This last week my husband has been away in America, it was only 5 days & 5 nights, but it was the longest our little family has been apart. It was the first time our little girl had one parent away for more than a couple of nights. It was quite a big thing for us, we wondered how she would cope. She’s quite clingy to her Daddy at the moment, so this worried us. She doesn’t know how far America is, but to me it feel (it is!) a lot further away. You can’t just return home quickly if you’re needed in an emergency.
We needn’t have worried, husband returned home safely and we’ve had a really good, settled time at home. I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what went well & if it were to happen again, what might we do differently. Below are some of the things we did to help. I have to say I think the prep all paid off it may have appeared over the top & too much, but for us it worked!
1) Timing of telling her Daddy was going to be away: We only told our daughter that Daddy was going away 2days before he went. This was so that she didn’t have time to get anxious about it. It did give her time to process it & for us to talk about it to provide reassurance if needed. We chose to tell her on a day she wasn’t at nursery so that we would be available to ask questions if needed.
2) Quality family time before & after: the before bit was planned. We made sure the normal Saturday morning jobs were done before hand. This meant we had time to go for a treat lunch out. When Daddy returned we actually ended up just cuddling on the sofa & watching a film together. We’d planned to make a welcome home cake, but little one randomly had a tummy ache, so we just snuggled. On a Thursday afternoon when we’d normally be busy was just bliss. I think it helped her feel really happy, relaxed and settled. We watched Beauty and the Beast (92 version), what a classic!
3) An exciting new toy: We bought our daughter a Paw Patrol teddy that sings as a special Daddy is going away present. Her sleep is not always great, so we thought something that might encourage her to sleep would be helpful. The teddy was going to be her new snuggle buddy when Daddy was away. It worked really well & she was pleased with her new friend. It helped distract a little from the feeling sad. This wasn’t to say that we didn’t recognise and acknowledge that she might feel sad or upset. She definitely did miss him, but I think that she’s well enough attached and settled to know that Daddy was always going to come back.
4) A little treat from Daddy each day: Daddy left her a little present to unwrap each day. These were small treats such as sweets, bubbles, glow sticks. I think they helped her know he was thinking of her, and he wanted her to feel special each day.
5) Countdown chart and welcome home sign: When I was younger both my parents were away for periods of time & I remember not finding those times easy. I also remember making and using countdown charts and enjoying crossing off the days. We made ours for Daddy’s trip the morning he left. We had some new stickers (always a hit!) so she decorated it herself. We named days of the week because she has a good understanding of days of the week and a good concept of time. Every night before going up to bed we added a sticker to that day. It was a good visual way to show how much time was left before Daddy came home. When I was younger making the welcome home sign was also a highlight of the trip. I helped our daughter make ours the morning Daddy came home so it was up and ready.
6) Supportive family/friends: Both our families knew husband would be away, and both offered support. Although we only saw one set of grandparents once, it was great to know they were there if we needed them. The texts and phone calls were great. In the end we were fine, but it was reassuring to know that if it had all gone wrong, they would have been there to do anything we needed. It certainly helped me feel well supported and less alone. Some friends also knew, and offered support, so again it was helpful to know there were local people to be called on if needed.
7) keep busy/keep to routine: I think we got this balance about right. We managed to do everything we would normally do, as well as a couple of added extras that just happened to fall last weekend. It was helpful to have some distractions from missing Daddy. Also to get us out of the house and to be with other people. It kept us busy, helped us enjoy the sunny weather, and made Little One lovely and tired so she fell asleep quickly at the end of the day. I think if we hadn’t had had the extra acirivities I think I would have planned a couple in to fill a bit of time and have some treats.
8) Keep in contact: I am amazed by modern technology and how it helped us stay in touch. We sent messages everyday. We could send photos so Little One could actually see where Daddy was and what he was doing. We could also video call a few times too which was great. We specifically didn’t promise a phone call every day as we didn’t know if/when we’d be able to. This was Little One wasn’t too disappointed or feel let down when it didn’t happen.
9) Swap a toy: my husband and daughter swapped a small soft toy that each of them looked after. The idea was that it would reinforce the fact that Daddy would be coming back as he’d have to bring the toy (Tiger) back. As someone else suggested, the toy that my Husband gave to Little One was ‘loaded with hugs and misses’ so every time she hugged him it was like getting a hug from Daddy. To be honest, I’m not sure she was too bothered about having his toy, although she did bring it out with us on the first day & it slept in her bed. She did enjoy seeing the photos of Tiger doing things and going places with Daddy. Just don’t do what Daddy did and leave the toy in the hotel at the airport. He had to ring them and say ‘I left my Tiger in bed’ He said the staff were a bit confused. He had to go back to get Tiger, luckily they found him!
10) Plan ahead: By this I mean, aim to get any household jobs (eg cleaning, shopping) done before the big trip. This worked well for us as it meant I didn’t have to worry about the added pressure to get those done. It meant that on the Saturday that Daddy went we could relax a bit and watch the Royal Wedding together. Any time during the trip that I had was spent either with Little One or just winding down myself in the evening. To make it easier I planned really easy & quick to prepare meals. This generated minimal washing up at the end of the day, so made that job much more bearable.
11) Look after yourself: Having to be a lone parent when you normally do it as a couple is not easy, so it’s important to look after and treat yourself too. I had my favourite ‘grown up tea’ one evening & watched a film I’d wanted to see for ages. I failed on getting enough sleep or going to bed early and stayed up far to late most nights. I blame the lack of anyone telling me to go to bed/sleep on that one.
On reflection, I don’t think we’d do anything different if there was a next time. We might tone down the presents/treats as she probably didn’t need them all really. However, I don’t think you can over prepare on these sort of things. Parents know their children best, and how they are that time, so they know what their child needs. There may well be some fallout from the trip in the next few days as Little One processes the last few days, but for now I’d say this trip has been a massive success!
*An additional strategy we used on a previous trip was that my Husband and Daughter wore matching (both fruit print) socks. The idea was that if they missed each other they could simply just look at their socks and think of each other. We weren’t organised enough this time to do it, but for a short overnight trip it did seem to work well.