Hi Barbara: This question involves me, my husband, our 6-year-old son, and my in-laws (my son's grandparents) who live in another country.
My husband and I both like the idea of my husband and son going to visit my husband's parents. With the travel and time adjustment, we were thinking of them going for a month. I am the primary breadwinner and am self-employed; I cannot be gone for this long.
My son has become very concerned about how much time he has with me. We have a very good work/life balance and spend quality time together playing games, talking, coloring, cooking. However, my son get very teary when I go out to do things. I had a four-session book group and he cried each time. My son and husband have a good time together, but my son has expressed that it makes him sad not to have all the time he thinks he should have with me (which is always). He loves school and does great, but says he'd rather just be home with me. He is overall a very happy kid.
We asked what he thought of this trip, and while he loves being with his grandparents, he says he doesn't want to go without me. One part of me says to go ahead and send him off with his dad for a trip that is sure to be quite fun. The other part of me worries that I will traumatize him by sending him off for this visit.
I'd love to know your opinion.
From: Bear's mama, Revere
Dear Bear's Mama,
It sounds like a wonderful opportunity. They should go. It won't traumatize him. Here are some ways you can help him:
(1) Be clear that to go or not to go on this trip is a decision for the parents to make, not for him; that you heard his misgivings, but you think it will be a wonderful for him; that you will miss him, and he will miss you, but you know he will be loved by his grandparents and well-cared for by his dad; that while he is gone, you will be busy with your work, and he will be busy exploring and meeting relatives.
(2) Make a plan together for how you will stay in touch. Can you Skype? Ask him to keep a "journal:" he could draw pictures of his favorite activity of the day, dictate to dad what he's thinking, or write his own list (inventive spelling and all) of the good and bad of.....just about anything. Think up some categories together for him to write about (food, cousins, weather) and suggest that you will put it together into a book when he comes home. (Great way to promote his literacy as well!) And of course, you will do something similar from your end.
(3) Plan an activity or two to do before he goes, something special for just the two of you. Take a few pictures that he can take with him. Give him something of yours -- a scarf is good -- that might have your perfume on it, so that he can cuddle with it if he misses you.
(4) Between now and when they leave, learn to tolerate his expressions of, "I don't want to go without you." Our instinct is to say things like, "Oh, you'll be fine! It'll be fun!" Instead, grant him is wish in fantasy: "You really wish I could come with you, don't you? I wish I could come, too. It would be fun, huh?" If he has a chance to wallow in the feelings he's having in the moment, he'll be more able to move on. Wait a while before you add the "but:" "But I know you'll be fine." "But next trip, maybe I'll be able to go, too." "But you'll have such great stories to tell me!"
(5) Make a book for him before he goes of all the fun things he will do, and of what you will be doing while he is gone. (Write it in third person.) Include what will stay the same in his life: "Daddy will read a story at bedtime every night, just like at home." Also include something like this (which is the real point of the whole thing): "Sometimes Mama will miss X. When she does, she will look at his picture and that will make her smile, and she will remind herself about all the fun they will have when he comes home." And: "Sometimes X will miss Mama. When he does, he will ........" and suggest a few things he can do. On a personal note, when my son was 3, I had to go to the USSR on an assignment. I was going to be gone nearly two weeks, and I was a wreck. So I made a book, "Mama goes on a trip." Nothing formal -- I put binder holes in the pages and "bound" it with ribbon. I'm told he wanted to read it every day and that it really helped.
The trick is to not to be a Pollyanna, not to falsely say you won't miss him or vice versa, but to acknowledge there will be some sad feelings and show that there are ways to cope.
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