|Subject: Should Mom take a 2-week vacation
away from her children?
I am asking this question on behalf of a friend.
She has two children, 4-and-a-half years, and 2-years-old. Her husband
takes an active role in the care of the two children as he has a business
in which he works from home, she works three days a week at present. She
has previously left them for a week in his care which seemed to work
alright. She wishes to go on a vacation for two-and-a-half to three weeks,
leaving the children in the care of her partner. This trip is not 100
percent necessary. but is something she would like to do with a friend of
hers. It is interesting for her career and for meeting people and seeing a
What would the effect of this separation be on the children? Would it
be advisable? And does it make a difference that it is the mother and not
the father at this age of the children?
What do you think?
While it may be difficult for your friend to forgo a trip she very much
wants to take, I hope that she is able to consider the decision from all
sides. Whenever possible, no unnecessary travel should be taken by a
mother (ideally, also by the father) away from children until they are of
an age that they fully understand the reasons for the absence and feel
comfortable with it. This age will vary from one child to another, and
will even fluctuate for any one child as his/her circumstances change.
A two-year-old (and possibly even the four-year-old) is much too young
to understand these things, and there is the danger that he/she will
personalize the reason for what feels to them like an abandonment. In this
type of situation, it is not uncommon for the child to conclude that the
parent has left because the child has done something bad. The child may
then begin to feel great anxiety whenever they make a mistake. This can be
the beginning of a lifelong pattern of guilt, perfectionism, and/or a
clinging overdependency on others.
There is also the factor of the young child's inability to understand
the concept of time. A two-year-old (and again possibly also the
four-year-old) has little understanding of time, and a lengthy absence
like the one proposed may well feel permanent, that is, the child will
begin to mourn the parent just as though there has been a death. When a
parent returns from a lengthy absence, the child needs to be given
sufficient time and loving care to readjust and learn to trust the parent
again. Children will often express their pent-up worries and frustrations
only after the parent returns, leading to conflict and possible
misunderstandings. The greatest danger is that the precious bond between
parent and child may well be harmed to some degree permanently. The parent
will also feel the break in bonding and will need to heal.
The question then becomes, Is this trip really worth taking these
risks? In situations like this, it is easy for us to look at things from
our own perspective and to forget that that the same situation can look
very different from the child's side of things, with his/her more limited
understanding and greater need for emotional attachment and reassurance.
There is another hazard in that many children respond to repeated or
lengthy separations from the mother with a state of denial in order to
protect themselves from further pain and anxiety by pretending to
themselves, and to the adults around them, that the separation is not
affecting them. It is easy for a parent to misread this denial as proof
that the child is not being harmed by the separations. This type of
response is not independence, it is actually the opposite - a protective
response to frustrated dependency needs. It can be difficult to evaluate a
child's outward behavior in these circumstances. Suffice it to say that
all young children benefit by having their mother available (both
physically and emotionally) as much as possible.
While it is better for the children to stay with the father than with a
family friend (or worse, a stranger), it still can make a profound
difference that it is the mother who may leave. One of the many benefits
of extended breastfeeding is that a nursing mother cannot be gone for more
than a few hours. This is part of nature's plan for keeping the mother
close by during the years that the child needs this connection. The better
this need is met in the earliest years, the more independent the child
will become later on. For more on this subject, I highly recommend Dr.
Kimmel's short book, Whatever Happened to
Could your friend consider travelling with the children? Many parents
have found this to be the best solution for everyone. Most children enjoy
travelling and seeing new places, as long as their energy limits are
respected and taken into account when planning each day's activities.
Alternatively, can this trip be postponed until the children are older?
Children grow up amazingly fast, and parents can then meet their own needs
more easily when their children are better able to understand what is
In general, your friend will need to weigh the matter carefully, taking
into account the children's needs; after all, they can't speak for
themselves and are dependent on adults for their care and all the
decisions which directly affect their lives.