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Child Caring

Mom unexpectedly has to go away

So I have a. 2 yr old daughter who is very attached to me. Being that we live on a small island and don't have family there, it's me and my husband that she sees day in and day out , she is more attached to me then daddy because I am a stay-at-home mom. Well, we are on vacation visiting some family, and I had a family emergency come up in another town that I have go tend to, so I will be leaving my daughter with my husband for a few days while I tend to the family matter. I am really nervous of how she is going to cope with being in a unfamiliar place and just with daddy and not mommy. Is there anything I can do to help prepare her or make things easier?

From: Kayla, Ketchikan, Alaska


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Dear Kayla,

This separation will probably be harder for you than for her!

Given how young she is, there's not much you can say that will help her, but it's important to say it anyway. Keep it short: "Mama is going away for a few days to help x and y. Daddy will stay with you. Daddy will take care of you. When mommy comes back, the family will be together again."

Give her something of yours to keep while you're gone, not just a photo but an object that she associates with you and might have your scent. A scarf that you often wear. Tell her she can cuddle with it. The points you want to make are that you are going away; that you're going to help someone in the family; and that you will return. Even though she has no concept of time at this age, give her a concrete idea of how many days you will be away: two nights of sleeping, for instance.

Just as important as what you say beforehand is what dad will do/say when she misses you. It's important for him to:

* verbalize and validate her feelings. She's too young to express much, so dad should be on the lookout for behaviors that indicate she is wondering where mom is. Don't worry about planting ideas in her head; the thoughts are there, she just can't access them. If she cries more easily that usual, or seems quiet, or even if she doesn't, I'd suggest verbalizing for her: "I know you miss mommy, don't you?" "I bet you're wondering when mom will be back." Avoid saying things like, "Don't be silly, mommy will be back in just two days!"

* give her something concrete to do that connects her to you: "Can you make mommy a drawing?" (it doesn't matter that it's scribbles), or, "Let's read a book you and mommy like to read together."

* stick to the schedules and routines she is used to. This is always important on vacation. even more so with the double whammy of you being away. Missed naps or late bedtimes will make everybody unhappy.

If you have time before you go, make a small book, just a few pages, that dad or grandma or whoever can read to her over and over. I used to do this for my son if I or my husband had to go away. Basically, it just gives the same story that your explanation did, with a little more detail, and pictures: Mom has to go away; mom has to take care of X; dad and youngster will be together; dad will take care of youngster, they will do x and y and z activities. Mom will return. Family will be together again.

BTW, the hardest time may be your return, not your absence. It's not unusual for a young child to ignore a returning parent, almost as if they are punishing you. Don't take it personally or show anger, just ease your way back into the routines.