Emotional availability or unavailability
Children can experience their parents as being present even when they aren’t at home, and as being absent even when they’re at home all the time. The most difficult aspect of being THERE for your child is to feel like a present parent, even if you’re absent due to long working hours.
Being present has a lot to do with parents’ emotional availability or unavailability.
When mom comes home, only her body is present. When dad leaves, he can leave his heart at home. How do we do this?
I remember my dad always being ‘there’ even with a demanding job as a mathematics professor and choir master. Throughout my childhood he had two to three evenings of choir practice per week. In addition, he had a considerable number of weekend performances, choir camps and tours. Do you know what I remember most poignantly? His excitement when bursting through the front door at five in the afternoon to play with us! Playtime couldn’t have lasted very long, because at quarter to six it was already dinner time. He usually left for choir before we finished eating. If I’d managed to stay up late enough, and I remember this like yesterday, he would quietly step into my room to kiss me goodnight. He probably didn’t even know I knew, but it left such a deep impression of how much he loves me. He was THERE even though he was away from home for much of the time.
A while back I had to leave my children for five days while visiting England. I left five letters for treasure hunts and hid five small surprises in the house. The letters also contained loving messages. The daily experience of “mommy isn’t here” became the excitement of the day as they opened another letter. For my youngest, I sent a daily voice message and photo of myself to granny’s cell phone – one of the most beneficial advantages of technology today! They still missed me, but the treasure hunts, gifts and letters assured them that I missed them too. I thought about them and didn’t want to be without them – not even for five days. I was relieved when they were very happy when I arrived home, because there was always the chance of them wanting to extend the treasure hunt for another day or two :-).
When my husband toured frequently, we made a poster every time. If he was away for six days, the poster would be divided into six parts. Every evening we’d colour in that day’s section and pray for Daddy. This ensured he was there, even if he wasn’t home. It also filled our home with excitement about Daddy’s homecoming after the last day’s section was coloured in!
How you leave and return always carry a message. It may read, “I can’t wait to be back”, or “I can’t wait to get away”. This message is most evident through our tone and body language, rather than through our words. Children read it very well. I remember a time when my husband had to make a trip to Turkey for an evangelical outreach. He was so hesitant to leave the children and myself at home. Our eldest daughter saw this but understood why he was going away, so she encouraged him: “Daddy, you have to go. Remember, the nations are waiting!”
Be in the moment, be intentional in assuring them of your love and that you will think of them while you are working. Share the reason why you are going away with your children and, if possible, leave something behind that reminds them of you.