In May, I went overseas. Sans husband. Sans kid. It was a big step for all of us, especially as my son was 19 months old – peak separation anxiety time.
Almost four years ago, when my mum passed away, my family and I founded #PurpleOurWorld, a social media movement to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Every year since, we have attended the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition meeting as inaugural members. Last year, I wasn’t able to go because my son was too young. This year, however, I wasn’t missing it. But, this meant leaving my little one behind. While we contemplated hubby and bubs coming along, it was all too expensive. So, the decision was made.
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When people found out I was going away on my own, the first question was always ‘who’s going to look after your son?’ I was dumbfounded by this question. He has a dad. A very capable and hands-on dad who could do this parenting thing standing on one leg while singing nursery rhymes. But I eventually understood why the question was being asked. Quite simply, I carry the mental load. It’s me who is organising our son’s meals, it’s me who’s packing his daycare bag in the morning, it’s me who is sorting out his clothes, and organising playdates and activities. So, we needed to come up with a plan.
I have to admit; I was nervous. Not about how my husband would cope, nor about how my son would cope (we can thank our village for that). I was nervous about how I would cope, thousands and thousands of kilometres away from my baby and in a completely different timezone. So, here’s what we did to make sure all of our routines were disrupted as minimally as possible.
Spreadsheets were my best friend
Let’s face it; I love a useful spreadsheet, any day of the week. But in the weeks leading up to my departure, Excel and I became even more acquainted. To help the hubby, who was parenting solo for a week, I created a handy spreadsheet of all of our son’s movements. Where he was sleeping (if he was sleeping out), whether hubby needed to feed him or whether our family was making his dinner, what food needed to be packed in his bag and what needed to be packed in his overnight bags. I included who was dropping him at daycare and who was picking him up. I even included what to feed him and organised those meals in a separate part of the freezer so hubby could whip them out when needed. The spreadsheet was given to both sides of the family, so everyone knew where our son was and who was looking after him. This saved our sanity.
We kept his routine
Our son goes to daycare twice a week and is looked after by family one day a week. We didn’t change this. He still went to kindy, and he still went to his grandparents for a sleepover. The big adjustment to his routine was that daddy took one day off work to look after him. Other than that, the major difference was aunties were picking him up from daycare and grandparents were taking him to swimming lessons. Our little one thrives on his routine. He knows which bag goes to swimming, which bag goes to daycare and which one is our everyday bag. So it was crucial to minimise the disruption as much as possible.
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We spoke to daycare
Daycare was very much across the fact that mummy was going away. The fact that they knew this meant not only was our son given a little bit of extra TLC while there, but it also meant they knew who to contact should something happen, and that mummy wasn’t picking him up. The daycare team are just as crucial to his care as anyone else, so it was important to keep them informed about everything.
We embraced technology
The time difference was excruciating. I had a small window of time when I could call home – between 6:30am and 7:30am in the morning Sydney time. Anything later than that and things get a bit chaotic as everyone is getting ready for the day. I made sure to FaceTime as much as I could, even if it meant calling from The Everglades. I also made my husband send me photos and videos every day. Seeing all of this made me feel like I was part of their fun.
We spoke about mummy coming home
Perhaps one of the most important things was constantly talking to our son about mummy coming home soon. He may not have fully understood, but by reassuring him that mummy was coming back and that I was missing him terribly, we honestly believe it helped him get through.
Of course, we dealt with the consequences when I did come home.
For the first day, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. I couldn’t even go for a shower without calls of ‘mummy’ from the other room. It was also hard putting him to sleep because every time I left him, he thought I wasn’t coming back. Funnily enough, though, he went off happily to daycare – he must really love it there!
Bedtime was a real struggle for the first week. Some nights we’re still struggling. What was toughest about the situation was that our son has never been a clingy child. As long as he can look around a room and lay eyes on someone he knows, he doesn’t really care if mummy or daddy are around.
Slowly, though we’re getting back to normal. Importantly, my husband and I never had any expectations of how our little one would cope, especially when I came home. We never put any pressure on him to handle it in a certain way. This meant we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well he coped.
If anything, I think the time away has actually strengthened us all. My husband now has a newfound respect for everything that gets done to raise our child. My son, funnily enough, has become a lot more affectionate and to me, that’s the biggest bonus of all!
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