I have a chance to travel for 3 weeks — how do I deal with leaving my child?

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By: Cristian Ghe.CC BY 2.0
Before my son was born, I traveled whenever I could. Since my son was born, the longest and furthest I’ve been away from him is a 3-hour plane ride for less than 36 hours. Now I have an amazing opportunity through work to travel with a youth group to a beautiful, tropical country for 21 days.

Here is my problem: my initial reaction hasn’t been “Oh, what if I miss him? What if he gets hurt? Will he forget me? Will he be ok without me?” — it’s been much closer to “HELL YES!! Send me NOW!!” and I feel sickly guilty for wanting this. Our child care situation is a dream — my husband is a teacher so he’ll be off work while I’d be gone, and we have two sets of very involved grand-parents.

So my questions are to other parents who have spent extended periods away from their children: How did you feel? Will I all of a sudden turn into a sobbing mess the second I get on the plane? Were you surprised by your feelings? — Bridget

Comments on I have a chance to travel for 3 weeks — how do I deal with leaving my child?

  1. Sounds like you have a great support system.. You will probably have a mix of missing your child and enjoying the experience you are having! SKYPE is awesome for connecting with your child every few days. And talk to them about where you are going and what you are going to do so they know what to expect. I’m sure some extra spoiling from Grandparents will distract as well! There is no way he will forget you and you will get wonderful hugs, kisses and cuddles when you get home! But everything will be JUST FINE!! You cannot worry about something happening, something could happen even if you are home. Go enjoy your trip, you deserve it! I missed my girl horribly, but it is a wonderful feeling to love someone so much, no?

  2. I’m in a similar situation! I have a chance to go overseas for a week, by far the longest I’ve ever been away from my daughter, and I am enthusiastically taking it. I’m sure I will be sad to a certain extent, as will she, but I view my feeling of being okay with the absence as a sign that we have a strong bond and that I’m leaving her in excellent care. Three weeks will be a sad absence, but not an insurmountable one. You know your son will be okay, thus your lack of guilt. And think how excited he’ll be to see you when you get back!

  3. I have been a single mom for 4 and a half years of my son’s life. (He turns 6 this July). Last year February, I met my soulmate! He bonded immediately with my son. In September last year I got the opportunity to travel to Sweden for 3 weeks for business. It was the first time I ever left my home country. And it would be the longest time I’d ever been away from my son.
    Everyone told me I shouldn’t worry because he’d be fine. They all said he most probably wouldn’t even realise I’m gone.
    The last week of my trip, my son got very ill. I ended up flying back 2 days earlier. The night that I landed, my son ended up in hospital.
    Luckily he made a perfect recovery. But to this day, he constantly tells me how much he missed me when I was gone and that I must please not ever go away for so long.
    I was suprised to feel the way I felt when I was gone. I missed my son, but I wasn’t crying my eyes out everyday. But what I realised after the time, was how much it affected him. I think we sometimes don’t realise how emotionally fragile a child is.

    P.S. Sorry, I’m not trying to be the rain on your parade. Just thought I’d share my experience.

    • When I was 5 years old, my parents went on a 10-day long trip without my sister and I. My grandmother came to stay with us. I remember it vividly; I was SO sad. I stared out my window for hours after they left, sure that every time a car came down the road it was them coming back.

      … but so what? Their desire to take that trip was valid, just as was my desire to have them with me. Nothing terrible happened – and if it had, it would have been a fluke, just as it would have been if something terrible happened when I was with my parents – I was safe and loved by my sister and grandmother.

      Spending three weeks alone with Dad and Grandparents isn’t something that’s going to harm your child. It’s ok that he feels a little sadness while you’re gone. It’s ok that you might, too. It’s ok to keep living your life!

      • I disagree with this a little. Obviously parents should continue living their lives, but for me, living my life now means making concessions that accommodate my son. Leaving my baby for three weeks would not physically harm him, but it would cause him emotional harm.

        Maybe it would be temporary, but I feel like keeping him feeling as loved and secure as possible is more important than a temporary trip to me. I’m not saying that this view works for everyone and as I said in another comment, I’ve left on business for two days at a time, but for me, traveling for long periods if I didn’t have to is not worth, to me, the sadness that it would cause my son.

        I can deal with the disappointment of not going on a trip because I’m an adult. Because my son is still a baby, the only thing he would understand is the fact that the most important person in the world left him.

        • Leaving my baby for three weeks would not physically harm him, but it would cause him emotional harm.

          For me, I do not feel that time with non-mother family members constitutes “emotional harm.” In fact, if it benefits the mother’s wellbeing, it may actually be of significant emotional benefit to a child.

          More of my thoughts on this issue:

          • Perhaps the age difference here is important? There is a world of difference between a baby and a five year old. I think both comments are entirely reasonable. Perhaps the middle ground could be that it is fine for a child to be sad and miss their parents, as long as the child is mature enough and had the right support.

          • I’m not talking about getting away for the day or even a few days. I’m talking about weeks at a time, but perhaps emotional harm isn’t the best word choice. It would make him sad, just as it would make him sad if his dad was gone for weeks at a time. He naturally prefers being cared for by his parents, which is totally normal. If we were not around for a long period of time, it would upset him and while I need time to myself on a regular (probably daily) basis, I guess I just feel differently about needing weeks away from my family. Additionally, being away from him for more than a few days would make me feel very sad, not free, just as being away from my husband for long periods of time would do the same.

          • @Weasel, yes, I think that’s part of it. My son isn’t even a year old yet. He has no concept of where people go when they leave or why, just that they are gone. A five year old can be reasoned with and talked to and likely has the ability to express their sadness or frustration in appropriate ways. My baby does not.

          • Thanks, I needed that. I’m mid-divorce with a restraining order against my toddler’s dad, and visitation starts next week. I’m totally freaking out, as he’s never taken care of toddler for more than 8 hours at a pop. I know toddler’ll adapt, and so will he, but the guilt at putting her in this weird, new situation is such a weight.

          • I guess what I’m saying is: Being sad isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s not even necessary a bad thing. Sadness is a part of life. People do things that disappoint us. That happens, and it’s ok, even for babies (IMO).

            This feels similar to the thinking I’ve done about sports and physical play. Plenty of sports carry the risk of injury – sometimes really serious. and Here’s what I’ve come to on that: I’m going to worry about/not allow/avoid things that cause serious, lasting damage (e.g., football concussions)… and I’m going to do my best to tolerate the risk of lesser injuries (e.g., breaking an ankle playing soccer).

          • Yes, age makes a difference. For instance, I don’t leave my 14-month-old for weeks because he is still nursing.

  4. I have four kids. With just about every one, when they were a yr old, I took off traveling for about a week. Between my husband and other extended family, child care was never a problem. Yes you miss your kids, but you will miss the oppurtunity more if you don’t go. One trip with my husband, we had only gotten about an hour away and I wanted to go back and pick up the kids and take them with. We didn’t. And it was good. Go, take lots of pictures, send at least one postcard back, and call/Skype if you can. It will be so worth it for you. And your family will be waiting for you when you come back.

  5. In December I went to India for 3 weeks leaving my two year old and my husband at home. In this case I was even spending a week in a rural village, which meant absolutely no contact with anyone at home during that time. I think the hardest part for me was not being able to share those awesome experiences with the people I love most in the world. I really wished they were there with me.

    I was most concerned that my daughter would have a really hard time so we prepared well. We practiced with Skype and made a plan for the limited contact we would have. I wrote her notes for ever day I was gone and left her little crafty gifts with them. So I was always a constant presence in her day even when I couldn’t talk with her.

    I got a lot of questions about whether I felt guilty leaving her (one asked if I felt like a failure as a mother). But really I was more surprised at the difficulty that other people seemed to have with my choice. She was well taken care of and I was only gone for 3 weeks.

    The experience has been one of the best of my life and while I still wish they could have been with me I am grateful for the opportunity. And my daughter loves the clothes I brought her and has really enjoyed looking at the pictures. And now, when she is older, I get to tell her how she tried to prove to her daddy that it is nighttime after I showed her the morning crowds in Mumbai over Skype.

    • Oh – I LOVE this idea! Writing him a note for everyday that I am gone or leaving a crafty little present. THIS THIS THIS!
      “But really I was more surprised at the difficulty that other people seemed to have with my choice. She was well taken care of and I was only gone for 3 weeks.”
      I feel the same way – totally. How did your daughter react upon your return?

      • She was really excited to see me. She ran right into my arms at the airport and gave me lots of hugs and kisses. And then proceeded to run around the terminal trying to get me to chase her. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I have also noticed a longer term change. She seems closer to her grandparents and her father. Even though we split parenting duties pretty evenly already, it still seemed to make a difference. And she doesn’t get as upset when I have to go to work.

      • I made some changes to my comment, but they didn’t take so I just wanted to add a couple other thoughts.

        I did notice a change in her relationship to my husband too. We split parenting duties pretty evenly and I work on Saturdays so he always is with her for at least one day a week, but them being on their own for a bit still seemed to make a difference.

        And you will be surprised at how long it takes to write out 20 something notes, but it completely worth it. My daughter still talks about them and her little gifts. They made her really happy. And – a bonus – she likes to write notes to us now. Which means she dictates and we write, but it is awesome to know that she wants to write me a note about how much she loves me.

  6. At 19 months, the longest I had been away from my daughter had been the 8 hours she spends in daycare, which she started at 12 months. Then I went away for a week to Europe for work. I was pretty worried about how it would affect her, mostly about how it would affect our relationship (particular since I was/still am breastfeeding). I knew she would be fine with my wife, and frankly, other than getting a little tug on my heart every time I saw a kid her age, I felt completely fine the whole time I was away! And, most importantly, she was totally fine with me when I got back. We tried to skype a few times but she wasn’t really into it.

    I think one of the most important things you can teach your kids is that you are your own person. My daughter is absolutely the most important person in the world to me, but I also want her to learn that her needs don’t always come before mine, that I love her with every fibre of my being, but that doesn’t mean I sacrifice everything for her, because that’s not healthy!

    • I totally agree with this post, that it is important for our little people to see that their parents have needs too, and that their needs do not always take precedence. I try and teach my 2 boys this every day. I love them to death and they know that absolutely, but i always teach them that mummy and daddy have wants and needs too. That is just the reality of it, utter sacrifice is not realistic or healthy.
      In saying that when they were newborns/babies their needs took first preference. Now they are older i think it is time for them to learn that they are not the centre of the universe (because you know what – they aren’t).
      I wish someone would offer me a 21 day trip away without my children!!
      And you are leaving him with his father so i don’t see that as causing emotional harm.

  7. I think for me it would depend on the age of the child. My son is 10.5 months and I have to travel for work sometimes, but I’ve been cutting my trips to two days max even though my manager wants me to stay for a week because for me, I’m just not happy leaving him for that long (even though the place I’m traveling to is fun and beautiful). Three weeks would not be an option for me at this age. Maybe when he’s older and I can explain things to him. But really I think it just depends on the person and the child. If you feel like you would feel guilty and sad the whole trip, maybe don’t go. If you think it’s would be tough, but eventually you would have fun and your child would have fun with the grandparents, then I think you should go.

    • I agree – age is important. I would not have thought about this when my son was exclusively breastfeeding (or still breastfeeding at all) but now that he doesn’t physically need my body to keep him alive anymore, it gives me a little more freedom.
      I actually don’t *think* I’ll feel guilty and sad the whole time – and, funnily enough, THAT makes me feel guilty!

  8. I had to leave my family for an entire week to travel with my mom to my grandmother’s funeral. I was happy to travel, especially by myself, but not happy to leave my husband and son. But we Skyped every day, sometimes multiple times, and I took the opportunity to take videos and pictures to make picture emails for my son to see what I was doing and who I was with. My step-mom (my mom’s partner, who was also without her partner for the first time) also came over with books about airplanes and the part of the country where we were staying. So while it was sad, we both did well with time apart. Just be prepared for some unexpected sobbing when you get back, and a little acting out on your child’s part when you return, while you are both getting used to each others’ schedules again.

  9. I guess it depends a lot on the age of the child, and what works fine with one may not work at all for another.

    From when I was about 2 years old, my parents would sometimes drop me off a my grandparents’ for a few days. I learned only as an adult, that my mom was actually travelling for business during that time. To me it was put as “yay, you’re going to visit your grandparents” (they lived a 4h drive away) and not as “mommy is going to go away”. I do not have bad memories from these stays. However, I was already about 6 when my mom left me there for more than 2 weeks, before it was always much shorter.

  10. When our son was ~22 months old we went to Europe for about 2 weeks. He stayed with grandma, who he adores and is his regular daytime caregiver anyway. He is a very independent, copacetic kid and we felt totally comfortable leaving him – and it was fine! We took a ton of pictures and texted them to Grandma when we had wifi. He’s obsessed with trash so we took photos of ourselves throwing away rubbish in trash cans with famous places in the background, which was hilarious (in front of Notre Dame in Paris, on Lake Geneva, etc).

    Knowing he is a person who is not anxious, and was with someone he loves and trusts, gave us the confidence to go. He was thrilled to see us on our return and settled rigjt back into our home routine. I don’t regret it!

  11. Moms at my work travel quite a bit, but I didn’t leave my son overnight until he was 20 months old, when I went to a weeklong conference. I felt better about it than I expected, even though he got the stomach bug while I was gone. I got to remember me as me, and the work that I love, instead of me as mommy, which was completely awesome. But his sleep has only now recovered after about 3 weeks, and he still asks “mommy go on airplane?” So he’s still thinking about it.

    Oh, one thing I did was to make him a little advent-calender style countdown so he could better visualize when I’d be home.

  12. I spent three weeks away from my five month old and to be honest, the first week I felt very relieved to not be joined at the breast constantly to another being. But after the second week I missed her and my husband terribly. I will say that after spending the first five months constantly being “mom”‘, it was nice and empowering to be able to focus solely on my work and remember that I do things other than breast feed and change diapers. And I think it was good for my husband to have all that daddy-daughter bonding time. He is an amazing partner in panting! I am a little worried that when I make the same trip this year it will be harder on my daughter since she will be 18 months and more aware that mommy is gone. But I think I am more worried for my husband’s sake than for my daughter’s.

  13. I am Dad in this case. Bridget is the best mother our son could ever hope for and I understand why she’s concerned, but I hope she takes the chance to travel and goes for it. Quinn will miss her, I’m sure, but this will also give me some time with him to even out the “I think I love Mommy more” stage he’s at right now. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Do it, Bridget, but don’t expect the house to look tidy when you get back.

  14. I am totally one of those people who LOVES being a mother — I’ve more than once said, out loud to whoever was around, that being a parent is something I’ve always wanted to do, something that I feel comes easily to me, and something that I really, really cherish. I love parenthood.

    HAVING SAID THAT, I also love taking breaks from it. Most of mine are overnight trips when I shoot a wedding, or 2-4 hour day trips I take solo while my husband hangs with our son. I spent a week out of the country with my best friend, and my son was totally fine when I got home. Did he miss me? YES! But did he emotionally crumble because I wasn’t there? Not as far as I know.

    Most likely, your baby’s life will continue on exactly how it has been going while you’re away. You, on the other hand, have a chance to see a part of the world you may have never visited before. You’re going to be there for work, but I’m sure you’ll get plenty of time to also be there for YOU. You’ll learn and grow, and you’ll be able to take that knowledge home with you and then TEACH your son about this place you visited. You’ll have photos to share, new experiences that will shape your every day thoughts, and all of that will only benefit your kid.

    I also feel like this is a great chance for, as other people have said, your son to see that you are a person — you’re you. I think it’s a wonderful way to begin to teach your son that life is full of adventure and opportunities.

    Most likely, he’ll be totally fine while you’re gone. Most likely, you’ll have an amazing time while you’re gone. Most likely, you’ll both be all blissy and happy when you see each other again, and neither of you will be significantly emotionally harmed.

    DO IT! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. If we really believe that it “takes a village to raise a child” (and perhaps you do, or don’t believe that), then I think it’s important to let other people get to spend time with our children, even for extended periods of time. While it’s not quite the same as being gone for 3 weeks, my husband stayed at home for the first year of my son’s life. It took a lot for me to relinquish that role, and allow them to get into their own rhythms and routines and bond together. Did my son cry when I was gone? Yes. Was dad able to handle it? Yes.

    That being said, I do think it’s valid to take a child’s age into account. Though I know a lot of military families who don’t have any CHOICE in the matter, their husband/wife is gone for 1 year or more on active duty and the kids survive.

  16. I think a lot of responses would be different if there were a gender reversal here. Many people don’t think twice about fathers traveling for business, fathers entering military service, etc. As far as I’ve seen, children, yes even infants, who don’t see their fathers for weeks or months at a time are totally fine. I can’t imagine it being any different for a mother. I say if you have an opportunity to do something you love as a person, and your child has the appropriate support network, you’re doing the child a favor in the long run. You are showing him/her that mommies are people, too.

    • If you’re talking about an exclusively breastfed infant, I’d say it makes a difference. Not every baby will take a bottle. That doesn’t mean mom can’t go about living her life, but it does mean that baby will likely be coming along for the ride.

  17. I’m not a parent, but I used to be a child of a business traveler. I suppose I still am! Starting when I was 4 and my sister was 2, my mother took semi-frequent business trips that could last 3 days or 3 weeks. Our Dad always took good care of us, although we ate a lot of frozen pizza and ramen noodles when Mom was gone. Her travel was important to her work and her well being. I like to think it made us more secure but I have no way to actually judge that. If nothing else, knowing that Mom was traveling definitely made me want to travel, and when we got old enough, she found ways to take us with her.

  18. I think this is a cultural and gender-dilemma. When a mum travels away it is apparently such a bigger deal than if the father travels. And it is suddently “babysitting” when a father takes care of their own kids.

    Many mothers think of themselves as the “mountain” in their kids life and the kid will crumble without them, but I think it can be so positive for kids to spend time with the other partner or other family members.

    From experience I have seen that kids don’t have the same “I miss you every day for 3 weeks” mentality as adults. There are too much playing to do than go around missing mum all the time. And if a kid go around miss mum all the time, maybe it is a sign that mum should travel more so the child get used to it. It is better in the long run.

    I’ll bet you have a wonderful travel.

    • Bess, I tend to slightly disagree.

      Firstly, as many others have said already, I believe it strongly, STRONGLY, depends on the age of the child. And with that, its ability to comprehend and communicate about what’s going to happen.

      The mother of a young child is very often (though not always, but she is in this case) the primary caregiver and that sure means something, even though there’s an excellent care network around her. I am sure that if I left my 15-month old, who has entered a stage of recently re-discovered separation anxiety, for three weeks, it would not be good for him at this point in his life. That’s my own motherly instinct talking, not fear or whatever else. Three weeks is a long period of time, certainly for a child, to miss a crucial figure in their lives who was there since the day (s)he was born and 9 months before.

      I do agree with you on the fact that not an eye would be batted if it would be the father who takes the holiday and I think that’s not entirely fair, either! Secondary caregiver in many cases…

      That being said, I think the author of the question should do some introspection and follow her intuรฏtion and (most importantly) consider the nature and developmental stage of her child.

      Maybe she can consider easing the process by doing some ‘trial runs’ of shorter periods of time before the goes away for a 3 week span. (Short trip with a friend, just a few towns away?)

      Or maybe she’ll find that if she makes a list of the pro’s and cons, feeling-wise, it’s the best gamble to go and enjoy some extended me-time if she feels that that will be the best for herself and her family in the long run. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with going and I’m not condemning her, because she’s obviously willing to think this through. Just my two cents.

  19. We live about 4-5 hours away from our parents, who love and miss our daughter terribly. So, starting when she was a few months old, every couple of months she gets to ride down to our hometown and spend a week couch surfing with all her grandparents. I feel like this has made her more independent and so far we haven’t had that attachment stage because she is exposed to so many different people. She is almost a year old, so this might change in the future, but right now it is working for us; it gives us a chance to do the things we normally can’t with a kid in tow. I would recommend refocusing the goal of the trip as “daddy and baby get three weeks together” instead of “mommy is leaving for three weeks.”

  20. I was a single mom for the first four years of my son’s life. When he was 9 months old, I had to go away for a week on business. My son spent the week with his Grandma. When I came home, everyone was healthy and happy. My son did not suffer any kind of emotional meltdown. He doesn’t remember it, we are as close as a mother and child can possibly be, and I got to spend a week doing something I really really wanted to do.

    Now I’m engaged to a really great guy who my son is very close to. When I go on a trip or stay the night with a friend, my son (5) says he misses me when he doesn’t see me but loves having guys’ night with my guy. When my guy leaves for extended times for his military obligations, it’s the same thing. My son says he misses him, we call him if its possible, then he comes back and life goes back to normal. No trauma.

    For me, having the freedom to have my own life experiences is important. I am fortunate enough to have a support system that allows me to do that, and I take advantage of that freedom. Although I miss him so much my heart aches a little when I don’t see him, It doesn’t hurt my son or my relationship to him, it strengthens our bond because I always come home with more patience, more calm, and happier than when I left. I want to teach my son to follow his heart and experience life. For me, the best way to do that has been to lead by example.

  21. My family and I spend a lot of time apart. My husband is military and I am continuing my career despite the difficulties it presents. We have both done night shift, he has gone on long deployments, we lived apart for one and a half years so I could attend school, and I spent 4 months commuting to work in a large city that I spent 3-4 nights away weekly. We do not have family close to us, so we rely on the surrounding military community. I have found us to be a strong family unit. We struggle and have really hard times, but we are strong because we get through difficulties. The children take each absence differently. I have found that the younger the child is, the easier they take it. When they get older, you may think they understand, but they can’t understand an absence the way adults do. The lives of the adults in a family do not stop once a child is brought into the mix, and they shouldn’t. An adult does not stay well rounded by shutting themselves out from the world and not engaging the parts of themselves that they love. I think you must go for it and not feel guilty about it! Enjoy yourself! Show your child another part of the world through your own experience! Other posters made comments about possibly causing emotional distress in the child. My response is you will do that anyway and probably wont even realize you are. Parents will screw something up in their child’s eyes no matter what. No parent gets through parenting alive:)

  22. In our family my husband often travels for work leaving our two year old with me. She copes well. I had to go to a work thing and leave her for a week and she was fine.
    One thing we do is take lots of videos prior to the trip eg toddler with mummy reading favourite books out loud, singing songs together etc and then the kid can watch them whenever they want. If the person who is away can’t Skype then they still get to see them. Having the toddler in the video helps her to understand that it’s a video not a skype call ๐Ÿ™‚
    Also we would Skype every day.

    Both of our fathers travelled extensively when we were growing up and it was just a part of life. My mum would have to travel for extended family meet ups and again it was just a part of life and while we were sad waving her off we just got on with things.

    I say go for it!

  23. What a great discussion!
    My mother-in-law has had to take a somewhat unexpected, 2-month long trip to Taiwan and we’ve been Skyping a lot with her. Previous to her trip, the longest she had gone without seeing my son was 2 days. I was totally surprised and thrilled when I saw my son’s reaction to her on Skype – he lit up and ran to the screen and KISSED it!!
    Thnx to everyone for sharing their insights, experiences and positivity – it has given me a lot to think about while planning this trip!

  24. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time and your son will be in excellent hands. Skype and pre-travel talks will likely make everything go smoothly. My feeling is that children can handle a lot, quite contentedly, as long as they know they are loved and things are explained to them in a way they can understand. I find our culture’s expectation that a mother be physically present in her child’s life for every single day to be unrealistic and unfairly demanding of the mother. I think time apart between mother and child, in small doses, can be enriching as it allows the child to bond more deeply with other loved ones (father, grandparent, etc).

  25. I would just like to say that this is an awesome thread. It has differing opinions yet remains respectful of each other’s thoughts and differences. IMO, it’s getting more and more difficult to find a group of people who can share a conversation that doesn’t resemble a soap opera mixed with an alley way cat fight. Kudos to all of you great parents out there, whatever your opinion!

    I had the same worry and this really helped me on my way to sorting it out ๐Ÿ™‚

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