Friday, June 1, 2012

Planning to be away from your child

Last summer I found out that I was selected for a temporary assignment in Bahrain.  It was pretty difficult to think about leaving my 18 month old for 99 days.  I skyped daily.  I woke up at 2 am everyday (3 am after DST in the US) to make sure that I could see my little girl.  I missed her like crazy, but we made it.  Today, I doubt she remembers I was even gone.   So from my experience here are some pointers for other moms who might have to travel to help with the guilt and make it a bit easier to handle being without your child.

1.      Prepare
a.       Make lists
b.      Give yourself a timeline
c.       Introduce children to any new caregivers prior to leaving
d.      Slowly transition to allow the caregiver who will be with the child to take more responsibility under your direction
e.      Make some magic memories that you can hold onto while you are away
2.        Keep in touch.  I used Vonage and skype.  They worked pretty well  but there are a variety of other programs that function the same. 
a.       Do some research
b.      Pick the program that will best suit your needs
c.       USE IT!
d.      Ask for pictures regularly, I asked for them daily.  I didn’t get daily pictures but I got pictures maybe 3-5 times a week.  It was nice seeing a  snapshot of my daughter daily.
3.       Find something that you enjoy and do it while you are away to fill your spare time.  I rediscovered my love of pool (billiards).  There was a pub across the street and I’d go and play pool with a coworker.  I met some really nice people and some I still keep in touch with.  This makes your time go much faster. 
4.       Give yourself something other than going home to look forward to.  I found a quiz night at a local pub that was fun for me.  My coworker and I would go and play, we met some other westerners and made friends that we ended up doing other activities with. We did the quiz every Wed. night.  It gave me something to look forward to in the middle of the week.  We even won a free dinner and quite a bit of vodka  J
5.       Temper your expectations.  Your children will miss you.  However,  your homecoming might not be exactly what you expect with your children, your family, or your spouse.  Keep in mind depending on how long you’ve been away, much could have changed.   Children can change so quickly.  They quickly become accustomed to the rules and parenting style of their caregivers.  You may find them doing things  they previously hadn’t, your relationship with them may change, and your reception might not be as warm as you’d expect.  When I came home, despite the fact that I’d skyped daily, my daughter was still hesitant to come to me.  She ran to me but then stopped and looked for reassurance before committing fully.  You have to understand that things change quickly in a child’s life and a week, month, or year can change so much. 
6.       Don’t let your guilt prevent you from enjoying yourself.  As mom’s we find every opportunity to feel guilty.  Being away from your child is a big deal and comes with a tremendous amount of guilt.  It’s okay to feel this way, but it’s also okay to pursue personal fulfillment in work or in travel without your child/children.  Before I went to Bahrain I’d never spend a night away from my daughter.  I’d been her primary caregiver doing 95% of her care myself.  Going from that to letting someone else do it 100% even if it is their other parent is hard.  It helped me to know that I’d set up a support system, there were contacts for people I trusted to help with her care if her father needed a break.  I had several contacts with Power of attorney in the event my daughter needed medical care and her father was incapacitated or couldn’t be found.  I found that covering every base I could ahead of time eased my guilt because I knew that even though I wasn’t physically there I was still taking care of her and her needs from the other side of the world.
Being away from your child is not easy, but you can make it easier on yourself by doing some or all of the things I did.

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