A while back, I was asked to write an article about dealing with paternal absence. Much to our dismay, my husband travels quite a lot for his work and tends to be away for periods up to a month. Actually, goodbyes are such a big part of our lives that my daughter’s first ‘word’ at six months was ‘dada’ - with the waving hand gesture - which means as much as goodbye (‘dag’ in Dutch).
So how do we deal with these absences?
To be completely honest, I have to say we often don’t deal well with the situation, but that is due to the fact that saying bye to daddy generally means that we have to stay with the grandparents, instead of with my husband’s absence.
Here are a couple of tips on dealing with absences and goodbyes.
- A very important thing is to prepare the child well in advance: talk to them about when daddy’s leaving, where he will be going, why he is leaving and what he’ll be doing there. Quantify how long he will be gone for. When they’re older, you can talk about the times they have to sleep before they can see their father again, before that, it’s ok just to say wether it will be a long or short period - remember that time is a lot longer for a child than for an adult, so a month to them is an eternity. If they are gone fore a very extensive period, you can help your child quantify by naming specific periods in the year as tag marks, like their birthday or christmas, or the seasons: “Daddy will be back after you have opened your christmas presents at grandma’s.”
- Make sure not to paint the situation too negative. You are probably not happy with the situation and you might be upset or sad about it, but it is important to let your child know that there are things to look forward to when their dad’s away too: “Daddy’s going to be away, but in the meanwhile, we can go to the museum/we’ll visit grandpa....”
- One of the most imperative things however is your mental state. If yo are looking up against being alone with your child, the extra work you’ll have to take on, the solitude... your child will sense this and it will make the parting harder on them. So in order to avoid your blue mood, plan some fun things for you too. You can consider getting an extra pair of hands in the household, or some babysitting.
- Try to be around other people, for the child as well as or you. Being stuck in a house with only their mom can get very very cramped. Invite your friends over to visit, ir do things together, get your child out on play dates, see family and grandparents.
- Get out as much as you can. Wether it’s just for a little walk, or a trip to the grocery store, or something more planned, get out with your child. A change of scenery does everyone good every now and again.
- Try to have the child communicate with their father. Even when their really tiny, they benefit from hearing their daddy on the phone or seeing him through webcam. But be careful not to insist when they are hesitant. Sometimes it’s enough for them when you’ve talked to them and you can tell them that daddy is thinking about them and sends lots of kisses.
- When the father eventually gets back, make sure that he has some separate time with the kids, maybe they can do an activity together that doesn’t involve you. By now, you’re all craving a little attention, so it’s important not to compete with each other on this. (See it as a moment of spare time to reconnect with yourself, you’ll be more relaxed when you get your significant other to yourself).