Today I wanted to share a tool I came up with recently, along the lines of helping kids with separation. I shared a lot of my experience with my son’s difficulty separating in Podcast Episode #17, which was about educational choices but moved into figuring out our kids’ “growing edge” and supporting them where they are, whether it’s about going to school or doing other activities.
I have gotten a lot of great feedback from that from other parents who feel pressured to push their kids to separate before they’re ready, or judged because their kids aren’t ready to separate but other people think they should be and blame the parenting for this “problem”. All of you out there whose children are not ready to separate when it seems like the majority of kids are doing it are not alone. I want to encourage you to keep listening to your children and following their lead, letting them know that they will be ready one day, and that it’s ok if that day isn’t today.
Preparing to leave the kids
At the end of January, 2018, I attended the Consciously Parenting family cruise retreat with Rebecca and several Consciously Parenting families. It was a really lovely time of support and connection, and I am looking forward to the next retreat, whenever and wherever that will be. I highly recommend joining these events!
As I was preparing to be away from home, I did a lot of talking with my kids about how things would be while I was gone. Since I would be going on the retreat as Rebecca’s assistant, I decided not to bring my family along. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave them behind, but I knew from previous experiences where I had responsibilities during events that everyone would be happier if I wasn’t trying to divide myself between work and family.
We know our kids best
I let my kids know about the plan as soon as we had decided for sure that I would be going. My friend Cristina would go along as my roommate, leaving her family behind as well. She didn’t tell her kids until closer to the time, because more notice is not helpful for them and only adds to the stress. But in my family, I knew my kids needed as much time as possible to adjust to the idea and be prepared. It’s so interesting how each of us makes the best decisions for our individual children and there’s no one-size-fits-all way of doing things.
My kids were pretty upset about the idea of my going on a cruise without them. Our family really enjoys cruising, and they wanted to go along too. However, once I explained what I’d be doing and how I really would have to spend a lot of time working and we wouldn’t get to just hang out like we usually do on cruises, they both agreed it would be fine for me to go alone.
Alexa’s main concern was about being tucked in at night, so we established a new routine immediately where both my husband and I would tuck her in every night instead of just me. That way he’d have plenty of practice to get it right. 😉
By the time cruise week was upon us, everyone was ok with the plan and I felt confident that they’d be fine without me. There were some nervous feelings, and tons of extra hugs, but no serious anxiety or anything like that.
The night before
The night before I had to leave, as I was packing my clothes, I asked Alexa to help me find some books I could bring along for the kids who would be part of the retreat. We ended up reading through some of them together, including The Kissing Hand series. If you aren’t familiar, the little raccoon is nervous about going to school and missing his mom, so she kisses his hand (giving him a “kissing hand”) and he’s to put the kiss on his face anytime he needs to and remembers “Mama loves me, Mama loves me.” I kissed her hand like the mom in the book, and she rubbed mine on her cheek for me. Since she isn’t really into giving kisses she said I could have a “Rubbing Hand”.
Then we went over the plan for what she would do if she got sad. I had suggested a couple of weeks before that if she was feeling sad, she should find someone and tell them she was feeling sad and needed a hug. So she recited her list of huggers: First her dad, then her brother, then the dog, then the hamster, and then if she couldn’t find anyone she’d just go cry by herself in the bathroom.
I took a deep breath and asked, “Why would you go to the bathroom and cry?” and she said, “Because the bathroom is the loneliest room. You know, where people leave you alone.”
Ha! Ok. I can get behind that, if you are wanting to be alone for a few minutes.
So I said, “Ok, that’s fine if you want to be alone to cry for a bit. But I want to tell you something else you can do if you need to.”
I didn’t have this planned, I just felt like I needed to give her another option because the idea of her going to the bathroom to be alone and cry was pretty much breaking my heart in that moment.
You can put your “Sad” in your pocket, for later
So I told her that if she was feeling sad and either she couldn’t find someone in that moment to give her a hug, *or* if she just didn’t want to have to do it right then, because she was out or having fun or something, then she could put her Sad in her pocket for later.
I went on to say that she couldn’t put Sad in the trash can. There’s no getting rid of it and not taking care of it. But she could put it in her pocket and then later she could pull it out when it was a better time and get her hugs then. She seemed to like this idea, so I put her to bed that night feeling like I’d given her all the tools I could to make it through a few days without Mama, and that she’d be ok.
As I said goodnight to my son later that night, I mentioned that Alexa may ask him for a hug sometime if she was feeling sad, and confirmed he was willing to give it. I also mentioned the “Put Sad in your Pocket” idea to him in case it came up so he’d know what she was talking about. It was funny, I didn’t actually offer the tool to him to use, I was just letting him know what I’d told his sister.
I asked again how he was feeling about my leaving and he said it was fine, as usual. Not for the first time, I marveled at how much he’s grown up in the last year or so. Is this the same child who couldn’t bear to be in the big room at gymnastics while I was behind the glass window? Yes, indeed. He has gotten here in his own time.
So I went on the retreat, and was really glad that I had decided not to try to do both work time and family time in one trip since it turned out I was very, very busy during the cruise. It was wonderful and I enjoyed it so much, but there was a lot to do and it would have been so hard to balance both. When I got home I was greeted with huge, long hugs from both kids. It’s always nice to be missed, and it’s nice for the kids to appreciate me! As the parent who is always around, it’s easy to feel like everyone is used to you and maybe even a bit taken for granted.
That evening I spent some time alone with each kid and asked how it went while I was gone. They both had great things to say about my parents who were with them while my husband went to work, and then of course they had a blast with him all weekend when he was off. I asked Alexa if she had gotten sad at all and she said she had, but that she was able to hug someone and she felt better after that. I asked her if she’d ever had to put Sad in her pocket and she said she did, and that it worked perfectly.
Tears still have to be released
There were some tears at this point, because I really wanted to make sure that she knew *I knew* she had been sad, and that it must have been hard not having me there with her. I always know when I hit the right thing with her because the tears flow easily but it doesn’t usually last too long. She doesn’t store many tears up so emptying them out is quick, just a bit frequent. We both felt so good reconnecting and just being thankful to be back together again.
Then, to my surprise, my son told me that he put Sad in his pocket a couple of times, too. I asked if he wanted to talk about it, and he described both times while I listened. I told him I was sorry that he had felt sad in those moments, and that I’m glad he was able to take care of it. He also said that it worked really well for him.
So hopefully my last minute made-up tool about putting Sad in your pocket for later will be helpful for someone else.