Our new baby was just two weeks old when my husband had to leave for work overseas for five weeks. We all missed each other terribly. My five-year-old daughter summed it up perfectly when she said, “I miss Daddy like a Mommy and Daddy giraffe miss their baby giraffe when it has been eaten by a lion.”
It was a lot of missing! Difficult for all, to say the least. My husband and I talked every day and my daughter talked to him on Skype frequently; however, it didn't take long for her to start to reject this, stating, “I don't want to talk to him, I want to hug him." An understandable reaction.
My son was also growing and changing every day and it was heartbreaking that my husband was missing all of the little changes happening. I would show him to his Dad on the camera, wiggling and cooing, but, again, it wasn't the same.
When he returned, I surprised my daughter by misleading her about why we had to go to the airport. Daddy was equally surprised as I told him I wouldn't be bringing the kids as it was too late an arrival. Here's a peek . . .
It has been great being together again, even if it is only for a short time, as further travels are imminent. It made me think a lot about being apart. Many families have to do this regularly, and for lengthy times. Due to her husband's work demands, YMC's Julie Cole faces Sunday to Friday parenting six kids flying solo—here's why she would never call it single parenting. For the parent left at home it is often overwhelming and exhausting. For the children it is sometimes confusing.
Can your family unit continue thriving while surviving a parent's absence?
Here are Five Ways To Parent On Your Own When Your Partner Is Away:
Normalize the experience: Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, to be released in February 2015, states that he and his wife Jodi—both writers for the New York Times—have never made a parent's departure into a big event for their daughter. Both have frequent travel demands, and since this was their family's norm, they didn't discuss it for days ahead of time or draw a lot of attention to it. They simply made it work.
Keep up the fun: Celebrate occasions. Try new things and have fun. It is important to take advantage of time together as a smaller unit, maybe try an activity or venue that would be too expensive with two paying adults, or do something special for those left behind. Perhaps take in an interest that you would enjoy more than your partner.
Don't try to do everything: Take some time for yourself. Ariadne Brill, of Positive Parenting Connection, says she tries hard to “carve out time to just relax, read, and enjoy a quiet moment, even if it is just being deliberate about taking a 10 minute break.” Drop lofty expectations. Allow the menu to be simpler, order in, delay some projects. Ron says that when his wife is away he tries to write an easier column at work and increases his time spent working from home so he can focus more on the “everyday logistics.”
Talk to others and utilize your support systems: Perhaps you are part of a community that has experience with absences in the family, like those in the air travel industry, with specific seasonal jobs, or serving in the army. You can look online to see if there are available support groups in these vocations. Ask for help. Often people are happy to pitch in if given direction how. If feeling exhausted and overwhelmed in a way that is getting you concerned, talk to a therapist. It is important to have support, especially if you yourself are far from your family and friends.
Prepare for an adjustment period: If travelling is just sporadic enough to become confusing, the adjustment might be difficult. It is possible that your kids might take your partner's absence out on you. Try not to take it personally, you are just the only one there to receive the result of these separations. It is important to create a safe place for children to share their feelings about the transition. Help them to understand why their Mom or Dad has to travel, and keep them connected by calling/texting/emailing/Skyping and exchanging pictures. Recognize your own adjustment, as well. It is normal if feelings of resentment sneak in when absence is not making the heart grow fonder. Talk about it with your supportive circle and your spouse.
In today's global economy, families having to travel for work is more common than ever. Airlines expect a 31% increase in passenger traffic by 2017. Many families have to weather time apart, be it weekly or for lengthy parts of the year. It is important that you find routines that suit your family, maintaining surviving/thriving environments when a partner is away and creating maximized enjoyment when the family is all together.
Bringing home a second baby is always a big adjustment for the first baby, and my daughter was no exception. As a therapist and mom, I wanted to help my daughter with this transition. Change—no matter how wonderful—can be challenging.
She loves her little brother and has already taken ownership of him, calling him “her baby” even before he was born. She often tries to find ways she can help out. A favourite is undoing the diaper for me. She asks about his bodily functions and praises him if he has only peed in his diaper, despite me explaining that we kind of need him to poop. She is also a really good fetcher of wipes and errant socks and an excellent reporter, letting me know if he is stirring or when he has started to cry.
I want to make sure that I consistently remind her of her value in this new situation and because I know she likes to help, find additional ways she can assist me and and feel involved as a big sister.
Recently I had an idea. Why not let her help choose teachable toys for her baby brother to use, manipulate, and learn from?
Having her help me with his milestones might be a great experience for both of my children. (And for me too!)
I can talk to her about what he is learning at each stage and what he will be learning at stages in the future so she can recognize how he is developing and how she can encourage him.
A great place to start is with toys. I have asked her to help pick out some great today for her brother— that he can use with his eyes, ears, hands, and mouth and that can help him develop his language. She is excited about this as she likely feels closer to the targeted demographic than we are.
Her favourite types of toys are educational ones that sing and move. She still picks up toddler toys, even though she is past that age, so when looking for a toy for her brother, we needed to find something you could learn and move with and—frankly—dance to. So I was excited when we were sent the Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Puppy's Learning Car to test out.
Baby brother isn't quite ready to use it yet, as it is appropriate for ages 6 months to 36 months, but big sister has thoroughly tested this little car and loves it. She noticed that by having the experience of pushing the car—something she feels her brother will happily do “because boys love cars”—it activates sounds, phrases, and songs. It is colourful and engaging. One of the best things about this toy is that it has all the punch of a bigger toy but is actually quite portable, easy to transport to grandparents, to playgroup or in a suitcase.
When she saw that the little car teaches ABCs and numbers, we talked about how she can show that to him and help him learn it by singing along. She is very excited about the idea of being able to teach him things — and I have sneakily highlighted the need for good modeling of beahviour.
The car also teaches greetings and opposites. When he is a bit older, I have a sneaking suspicion my boy will enjoy the racing car sounds and that the monkey driver doubles as a rattle. I love that it also has experiential learning by showing cause and effect, push: it moves, roll: the sounds come and encourages the use of all the senses. It is very tactile for a little one.
The End Result?
Currently my daughter is laughing, learning, and racing the car around the living room. I would say it has passed the test of our family's little product reviewer. And I just know that she will have a blast teaching “her baby” how to use all the fun features when he gets old enough.
Now on to her thoughts on teething rings...
Who said learning can’t be fun? Everyday play helps babies explore and discover the world around them and engaging toys can be a part of that experience.
To discover more about the power of play and to encourage your baby’s natural sense of wonder, visit Fisher-Price® Laugh and Learn™. You can also find Fisher-Price® Laugh & Learn™ toys at Walmart and Toys “R” Us.
I am an only child.
I remember an acquaintance once asking me if we would have another child, I sort of vaguely answered that maybe when the time was right, etc. She rather smugly replied “Oh, you would be having a child for you then. I would be having a second for my son.” I have just had a second child but never felt that having him was for the sake of my daughter. I felt my daughter would be fine and happy as an only as I was a very happy only child, never craving siblings. It was a blessed childhood full of good memories, further enriched by spending time with my parents friends' children and enjoying friendships in my neighbourhood growing up.
In a University class discussion we were grouped into birth order and the last little group consisted of the only's. Our exercise was to talk about the stereotypes. We determined that the eldest were helpers, rule followers and enforcers; the middle siblings feel ignored, misbehave, and comfortable with having others around; the youngest were low maintenance, helpless, and get away with everything.
The only child was practically given the negatives of all of them.
Being an only was equated with being a disease in the opinion of American researcher Granville Stanley Hall; in his (slightly?!) prejudicially named 1896 study, “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children.” Bill McKibben in his book Maybe One says the study was anecdotal and meaningless but was the only study on only children at the time, so held for that reason. Susan Newman, a social psychologist that authored the book Parenting an Only Child says the myths have passed through generations.
Here are seven widely believed stereotypes of only children...
People often assume that only children are sad that they don't have brothers and sisters. I don't miss my fictional siblings; I never had them. It would be a bit like one grieving a non-existent third brother. We have all seen beautiful relationships between siblings and those that are frightful.
In my experience I have not found this is accurate. There were actually three of us of about eight on our counselling team, which given our professional interest seems a pretty socially conscious bunch.
Being spoiled is not particular to family make up, we all know spoiled big sisters, catered to little brothers, and placated middles. But I agree there is no division of resources, time, and attention that happens between multiple children that can affect some families.
One is the loneliest number? I wouldn't describe my childhood as lonely yet I know some friends, those with and without siblings that would.
Again this depends on the family. But one thing is true, one kid is kind of portable. You can likely travel or attend social events a bit more with only one. In larger families finances and logistics would likely dictate a different plan.
I think again this isn't specific to only children. I can see those with a bossy older siblings and those siblings to a youngest, where you always had to let them get their way to circumvent a tantrum, nodding their heads in agreement.
Like all of the above some only kids are and some aren't. Only children might have to play more on their own which they may or may not prefer.
Lauren Sandler's book One and Only also challenges this image and fear around only children being—lonelyselfishmaladjusted—a description used by Toni Falbo, the leading researcher dedicated to only child studies to describe the angst around and view of only children. Sandler's research shows that there is little evidence to support the stereotypes, many studies that don't. She says “On loneliness: as kids, we’re usually fine...As adults, we face the logistical and existential nightmare of our parents’ aging and death alone. But the good news is we develop the strongest primary relationships with ourselves. On selfishness: as long as we go to school, we’re plenty socialized to play well with others. On maladjustment: we’re fine. In fact, we’re pretty fantastic. “
As it turns out one-child families are on the rise with the number of only children homes doubling since the 1960s to 1 in 5 families. So if you are an only or you have decided to stop at one child everything is going to be okay. Don't worry about the people who fear for your child, judge you as selfish or think you are depriving your child. The research says we only's are largely undistinguishable from other groups, growing in numbers, and doing just fine!