If your family is anything like mine, you’ve had some memorable experiences with separation anxiety; daycare drop-off, date night, or a girls-only getaway. Goodbyes are tearful, clingy and tremendously difficult to part ways for anything outside of our usual routine. For me. My four-year-old daughter, however, is mostly fine, and relishes the attention of new people and easily adapts to new situations.
So what about when mom travels?
I was recently offered an opportunity to travel abroad for several weeks, and walk a portion of Spain’s Camino de Santiago with my 72-year-old father. Understandably, I was torn. If I stayed, would I miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Is now the right time? Don’t good mamas always stay home to take care of their babies? If I went, would I set a good example of feminism and independence? Show my daughter the importance of following your dreams? What if by staying home I created an insecure attachment? Or by leaving set her up for future abandonment issues?
In an effort to separate a guilt trip from a Spain trip, I crowd-sourced others’ experiences, opinions, and insights. I learned of several fathers who went away for months at a time, mothers who traveled often for less than two weeks at a time, and parents of older children who took longer vacations. I obsessively researched parent-child attachment, consulted with my therapist for realistic concerns, and scoured the internet for real-life stories from women who were away from their young children for stretches of time.
Ultimately, I decided to carpe diem this bucket list opportunity and embark on 25 nights away from my husband and daughter. Supported emotionally and logistically by my partner, and aided with the willing generosity of my in-laws, I committed to the adventure.
First, I addressed most of the travel logistics and planning; plane tickets (check), walking itinerary, childcare arrangements, passport renewal, all-weather gear (check, check, check and check), so I was available to spend the remainder of my time:
- Anxiously anticipating the trans-continental flight
- Ruminating dozens of what-if scenarios in my absence
- Second-guessing my decision to go
- Obsessively planning creative ways to maintain a hand in my daughter’s daily routine
I won’t bore you with my fear of flying or bother listing the myriad of catastrophes unlikely to occur, but I will share the reasons I think other moms should seize opportunities to embark on child-free travel adventures of all kinds, and the ways I prepared to love on my family from afar.
Reasons to take that trip-of-a-lifetime:
- Tangibly showing our children what it looks like to follow dreams and desires.
- Modeling curiosity, travel adventure, and a sense of global citizenship so they have the importance knowledge that there is a world beyond our very familiar one.
- Practicing spending special time with other family members .
- Allowing those other family members to model patience, love and support in different ways than I do.
- Demonstrating equality; that both men and women alike can pursue adventure abroad, or manage home-related responsibilities.
- Embodying the essence of family and community – it really does take a village.
- Allowing our children to practice managing and regulating their feelings with other caregivers.
- Reminding kids that mama ALWAYS chooses to come home, whether from a day at work or a long travel trip overseas.
- Allowing children to see that they can be just fine in the world without us.
- Showing us as parents that we can also exist in the world without them. “Mama” may be the favorite and most important of our identities, there is more to us.
Suggestions to manage a lengthy separation from your family:
- Encourage a regular routine at home with detailed information, but let go of controlling how it will play out.
- Create new rituals to include the family in your adventures abroad:
- Post a map or globe of your anticipated travel route. Use your faces on pushpins, so they can follow along
- Daily countdown chains
- Read books or watch shows about the destination
- Play cultural music and/or eat special cuisine
- Talk about the time difference and/or weather
- Exchange text/picture messages, and set times for phone calls or Skype/FaceTime
- Send postcards
- Leave special notes, and surprises at home to open and enjoy (using a clear plastic shoe holder, I left daily love notes for my husband and surprises for my daughter)
- Record videos of yourself reading your child’s favorite books, or audios singing favorite family songs, telling silly stories or jokes
- Leave your library card for story time
- A list of activities to do like the zoo, a gift card to the favorite ice cream shop
- Special gifts to cuddle, wear, read, play, or eat