Ask Dr. Meg: How Long Should Mom and Dad Be Gone?
Dear Dr. Meg:
My husband and I have a 13-month-old child, and we have been trying to make sure that we keep our relationship strong. We try to plan little get-aways at least every few months. I feel so bad leaving my son with family overnight, even though they enjoy having him.
We will be leaving him with his grandparents for two nights this time, and I feel so guilty for leaving him. We both work full time and he goes to day care during the week, and I guess I just feel guilty for leaving him.
So my question is, how long is too long to be gone, leaving him with family?
Feeling Guilty Mom
Dear Feeling Guilty Mom:
Most parents worry and feel guilty when they leave their children. These are appropriate and healthy responses, but there are times when we need to keep them in check. Whenever a parent leaves a child, he or she needs to think through a few things:
- Is my child well cared for and will he/she benefit from being with the caregiver?
- What will my child gain from my being away for certain periods of time?
If children are left with caregivers who don’t pay attention to them or put their lives at risk either emotionally or physically, of course a parent shouldn’t leave. But if a grandparent is caring for the child (particularly a loving grandparent), it is good for the child to be alone with them. Helping our children (even babies) have strong relationships with their grandparents is wonderful—both for the children and for the grandparents.
Second, if a parent leaves a child for reasons which will benefit him, the parents should go. One of the best things parents can give their children is a healthy marriage. If going away together for three, four, or five days helps strengthen the marriage, the parents need to go. Children need to remember that children don’t want to be the center of the family—at 13 months or 13 years. They want to fit into the larger family structure, rather than have the family (even if it’s just Mom and Dad) fit around them.
You need to go with your husband and enjoy him. I wouldn’t advise going away longer than a week, but a long weekend is perfect. At 13 months, your son may still have some separation anxiety when you go (even if you leave her with a grandparent), but this will be there whether you leave for two hours or two days. So the time doesn’t make as much difference to her as it will to you. The crying is more of a developmental issue than an emotional one, and it will dissipate over time, regardless of what you do.
Your son is lucky to have two parents who enjoy one another’s company, so do whatever you need to keep it up! He’ll thank you when he’s older, I promise.
I’m looking forward to helping you with your parenting concerns.