I think that parents sometimes believe that they shouldn’t spend any time at all away from their children and often feel extremely guilty when they do. Situations will, of course, vary from family to family, depending on the age of the child and the commitments of the parents. Some children spend time with one parent and then the other because the parents live apart. It could be that the child is a young baby and is left in the care of a babysitter for a couple of hours one evening, or it might be a toddler at nursery for 3 hours a day; many families pay for child care from 8am until 6pm so that they can go to work full time and still others go away on long business trips. It is certainly not an uncommon thing, but leaving your children is perhaps something that many parents may not always feel comfortable or happy with.
My experience with my own children is interesting because it runs contrary to my initial sentiments, which were that I would never travel away and leave my children behind. My memory, as a child, is that my own parents travelled away a great deal. I still have memories of my Grandmother coming to stay or of the help who came to live with us while Mum and Dad were away on business trips to Australia or the States and I remember a feeling of being left behind. It was while they were away on one trip that our dog died, which was absolutely devastating for me. I was truly upset that Mum and Dad weren’t there to comfort me. Even though my Grandmother was there, it still didn’t feel quite right that the family dog had died and the family wasn’t together at the time. This perspective that I had as a child made me determined not to travel away as my parents did. Funny that. Never say Never as it has happened, circumstances have arranged themselves so that I do have to be away and travel with my work. Even now, as I write this, I am in Germany.
So, what do I do? How do I compensate for my absence from them? Should I compensate at all? If I buy a toy for my children whenever I go away, am I simply just alleviating my guilt at leaving them behind? For myself as a child I remember that sense of wonder I used to feel when my Mum and Dad returned from a journey. It was lovely when they opened their suitcases and produced gifts that they’d purchased on their travels. I never saw it as compensation then so perhaps my own children won’t see it that way now? Then again, from an adult’s point of view, I do worry that in reality I am trying to buy my children’s affection in case they feel abandoned by me.
However we choose to handle it, being away from our children for any length of time poses an interesting dilemma for parents. As time has passed, I have ultimately found that having time away from the family is a healthy experience. Having that time away allows me to recharge my batteries. This is not to say that when I work away I don’t get tired, I do, but by not engaging with the family for a time I return home reinvigorated and feel like I am a better mother as a result. I understand, of course, that not all parents share this view. This ranges from friends who miss their kids so much that it takes away from the enjoyment of the trip to others who can’t wait to get a break from the kids.
Every parent will find their own way with this, but I do think it is great that families can be flexible about time apart. It’s great that we can observe how our children respond to our absence and act accordingly. I remember when my children were younger they seemed to store up all of the emotions that they had not been able to express to me within the three days I was away and then bombard me with them the second I walked through the door. On occasion they would even save up their arguments for when I got home. If we can be open about the potential fallout of leaving them, then we are in a much better position to be prepared for whatever it takes to rejoin and come together as a family re-united.