Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Vacation or Abandonment?
So my wife and I went on vacation this past weekend…without Olive. Yup, we flew across the entire country and left our daughter 3000 miles and three time zones away. Now, we didn’t leave her alone. We only do that when we are in the same time zone. She was with my parents. We were gone for three nights and my parents raised four kids for approximately a combined 45,260 nights. Needless to say, we can trust them with our daughter.
We left all the instructions and all the phone numbers and all the favorite toys and chairs and pajamas. We had each spent time away from our daughter, but never for this long and never together. We knew it was going to be tough – and it was.
That isn’t to say my wife and I didn’t love our time together. We did. We slept in, we drank beer, we went for walks and bike rides, we went out for a breakfast and read the newspaper. We spent an entire 72 hours without once making a fart noise. But we never stopped thinking about the little girl we had “left behind.” We talked about her more than anything else. When we went shopping at a bookstore we immediately went to the children’s section. We couldn’t avoid it.
Even if we tried to let our guard down a little, my dad kept sending us pictures and updates from his iphone (including the two pictures seen here). Cute Olive taking a bath. Cuter Olive laughing. It was like sending a picture of a steak to a kid at fat-camp. Every time we got a picture we wanted to hop the next flight home.
We are, and forever will be, parents. We can fly across the country but we can’t leave that role and those feelings behind. I also couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt (blame it on my Catholic upbringing, but my wife was raised Methodist, and she had them too). We had abandoned her. We had left her alone. What if we miss something? What if she remembers driving away without us and that is her first memory? Maybe this is going to stunt her emotional connection to us. Maybe she is going to hate us when she is a teenager and she won’t know why but it is really because mommy and daddy left her behind as a 5-month old to go “have fun” so she never felt adequate or accepted. Do we need to start co-sleeping to make up for the lost attachment? Oh my God, are we stifling her? What if she becomes a stripper? It is all my fault! Why did we go on vacation?
Of course, none of these things will happen – at least not because of our three night vacation. But I do think seriously about how much time one should and can spend apart from their child, especially one as new as mine. I have friends that after a year have almost never spent a night away from their child. I have friends that never went back to work after their first child was born. They are, from all evidence known to me, great parents. Meanwhile, while we go on three night vacations, periodically travel for work, and three days a week drop Olive off at day-care for nine hours. I think my wife and I are pretty good parents too, but I’d be crazy if I didn’t question what I was doing every now and then.
But my wife and I needed that time. It was good for us. And it was good for Olive too. She doesn’t get to see her grandparents all the time. She is too young to remember this trip, but some of my best memories from childhood were staying with my grandparents, or having them stay with us. I think she needs to grow up knowing that there is an entire family that loves her, not just her parents; that there is an entire world to explore and a huge pallet of experiences and points of view, not just the ones she sees with her parents; that she can take care of herself and not turn to mommy and daddy at all times; that mommy and daddy love her, but that they also love each other.
Maybe spending some time away -- a night, two nights, three nights – will help her grow up independent and empowered, but maybe it will cause her to grow up feeling ignored. Maybe if we spent every day with her she would feel loved, and we would be able to teach her the world we want it to be taught and she would grow up with her parents as her trusted advisors and closest friends, but maybe it would make her push us away or stifle her growth. As parents we think about this stuff, for better or worse. We constantly compare our lives to other parents, or methods to other methods, and our actions to other actions. I don’t think I have screwed up Olive too much yet, but this is the first time I have ever been a parent, how am I supposed to know what is right? There is advice out there, and people – mostly moms, where are the dads? – talking about this. As I’m learning so quickly, there is no right answer, there is just what you feel is right.
When my parents picked me up at the airport (my wife came in on a later flight after a business meeting) I jumped in the backseat with Olive. She looked at me, examined me, and broke out a huge smile. Heart officially melted. Everything okay. So glad to be home.
Posted by New Dad on 9/16/2009