Heading away for a week or so without the children? Sounds delicious! But beware – there is sometimes a high cost, even with your best intentions.
Baby Sara (not her real name) was sad. Not even one year old, she could not be consoled. For several days, it was a tough time, for both her, and her carers. Finally, she gave in. And with all hope lost, she squirmed in her cot to face the wall, and zoned out. Broken-hearted.
A few days later her brother came to visit. He was his usual cheeky self, and on seeing him, Sara emerged from her lethargy. It was like she woke up, and the world was right again. Seeing that familiar face was enough to give Sara a new lease on life. She managed the remainder of the four weeks away from her family – just.
This incident happened years ago, but to Sara the memory still has a life of its own. She is now an adult, married, and with nearly grown children. Her response to being left with friends for a month while her parents went overseas to work has now become the stuff of family legend.
“I thought they had died,” she said. “It would have been better if my brother and I had stayed together.”
Unfortunately, the trauma of that incident scarred Sara for life.
“I couldn’t do sleepovers growing up,” she says with emotion. “Well, I did do them, but I always cried myself to sleep.”
It wasn’t until she was 16 years old that Sara finally connected the dots, and realised her separation anxiety was due to that brief period when she was a baby. Thankfully she was given the opportunity to talk it through with someone who prayed with her to release her from the pain of the memory, and the trauma. She was also encouraged to forgive her parents – a difficult thing to do, but incredibly freeing. After that things changed, and it meant she could live a relatively normal life after all.
She is quite philosophical about it all. “I know they left me there with the best of intentions, thinking they were doing the best thing for me in the circumstances,” Sara explains. “It was a different era then, and my parents made the best decision with the information available to them.”
As parents, we all have to do that. Faced with hard decisions about our children, we all make our choices – for good or for bad.
I admire Sara. She has worked her way through the issue and engaged with the problem. Choosing the difficult, but more gracious path, she has come to a point of reconciliation and understanding.
No one has perfect parents
As you reflect on the job your parents did as you were growing up, you can no doubt see places where they could have done things better. Perhaps you too were traumatised as a result of their actions. The challenge for us all is to let go of those ordeals, like Sara did. If you hold onto the hurt, the bitterness, and the revenge, it only hurts you.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with letting people off the hook, and everything to do with giving you back your freedom.
On the other side of the journey, here are some things I learnt about leaving children for long stays:
- It happens: Sometimes you must leave your children in the care of others. And that’s okay. Having children does not mean you stop having a life – instead they add richness and vibrancy. If you can travel with your children, then do it. We had some exciting overseas adventures with little ones. In Sara’s case, her parents were going to a country that was politically unpredictable and culturally unknown. It was clear they couldn’t take the children with them.
- Prayer: It is a good idea to pray about how to move forward in these situations. Obviously as parents you are the main care-givers for your children, and it is important to take your job seriously, and consider the long-term outcomes for them. Seek God about your plans, and if you do not have peace, then do not move forward with the idea.
- Set-up well: Try and house siblings together if possible. When we went away for a length of time we were blessed to have friends and relatives who could have all of them at once.
- Physical preparation: Make sure your children are familiar with the people who will be caring for them. Some visits to the house where they are to stay are a good idea, and maybe have a trial sleep-over.
- Verbal preparation – Babies: Talk to your baby about what is going to happen, and do it often. We were away for a week when one of my girls was only six months old. Every so often I would sit down with her, look her in the eye and explain what was going to happen. Especially, I would tell her we would come back and take her home after a week. True, she didn’t have the language to converse with me. But I knew I was speaking into her soul and spirit. We all managed the separation without difficulty.
- Verbal preparation – Older children: Give more, or less, information depending on the age of the child. Little ones do not always have an accurate understanding of time, so telling them three months ahead that you will be going away may not be helpful. However, you can talk through ideas, such as suggesting with enthusiasm that one day they might go on a holiday to someone’s house.
- Trust: While away, entrust your children into God’s care. This is really hard. But if you are stressing over your children, you will not be able to successfully do whatever it is you are going away to do. Sara told me her mother didn’t cope very well and had some physical stress issues during her time away. Sara wasn’t the only one suffering!
It goes both ways.
Reflecting on your own upbringing you can see where your parents failed you easily enough. It takes more effort to see when, and where, you have failed your own children. If you have let them down at some point it is important to forgive yourself. If you are able, talk things through with your child, and ask them to forgive you. Reconciliation is a lovely thing.