recommended both by my mom and by Angela from mommy bytes in her post Separation Anxiety and Mommy Guilt. Another helpful book is Mama Always Comes Home recommended by Katherine.
Amy at Resourceful Mommy offers up a good reminder that we need to take care of our own needs as well as those of our children, and she views attending BlogHer as a way of recharging her batteries. “Breathing new life into ourselves will leave us ready to face the challenges of caring for our children.”
So what am I personally going to do to make this separation easier on all of us? I think a little bit of everything. I plan to:
- Talk to my kids about my trip about a week before I go, and then remind them a few more times as the day gets closer.
- Leave them some special notes to find while I am gone. (I will likely have my husband place a few around the house each day.)
- Call them at least once a day and tell them they can call me too.
- Email them pictures and ask them to email me pics of them too (with daddy’s help).
- Help my husband plan out their days with a few special activities before I go so the kids have some things to look forward to.
- Get the book “The Kissing Hand” to read before I go.
- Bring them both home a present.
- And I will definitely have some pictures of my kids with me. In fact, the eco-friendly business cards I’m having printed will have their picture (with me) on it, so I’ll never be far from them (and neither will you if you get one of my cards)!
Do you have any suggestions on how you have or will reduce separation anxiety for your children or yourself? Leave a comment and share your tips.
Cross-posted on BlogHer.