Mike’s transition back to working in an office was nine months ago, so I thought we were all settled in and adjusted. For the last two weeks, however, Annabel has been having some sadness over Mike being gone all day.
It’s fine in the mornings, luckily. Mike can get ready and head off to work with a happy little hug and kiss from Annie, and as soon as the door closes she’s like, “Mommy, I’m hunnnnnnngry.” But in the evenings she starts laying it on thick almost as soon as he gets home.
“Why do you have to go every day? Why can’t you stay with us? I just miss you so much it hurts my heart! Don’t go, Daddy!”
I’ve had several conversations about this. I’ve told her why people work and how everyone has different jobs and roles in this world. I’ve explained why jobs are important. I’ve even told her how some people have jobs that require them to be far from their families for weeks or months at a time. I’ve also told her that it’s not nice to make Daddy feel bad about going to work. When we’re talking about it, she seems like she understands everything I’m saying, but the second Mike gets home she’s overwhelmed with emotion and everything we’ve talked about flies out of her head.
I’ve started taking steps during the day to help her feel more connected to Mike. I’ve suggested she draw him pictures and make him other things. I let her make him videos that we text to Mike. We’ll also email or text Mike messages throughout the day. I’ve even let her start calling him when he’s on his way home with the hope that hearing his voice will help make it easier when he walks through the door a few minutes later. As much as she seems to enjoy doing these things during the day, they don’t seem to make it easier for her in the evenings.
I feel really terrible for Mike because as much as we both know this is likely just a phase, it still tears his heart out. He gives her and James all of his attention every evening between arriving home and bedtime, and the weekends are filled with togetherness. I don’t really know what else I can do to help her through this…and by extension, help Mike, because it’s killing him to see her so sad. They’ve always been best buddies and I’d hate for them to lose their special relationship.
Mike and I are also going out of town this weekend for our first trip away without kids since before I was pregnant with James. We’re so excited…but we still haven’t told Annabel. I’m not sure how she’s going to take it and while I refuse to feel guilty for getting some much-needed alone time with Mike, I do feel bad that she’s not going to get the Daddy time she looks forward to all week. I need to figure out a way to break it to her that won’t leave her a sad sobbing mess for Grandma. So, I dunno, maybe I need to look into getting her a pony?
What does Mike tell her? I ask because a mistake I often make with my own daughter is try to minimize the crying by telling her she doesn’t have to feel that way, which often makes it worse (and yeah, should know better, but habits ingrained in childhood are hard to break). Often, it helps more to say “I am sorry you are sad” offer a hug, and leave it at that.
Do you have the book “The Kissing Hand”? It’s a book about children and separation anxiety. It offers some comfort by explaining to kids that even when a parent can’t be with them for part of the day, doesn’t make them any less loved. I know Kindergarten teachers thatbswear by reading it on the first week of school to little kids who might feel overwhelmed by not having a parent nearby.
I agree with Annalisa about accepting a child’s sadness. In doing so, she will learn that it’s part of life to have some sadness sometimes, and that it’s OK to feel sad, and that it comes and goes. I know it’s hard – we want to smooth the road for our children – but I believe it’s better that they learn early that we will stand beside them in support of their experience. (It takes all the guilt and anxiety and drama out of it as well.) P.S. This is how they gain confidence that they can handle harder stuff – especially when we express confidence in their abilities.
Yes, we have The Kissing Hand. She tells me it’s a “Book for babies” because they read it in her preschool, and “I am done with preschool, Mommy.” Four year olds, man.
Offer to read it anyway. Better yet, have Mike read it to her and tell her he can give her a special kiss for when she misses him during the day.
(I wish my daughter would find books “too babyish”. We get her a bazillion books, but often we read them for a week, and she always returns to favorites like The Runaway Bunny. I’ve got the whole thing memorized by now)
Maybe build up Bampa time? All the things she’ll be doing with your parents, specifically, with mentions of FaceTime and that you’re excited to see the videos she makes y’all while y’all are gone? Maybe give her an “assignment,” like y’all really want her to make up a skit or dance routine (with costumes!) to preform for y’all when you return, that you can’t wait to see what she makes up for y’all, and to think and practice all weekend because y’all will be ready when you return to watch her dance routine? Maybe suggest she pick the music and just the right clothes/costume, etc?
That’s a hard one. My 3rd went through that with me. Sigh. All the explaining and stuff I tried was temporary. Break it to Annie by telling her you and Mike are going to need her to be the Biggest Big Sister ever because Gramma and Bampa are taking THEM on an adventure and they will have tons of fun. Turn it around for them leaving you without using those words….Make Annie think it is HER special time, and don’t let them know you are leaving for anywhere. Just a thought. It worked when we went on a ten-day trip…leaving all four with my Mutti!
I like this idea as well! If she thinks that SHE’S going on the adventure with Grandma and Bampa, then it might be a little easier for her to be apart from you guys. I think its worse when you know your parents are going somewhere without you, versus you going somewhere without them. At least it was for me when I was a kid. It will probably make it better if the grandparents pick them up and leave with them rather then you dropping them off.
That was a good idea! This is basically how I told her – that she was going to have a sleepover with Grandma, and I would need her to be the best big sister ever. But we’ll see how she does tomorrow when we leave!
maybe he could make a couple short video clips that you could give to her during the day so that she could have that connection with him during the day at no interruption to him. It could also be a great way to reinforce things (“hi annie, it’s daddy! thanks for being such a great helper for mommy and drawing me those beautiful pictures! I love you!”) that might give her some assessable feedback when she draws him pictures or something during the day.
I had awful separation anxiety from my parents when I was a kid. Every time my brothers and I stayed with our grandparents, I would end up crying all night to the point where my Grandad would end up driving me home at 2am because I would cry until I was sick. I think it would honestly be best to focus more on the fact that she is going to Grandma’s for the weekend, than the fact that you will be away. That way she’s less likely to feel like she’s missing out on something, and more likely to think the weekend is about her and James being with the grandparents.
Try googling the ‘attachment bridge’. That could help!
Shira Adler says:
I loved this blog though I was a single mother and cannot relate to the separation from daddy part. Though my son has separation anxiety (well, it’s better now that he’s 11) from me.
Forget the pony, I started with a bunny, then went to a parrot (our dog with wings) and now am onto our recently adopted rescue pup Lucy (think Petey from Little Rascals or the RCA dog).
It helps . . . even if it meant adding a whole new dimension to my already overly fully and joyfully chaotic life. Then again, I needed some new topics for my blog too.
You were kidding about the pony, right?
Another thing to consider is that, at 4.5, Annabel is actually learning new things about how emotions affect the world. She’s at an age where “emotion talk” is a big part of make-believe time. She’s thinking about how to react when she feels bad and when others feel bad (emotions and thinking are connected now in a way that they weren’t when she was younger and more impulsive). So it’s actually a good sign that Annabel can label her emotions so clearly and ask that they produce a response (even though, as adults, you know that the response she wants won’t work). Her openness indicates that she’s developing empathy, self-understanding, and secure attachment (to lapse hopelessly into child-development talk).
It’s possible that Annabel feels separation intensely right now, because that’s her temperament or because she’s about to start a new school year and transitions are hard. Or maybe she’s just thinking in brand-new ways about a feeling she’s had for nine months, and once this part of her brain “runs on its new gears,” it will all settle back to the normal level of wishing Mike were home more. It sounds like you guys are handling it great; maybe it’s Mike you need to be taking special care of, because this sounds gut-wrenching for him!
Wow, that’s so nicely and clearly stated. Thanks for the insight.
P.S. I would definitely NOT worry about Mike and Annabel losing their special relationship. The far side of this phase isn’t Annabel becoming indifferent to Mike’s absence — it’s her learning new skills to manage her emotions, and by extension, to care for the emotions of others.
Sounds like your only option is to get a pony… Enjoy your weekend away! Annie will love being with her grandparents, I’m sure they will keep her entertained.
I agree with the Kissing Hand suggestion – it comes with heart stickers and everything. Also second the suggestion that you don’t make it about you leaving – make it about her going to your parents. I’m sure that your parents have lots of fun planned for them – maybe “leak” a little info about what they will be doing, etc. – plan to make one of her cooking videos, etc. Also – bribery (although not a pony!) – we’ll bring you back a special treat, or leave a small gift at your parents house, etc.
It’s a fine line to walk between honoring her feelings, giving her the tools she needs to cope with them, and not letting her turn it into too much of a manipulation. You don’t want her to be so sad, but you don’t want it to turn into a bigger monster either. I went through this with my youngest, and it is definitely tough. She’s a teenager now, and of course she got through it fine – and you both will too!
Maybe a daddy and daughter date the night before you leave? He could take her out to a special dinner for just the two of them. I would suggest she already know you are leaving for the weekend before the dinner, and let her know it’s her special time with him becuase he’s going to miss her so much while he’s gone. Or something like that!
I agree with other comments that it is a learning phase for Annie. I’m in a different season of life. My two daughters are 22 and 20, one lives in a different state, and one is away at college. Last weekend my husband said, “You know, I miss the days when I came home from work, and the girls were so happy to see me. I even miss them making me feel guilty for leaving.” I guess what I’m trying to say is, embrace every phase, the good, and the difficult. It all passes much too quickly.
Aw poor Annnie! I remember going through something similar when my Mom went back to work after being home with us but I was 7. I was (okay… am) a little bit dramatic and I remember crying and calling her and telling her to come home. Eventually I accepted it and grew out of it. Maybe on the weekend Mike could take Annie to his office and show her around? He can show her what he does and where he sits so she can imagine what he is doing while he’s away. I know I loved visiting my Mom’s work and meeting her co-workers… and it helped ease my anxiety about where she was and why she needed to be there.
I almost spit out my coffee reading the last line about getting her a pony. Too funny. I agree with all the comments above, especially about turning it around that she’s going to gramma’s for a special time. She may also do better once she’s back at school and not home everyday. I remember my daughter holding onto my leg and wouldn’t let me leave when my husband and I were going out. Breaks your heart but it only lasted until the car was out the driveway! She recovered quickly.
what I read was, Annie, your feelings are not as important as Daddys so please supress them. Then she grows up and gets married and gets ulcers because she doesn’t want to bother her husband with her feelings. Or, maybe its My autism that skews reality. Who knows. I loe you guys always Heath, just calling it as I see it.
Vivienne and I enjoy the occasional FaceTime call during the day while I’m at work. It’s a nice way to check-in and say hello and she can show me what she’s up to.
I don’t have kids. But I agree with everyone else, I think it’s growing pains. And I think it’s really great she can show her emotions, however sad it is (oh wow the whole “it hurts my heart” wow).
Kids man. My fiance just found out his bosses son’s tubes in his ears cost $5000 and insurance covered $4400. He looked at me all shocked and said “So we’re not having kids, their expensive. You can have a kitten.” My fiance learning things about kids? Priceless. (I’m not pregnant, but it’s funny.)
I think you’ll be ok this weekend. Your parents are pros. They had you and Kyle remember?
When does school start? It sounds like the world as she knows it is about to change, and she is craving things to be “just the same as they were”, even though it’s been a while since Mike started this position. Would it help if she had a picture of him to hang onto, and talk to throughout the day? Like a “Flat Stanley” only it’s “Flat Daddy”, and then “Flat Daddy” can go with Annie throughout the day, and she can talk to him, and “share” her days/adventures with him. You could even laminate a picture for swim time!
I am 42, so this was many, many years ago- but I used to wake up extra early to have breakfast with just my Dad. I also used to leave him notes, and he would do the same. Maybe you could have a special craft time where Annie makes surprises for her dad? Or cook him a treat?
Remind her of how much fun she has at school and that she would be so unhappy to know how sad you are when she’s away (even though you probably aren’t). Turn it around and help her understand that Mike would rather be with her as well. I think it is always useful to remind kids that what they are feeling is normal and that adults feel that way as well. When she is having a blast at her grandparents, you will be thinking of them and worrying just a little. Have a great weekend!
I wonder if things will get better when she’s back at school…with more to distract her during the day? At least I hope….for now, enjoy your weekend away!
My opinion didn’t count?
Riley Rosie L says:
I was thinking–maybe the next version of “while you were at preschool” pictures should be “while you were at work, daddy” pictures? I know you worked hard for them..but it would be fitting the coping mechanism into an idea she already know and she probably understands just how exciting it is to have those pictures to come home too!
She and James both can star in them!
Your first commenter already said this, but I’d just chime in too to say that validation of her feelings, emphatically and consistently, sounds like the best route. It’s so sad to miss daddy while he’s at work, isn’t it? It would be nice to get to play with him all day and not just at night, wouldn’t it? Etc. and I think especially hearing it from mike. The more that he seems calm and okay with the time apart, while still totally letting Annie know her feelings are welcome and able to be expressed, the more okay Annie will become with the separation and not feeling like she has to convince mike she missed him when he gets home because she’ll feel sure he always knows.