Guilt? Worry? Fear? Going Away Without The Kids, Post 2

Is it really guilt that has you dreading getting on that plane? Or is it just...the plane?

This is post #2 in a series about overcoming guilt or anxiety when leaving your kids at home. If you like, check out the first post for some backstory, and feel free to subscribe to my feed via RSS or email so you don’t miss the rest of the series!

So you’re heading to Blissdom next week, or your high school reunion in another state, or your best friend’s destination wedding…and you’re feeling guilty. Because what kind of good mother leaves her kids to go have fun? Or worried. Because your husband might forget to buy the right kind of juice! Or bathe the kids in the wrong order! Or deliver them to school late! Or downright scared. Because something terrible might happen to you!

Believe me, I get it. As I explained in yesterday’s post, leaving my kids does not come naturally to me. But I’ve learned to push past the fear, disregard the guilt and get over myself a little on the worrying. I think I can help you.

But first, let’s make sure you’re identifying the right emotions. Are you really feeling guilty for leaving or do you just think you should feel guilty for leaving (and then possibly feel guilty because you don‘t feel guilty?)

Is something else going on? Could this be your terror of large cities cropping up? Are you worried something bad will happen to the kids and you won’t be close by to help? Or are you feeling like an outsider and worried nobody will talk to you and you’ll end up sobbing alone in your hotel room at 2 AM?

Teasing out what’s really going on will help you deal logically with each worry and shoot it down quickly before they all have a chance to gel together into a big sticky, messy worry lump that casts a shadow over your whole trip.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting about ways to move past guilt, anxiety and worry as you prepare to go away without your children. But today I’d like you to take a little time to think about why you’re feeling that way. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I feel guilty, worried, or afraid?

They may all lead to a similar niggling feeling in your stomach but they aren’t all the same feeling:

  • Guilt is a natural reaction when you’re doing something wrong. Is enjoying yourself while your child is in the hands of loving caregivers wrong? Probably not.
  • Worry and fear are closely related, but not exactly the same. I think of worry as the anxiety I experience when I wonder if my husband will remember to pack my son’s snack for school. Fear is more primal and serious, like when I imagine my airplane shattering into a million pieces in the sky.

2. If I feel fear, is it logical? Is there anything I can do to prepare that will ease the fear?

  • A fear of something wild and unlikely like a plane crash or an active volcano erupting in the middle of Nashville while a tsunami simultaneously strikes your family home is hard to logic away. (I know, believe me. I’ve told myself about 5,000 times that flying is safer than driving, but it doesn’t make take-off any easier.) The only way to deal with unreasonable fears is face and feel them. After all, would you cancel your family’s trip to Disney World because you were too afraid your house would be eaten by giant beetles while you were gone? (If so, now may be the time to consider professional help.)
  • A fear of something less unlikely, like contracting bedbugs or being mugged, is best dealt with logically. Gather information that helps you feel prepared or less freaked out (a technique for keeping the bugs from getting in your luggage or the latest crime-rate statistics in the area you’re visiting.) Alternately, you may come to the realization that there’s nothing productive you can do about the fear and consciously decide to stick your head in the sand. As long as you aren’t living in denial (say, planning to participate in a nude 5K at night through the worst neighborhood in Philadelphia) choosing to turn a blind eye to the possible risks might be the smartest thing you can do. After all, life itself is risky.

3. If I feel worry, specifically what am I worrying about?

  • Are the things that might get left undone while I’m gone a big deal?
  • Is it a big deal if my children eat, sleep, or play differently than usual for a few days?
  • Are there possible benefits to them having a new, different experience?
  • Am I worried that my child/ren will miss me or that I’ll miss them? Is there something I can do to help make that part easier on us both? (ideas coming in a follow-up post!)

4. If I feel guilt, do I have good reason?

  • Are you feeling guilty because you really think your trip will be detrimental to your family? I’m not talking about the inconvenience of nobody being around to pick up their socks all weekend; I mean really harmful. Consider the possible, real effects of your leaving for a few days, both good and bad. (I’ll write more on the positive side effects of Mom going away in a follow-up post.)
  • Are you feeling guilty because you think you should? Refer to my post on false guilt.
  • If a friend of yours was planning this same trip under these exact same circumstances, what would you tell her?
  • If your husband was going away on a similar trip, would he feel guilty? Why or why not?

After asking yourself these questions, you may be surprised at what you’re learning. What you thought was guilt might really just be anxiety. What you thought was a rational fear might actually be completely irrational. And what you thought was a big deal–like your kids eating nothing but mac and cheese for three days–might actually be pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some tips for helping move past the guilt and worry, and making your trip easier on everyone. In the meanwhile, I want to know: does leaving your kids behind while you go away make you feel guilty? Worried? Fearful? Or none of the above?

Edited: post 3 is up now, featuring 5 reasons why Mom going away is GOOD for kids!

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