Separation guilt

As I write this, I’m watching someone else’s children jump into a pool and I’m suddenly conscious of the fact my kids are nowhere in sight. In fact, my kids are nowhere near me – they are a few thousand kilometres away at their grandmother’s house. We are now in that wonderful stage of parenting where my husband and I are able to leave them for a few days.

As I am reminded of them, my brain immediately starts down the track of what people must think of me…leaving my kids for five days while I head off with their dad? But I stop myself. I don’t actually feel guilty, or really miss them that much, to be honest. And I feel compelled to tell you why I refuse to waste this precious time feeling guilty about not missing them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am wondering what they’re doing, wondering if they’re feeling okay, hoping they’re too busy having fun to miss me. But do I miss having them beside me at this very moment? No. I want to enjoy this moment of not having the constant questions and chatter, my head filled with what’s next and the if-I-don’t-get-them-to-bed-soon-they’ll-be-a-nightmare-tomorrow. Does that mean I don’t love them? Of course not. Does that mean someone who stays with their child every minute of the day loves their child more? Of course not. Does it mean a mum who travels way more than I do loves her child less? Of course it doesn’t.

We all love our children and would do anything for them. But sometimes we need to do something for ourselves (or our relationship) to be the best mum we can be. And sometimes, as my mum used to say, “You have to be cruel to be kind.” My daughter cried as I left for this trip (and I had to hold back tears at seeing her upset) but she will learn valuable lessons from our time apart. She’ll learn that mummy and daddy need time alone together sometimes. She’ll learn that she can trust grandma to give her the love and care and cuddles she needs. She’ll experience many memorable moments with her grandparents she can look back on when they are no longer around. And she’ll be reminded of just how much she loves me!

So how do we cultivate this in our family? It can be hard at first, and it can be even harder when you have no extended family around, or little support. A MOPS group is a great place to start! Leaving your child with caring volunteers while you have a cuppa and a chat in a room nearby is a great way to ease into separating. You’re in the same building, someone will come and get you if they get distressed, and attending regularly means they get to know the people looking after them from a young age.

Even just dropping the kids off to a friend’s place while you go grocery shopping is a start – they’ll have fun without you, you get to shop in peace (and accomplish the job far quicker) and your friend will enjoy the same when you return the favour! It is definitely worth stepping out and asking.

For those with relatives or good friends close by who can care for your kids, heading out on a date night with hubby for a couple of hours once a month shows your little ones that yes, mummy goes, but she also comes back. Even an afternoon, night or weekend away together while they are in the care of a trusted friend or relative won’t scar your child – it is healthy for our kids to grow up with other adults they are close to and can turn to … to ‘widen their village’ so to speak.

We didn’t just disappear for five days when our kids were six months old. Over the years we have gradually increased the chunks of time we’ve left them with others. A couple of hours when they were babies grew to a whole day, to an overnight stay, and eventually a weekend. And yes, I’m aware we are very fortunate to have relatives nearby to help facilitate this, but it is up to us as parents to invite others into our lives and allow them to lend a helping hand, and up to us as a community to support each other – especially mums doing it on their own – to help us all be better (read: sane) mums.

Kids will always go through stages of separation anxiety and this is totally natural. But being with them every minute of the day is not only impossible, it also makes for an exhausted mummy, and, often results in strained relationships (whether that be your marriage or friendships). For healthy and well-balanced kids, it’s important to teach our children that the world doesn’t revolve around them. And it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t.

Miranda Miller

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