Beyond Book End Parenting

Welcome to the February edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month, participants have looked into the topic of “Fostering Healthy Attachment”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!

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When my daughters (now 23 months and 8 months) were 18 months and 3 months old, I started a new job, which meant I now had to work away from home for the first time in their lives. Aside from now not being able to see my daughters throughout the day, they would now have to become accustomed to spending the majority of their mornings and afternoons with one parent, which would also obviously add some stress and an additional workload on my wife, Marisa.
I felt like I was abandoning my family. I felt sad that I wouldn’t be able to share in their experiences like seeing my youngest crawling for the first time, as I did with Greysen. I would be gone for most of their wakeful hours.                       -Mike

 

 

The first thought that came to my mind when I realized that Mike would not be working in the next room was, how do we keep Greysen, our eldest, as connected to her Dad while he is working 25 miles away as she was to him while he was working from home? (Our approach is slightly different for each daughter because of their ages, so the described intentions pertain to our toddler for the sake of this post.)              -Marisa

 

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Maintaining Greysen’s feelings of attainability to her Dad was and is important to us, but now with Mike working a 9-6 job. I was challenged to find ways to keep him a part of our life throughout the day, not just at the ends. As the one who would be with her throughout the day,  I wanted to support their attachment so that Greysen’s relationship with her dad would continue to be rich with varied experiences and connections to him as her caregiver. Though morning and nighttime routines are staples in their relationship, they are not the full extent of their relationship.

 

Cultivating a trusting relationship between himself and Greysen each and every day is within Mike’s charge. It was only after Mike started work that I began to understand the impact I could have on their relationship. I began to see how our play could help Greysen know that Mike thinks about and cares for her while he is at work. I also began to think about how to help her know that she too can think of him and stay connected to him throughout each day.

 

Though Greysen was in her infancy when Mike started work, we made a concerted effort to explain where he would be during the day. Soon after Mike started his job, we visited one weekend (when his office was closed) as a family to help Greysen understand what we meant by saying he was going to work.

 

She saw his office and played in there for a bit – we wanted her to feel welcomed and comfortable there.

 

Here she is in his studio on another day, face painted as is usual.

 

 

Trust
Maintaining the trust that we thought so much about establishing in her infancy deserves continued attention. Mike is the conscience to the both of us when it comes to following through.

 

One of the most important things to me is following through for Greysen with whatever I tell her I will be doing, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. It’s amazing how much Greysen remembers, because when I say I’ll do something and then later forget, she always reminds me. It’s because of this that I know that if I were to break a promise (or two) or otherwise fail to do something I said I would do, she will know. She would eventually stop reminding me, and I would eventually stop keeping all of my promises. That’s a slippery slope that I don’t want to head down with my daughters, as keeping my word is one of the most important lessons I feel I can pass down to them.  – Mike

 

I hope to help Greysen trust that Mike will be there for her. Accessibility to her dad is as easy as a phone call. More important to us than calling exclusively for the big things, like bad scrapes or moments of pride that she will remember to share later, are the phone calls to share the little things. Telling her dad about the airplane that just flew overhead or that her sister is being funny is just as important because it helps establish a pattern of conversation.  Greysen is learning that Mike cares about all the parts of her day.  Big or little, he is listening.

 

Luckily, we can call him most any time so that between the actual phone calls and the ones she makes on her toy unit block, she talks to her dad throughout the day.  So confident is she in his attention and interest she often calls and says an immediate goodbye after she has told her story. Listening, as part of her end of the relationship, is still in its fledgling stages.

 

Shared Experiences
Mike and Greysen’s connection is qualified by the times that the two spend together. When Greysen talks about her dad, she doesn’t use descriptive terms such as how nice he is or how dependable but instead she recalls shared moments. She has said, “Dada help Greysen play guitar.”  indicating that the times they spend together reading books or getting diaper changes are the instances that define their relationship.

 

Each and every weekday morning, I get up a few minutes later than I should. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job – but it’s hard for me to leave my girls on most days. More often than not, I’ll hear Greysen calling out for me or her mom from her room, and I go see her to say “good morning” and help her into a fresh diaper.     – Mike

 

Holding Each Other in Our Minds and Hearts
Though we are not together, we want Greysen to know that we are not apart.

 

I try to help Greysen and Mike stay connected throughout the day through play. In her pretend play, for instance, props have helped generate conversations that include family, specifically her dad.

 

In part to help acknowledge Greysen’s connection to her family, especially her dad, I made blocks of significant local spots to add to her block play. The foremost block is a photograph of Mike’s office.  She uses that block and the others as pretend destinations for her cars and again gives her another place to talk about dad.

 

 

We acknowledge her understanding of time and explain things in a meaningful way to her. The temptation to make overly simplified explanations or gloss over them altogether is something that we’re mindful of.

 

Greysen has a toddler’s sense of time. Mike talks to her about his day and listens/asks about her day, and then tells her about the next day’s general events (“Tomorrow is Thursday, so Dad is going to work for two more days this week.”).

 

In November, Mike traveled for work.  I made a simple countdown calendar for her to refer to. The calendar has no dates or days, which would have been meaningless to her at the time, and is only two weeks long. It is organized from Sunday to Saturday with a picture of Mike in front of our house on the days he would home, and an airplane on the the days that we would be gone. After each day had passed, we would remove that picture so she could see how many days were left until he returned. We now use the calendar as a way to talk about the days he spends at work versus the days he spends with us.

 

Our environment is a reflection of our family. Just as her toy shelves are a reflection of her interests, her bookcase is an ideal place to reflect on not just her interests, but also her life.  A wedding photograph of Mike and I, as well as pictures of us as children sit among her books. Just as we keep pictures of our family members around other parts of our house to remind us of them, she has pictures of dad to remind her of him.

 

Fostering the connection to a parent that Greysen sees for just a few hours a day is paradoxical in that it is simple in intent, yet complex in its development.  I expect the ways we can stay connected to each other throughout the day to change as she grows, but for now I think her “see you later Dad” good-byes are indicative of her confidence in their relationship and that she will do just that … see him later.

 

I’m wondering, how do your children stay connected to their out of home working parent(s)?*

 

 

 

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Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

 

 

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Visit Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

 

10 thoughts on “Beyond Book End Parenting

  1. Hello . . . visiting from the AP carnival. I very much relate to this post. My husband works long hours, and is sometimes gone for days, weeks, or months at a time. We have three children of different ages and different levels of understanding, so three different ways of explaining things when he’s gone. When my girls were almost 3 and almost 1, he left for 7 months. We made a small photo album that they carried around with them everywhere. We had lots of photos up in frames and such, too, but this was something they could hold, so they really liked that.

  2. Hi Valerie, so glad you stopped by! A 7 month separation – it sounds like you found a wonderful way for you children to stay connected despite the distance. What a lovely idea, an album that belonged to them. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Some great ideas here. My husband’s work hours can be unpredictable, and our toddler misses him a lot and finds his absence confusing. I am definitely going to try/steal a few of your ideas ~ thank you!

    1. How nice that he is so close! I imagine mid-day visits go a long way to keep everyone connected. We miss the flexibility of the old schedule. One benefit to Greysen though is that its clearer to her when he is working and when he is not. When he was home she could not distinguish when he was working and when he was not. Now, when he is home he is available.

  4. What awesome ideas! We are very lucky, in that “Daddy” of our house works very early hours and on a part time basis, so he is home during most of our waking hours. He does sleep for some of them, but he is accessible. He doesn’t mind being woken for snuggles even when he is getting very limited rest.

    I think a LOT of parents could learn from your mindfulness on this topic!

    1. I remember those brief moments to connect through a hug or a news update meant a lot to them too. I hope our efforts now translate into the same type of memories as the snuggles did when he was home.

    1. Thanks! The calendar did seem to help her understand where he was. We just made our first paper chain 7-day countdown calendar leading up to her birthday. It’s interesting to see her process it as a one unit rather than a sum of parts. I think we will go back to using a visual calendar again next time we need one.

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