Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

February 2, 2010

Separation Anxiety

How do you manage the tricky process of leaving your children? Whether you're just popping out to the shops for an hour on a weekend for some much-needed mummy time, or for a rare night out with friends or for - hallelujah - an overnight stay somewhere, what do you actually tell the children?

I ask because we left our boys with their auntie, uncle and cousins for two days and nights last weekend while we hot-footed it to London for a wedding (which was utterly fabulous thank you N & D x). While I can have an - almost - sensible conversation with my four-year-old about such trips away and explain where we are going, what we will be doing and who will be looking after him, it's a little less straightforward with the two-year-old.

You see, if I say to him that "mummy and daddy are going away for a couple of nights and will be back on Sunday", he will hear the words, "mummy is leaving and never coming back" and will be understandably very upset about this. He finds it mildly unacceptable if I leave the room without him, never mind leaving the house without him, so I usually tell him I am just popping out to get some milk. He likes milk. He likes milk a lot, so I think he finds this an acceptable reason for me to temporarily leave him. However, this is a lie most of the time and lying to my child makes me feel bad.

So, instead of telling him the truth last weekend, I told him that mummy and daddy were going out for a little while and would be back later. 'Back later' being a relative term. I decided not to mention anything about milk as a two day journey to fetch milk is clearly stretching the truth, even in the world of a two-year-old. So, we sneaked away while he was distracted with his cousin's train set and re-appeared just as magically two days later.

In any event, the sensible chat with my four-year-old turned out to be pretty futile as the first thing he said to me when we got back was, "Hello Mummy, you said you were only going to be a few minutes". He might just as well have said, "Hello Mummy. Welcome back to Guilts-ville. Population, you."

I just wonder what other 'departure tactics' anyone else uses which may be more effective than mine, less furtive or involve less blatant lies.


  1. It is so hard, Mini was nearly three the first time I went into hospital and the result was a very anxious boy that wouldnt leave my side for months in case I left again, this time, he was 3 and a half and it was much better. It is really hard to find a blance.

  2. I am lucky enough to have an 8 months old that doesn't understand yet and a nearly 7 years old who is just delighted to be having sleep overs. Sorry not much advice from me, I'm afraid. X

  3. I'm hopeless at leaving them, which is probably why I never do! Four year old would be okay with it because he understands quite a lot and prefers daddy anyway. 19 month old is like your two year old, he can't bear me leaving the room. Newborn obviously doesn't care but I have to be near her being the food provider. I'm with my children so much that I find it hard leaving them anyway. It's good you had a nice break, it's definitely needed although children obviously make you feel guilty about it.

  4. Separation anxiety is the worst and I am no spokeperson for anything parenting-wise. I just try different things and hope they work. If they don't I just try something else next time. My 2 year old still has a hard time when I leave some of the time. But my 5 year old barely notices, so long as he is staying with someone he loves like my mom or sister in law. No matter what, you shouldn't feel guilty for wanting time to yourself. Everyone needs to recharge, esp. mommies/mummies.

  5. Rosemary's been going to my my mum's or out and about with my mum since she was little, so I suppose she's always been used to it. To be honest, she's never really been bothered, and I'm always much more upset and anxious than she is. The first time she went to nursery, she said 'Bye, Mummy!' and ran off; I went and sat in a cafe and cried. The first sleepover she had at my mum's, she had a fab time and didn't ask for us at all.

    Sorry, that really doesn't help, does it? If you didn't already start at young age, then it's a whole different thing.

    I always tell her the truth, sometimes ridiculously so, according to Chris. When I was in and out of hospital during Eleanor's pregnancy, I'd tell her when I was rushing off to hospital that I was going to be checked out and probably everything would be fine, but there might be a problem with me or the baby that would need sorting out... Chris pointed out that this was unnecessary and I could just stop with 'Everything should be fine.'

    I'm not sure if I'd be more inclined to lie if she got upset about it, or not. Actually, I think I've always been inclined to explain what's happening, whever there's something upsetting, rather than cover it up in some way, so I probably would still tell the truth.

    Have you tried having them call you on the phone, or does that make it worse? Rosemary usually likes to have a quick word when she's away, though she gets bored of it pretty quickly.

  6. I haven't a clue.... the only times I manage to leave my nearly 20mo are for work, a run (not v often) or for yoga (not v often). he repeats where i'm going and will say it to the person looking after him, but am not at all sure what he thinks.

    am v worried about what will happen next week when we're in theory leaving him in a creche in a french hotel while we go skiing. i just know it's not going to go well.....

    will read back later and see what other replies you get. (we still haven't had a night apart in 20 months....)

  7. Thank you all for your very thoughtful and helpful comments. Seems I am certainly not alone in this dilemma! Maybe it gets easier when they're 18 and they are telling you that they are going out. Then again, maybe that's even worse!

  8. Mine is still 9mths and doesn't notice when I leave him , but going to subscribe to your comments/replies so I can have some tips for the future!! :)

  9. hi, tricky subject and i think differs with individual kids,
    mind you its worth remembering that mine are now aged 7 and 12 and will dump me(rightly so) for a better offer with friends so it all works out in the end, always find if there are other kids with whoever minding them, it works out much better, and they having fun too... enjoy the breaks when you can...

  10. We had to leave ours behind for 10 days when we moved to Bosnia (we were driving out, couldn't get a flight back to get them for a few days so it was far longer than I was comfortable with). They stayed with my Mum - Adam was 3 and Luke was 18 months. I told them where we were going and that we were going to be away for 10 sleeps but that we would call them on the phone. It helped that they were really happy with my Mum. I don't think they had much of a concept of how long we were going to be away for but it was so lovely to come back. Adam flung himself at me and refused to leave my side for ages. Luke totally ignored me, but came round after a little while.

    Moving back in April I've got to do something similar but in reverse - hopefully not for as long as 10 days. I'm hoping that the presence of playgrounds (which they don't really have here) will make up for the lack of Mummy who will be packing up the house and enduring a 3 day drive back to Britain and having a whole lot less fun!

    It is hard, but I think honesty is the best policy. Also, not making a huge deal of it when you leave.

  11. I must be doing something wrong as my two LOVE it when they go and stay away !

    I tell the 3 yr old the day before and then she gets to pack a huge bag with everything she loves, special pj's, fave toys, best books, the lot. And when she's there she gets to eat tea in front of the telly so she is happy as Larry (whoever he is).

    The 16 month old, I am ashamed to say I slip out without a word, less distressing for us both I have learnt through experience.

    No matter what I always feel guilty when I go and get them but reconcile that overall we are all happier for the break and something new to chat about in the car home.

  12. I've been leaving my girls since they were very small - we play a lot of peekaboo so they understand that going away can also mean coming back

    We now try and explain about how many sleeps away and Skype every night we're away ... but its still mighty hard and I'm not looking forward to my first night away from Babygirl

  13. I remember the first time I left my oldest one. As soon as I came back, he asked me "where did you go Mummy and why did you go without me?" I burst in to tears and never left him again for years!

  14. I always try and focus on the fact that the children are going for a special day/night/whatever with their grandparents. If they ask what we are doing I tell them but dull it down a bit so they think they are in for a better deal that we are. Truth be told, they probably are. My parents spoil them rotten.


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