07/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Mom's Away on Mother's Day

According to Hallmark, and other purveyors of nostalgia, I'm supposed to be home, with my family, on Mother's Day. And, if I were home, I supposed I'd receive hugs and cards, flowers and chocolates. Mind you, I love being at home with my family, and I relish hugs, cards, flowers and chocolates. Fortunately, there's no law against sharing them on any of the other 364 days of the year because, like many other moms, I won't be anywhere near my home on Sunday. This means Mother's Day has to be another day in our home -- or, more accurately, it's everyday.

A few weeks ago, I told my family "I've got to go on work trip in early May." My son said, "you mean on Mother's Day?" I checked the calendar and mumbled something like "yup." There was a chorus of "Bummer" which warmed my heart, and then the conversation moved on. Sounds pretty healthy, right? As of today, my kids and husband are content. But there are rumblings inside my head where feelings and thoughts attack as my trip approaches and Mother's Day looms.

Chances are, just about every parent contends with the mixed emotions related to leaving family at the wrong time. There's the guilt, which arises even though we know it is totally unconstructive. And, there's also the anxiety, which doesn't help much either. But, deeper down, there's likely to be that soft little voice that says, "think about this more deeply, and you'll see that it's okay." In fact, having time apart is critically important, and far more than just "okay." Here's why:

  • Teaching kids to feel confident and secure on their own is an essential aspect of parenting. It's an incremental process that begins with separating from our young children for just a few hours. My kids are older, now, and a week apart gives ample time to prove both to themselves and to us, their parents, that life continues just fine.
  • Missing someone is part of life. When kids experience that sense of missing us, they learn about their inner experience. They gain insight about the tightness the bonds that hold families together. And, they learn the joy that comes with reunion.
  • Learning that life is unpredictable contributes to resilience. Ideally, parents live at home most of the time. In that scenario, the odds are good that they'll return as expected when they do have to go away. Sometimes a parent's return is delayed, and then kids have an opportunity to practice recognizing their feelings, such as anger or disappointment, sadness or frustration. Even more important, these delays help them function in the presence of such emotions.
  • Building coping skills is good for kids. Every time a parent leaves for a while, and then returns, kids get to practice coping skills. Each of these occasions is a mini-trial by fire and, provided there is adequate support and stability in the child's life, such stressors build strength. None of us want our kids to face the really major trials, like the ultimate loss of a loved one or long forced separation, but these too can happen. . . and I, for one, would prefer that my kids learn to survive stress under more controlled circumstances before inevitably facing harsher tests.
  • Showing kids that parents work prepares them for the future. In our home, both parents work. Our kids know that, which is really good because they, too, will have to work when they come of age. That's our reality, and within it, we can teach our kids that the bonds among us transcend everything else and can stretch infinitely without breaking.
  • Having a full life is good for parents. Our kids will leave home very quickly. At that point, our parenting responsibilities will change and we'll have more time for other things. Like wine, personal interests, careers and relationships gain flavor and value over time. While childrearing takes precedence, it's important to make time for other experiences along the way.

Given all these points, it seems to me that we should celebrate every day and not just Mother's Day. Seriously, many moms feel this way beginning with pregnancy. We find meaning through living every day, as fully as possible, and we know all about the good times, and the bad. Moms don't need things sugar coated nor do we expect constant acknowledgement. However, we do like to be appreciated, and of course, we love to be cherished (rather more than once a year).

Flowers and chocolates, hugs and cards are lovely, but they're no substitute for healthy relationships and the web of love that holds us together. As for me, I'll celebrate Mother's Day, today, and tomorrow, and then each day after I return. I look at it like this: Mother's Day is like dessert after dinner . . . and much as I have a sweet tooth (and believe me, I do), it's always the main course that nourishes and ultimately satisfies.

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