Reducing BlogHer separation anxiety for mom and kids

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.

Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt

Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt

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.

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.

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21 thoughts on “Reducing BlogHer separation anxiety for mom and kids

  1. My tip for lil’ ones is to ask them to give you a little something for you to take with them, and take a laptop w/ webcam enabled & skype or other way for you guys to see each other, or at least them see you.

    I used the first tip you posted when I left my 2.5 yr old daughter for 5 days to visit your part of the country a few months ago and going back in October. I told her a story of what would happen every day. I also left her love notes for her daddy to hide in her backpack every day.

    It definitely helped and I’ll do it again!

    =) @HolisticMom

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  3. I am right where you were last year. My baby will be just under a year when BlogHer gets here, and I can’t be away from him. I’m really quite sad about that. I keep telling myself ‘next year, next year’. So good luck to you, and I’ll be following along to glean whatever tips I can use when my turn rolls around. :)

  4. When I went to Honduras on an educator study tour with Heifer International, I was really missing my kids. Another mom who was there told me that before she left she wrote a letter to her daughter for each day that she would be gone. Her husband would then let their daughter open one letter every night before bed. She also recorded herself reading bed time stories to her daughter. I loved these ideas…and felt a little lame that I hadn’t thought of anything like that before I was gone. I had to settle for sending the occasional e-mail whenever we could find a connection.

  5. Thank you!

    I am away from my son more and more as he does more stuff with dad during the weekends- and I think it will really help that we will be so busy that we won’t have too much time to miss anyone.

    My son will be fine , he’ll be at home with his dad and they need that alone time, my husband has a long commute and they don’t see each other as much as they both want.

    At least this is what I am telling myself.

  6. wonderful post, amy! something that you know has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart lately. i leave for five days in the hospital on monday. :/

    we did make our build-a-bear sheep this afternoon and then i bought nugget her first pair of ballet shoes. can’t you just smell the mama guilt through your screen?

    i’m going to print out some coloring pages and make packets for each day i’m away now!

    xo
    bits

  7. I love your suggestions for helping with separation.
    What helps us a lot is going through photos with my son. Almost everyday we look at scrapbooks and he has his own photo book with pictures of him and daddy that he picked out. Hubby also has one that he takes with him. I update both of them before a deployment comes.
    Another thing is videos! Lots and lots of videos! That way your child can hear your voice and you can hear their voice. I love to tape everyday things too. Making dinner, story time, playing outside. Those everyday times are special too.
    I love the blog, keep up the great work.

  8. My husband was in Afghanistan last year and he read books on video, we exchanged pictures back and forth. Reid and I recorded videos for him in a question and answer format. We also spoke of what Daddy was doing at various points in our day, since he was 8 or 8.5 hours ahead of us.

  9. This is a great post and a good list of tips and hints. At 5 and 7 years, my kids are at the point where they understand it. Daddy has already planned to set up a tent in the living room and have a “camp out” every night while I’m gone. My daughter almost pushed me out of the door to Chicago after she heard that hehe.

  10. I have no tips, just commiseration. I didn’t go this year, again, to BlogHer because I didn’t know if my 2.5 yo nursling could stand to be separated from me for that long. He can hardly take me leaving for a couple hours of work. I can’t imagine his understanding three days.

    Next year!

  11. Great post Amy. I remember when my oldest was still little, just the heart flutters I would get if I had to leave him even if only for a couple of hours. Since then I have had to leave him to deliver his younger siblings and a couple of overnight dates, but it still is hard! I think they are often better off than I am, but I know it isn’t always easy. I’m not sure I could make it all the way to BlogHer for a long while yet, even though I imagine how much fun it would be1

  12. Fabulous post! As it gets closer I’m getting more and more anxious (along with the kids who keep saying things like “Do you have to go to Chicago??”). With Disney it was 2 days shorter in duration than BlogHer, so a little easier to swallow “It’s just 3 days kids!” But good news!! Since we have extended family in Indiana, I will be joined by my hubby and kids to visit our family after BlogHer is over! So they will be there towards the end of conference, and if I miss them horribly, they can swing over to see me! Thank goodness!!

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  14. Amy,

    I’m not like most moms, I leave my kids frequently so they can get used to other caregivers, experience new things with other people and other personalities. Always with close family members and friends. The anxiety for me and planning is still there – trust me. It isn’t just anyone and the plans are very well laid out with notes, agendas, etc.

    I have found that that leaving my children overall makes me feel better because I get the break and adult time, me time and also the down the road (sad but true) what if I am not here experience. My mom was a single mom and young and I had many caregivers and close family members and looking back that helped make me who I am. In a very controlled way I want to give that to my kids.

    Does that sorta make sense? Muddy waters, hey???

    Can’t wait to meet you! Yay!!!!

  15. So generous of you to write this lengthy post. Makes me a little weepy already, however I just did a 2-day trip to NY sans enfants and it was delightful. I am no longer nursing, however, so I think my chest pangs are easier to ignore.

    My first born is also named Julian. Let’s take a picture together of “Julian’s Moms” at BlogHer!

  16. I think the most important thing to remember is that the child’s separation issues are not the same as the mother’s separation issues. Its important that we not put the weight of our issues on them. Most kids do fine when a parent goes away for a period of time. Its good for their development to learn that its possible to be loved and secure when Mom/Dad is out of sight. As mothers we miss our children, but we have to make sure that we are not making it worse for them, by projecting our anxiety onto them.

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