I’m going on a company trip which will take me away from home for 4 nights. I want to go but am also dreading being away from my 4 year old son. The longest I’ve spent away from him is 2 nights and I find it really hard. How can I manage my anxiety around being away, and focus on the positives?
Thank you for your question, I am sorry to hear you are feeling anxious about leaving your son for 4 nights. You are probably not the only parent to feel that way when leaving their child for longer than you’ve ever done before. Having said that, the fact that you said you found it really hard leaving your son for 2 nights but are now considering this trip suggests that that time went okay, so why would this time be any different?
Going away on a company trip is a great opportunity and if you are leaving your son with someone you trust it’s very likely he will be safe. As you are dreading being away from him, perhaps you could spend some time reflecting on what exactly you are dreading; it might be helpful to write your thoughts down. Being able to see words on paper often helps to separate the emotional and logical sides of our brain allowing us to see things more objectively. If you have specific worries, take the time to plan ways to make you feel less anxious about them, for example, if you are worried about not seeing him for 4 nights you could have a pre-arranged time to call him each day, so you are still maintaining regular contact. Focusing on the positives could also be done as a writing exercise, ask yourself some questions like: how will this trip benefit my career, how will it benefit me personally, and also how will it benefit your son? Part of growing up means children learning that there will be times when their parents aren’t around, and if your son copes with you being gone for 2 nights there is no reason to think 4 nights will be any difference.
Finally, when you feel yourself getting anxious try to remember the word STOP:
S – stop
T – take a breath
O – observe your thoughts objectively
P – proceed mindfully.
Although 4 nights might seem long now, once you are on the trip the time is likely to fly by, and imagine how nice it will be for both you and your son when you are reunited. Be brave, focus on the good rather than the bad and trust that everything will work out exactly as it’s meant to.
You sound like a very connected and loving parent. I imagine it feels hard being away from a loved one for a longer amount of time than we are used to. You mention your “anxiety” — I’m wondering where this anxiety arises from?
It could be that you will miss your son and therefore feel very sad whilst away. As tricky as this is, I suspect you will also have a heck of a lot to attend to on a company work trip and so the amount you will be thinking about him will naturally be far less than you imagine. And what makes you anxious about feeling sad? It’s a totally natural and appropriate emotion. You may need to soothe it a little whilst away… perhaps have a coffee with a close colleague and express how you feel, or take time out to video-call your family in your free time. There are still ways to stay (and feel) connected, especially in this modern world.
Perhaps your anxiety is due to the worry that they will be just fine without you? This may sound counterintuitive but many parents unconsciously seek the need to be needed. And then when they’re not, it can be quite upsetting. We all want to be needed (and a four-year-old definitely needs his parent), but it’s also okay for other people to help out, or for us to move from needed to wanted (as will happen as he grows). If this experience resonates for you, it may be helpful to chat to a therapist, a partner or a good mate about these emotions.
Or perhaps the anxiety is about the worry that something bad will happen? This may be coming from the feelings described above (‘He needs me and so if I’m not there, it will go wrong’), or it may be coming from a lack of trust in others (‘Only I know what he needs and how to look after him properly’). Again, these are common thoughts as a parent; our children are precious so it’s natural to worry. However, there may be times the worry is unhelpful and we learn to let go or step back a little. This may mean we have to build trust in others (especially in a co-parent) or allow others to help; this is an important life skill — as the old proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child”.
Your mind seems to be pulling you towards the negatives (whatever they may be). Gently acknowledge these thoughts and let them know that both you and your son can cope…then attend to something else (a more helpful thought, your work, the music you’re listening to, etc). Building trust and confidence is all part of building a healthy relationship. You’ve got this… enjoy your trip :)
When my children were small like yours I worked in the corporate world and travelled almost constantly. I too hated it.
Once I was offered a promotion but I turned it down because I couldn’t face the longer commute and the idea of leaving before my children were up in the morning only to return in the evening after they had gone to bed.
It went further than that though. I stopped doing things in my spare time that took me away from them. I felt guilty and as if I was missing something by not being there every minute. I thought all of this was making me happy and a good father, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In my devotion to losing sight of my own life in favour of keeping theirs constantly front and centre I had disconnected from myself to a destructive extent and it took me a long time to regain the balance that I had lost.
Why am I answering your question with a story about my family? It is through maintaining your own life as an independent human being that you will be both the best and happiest parent.
Accept the anxiety that you will naturally feel at being away from your child and remind yourself that, although it's hard and it hurts, it is in the best interests of both of you that you stay connected to who you were before you were a parent.
There is another reason too that you can feel confident about going away for longer periods. As he grows up he will model what you show him and not just what you tell him. When he sees that you sometimes have to prioritise your own life to the extent that he is left behind, he will be learning that he can safely prioritise his own needs as he grows up too.
You will be bringing up a child to be both confident in establishing his own path and doing it without always relying on your physical presence, and that is a beautiful gift to give him. Think about that while you take your trip.