Some moms think leaving their children with someone else, even for a short time, is not an option.
“I know moms who feel guilty if they are not with their children 24/7,” says Leslie Parrott, therapist and co-author of The Parent You Want to Be. “It is almost as if leaving the kids with someone else would be a sign of weakness. Yet, I know many moms are tired and stressed and long for a break.”
Dr. Parrott knows exactly what it is like to long for a break. She gave birth prematurely to her oldest son, and he required round the clock extended care.
“Even though I felt some guilt about leaving John in the care of someone else, I knew I needed some time away to relax and re-energize. Taking care of a medically fragile baby is quite stressful. Scheduling 1 ½ hours away for quiet time, twice a week, helped me to be a better mom. I realized I could not pass on what I did not possess. If I was exhausted, my son picked up on that and was fussy as well.”
Children need to understand that attachment can remain firm even when there are brief parental absences. When they have the opportunity to rehearse this, they learn that there are other people in their lives who love them and can take good care of them.
“If parents never give their children the opportunity to experience these absences, when it is time to enter kindergarten or they are separated for some other reason they often experience extreme anxiety,” Parrott says. “I remember my father telling me about his first day in kindergarten. He had never been away from home before so he was very nervous. His class went outside for recess and when the bell rang, he panicked. He could not remember where to meet the teacher, so he just walked home.”
Being away from your children can refresh you. It may also give you fresh perspectives about them, Parrott advises, even though some parents may feel anxiety about leaving their children.
“There have been times when I have gone away and come home and received a report on my children from their caregiver, allowing me to see them through her eyes,” Parrott says. “Things I don’t see because I am around them all the time are the very things our babysitter points out to me. I get the benefit of her wisdom. One time, upon returning from a trip, my friend asked me if I had noticed how much John had matured. ‘He is implementing his politeness skills with everyone,’ she said.
“I think that moms who deny themselves the luxury of time away and time for their marriage truly believe they are doing something heroic. What I have experienced with many of them is they are tired, stressed and frustrated. And, their heroic acts don’t create the results they imagine.”
When considering the parent-child relationship, the parent’s call is to always be the healthiest person in the relationship.
If you have never been away from your kids, Parrott encourages moms to do something different. Here are some suggestions:
Schedule brief absences. Even short periods of time away from your children can be refreshing for your family.
Don’t worry about making sure everything stays the same. In reality, a short change in routine won't damage the children.
Find friends you trust, with children the same age as yours. This was a blessing for the Parrotts. The children became such great friends that they begged to get together again. The next visit became a play date for the kids and the parents!
“I truly believe the best gift I can give my kids is the gift of love from other people besides their mother and father,” Parrott says. “I walked in the door on Saturday night from an out of town speaking engagement. The children were all ready to get out the keyboard because our babysitter had taught them a duet. They don’t know how to play the piano. I could tell she had spent time coaching them and doing something different than I would have given them even if I had been home. I smiled as I watched them play and thought to myself, ‘This is good.’”