One of my dearest friends will be leaving her family during the week (home on weekends), every week. She has a dream job; it is a huge opportunity.
But the kids, 8, almost 6 and almost 3, are feeling different degrees of worry with Mama leaving. When will they see her? When will she be back? Where will she be? How will they connect with her?
So, if you are a traveling parent, here are some good ground rules for connection with your child while you are traveling.
You, the parent, are always in charge of the relationship. Anticipate the need and fulfill it. This means that the child should not have to be constantly asking when you are calling, FaceTiming, Skyping or coming home. This kind of “chasing” leads the child to feel insecure and, as a result, the child will actively pursue you. “Mommy, when are you coming back?” “Daddy, when are you calling me next time?” As you try harder and harder to respond, it will feel more and more impossible to fulfill the child’s needs. This is exhausting for both you and child. The takeaway: Make it so that the child does not need to ask for your attention while you are traveling. Get ahead of his questions. Tell him when you will see him, Skype with him and call him, for example.
Use the KISS factor: Keep It Simple, Sweetie. Elaborate plans to stay in touch that involve tons of money, time and logistics are probably not going to work for you, the parent. Find connections with your children that are truly doable. Consistency, routine and simplicity are more important than haphazard, convoluted plans to connect that leave you exhausted and annoyed. The takeaway: Connect with your child in simple ways that bring you both joy and ease.
Be ready for the modes and methods of connection to change. You are out of the country, and the time difference is killing you. You have a respite at work after a big project. Your child is having her ballet recital. Your spouse is sick, and the kids need some extra lovin’. Your older child is going through an eye-roll stage. You have to be ready to change your plans based on the realities in front of you. The takeaway: Be flexible. Don’t be married to one way to connect to your children.
That said, routine and consistency make children feel safe. Whatever mode of connection you are using, you have to show up with it, every day. If you call every Wednesday morning and you start to sense that this is not working anymore, still call on Wednesday. But talk to your spouse and child (if developmentally appropriate) and create a new plan. Do not veer off your routine until something else is established and everyone is on the same page. If you break the routine, you break trust. If you break trust, you break the child’s feeling of safety, and we are back to anger and chaos. If routine is your modus operandi, your child will understand when you were stuck on the plane, the phone died, the meeting went too long. The routine will become the safety net. The takeaway: Above all, keep your word to your family.
Ideas to bridge the absence:
●Leave your nightgown, pajamas, favorite T-shirt, anything that smells like you. Smell is one of the most important and underrated senses for children, and even adults need this. Also, sneak a shirt or blankie out with you. It will soothe you when you are missing the kiddos.
●Have one child get the Skype call on certain mornings to stop the clambering and “MY TURN!” “No, MY turn!” This way, you can really focus on that one child and her needs.
● Leave little notes for the kids to find all over the house. Make them funny, silly, special, personal and easy to write and find. One week can be funny jokes, another can be silly pictures, another can be favorite vacation memories.
● Keep a “share journal” for each child. This is a little journal where you simply write letters to your child. You get it one week, your son gets it the next. He can draw pictures, tape in drawings he made that week, write jokes, whatever.
● Send postcards. Buy a huge stack, pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine and stamp and address all of them. That way, when you want to send one, it is ready. My friend had the cool idea of using Polaroids as postcards. Depending on the age of the child, she can be snapping pics of her favorite book, her favorite swing at the park, homework or just breakfast.
● If you have an older child who has an iPad, think about using an app such as Book Creator. This is a cool way for him to create something during the week that you can share together. The child can incorporate elements such as pictures, music and writing. Creativity plus connection — gotta love it.
As you are connecting in these great ways, you’ll find that when you come home, your transition into the house will be much smoother. You will not have to spoil as much, discipline as much or generally fight the family mojo as much. You will be a part of it. Your child will have the security of feeling that you miss him, and this is all children want!
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