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How Do I Explain to My Young Child That I Have to Travel?

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WORKING MOM
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To all mothers who have to travel and leave their children for work, I applaud your work ethic and your concern. I understand also how difficult it is to say good-bye even for a short trip. In the our present society, approximately 11 percent of mothers are stay-at-home mothers, 35 percent are single parents, and 58 percent are households in which both parents work. Between 2002 and 2012 there was an increase of 76,000 stay-at-home dads; however, we live in a world where parents usually have to contribute jointly to meet the rising costs of everything. Perhaps I can help you when your young toddler or your young child looks up at you with those big eyes and says "Don't go, mommy!"

It is never easy, but children are very resilient when left with caretakers that they know well. Sometimes it is a grandparent or a babysitter or daddy or everyone pitching in at different times. Each time mommy has to go away, the familiarity becomes more evident. My 2-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter is now explaining to me that "Mommy went to work in an airplane. A taxi cab took her to a hotel, and she will be home after the hearts come down." The hearts refer to a group of hearts that are taped on a window in the living room. There is one for each day she will be gone, and each one has a loving message on it. In that way the children (she has a 6-year-old brother) can visually and tactically participate in the process. With iPhones, the children and mommy can FaceTime, and a pretty poster is made to welcome mommy home.

The other things that help in the separation are little books with photos in them of mommy and child with little words written beneath them for big brother to read. As the grandma involved, I went to a children's book store and found a book entitled When Mommy Travels that has been most helpful.

We all know that there is no one who can really take mommy's place, but children need to feel the love around them from everyone, especially family members. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this family, because I am needed and respected, and I have an opportunity to become close to my grandchildren. I was very close to my grandmother. She was often the primary caretaker when my mother was in the hospital with recurring maladies. Some of my most vivid memories of childhood revolve around my grandparents, uncles and aunts who were always available when I needed help. Even years later, when my own baby was hospitalized as an infant, it was my great-uncle who came to drive me to the hospital before I was cleared to drive myself. My husband had to be at work, and I needed to be with my baby. These are memories that stick and carry us forward into many forthcoming years.

It is important to remember that to a young child, they are exclusively the center of their worlds. An understanding of how others factor into their worlds comes a bit later. When a parent has to travel, it is especially important to ease them into as much understanding as they are able to process. Don't waste time feeling guilty; just feel proud that you are helping to provide your child with as much as you are able. You are setting the example of the importance of a strong work ethic, and that has nothing to do with the love your child will feel for you.