When a parent goes away it can be hard on everyone: the kids, the traveller and the one left at home. If mom is the primary caregiver and chief domestic engineer, her absence is particularly difficult. Whether she’s travelling for business or pleasure, there are often details upon details to manage, not to mention the inevitable (but never helpful) mommy guilt.
Time alone with one parent can be a great bonding experience and give the other one a much-needed breather, but making it all work is often easier said than done. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to manage the stress, minimize the disruption to family life and make mom’s next solo travel experience as smooth as possible. Here are some of my tried-and-true tips:
- Communicate in advance. Give the kids at least a week’s notice so they have time to talk to you about their feelings and (hopefully) get used to the idea of mom being gone. Mark your departure and return days on the family calendar so they have a visual reminder of when you’re leaving and when you’ll be back. When mom goes away kids’ concerns often centre around “but who’s going look after me / make sure my favourite shirt is clean / buy the milk” so talk to them about the plans you and your partner have made for your absence, whether that’s the stay-at-home parent taking over or friends and family helping out.
- Share details of your trip. Let the kids know why you’re going, where you’re staying and what you’ll be doing. Use hotel websites or Google Maps to show them exactly where you’ll be. Point out some of the sights you might be seeing and promise to take pictures. Ask older kids what they already know about the place you’re visiting and what they think you should see while you’re there.
- Let them know you’re thinking of them. Kids love presents, and presents are a good distraction. An inexpensive bin of Dollar Store items or one small present every few days during long absences can give the kids a reason to be excited about your trip and remind them that you love them even when you’re not there. An advent calendar of love notes or chocolates and videos left on the at-home parent’s phone (or emailed daily) can help them feel connected to you while you’re gone.
- Be tech-savvy. In addition to pre-recorded videos, programs like Skype and Facetime are great for staying in visual contact in real time. If you’re missing an important event like a game or recital, Periscope is a live-streaming video app that can put you right in front of the action. By using the Find My Friends app, the kids can know exactly where you are before flipping over to Google Street Maps to see exactly what you’re seeing.
- Set up activities in advance. If you have time and will be gone for several days, think about arranging for play dates and activities during your absence. This will give the at-home partner a break and give the kids something to look forward to, both of which will make mom happy.
- Plan for re-entry. Your kids will be happy to see you when you get back, but they’re also likely to whine and act out in an attempt to catch-up on the attention they missed. So be ready and be patient! If you can, plan to give your partner a break to recharge and reserve time for the two of you to catch up and reconnect alone. Anticipate that the house might not be as clean or fully stocked as you’d like but remember that's okay because your kids are alive. Really, it is. Arranging for grocery delivery or take-out helps minimize the stress of jumping right back into the thick of it.
- Let Go. The most important thing to remember while you’re travelling is that everyone at home is completely fine. Your partner might not be parenting the way you would parent, your kids might not be eating what you’d feed them or dressing how you would dress them, but everyone is FINE. Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, don’t give in to guilt or to thinking about how inconvenient your absence is. Missing mommy is natural, and it’s important for kids to learn that you will always come back. You going away gives everyone a chance (including mom) to spread their wings, learn something new, and remember why we love and appreciate each other.