You know how some parents look forward to going back to work to get a break from their children and spouses? I’m not one of them. I hate going to work in the morning. Absolutely hate it.
I hate leaving my family – especially on Monday after I have spent so much time with them during the weekend. To make matters worse, my twin 19-month old children hate it, too. Sometimes they will cry and scream when I lean down to say goodbye. Other times they cling to me when I give them a hug and refuse to let go – as if I really want to leave in the first place.
My children have developed different ways of dealing with my leaving in the morning. Jordyn, my little girl, has somehow learned on her own to keep her connection to me throughout the day. She will point to pictures of me and yell out, “Da-Dee!” Or, and this just broke my heart, she will pick up my sneakers, take them to my wife and say, “Da-Dee shoes.” When she started to do this, my leaving in the morning wasn’t as hard on either of us.
But for my little boy, my leaving was much harder on him. When he gets excited, he sometimes actually has to back away from what got him so excited while his whole body shakes with emotion. He is already quite attuned to his emotions; he just doesn’t have the tools yet to deal with all of them. To deal with my leaving, he either would cry or scream or remain distant. When I came home at night he would barely acknowledge me, while his sister would scream out “Daddy” and lift up her arms for me to pick her up. I felt hurt and angry – mostly at myself – thinking about how much I was hurting Elijah every morning.
This continued until my wife observed that somehow Jordyn was able to remain connected to me during the day, while Elijah wasn’t, and that was why he had such a difficult time. The challenge became how to help Elijah feel connected to me during the day.
My first thought was maybe a piece of clothing, like one of my shirts. I also took a lunch hour to look around at different stores to see if there was something I could buy that could better tie us together in his mind. While I was trying to find a long-term solution, I decided to give him the towel I use when I ride my bike in the morning. I asked him to take care of it for me during the day as I gave him a hug and a kiss goodbye.
The second day I gave it to him, he said “Tow-a?” The third day, my wife told me that he had been in our bedroom while I was at work and had found one of my work shirts on the floor. He then laid down and put his head on it and said, “Da-Dee.” He got it! He connected to me while I was not there. When she told me about that, I had tears in my eyes.
This morning, a few weeks after we started the “interim” solution of the towel, he was reaching out for it because he couldn’t wait to hold it. During the day, he tries to put it on his shoulder and wear it like I do. Now, not only do they not get too upset when I leave, but they even wave “Bye, Bye” to me as I drive my car in front of the house on my way to work. Work, where I have pictures of them all over my wall and have a slideshow of them as my screensaver – trying to keep that connection to them during the day so I don’t get too upset.
Jeremy Schneider is a fatherhood expert, syndicated columnist, and therapist specializing in parenting, relationships, and helping people overcome depression. Learn more about Jeremy at jgs.net.