Three weeks ago my mother shocked my husband and I with a phone call offering to watch my kids for THREE WEEKS. I have four kids! This was no casual offer and totally unexpected!
My sisters and their kids all live close to my mom and we have missed them all so much since we moved away last year. We miss them all; grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, the whole lot of them. So, I guess they all got together and decided to make this incredible offer. We were thrilled.
I literally could not process what it would be like to not have children. In fact, my husband and I had never been without kids more than a single night in 11 years. I think what I was feeling initially was total glee! I called my husband and told him the news and the first thing he said was, “You are going to get so sick of me…you are going to be like, ‘For Christ’s sakes, put your pants on!” We laughed so hard just thinking of …a quiet house, no laundry, no groceries, no noise!
But, the night before the kid’s departure, I began to feel literally sick. My twins are only 7. Three weeks is a really long time. I started doubting the entire well-laid plan. I began contriving ways to back out. Seven years old is just TOO young. I knew my older kids would fare well. After all, they were going to their “home-town” and would be surrounded by family and friends. But the twins…I just felt remorse and fear. I am not sure if it was for them, or me…or my family who would take them. I just couldn’t shake it. But, fears aside, we moved forward.
Today, it is two days away from the 3 weeks being over and less than 72 hours from our trip to go get the kids. As I reflect over how we have all survived, I realize I have learned some great insights because my family has been excellent at accommodating my feelings and those of my kids. They did very key things to keep the days seamlessly passing – till we all meet again!
So, without further ado, here is a practical list of great things both parties can do to relive homesickness, fears and doubts and endure the long weeks.
Consistent Sleeping Plan
As much as everyone wanted my kids to spend the night at their house while in town, it was really in the best interest of the kids to have them return to the same home and same sleeping arrangement as the days passed.
With so much ambiguity for little ones, the same bed becomes a touch stone of security. If they stay at the same person’s house nightly, they are more apt to get into a routine. A routine is the most comforting thing for a child…something they can count on. There is enough going on “without mom and dad”, keep the “tired hours” (most prone to sensitive moments) under one roof. The child will develop somewhat of an expectation and that is good, reassuring and predictable in an unpredictable time.
Make Milestone Plans
Throughout the long weeks, milestones are wonderful to propel things forward. Prepare a fun plan every couple of days to keep everyone looking forward to tomorrow. Tell the kids what your plan is and remind them of the plan over and over. A statement as simple as, “…And Wednesday, we are going to the Zoo,” allows the child to mark time by big events and gives them something to look forward to. It is a great distraction.
Remember, even if the plan has little appeal to a child, a plan makes them feel comfortable. Knowing what is going to happen next brings a sense of calm to anyone. If you can provide accurate information concerning the daily plan to children, it will reduce anxiety they may be feeling. Yes, something as simple as a spoken plan can help ease homesickness.
WOW! This cannot be understated. It is really important to make sure the parents are reachable and calling periodically, if not daily. Make sure there is time for this conversation and no one is rushed. It is even better if the parent is well aware of what the child has been doing and can ask pointed questions, too. So, parents should call the caretaker often for check ins when the child is not put on the phone at all.
When we called, we always asked “Is it a good time to talk to the kids?” My sister would be very honest and say, “It’s a great time.” Or “This is probably not the greatest time, they all just got in trouble and I am afraid you might get some weepiness that is a temporary picture.” Just because the parent calls and wants to talk, does not always mean it is the best time to talk. As the parent, the kids’ needs should come first and you have to trust those you leave your kids with to be honest and give you a clear picture.
When you talk to your child stay positive and focus on them. I cannot tell you how much I wanted to tell them I was so sad some days, and I did, but sparingly. As adults, we want to let our kids know we miss them, of course, but more important is that they know we love them and think they are being really strong.
When you talk with your kids, affirm how strong they are and keep it very positive. Remind them you are counting the days and tell them, “In just 4 days I will get to hug you tight! I can’t wait.” I also think saying things like, “When I get there…will you show me how you can swim?” Simply saying “When I get there” reinforces that you ARE coming.
Contain the Feelings
My sister told me that it happened now and then, the girls falling apart. She also told me she handled it by being sensitive, but not allowing the kids to dote on it for too long. I couldn’t agree with her more. I am not sure there is any sense in sobbing for hours. I think if we acknowledge the feelings of others, listen patiently and offer mercy we are showing love. But allowing a child to go on and on is torture and doesn’t help them. 10 minutes of self-focus is plenty, then it is best to divert the child’s attention to a plan, or a good memory, or ways they can help…basically, an action. Action results in a reduction of pity, which can send homesickness flying. I appreciate my sisters’ tactics and it has worked!
As weepy as I was, missing my kids like a fool, I think it was really smart for my husband and me to profusely thank whoever had my kids that day. There are so many moments that fell in between phone calls and kids are not easy all the time.
A great way to convey gratefulness is to ask the caretaker how they are. Value what they tell you and probe on how they feel. Ask about them and listen! Above all, thank them in every conversation. Odds are they totally deserve it!
Ultimately, when parents can rest in the care of their most cherished assets, everyone wins. With these things in careful balance, a child’s long separation can breeze by and serve as a great memory for a lifetime.