If you’re like me, the idea of going on a trip with your partner without kids sounds like an absolute dream, but the actual logistics of it all makes my “mom guilt” flare up like no other. I have been away from my daughters as soon as they both were six weeks old when I went back to work. I’ve gone on small weekend trips with my husband (maybe twice), and trips with my girlfriends (this doesn’t seem as bad with my husband at home). We are beyond fortunate, lucky, all the things to be able to go on a nine-day trip this summer, and although I am ecstatic, I am also super nervous.
To set it up, my parents never left us as kids. I mean, they left for work. My dad is a pilot and he would leave for extended amounts of time, so I do have some idea of this, but they never left us while they went off on a vacation. I know it’s good for couples to have trips just the two of them, but I have no context for this. I usually can look back on my childhood and say, “Okay, this is how my parents handled this,” or, “This is how I reacted when I was a kid,” so I can navigate situations and empathize with my daughters. I have no context in this case (I know, poor me, my parents took me on all the trips).
So, I’ve been doing extensive research and planning for a trip that’s going to happen in three months. Best to be over prepared, I always say, unless I don’t say it, which is often. (I actually don’t know if I’ve ever said that before. That’s how nervous I am.) Some of these things are what my dad would do when he was gone because, although he was traveling for days since I was born, there were times when he was gone longer and it was harder for me to handle as a kid.
Here are eleven tips on how to help you and your kiddos on your trip. Maybe after my trip I can let you know what actually worked and what I would do differently.
1. Tell them about the trip when the time is right
Younger kids don’t have a real sense of time yet, so plan on telling them just a few days before you leave. This is especially the case if they are worriers. Why make them stress about you leaving for a whole month because they can’t grasp that a month is many days away and not tomorrow? For older kids, it may be best to prep them for the trip in small doses for a longer period of time, so it doesn’t feel out of the blue when it happens.
2. Give them focused attention before you leave and when you return
Make sure during the days leading up to your trip and right when you get home that you plan fun, focused activities with your child to establish (or re-establish) that strong connection with them. This goes without saying--it's obvious why this would be beneficial right before and after you leave them for an extended period of time.
3. Plan a scavenger hunt for them while you're away
This is one that I remember my dad doing when he was gone for a week or two on a specific plane training. He filmed himself on his 90s camcorder that we could pop the in the VCR and watch. Each day he had a new clue and video. The clues took us all around the house and yard where he had hidden little treats, toys, or notes. I was maybe four or five and I still have vivid memories of watching him on the TV and finding the items under our table and in the sprinkler box. It made my brother and I feel loved even when he was far away. It’s a plus if the prizes are good entertainers to help their caregivers out.
4. Take pictures of their toy on an adventure with you
I remember seeing this on an episode of Arthur. Each student would take their classroom stuffed animal on a weekend adventure and take pictures to then show the class. My dad always talked about stealing one of my neighbors' many lawn gnomes and taking pictures of it traveling with him (that would have been so funny). Try taking a small toy (one they won't miss too much) with you and snapping some fun photos of it in the places you visit.
Maybe your little one will be happy that a part of them is with you on the trip. Make sure that it isn’t something so special that they will be missing it just as much as they are missing you, but special enough that they will think it’s exciting to see it flying on the plane.
5. Leave behind something special to you
I’ve talked about my baby blanket here before, but it’s a pretty amazing blanket. Ever since I was little, everyone has loved to tease me about it and steal it and hide it because I freak out. Even my toddler realizes how special it is to me and will tease steal it. Many websites suggested leaving something special of yours or something that smells like you with your child so they have a piece of you to cuddle or remind them of you.
I think I might leave my blanket with my daughter, which is a huge deal because I never travel without it (I know, I’m a child). I remember putting my dad’s shirts on a pillow when he was gone for a while and it was the best to cuddle or hug.
6. Set up regularly scheduled calls
This one is a bit up in the air depending on your child’s age. Parents of older children said their kids needed the call every day, and it was even better if it was at a certain time they could look forward to. Kids thrive on routines and knowing they would hear from their parents each night at five helped stabilize them.
This was huge for me at every age. I needed my dad to call and say goodnight to me when he was gone, but this could have been because I didn’t know anything different with my dad; however, parents say absolutely not to call before bedtime. They explained that their kids were too tired to emotionally handle talking to them. Many parents of younger children said the same thing, explaining that it was too abstract and hard for them to understand. Once they would say goodbye, they would throw huge tantrums and have a hard time coming down from them.
I do remember my dad training with Jet Blue for over a month, and I could not handle his calls. I was inconsolable every night, and that was when I was like ten so maybe age isn’t everything when making this decision.
Let your child know that you'll be calling regularly, then decide what time is best based on what you know about them and what will be best for them emotionally.
7. Get matching bracelets or temporary tattoos
I thought this was the cutest idea. Both of you can put on temporary matching tattoos so each time you look at them you can think of each other. If it’s not too lengthy of a trip, you can even say that by the time it wears off you will be home! You could also do a matching friendship bracelet if you’re going to be gone for a long while.
8. Have them keep an adventure journal while you're gone
Something I thought would be fun for my daughter to do is to keep an adventure journal. She can color out her day and explain all the fun things she did so when I come home she can tell me all about it! This is also great for caregivers because it’s a little activity that will take up time. You could also have your kids make videos for you to show you when you get home--little vlogs of sorts.
9. Make 'Love You' loops
Daniel Tiger suggested this, and whatever Daniel Tiger says is truth. Love You loops are just basically a countdown chain to the days until you are home. Each loop can have a sweet message inside. I could see this being hard for younger kids on longer trips because all the loops could feel a little daunting, so consider whether this is something that will be helpful for your little one.
10. Buy them souvenirs!
I mean, you can’t go on a trip without getting the kids souvenirs. That’s just a given. Let them know you have something special for them, and that they're going to love it!
11. Make your will
This one is a little more morbid, but almost everyone suggested making sure your will is in order before you leave. Heaven forbid, but it does make sense when both you and your husband are gone together.
Just remember that research shows traveling alone as a couple is important and beneficial for the whole family. Try not to stress and worry the whole time (I keep telling myself this), make memories together, and enjoy the trip!
For more parenting tips go to babycubby.com.