a parent getaway (adoption/foster)

An adoptive mom recently contacted me, asking what she should do about an upcoming missions trip and her young son. Her little guy is newly adopted, he has struggled with attachment issues, but is making some exceptional basic bonds with his new mom. This mother had volunteered to help cook, and act as a chaperon for this missions trip, and now she was feeling like she shouldn’t leave her son. She felt torn between going on this trip with her older children and being there for him. In her heart, she knew the answer, but wanted confirmation. After we talked, she was able to get her older daughter to take her place on the missions trip, and she still took her little guy. She was able to be there for her older children and have quiet time for her little guy when he needed it.

The question is often asked, should you leave your child while you go on vacation, a parent only getaway, or to a conference? This is a question that has a few facets to consider.

First, who is going and what is the purpose? If you are a single parent and need to get away to breathe, or you are married and need some time alone with your spouse, in my opinion it’s good to do this briefly on occasion. If you’re taking other children and are leaving a child with someone else, I don’t recommend doing so. For the child left behind, nothing good will come of leaving them. In fact, if you have made progress with them, it will likely get thrown in reverse. And if you haven’t bonded with your adopted or foster child, it’s still not a good idea. You may say, “But they ruin everything.” Remember they aren’t doing this because of you, and those things they do to make your life difficult stem from fear. They will push you to see if you will still love them. If you leave your child, it will cause fear, no matter what they may say.

Second, consider who they will stay with. My first choice is always someone the child knows really well. If you absolutely HAVE to go away, and you don’t have someone your child knows well, I would consider planning far in advance and get to know the respite care provider. Plan get togethers and play dates so you and your child get acquainted with them. If, for any reason you feel uncomfortable with a person watching your child, don’t leave your child with them.

Third, consider where your child is in the bonding process. If your child is recently showing signs of attachment, I wouldn’t suggest leaving them. They are in a critical stage of bonding and they need to depend on you and know you won’t leave. No matter what you say to your child, they will not trust that you’re coming back, and it will instill that fear I mentioned earlier.

If you have planned a getaway, there are some ways to help it go better. I recently heard a mom talk about sending her kids to their Dad’s house for the summer. She knew her children would have a difficult time being away from her, so she put her favorite t-shirt in a ziplock bag and sent it with them. She told them to take it out whenever they missed her. If you do this, I would suggest wearing it and putting it in the bag unwashed so it smells like you. Also make sure your child has their favorite stuffed animal and blankets when you leave. Sometimes kids who have been moved around don’t have specific favorite items, but find something that they seem to like.

The Attachment and Trauma Network had a webinar on “Getting Your Ducks in a Row Before You Go,” that offered some excellent tips on helping your child handle your absence. Note: Their focus was a parent going to a conference, but their tips can be used for any getaway that a parent is going on. Here is a link to their printout of ideas: Attachment & Trauma Network 

Here is a summary of a few suggestions they expound upon:

  • Scheduled phone calls or Skype/Facetime – (I suggest calling every day.)
  • Keeping continuity with their every day routines.
  • If your child understands rewards (remember they won’t until they have bonded some) and will work for them, their caregiver can reward them each day. Don’t set the standards too high.
  • A calendar marked with the day you leave and the day you return. (A couple months ago, we went on a bi-yearly 🙂 weekend away. We had told our daughter, Payton, that we’d be gone two nights and three days. When we picked her up at Grandma’s house, she put her hands on her hips and said, “You said you’d be gone two days, and that was three.” Well, if we’d given her a calendar that probably wouldn’t have been an issue.)

I hope these tips help you and your family through the transitions and fears of spending time away from each other. Are there any additional ideas that helped your family when you prepared to leave, and while you were away?