Parents who spend a lot of time away from the family |

Parents who spend a lot of time away from the family
My late husband spent six years working abroad when my children were younger. He would be leave for five months and then be home for a two-week break. He had no access to Skype as he was in a restricted military base in Iraq. Raising two small children alone for 45 weeks a year was not easy for me. But we made it work. My husband wanted to be as involved as possible in bringing up his children.
Here are some tips of how we managed the separation:
  • Communication is KEY: Explain clearly to your children why the parent is leaving. Use age appropriate language. Reassure them that the parent will return. Find children’s books on the subject to read to them. Allow them to voice questions and answer them as honestly as possible. Let them know that the remaining parent is capable of being on their own. Reassure them that mom or dad can do the little things that the other parent used to do.
  • Verbal interaction is vital: Instant messaging is not enough. They need to hear the voice of their parent. It makes them feel secure and special. Give them privacy to have a one-on-one as well.
  • Involve them: I emailed my husband with all the little things that the kids did: the good and the bad. He would mention these things and the girls got excited that dad knew that they had performed well or been to a party. They didn’t even mind the slight reprimands he gave them.
  • Share: Share as many details of the kid’s lives on a shared online calendar. A cell phone is the perfect way to send a quick good luck for exams message and it lets them know the parent cares.
  • Make sure the children feel secure in their parents’ relationship: It is important for them to see you cuddle and hold hands when you are together. Kids might be asked at school if you are separated or divorced as you are living apart. Reassurance is key. Both verbally and physically.
  • Include a school day: Try to include a day or two of school while the parent is here. This gives them a chance to see the teacher and be introduced to friends etc.
  • Make collecting the parent a fun event: Fetching dad from the airport was always a HUGE event. I had my hair done and the girls always picked a nice outfit to wear. We always wanted to look our best for him and the tradition became important to them over the years.
  • Beware of change: Children get used to a certain routine and having one parent as a disciplinarian. The returning parent needs to be aware of this and needs to try and not change things too much. This could lead to resentment and confusion by the children and their partner.
  • Make sure you know the boundaries your spouse has instilled: Don’t allow actions at home that are not allowed when the parent is gone. Kids are then resentful of the other parent when you leave.
  • Leave something special: When my husband left for his next term away we always made sure that he left a letter and small gift (chocolate bar or flower) on the girls’ pillows. These letters have now become treasured mementos. They weren’t long letters but were handwritten and expressed his love.
  • Let the children show their emotions: Let your children cry and ask questions. They will be heart broken when the parent leaves again especially if it’s for a long period. If it causes emotional problems at home or at school then seek professional help. Children can be left with attachment and trust issues from parents who are frequently absent.
  • Don’t create expectations of gifts: I had a friend in a similar situation whose husband would walk in the door brandishing all the latest electronic gadgets for his boys. Eventually the children were only interested in the gifts and not in dad coming home. They even went so far as to send him lists of what they wanted. If you bring gifts, wait a day or two and then surprise the kids.