Whether for pleasure, business, or some urgent necessity, there are times you may need to travel while your child remains at home or with an alternate caregiver. Your absence could lead to stress in the heart of your child which will translate into fear. Most of our adopted children live in a constant state of fear, especially in their first-year home. Having recently experienced this, I strategically followed some proactive guidelines to ensure that my nine-year-old adopted daughter who was left at home would feel well cared for and have as few meltdowns as possible.
A – Keep your child’s developmental and emotional AGE in mind as you plan for your absence. Keeping realistic expectations during your absence will allow you to leave with peace of mind and make the most of your trip so that you can accomplish your goals. Although biologically nine, your child might function closer to that of a four or five-year-old. Be aware of that as you plan for alternative care givers and changes in schedules. You know your child’s needs better than anyone else. Prioritize those needs and plan on how those needs will be met. I have known teenagers who had difficulties with a parent’s absence. Biological age is irrelevant; emotional age should be your focus. The most important goal is to have their needs met.
B – BEDTIME routines are of utmost importance. As much as possible, assist the caregivers in advance to keep your child’s bedtime routine unchanged and typical. Acknowledge that your child may show signs of dysregulation at bedtime and provide strategies that could be used if needed. Many children can stay up late on occasion without negative effects, but my child is not one of them. Strict adherence to a song and a prayer at 7:30 is necessary, and there isn’t much emotional margin that can be allowed to alter that routine. It might be most helpful for your child to sleep in her own bed, while another child is perfectly happy staying with a grandparent. Again, you know your child best.
C – COMMUNICATE your plans and schedule to everyone involved in your child’s life, starting with your child. Don’t keep your absence a secret. Give her adequate time to process, adjust, and become familiar with the idea that you will be gone. Next, on a need-to-know basis, leave detailed instructions for the caregivers left at home. Write the most important steps of routines which are important to your child. It’s impossible to leave too much information; cover all your bases. Don’t forget teachers and anyone else who has regular connections with your child. I gave my daughter’s teacher a written list of who would be doing school pick-ups and even a list of “potential” drivers should my plan A turn into their plan B.
D – Find creative ways to give your child a DAILY countdown. This will assure your child that your absence is temporary, and she will know the day you will return. Mark your departure and return on the calendar. Even if your child cannot read, she might be able to count the days. I left a basket of wrapped gifts from the dollar store from which she could choose one each night. One mom who regularly had to be out of town for business called her daughter every night at the same time. Another mom made a paper chain and instructed her son to tear off one chain every night. As the chain disappeared, he knew his mom would be coming home.
Even though our children from difficult places have very specific and unique needs, everyday life goes on; however, adopted children need to maintain consistent and regular schedules even in the parent’s absence. Parents being gone occasionally is part of normal life and cannot be avoided. Spending some intentional time planning for those absences will help our children manage their fears and learn healthy coping strategies during those times. Through our physical absence, we can keep emotionally connected, and that’s what all our kids need.