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A Parent's Dilemma: When to Leave Baby Behind

04/18/2014 02:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2014

Almost 30 years ago, I passed up a chance to travel to Taiwan because I didn't want to leave my then-toddler behind, and I couldn't fathom bringing him on such a lengthy trip. My husband, who was employed by the New York City Opera (and would still be now if someone would step up to rescue it), was going to perform there, and he'd been offered a chance to visit Hong Kong as well.

"No way in hell am I leaving this baby!" I remember wailing.

My husband protested that we had four living grandparents at the time who would have been thrilled to care for our child for a couple of weeks. But the mere thought of being so far away from him filled me with dread. I remember sitting bolt upright in bed, proclaiming in a cold sweat, "I just can't be on the other side of the planet!"

So long story short, hubby went solo and all I got out of the deal was a silk kimono.

Mothers (and fathers, too) make these kinds of decisions every day. In fact, not long ago I saw a young mother lamenting such an opportunity on Facebook, asking her "friends" what they thought she should do. Based in the U.S., she'd been invited to lecture for a month abroad. She was torn between wanting to pursue her career and not wanting to leave her child behind (again, she didn't feel that taking the baby was an option). As I scrolled down the responses, I noticed that maybe things haven't changed all that much for moms. Most friends said, "Go! Your child will be here when you get back, and you'll be richer for the experience." Many encouraged her to take her baby along. Others advised, "Follow your heart, and if it tells you to stay home, that's quite all right." One wise soul simply said, "Either decision is a good one."

The truth is there is no "right" answer, at least not for all mothers, in all situations. I certainly suspect that I wouldn't have relaxed enough to enjoy that trip to Asia. As it was, I had missed my baby terribly when I was in my office all day (I quit my full-time job a year after his birth, relieving my husband of his stay-at-home dad duties). On the other hand, I've always wondered what my life might have been like had I been more adventuresome. Would I have loved Hong Kong? With the births of two more kids and a writing career based in New Jersey, I let the question slide. Guess it just wasn't meant to be.

But the universe works in mysterious ways, does it not? In time, my baby grew into a little boy, who grew into a teenager, who grew into a young man who went to college, got a good job and was sent to work for a year -- in Hong Kong. Though I miss him very much, with online video chats and email, we're able to communicate. The world that once seemed so vast, huge and unfathomable no longer seems that way; the distance between a mother and her older son, in part, can be traversed by technology. To a mother of an older child, separation is the norm; it's the way kids grow up and the way we get on with our lives. To a mother holding her baby in her arms, however, even a brief separation to a faraway land can feel daunting -- too painful to bear.

That said, I will soon be off to Hong Kong to visit the very son who now resides in exactly the city that I once turned down a trip to because of my attachment to him. And so to the mothers (and fathers) out there who are pondering this sort of dilemma, I say not to worry. To quote a popular song from my own childhood, "Que sera, sera." What will be, indeed, will be... however long it may take.

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