When One Parent is Away (A Lot)

Sometimes I think of our family as an airplane and my husband and I the co-pilots. We are responsible for our precious passengers, our children, and we do our best to fly over beautiful vistas, look out for bad weather and provide decent meals. We love flying our plane and help each other navigate, give each other time to rest when needed and hold hands when things get bumpy.


But as life would have it, my co-pilot has a job that takes him away from our family quite often. And so I have spent many hours in the cockpit of our family plane alone. I have though a lot about what to call this time when I am parenting without my husband. I have decided to call it Solo Parenting, as in Solo Flying. I am up there in the pilot seat in charge of all the controls. My passengers are my responsibility, and I am an expert at simultaneously looking for bad weather ahead, keeping the plane steady, all while preparing some tasty meals.

But the seat next to me is empty. What helps me about this metaphor is that although I am parenting by myself while my husband is away, I always feel his place in our family. I can see the empty co-pilot seat next to me, so to speak. We miss him, and although I can run the plane alone, it is so much more fun and less tiring to do as a team.

My children have always lived in a family where their mother is ever-present and their father is not. Because they do not have both parents available every day, we have worked hard to make the rest of their lives feel consistent and reliable. Little things add up to life feeling safe and predictable: songs to brush teeth by, games for getting on shoes, routines at night for snuggles and singing. Time for play and time for rest. Rhythms of a day and a week. Pancakes every Sunday morning, homework after dinner each night.

We don’t like it when Daddy is away, but we are used to it. Sometimes we need to say how hard it is and how much we miss him, while other times saying it out loud makes it worse. My job is to give my children the opportunity, but not the requirement, to express their feelings. They come up while drawing together, making up silly songs in the car, and at bedtime when thoughts from the day are shared.

We stay in touch as much as we can with modern technology. I tell them when I am sending Daddy messages and photos. They know their co-pilots are still a team even when Daddy’s seat is empty. But I’ve noticed that my children want to hear about Daddy more than to talk to him directly. I think it is because talking to him on the phone is not close enough. They want to sit on his lap and talk. They want to be chased and snuggled. The voice on the phone is a reminder that he is far away. So we don’t insist that they talk to him on the phone. Seeing him on a screen is easier, and they like to have him show the view from his hotel room. But these are short interactions, rarely a time for long conversations.

Transitions are tricky, and we have developed some ways to smooth the hellos and goodbyes. My husband always asks for help packing, and often our children sneak little love notes in when he is not looking. As he leaves, he always gives a round of hugs and then says, “Be good!” We answer, “You too!” and that makes us laugh.

Later in the day we check the map and talk about where Daddy is headed and what route he will take to get there. We find the spot he will be and trace back and forth from us to him. We talk about holding him in our hearts. Sometimes we get out the globe and talk about whether it will be dark for him when it is light for us and vice versa. This orienting helps make his absence concrete; he is not just gone, he is some place specific in the world, and we can see it on a map.

When he gets home, there are more hugs, and then he takes out postcards from whatever city he has visited. Each child gets a postcard, and we all sit together looking at them and listening to stories about my husband’s trip. The postcards go in a big basket to be looked at again and again, and eventually many are put up on the wall. This simple routine has become very powerful for reconnecting our family. It gives us a focus at the moment when emotions are high and everyone is tired. It gives us a reason to sit together and a chance to begin to tell the stories of our time apart.

Making room for my co-pilot to join me as a co-parent after an absence takes mindfulness on my part. I get used to doing everything, and so I have to remind myself to let him step in for the little things like helping wash hands, putting on shoes, going out to get the mail and peeling an apple.

We have a lot of family hugs in the days after he returns. We try to spend a day doing nothing in particular, giving us time to rest, play and be together with no agenda or time pressure. And we go on adventures together to celebrate our togetherness. But best of all, we continue the day in and day out rhythm of our lives, co-pilots holding hands and passengers dancing in the aisles, waiting for their next in-flight meal.

Our Deepest Attachments

Written by Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, the Center for Attachment Parenting in Israel, www.lifecenter.org.il

We are often not aware of our deepest attachments until they are no longer with us. But sometimes we get the chance to have a glimpse of the profound nature of our attachment to those who matter most to us, and us to them.

Recently my older sister was told by her doctor that she needed immediate open heart surgery, and arrangements were made quickly for her hospitalization. In her usual optimistic and humorous spirit, my sister put on her lipstick, and with her dimpled smile waved to the family members who accompanied her down the hospital corridor, wishing them a long, happy life, while her youngest daughter filmed her with her digital camera.

I saw this part of my sister’s hospitalization only afterwards on the camera, for I was busy getting lost trying to find my way to the hospital. I could feel my frustration growing stronger as I hopelessly circled the same traffic circle trying to find the right exit. I was living the metaphor that explains where our frustration goes once it enters our system, and I knew that mine would finally find its way out in tears. I finally pulled my car over to the side of the road so I could collect myself and have a good cry.


Of course it wasn’t the getting lost that made me cry, but it was the trigger I needed to cry over the fear of losing my sister. She is the sister who took care of me. When I was little, she made faces with the food on my plate so I’d eat it; she gave me rides on the handlebars of her bicycle; she helped me with my homework; she taught me the answers to trivia questions, and we made tape recordings of our Q-and-A sessions together; she made up the best stories and created little dolls for me out of scraps of material to illustrate the stories. She was my shield, my protector. She kept me out of harm’s way.

Because she cared for me and gave me an open invitation to exist in her presence, I kept my tears and soft heart. My mind was flooded with the memories of our lives together, and I wanted to have her forever. The thought of anything else was too much to bear.

I sat through the surgery and prayed, and finally, seven hours later, I was told I could go to the recovery room. Her eyes were closed, and she was attached to tubes and wires, surrounded by the modern miracle of medical machinery for which perhaps for the first time I felt truly grateful. Her lipstick was still on, and I found a way to hold her hand without disturbing the equipment that was helping her body stabilize.

Thank G-d, she began to recover quickly and was out of pain. And now I have been given another gift–the hours we can spend together as she rests and recovers. But the hands on the clock relentlessly move ahead. I want to stay longer, and I have to leave.

We cling to each other with our hearts when I move to go. We are so aware of our being so deeply rooted in each other and that we 1206728_21045799can’t stop time from the inevitable futility of the physical world. We have but to cherish each day we have with each other; express our love and caring; find a way to forgive both the small annoyances and the big hurts; give our time and our hearts generously; remember what is truly important. It is then that we remain at peace with our relationships for eternity.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

When my children were babies, I was with them almost constantly. I breastfed and co-slept and wore them. When they started to talk they learned to say “dada” ages before they learned to say “mama”. I joked with my husband that there was simply no reason to learn my name. I was just there, a constant figure in their daily lives. I was grateful for generous maternity leaves that allowed me to be there in that way. Even in the moments that I felt touched out and sleep deprived, I knew that I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

Today my children are seven and a half and four years old. I am no longer with them all the time. They go to school and go on playdates and even have sleepovers with their grandparents. Their need for me is no longer as strong as it was in infancy. They have long since weaned, and their weight exceeds the recommended maximum for most baby carriers. While I do still sometimes wake to find that one or both of them has crawled into bed with me in the night, neither of them co-sleep exclusively anymore.


And yet, even as my children gain in independence, I know that I am still their anchor. I am still providing consistent and loving care to them – it just looks different. Today we re-connect as we hold hands on the walk home from school, telling jokes and singing songs. Now, when they really need a cuddle, they pretend to be a baby and lie across my lap, gangly feet spilling out the end. After a brief snuggle they run off to play again, their need for connection fulfilled. And these days when things go badly I’m less of a savior than a resource person, mentoring them as they figure things out for themselves.

I like to think that in those early days I laid a solid foundation. I let my children know that they can count on me. I’ll be there when they need me, but I’ll also let them explore the world on their own as they become more capable and confident. And I’m not the only person who has done this for them, either. Their father has also worked hard to establish positive relationships, and so have the other people in their lives. Because they trust that they can count on us, they’re able to take on new challenges and seek out new adventures, knowing that they are not alone.

At Whatcom Falls

I try to build on that foundation as my children grow by fostering our attachment. Those little re-connections that happen are one way I do that. Taking time to get down on their level and look in their eyes when they have something important to say is another. Taking their ideas and opinions seriously is still another. The tools of attachment parenting look different with preschoolers and school aged kids than with babies, but the underlying fundamentals are always the same. I’m always working to build a strong bond of mutual trust and affection. Seeing it pay off has been an amazing journey.

How has your approach to attachment parenting changed as your children have grown, and how has it stayed the same?

Mama’s Night Out

Yesterday evening I had the chance for a night out of the house on my own. Today, I’m recalling another evening a number of years ago when I really wanted a night out, but I wasn’t in the place to make it happen. Let’s compare and contrast those two evenings.

Yesterday Evening

  • My children were three-and-a-half and seven years old.
  • Both children were sleeping through the night.
  • Both children had experience being put to bed by someone other than me.
  • Their loving father felt confident taking charge for the evening.
  • I was working from home, so I had lots of time with my kids during the day.

Playing around post-Easter egg hunt
My children now

Long-Ago Evening

  • I had one child who was about eighteen months old.
  • That child still nursed to sleep every night.
  • That child also still woke up regularly after falling asleep.
  • Her father, while very loving, did not feel confident putting her to sleep without me.
  • I was working outside of the home, and wanted to minimize other separations.

Hiding in the bin
My daughter then
As I contrast the two situations, I can see clearly that I just wasn’t ready to take a night out on the town away from my daughter on that evening years ago. I didn’t go out then, and I’m glad I didn’t. Even if everything had been fine at home (and there’s a good chance it would have), I would have been worried about it, which isn’t exactly a recipe for fun. But things change, and kids get older. In my current situation, I feel no qualms about leaving my children with a trusted and loving caregiver while I head out for the evening, either by myself or with my husband.

On that long-ago evening, though, things were less clear to me. While I decided not to go out, I felt some pressure around that decision. Many of my friends and acquaintances often took nights away from their own toddlers. I was receiving some subtle messaging that my decision to spend my evenings with my daughter was harming both her and me in some way. We’re often told that it’s important for moms to get away for the evening, or maybe even overnight. When everyone else seems to be doing it, we may feel sheepish that we don’t.

It’s important for me to pause at this point and acknowledge that every situation is different. Some children are just fine being put to sleep by their father or another trusted adult from a very young age. But some children aren’t. Attachment Parenting International talks about the importance of providing consistent and loving care. That’s going to look different in different families. The important thing isn’t when the separation occurs, or how often it occurs. The important thing is that we do our best to respect everyone’s needs, and that we feel free to do what we know is right for our families.

It can feel stifling to be at home with a baby when it seems like everyone else is going out. But as I’ve learned in my years of parenting, children grow. In fact, they grow at a pace the feels alarmingly fast. If you’re not ready to take that night out on the town yet, take heart. Your day will come. Mine came yesterday evening, when I put on a fancy dress, kissed everyone good-bye, and enjoyed myself with my friends. My family was ready, I was ready, and I was able to really relax and have a good time because I had confidence in the situation. For me, that’s worth its weight in gold.

What about you – did you ever find yourself staying home with your child while everyone else went out because you weren’t yet ready for that kind of separation? And how did you know when you and your child were ready to be apart for the evening? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can catch up with Amber’s other adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.

Learning How to Share

My son lay sobbing on the sun-room floor between our daybed and coffee table. If I tried to come near him, he kicked his feet and cried harder. His nanny was leaving and he didn’t want her to go. In fact, she had just told me moments before, “Your son won my heart today. He told me he loved me.”

Cavanaugh is nearly three. He has had a nanny six hours a week for the last three months. Besides the time he spends with his dad and the few months my mom lived in town and saw him a couple of afternoons a week, Cavanaugh is with me and has been with me pretty much all of the time for his entire life. So it was hard for me to watch him cry for someone else.

I’m excited he loves playing with her, loves her even. It helped that I’m reading A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development by John Bowlby. I needed the reassurance that his ability to feel so attached to her comes because our relationship has provided such a secure base from which he can explore. But he didn’t even want me in the same room with him.

So I sat fifteen feet away on the living room couch and tried to figure out if it was better for me to face away from him and just sit there so he knew he wasn’t alone or look at him over the back of the couch so I would know when he was ready for me to hold and console him. Continue reading Learning How to Share