Leaving the kids behind is never easy and I was recently asked some tips for what to say to them and how to deal with them. In my view, it’s easiest to briefly touch on the fact you will be away but concentrate more on what they will be doing. This starts with younger children and continues with older children.
My sister was splitting her kids up to go to Whistler skiing for 10 days. I thought this was horrid, given the youngest was only 2 at the time. I offered instead. Not so hard when you only have one. I went from one 4 year old to a 2 year old, 2 x 4 year olds, a 5 year old and a 6 year old. I am not sure what conversations my sister had before they left but I just kept them busy whilst they were gone. Every morning we would get up and go out for an activity before returning home for the youngest to have a sleep, the boys to rest and the older girls did art with me. In the afternoons we stayed local.
My sister made a few skype calls and it was pandemonium when she would hang up. The time difference made it hard to be able to call at the right time for the kids and then they would be missing her. I soon put a stop to that. Being aware that it is not easy to leave one baby behind, never lone four, I took photos throughout the day of their smiling faces and their adventures. I showed the kids in return photos of her skiing whilst we were out and about and they were otherwise distracted. I did all that I could to ensure that leaving the kids behind was not ruining her holiday.
My other sister had left her 3 kids with me for a week when the kids were 2, 5 and 8. I last the 5 year old and the 2 year old was too heavy to carry to try and find her. Thankfully a neighbour found her at the point I had started to panic. I am not creating a very good picture of myself as a carer am I? The reality was my little country nieces weren’t used to remaining in sight and just wandered further than she should of.
The point I am making is I told my sister when she collected the kids as I didn’t want her to worry or to think I was not capable. I wanted to ensure the phone calls with the kids were happy and full of messages of I miss you and love. The kids were having a ball so it was a ten minute problem that parents deal with all day, just sounds so much worse when someone else is taking care of you. Leaving her kids behind with someone who looses them was not going to make her feel good. Truth be told this child used to run off all the time. As she now approaches 18 I am sure she is still doing that in a different way!
I avoided mentioning when they were going home. I just kept it vague, saying on the weekend. My husband made the mistake of telling them at the beach we would need to get in the car to go home as Dad would be waiting for them when we got there. We were an hour from home and we had 4 sets of tears start as we got in the car, one of which did not stop for at least 45 minutes of the trip.
TIP: Rules of thumb. Share photos not Facetime or Skype.
- Start with giving each of the kids a special responsibility whilst you are gone. Explain you are relying on them to be very smart and very helpful.
- Ask them what they think they would like you to bring back for them whilst you are gone. (You will be surprised what little they will ask for. Our recent trip the request was for footy cards!)
- Explain who is looking after them and what fun activities you have planned. I think they need to have a presence around that they are familiar with and have a relationship with. If you don’t have this you may need to ensure you build a relationship for some time before you set off based on how long you are gone for.
- Explain who they should call if they are in trouble
- Promise to send them photos and keep in touch with messages.
- I leave little notes in their lunch bags and their beds to remind them it won’t be long and I will be home soon. I love them and will be thinking of them always.
Managing the tears
- Distraction. Distraction always works in my house.
- Ensure they are kept busy and the person looking after them is sensitive that bedtime may be a little hard for a few days. Just be gentle and kind.
- Remind them we will all miss each other but they will be in your heart always.
- Just be brave. This is not excluded to yourself.
- Remind your kids of how they can comfort themselves. What do you tell them to do if they are feeling sad or upset? In our house it is cuddle someone. The dog is often the receiver of many such hugs. The other option in our house is to have a long bath.
- If you need to, put a chart on the fridge and they can count down the nights until you are back. Not unlike a Christmas countdown.
- Consider your destination. Laying by the pool without children may sound great but it also gives you a lot of thinking time. Thinking, whilst awesome for down time allows one to get ‘homesick’ so consider a busier schedule for your first few solo trips.
The guilt and how to avoid it
- Ask yourself is the ‘event’ or reason for traveling without the children enough to surpass them being left behind?
- The first thing is who have you left your children with? Do you trust that person? Have you asked too much of them? Are they going to be overwhelmed with this task? Leaving them with someone they can relate to will make all the difference.
- Guilt can be productive and we can learn from any valid emotion. Instead trying to avoid all guilt, the goal is to pull apart the unproductive feelings of guilt from the feelings that help us improve. As Forbes says:
Frankly, you can’t win [the battle between parenting perfection and your individual adulthood]. But maybe you can raise children who are better equipped than you are to cope with a culture that promotes unattainable and contradictory ideals while simultaneously depending upon an economic marketplace of information and goods that promise to temporarily assuage media-induced feelings of inadequacy.
To do so, you’ll need to consider your past performance and iterate accordingly. That’s how we model critical thinking and self-reflection for our children. Admit your own fallibility and be willing to adapt and change.
There is a flip-side to every coin.
You know once when I was struggling with the guilt of being selfish and self-indulgent, a friend said. “It’s a gift to your family you know?” What did she mean a gift? How could my not being there be a gift? If you are so busy going through the motions each and every day you are not able to process things and develop perspective. Perspective gives us appreciation and helps prioritise our lives. I am a better mum because I work. That is not the same for the next person.
Just as similarly I am a better mum with some investment in me or my marriage. I am a better wife and mother having had some time to myself. After all, there is no family without investing in yourselves. Don’t concentrate on the days you are away. Concentrate on the season. Remember back to when baby didn’t eat for a day and the doctor said ‘What did he eat this week?’ the same applies. Lift it up, look bigger picture.
Just this time focus on the cr@pola
Focus on all those times your kids are vile. Don’t be all judgey-judgey and tell me your kids are not vile from time to time. If you really have perfect angels, write a book so we can all read it and achieve that dream. I digress. Concentrate on that time I came home early from work and they moaned and fought and were totally unpleasant. Or, that time I had planned a special lunch that had to be pushed back due to intruders ‘having’ to visit and then my lunch was totally up the creek without a paddle. All those times you reach for wine, well when you are away you reach for wine because you are so happy you just can’t stop enjoying yourself.
Grab the bull behind the horns and book that girl’s weekend. Book that trip with your husband. If you show your kids love how can they hate you for making yourself the best you? How can there be guilt when you have grown and you are a better you? Enjoy life. It’s short. Chances are they are having way more fun anyway.