If you are a parent, you are likely well-aware that travelling with children can be challenging, and may (will) take meticulous planning for everything to go even remotely smooth. But what about travelling without kids?
For the past three years, I’ve had to do a lot of travel with my work, usually three or four days away at a time, and what I’ve realized is that travelling WITHOUT the kids can have just as many challenges and growing pains. That’s why I’m sharing my experiences with you and what works for us.
To clarify, I have very competent people in my life that are more than capable of figuring things out while I’m gone, but does anyone else still feel the need to organize everyone’s lives before they go?
I guess part of me feels guilty for leaving, and so I want things to be as easy as possible while I’m gone. I’ll make sure everyone knows what’s happening with the kids each day (whether it’s my husband who has them, or if he has something going on, then which grandparent will be taking them, etc.).
The groceries will be fully-stocked, the laundry done, wood brought in for the fire, maybe a big meal the night before I go so there are lots of leftovers… you get the idea.
Maybe I go a little overboard, but I’m sure all of my efforts are appreciated (well I hope so anyway).
But, that’s the easy part. Now for the hard part: making sure the kids are emotionally OK with my departure.
There has been a lot of trial and error in this department, a lot of conversations with my counsellor, and a lot of just going with my gut.
All of my children have very different needs as far as emotional and attachment-based needs are concerned, but there are a few common themes and a few tips and tricks that I’ve decided to share with you, while I sit in the Calgary airport… after two cancelled flights home...
Don’t tell them you are leaving until you have to.
I use to tell my kids well in advance when I was going away on a road trip. My logic was that it gave them time to process and be OK with it, time to be upset, time to give mommy as many hugs and cuddles they needed.
This always seemed to backfire. If I told them a day or two or a week in advance, they would be CRAZY. While I thought telling them early would make them savour our time together, and get in these cuddles, it instead sparked wild tantrums and things like them going to bed hysterical and me going to bed upset that that was our last interaction.
I now wait until the very last possible minute; after we’ve peacefully gone through our bedtime routine and read a few books, brushed teeth and gone pee, sang a few songs, and I am lying in bed with them. Only then do I say very in a very matter of fact way, “Mommy won’t be here when you wake up, so go in and cuddle with dad in the morning, I love you, goodnight sweetie.”
Don’t focus on the words “missing” or “away.”
Now most of the time, they say “OK” and drift off… but like I said all of my children have very different needs and my daughter more often than not does protest and get upset.
Have you ever gone to do something you’re nervous about with your child and said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, it will be OK”, and you see this confused look on their face like, “Wait! It wasn’t going to be OK! What do you mean, ‘Don’t worry,’ should I WORRY?” You immediately regret making the comment, as you have just projected your fears onto them and they have picked up on it.
That’s what saying, “I know, mommy is going to miss you soooo much,” does to them. It makes them focus on the “missing.”
If my kids get upset about my departure, I focus on the reunion.
Instead of saying I’m going to miss them, I talk their ear off about all of the fun things we are going to do when I get home. This trip for instance, my daughter and I decided that we would make banana pancakes upon my return and she was satisfied with that.
Bridge the gap.
While you don’t need to focus on the “missing” anticipate it. Find ways to stay connected even when you are gone. This could be things such as leaving little notes for them to open, or calling at the same time each day, or having them cross off days on a calendar, whatever it is, make it your own ritual.
One thing that I do right before I take off (a suggestion from my counsellor) is leave them something special of mine that they can “look after” while I’m gone.
My daughter gets my old quilt from when I was a kid that she can snuggle with at night, and the boys get these little carvings that my grandpa made for me. The kids know these items are important to me, so they make sure to take good care of them. The first few times I did this, I wasn’t sure they even cared, but now every time I go to leave they insistently ask for their items.
Anticipate a rough reunion.
You’ve been gone for who knows how long, and you are just bursting to see your little babies, expecting them to jump into your arms when you arrive… and they don’t. Or they might. Either way it’s totally fine, but what I can almost guarantee is that very shortly after, the meltdowns will ensue.
Another thing my counsellor (who specializes in child behaviour and psychology) has educated me on is primal emotions: pursuit, frustration and alarm. Once the “pursuit” has been filled (i.e. you are home), out comes some of the frustration.
This may happen both before you go and when you return, and the theory behind it is that if they act out and instinctively “detach” they will be less hurt by your leaving. Likewise when you return, it may be too overwhelming for them, and letting you in right away may seem too threatening (i.e. they don’t want to set themselves up for more potential hurt).
That’s where you as the adult have to recognize that your coming home is actually a hard thing for them to process as well, and that they aren’t actually in control of this instinctive detachment.
Let them know that you love them, even when they are frustrated and having a hard time, especially when they are frustrated and having a hard time. Hug them, kiss them, know that it is not about you, they are just feeling vulnerable; keep your patience, even though it is so hard to do when they are actively trying to push you away.
I hope some of these tips make your next adventure a little easier, on both the kids and on you.
I’d love to hear some tips from you all as well, as there’s always room for improvement!