Extended Separations from the Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Husband wants to take 3-y-o to Europe for 4-8 weeks

April 2006

My husband and I have decided to divorce, but we have not yet seen (probably can't afford) a lawyer, and we are still living in the same apartment. We have one 3-year-old girl. My husband is from Europe and I am from the U.S. We haven't been to Europe to see my husband's family since our daughter was 1. We are thinking of going this summer (for 4-8 weeks). I would like all 3 of us to go together, perhaps with me staying in a separate apartment from my husband and daughter. In that way, she will know that I'm there if she needs me, but my husband will have some time to be with our daughter and his family - without me (I have a freelance business that I will continue to carry on with while we are there). My husband, on the other hand, wants to take our daughter to Europe without me. I would hate being away from my daughter for that long. What is best for our daughter, in your opinion? Grateful for any advice

IMHO I think 4-8 weeks is too long to leave a 3 year old. I don't think they have the capacity to really understand; all they know is mommy is gone. If there is any way you can work it out I would try to do it the way you outlined. anon

Hi, I would try to avoid this if at all possible. 4-8 weeks is a very long time for a child who is not yet able to understand that the arrangement is temporary. I do not want to alarm you, becuase I know as a mother, the idea of this would kill me! But attachment research has demonstrated that prolonged separations can be very difficult for young children. Some of the early attachment work focused on children who were separated from mothers because their mothers were hospitalized. Children who were not able to rationalize or understand the reasons for this separation found it very difficult to cope with the separation. This is already going to be a very tough time for your daughter as she has to deal with the why aren't mommy and daddy living together? I wouldn't add to that by being away from her for so long. Again, if it can be avoided. If not, try to explain that you will see her soon, make sure that she has some object that she is attached to, and try to talk to her on the phone regularly (which may be hard to do with a 3 year old.) Best of luck! jr

I would not feel comfortable having my 3 year old (if I had one) go to Europe with only her father for a week, let alone 4-8 weeks. There are two issues that shout out at me. The first, is that your little one will miss you terribly. The second one is what if your husband doesn't bring your daughter back, and he files for custody in Europe? You don't have a custody agreement here, and it would be a difficult legal battle, especially for you. Unless of course, your husband has only U.S. citizenship? One way or another, I would say don't do it! Frankly I would spend my money on hiring a lawyer and getting a good custody agreement. Don't let your 3 year old go to Europe without you, even if you trust your ex to bring her back. Just my opinion

Hi I don't reply to posts very often but I feel strongly about this one. I would not travel at all to Europe until you have filed your divorce papers and you get at least a temporary custody agreement. I am from Europe myself and took my child there when i was not yet divorced. I could have started divorce proceedings in Europe which meant that it was all in the courts over there and never gone back to the US (something I wished I had done afterall). Since the child has a dual nationality they have as much right over there and once you are there, it will be difficult to find an attorney that is familiar with the American court system. I don't think it is worht it. While things might be civil now, you can never anticipate what will happen when you are over there in a country not your own, all things could turn on you very quickly. I would wait before going, you have all the time in the world. have been there

I would be very frightened to Let your nearly ex to take your child alone to europe, With out a custody order, Even with an U.S. custody order it may not be enforcible outside the U.S. , Sometime it's hard to enforce them from state to state. just a thought. Leora

Europe is a long, long way away from here, and to a three-year-old, it is what a few light years are to us. It would probably be very stressful for her to be away from you for 3-4 weeks! Perhaps you could just come for one or two weeks, on a holiday, let her settle down, and then return home and let your husband have the rest of the time with her alone? Surely he doesn't want to stay up until all hours of the night every night with a little girl who wants her mommy--or to deal with a 10+ hour airplane flight without backup! I think that 4 weeks, which is approx. 1/39th of her entire life, it would be a lot, perhaps too much, for her to deal with. Anna

I would definitely not let your (soon-to-be ex)husband take your daughter to Europe without you. What if he decides to keep her there? It could be a nightmare to try to find her, and more of a nightmare to try to get her back to the states. In fact, if I were you, I'd get legal advice before allowing her to leave the country with or without you. If you can't afford it, don't let her go. anon

I think that depends. Are you and your husband on good terms? Or is there any tension over your daughter and custody? I guess I would worry about his family being in Europe and your daughter at this age and during this divorce going with him to Europe and him not wanting you there for such a long time. Just my thoughts - probably too much Life Time TV - but still worth considering. Anonymous

I'm sorry to hear about your divorce. Because it is happening gradually (you are still living together), it sounds like perhaps the full reality of it has yet to hit. You say ''we'' are planning a trip to Europe, but it sounds more like your husband is planning a trip to Europe without you. If I were in your shoes, I would not be comfortable with him taking your child out of the country on his own. I don't think you need his permission to say, ''fine, you can take our child to visit your family, but I will be travelling to the same location at the same time and staying just down the street, because I don't feel comfortable being separated from my child by an ocean.'' I mean, I don't mean to be a doomsayer, but what if he went there with your child and then announced he was not planning to return? This does happen, and I'm sure it's a legal nightmare. Better safe than sorry. worried on your behalf

Hi, I think you should use your instincts about what is best for your daughter.

Since you asked for advice, I'll say that if it were me, I would NEVER be separated from my child at that age for longer than a weekend unless it was an emergency, much less 4-8 weeks. If your child has spent time away from your for longer periods (because you work and travel for example), how does that feel to you? How does she act before and after you return? My instincts tell me that it would be very stressful for a child that young (or even older) to be separated from either of its parents for a month or more (remember that children have no sense of time and sometimes 10 minutes feels excruciatingly long for them!). Has your husband been the primary caregiver for your daugher? How would he really handle this responsibility for your daughter, your feelings and needs aside? Keep in mind that the divorce is going to have a big emotional impact...do you want to add a long separation into the mix as well?

Whatever you decide, you'll do it with the best intentions and weighing all of the information. I hope you'll avoid feeling guilty either way, since every decision we make as parents we're doing just the best we can. rachel

A three year old is too young to spend an extended period of time away from her mother. Also, do you trust your husband to bring your child back, if his family is in Europe? anon

My child is not 3 years old yet, therefore I can not tell you how your son would deal with you being away. I can only imagine that an extended period of time would be difficult for you and your son.

I am not going through a divorce or even planning either, but I know that bi- national marriages have some different rules (I am European and my husband is American).

The advice I can give you, because a lawyer once told me: If you end up staying in the US, and your husband is traveling 'home' by himself, make sure you have a written agreement, signed by your husband, that he is only going on vacation to VISIT his family, and that he agrees to a defined date to return to home (in the US). Otherwise, if your child ends up staying away from you somewhere else, your husband is establishing a new environment of daily life for him, and can easily claim that your son is now accustomed to that new life. In a custody battle you would look pretty bad not having cared for him, not even having had him in the US, for that long time. Don't want to scare you, but I got a lot of well-meaning advice before I married an American and had a baby with him. If you are still on good terms with your husband this might be overreactive, but maybe you want to consult an attorney in this matter. Good luck with everything. -

If anyone, including my husband, suggested taking my 3 year old to another country for 4-8 weeks, my response would be an unwaivering ''HELL NO!'' I just don't even see this as a question. I think that your instinct, to be nearby and available so that your daughter can see you when she wants, is a good one. (Initially I was thinking that this is important especially since you and your husband are about to begin separation or divorce procedings, and all the understandable feelings that will come about for your daughter with this... blah, blah...) However, I don't think that your looming divorce should even have much bearing in your decision. I don't think any 3 year old would take a 1 -2 month separation from mommy well at all. They really like to keep tabs on their parents at this age and you should allow them the opportunity and comfort of doing so at this age, if at all possible. That type of trip is something to reserve for an emergency or a very well-adjusted OLDER child who totally understands that they are on a temporary vacation. No matter how much you try to prep and reassure a 3 year old, they just don't get how long that time away from mommy will be. I sort of feel bad for being too preachy and adamant about this, but DON'T DO IT! It'll be hard for all of you -even your husband and his family. Enjoy your own Euro Vaca

Opinions on this question will vary, but here's mine. One-to-two months is WAY too long for a any 3-year-old to be away from her mother, let alone one who is about to be subjected to the trauma of a divorce. It would be very hard on her to be separated from you for anywhere near that length of time. For a child that age, a month is an eternity, and a separation like this would turn all of your talk about how everything will be OK after the divorce into a lie.

Your husband is probably reacting to the strain of living together while broken up and is desperate for space. That's totally understandable, but your daughter's needs must come first. Her need to be with you outweighs his need to be without you. He is an adult; she is a child. The divorce is his, and your, doing; it is not hers. She should be spared as much pain as possible in this process. If your husband can't hear this from you, maybe an outside ''expert'' could be asked to weigh in -- a preschool teacher? counselor?

Personally, I think the best thing would be for his parents to visit their granddaughter here and wait to have her travel there until your family situation has stabilized. Barring that, you have to insist on going with her, and you DO have the power to insist. A child travelling internationally with only one parent needs an affidavit of permission from the other (to prevent parental kidnappings, which are not unheard of after the dissolution of international marriages). Anon

You're her mother. If you feel that it's too long, it's too long; trust your instints. You have equal rights here. A child that young doesn't have an abstract concept of ''4 weeks'' - young kids live in the present moment. 4-8 weeks could feel like forever to her.

It sounds very reasonable to be available if she needs you, while giving your husband the space and freedom to help her enjoy her visit with her grandparents. shannon

Musician dad is away 7-8 months out of the year

Jan 2006

We are a Berkeley family of 4 (husband, wife, 3 1/2 yr. old girl, 8 m. boy). Daddy (this letter's author-the only one with time to write this) has gotten a great job in music that requires travel all over the world 7-8 months out of the year. My wife is also am a musician who performs locally-our problem is our daughter is really affected by Daddy's absence. Daddy was the primary caregiver in the daytime until his job came along-now I'm not there and our girl is regressing in everything; potty training, diet, sleeping less, behavior closer to a 2-year old. It is literally impossible for her to have the very thing she needs-consistent structure to her life. We do have help in the form of a great nanny and very patient family members (who babysit but are getting worn out). We keep the TV off during the day but it's nearly impossible for my wife to survive without putting on a program late in the evening, after a musical performance, while she nurses our baby boy to bed. She has her hands full with work and gigs and kids; since I've been gone it's really been hard on her. And our daughter can't understand why Daddy never comes home. I've thought about quitting but this job is one of those incredible opportunities that comes along only once in a lifetime-it has great benefits that are rare in my field and is a real career- not just a 'gig'. The family can come on tour some of the time-but I don't know what that would be like for them. What I'm looking for is some support group for parents who are home with kids while their husband/wife/partner is traveling constantly. I don't know if that exists-but any suggestions at all would be helpful as this is a very stressful situation. If there are even any playgroups of parents in similar situations to my wife's situation it would be great to hear about them. Although my job is on the road-my heart is at home with my lovies-this is a hard adjustment for all of us. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Your involvement with the tour seems so much like a military assignment, regarding the problems and opportunities for family that come with a a military career. Remind yourself that thousands of other families also struggle with the lengthy absences of Mom or Dad, and that you can do it too, and that you're not an 'army of one'. Plan what changes in responsibilities and career you and your wife can make together for the best solution for everyone. It seems you may have 3-4 months at home with your children. This is a positive in itself. Can your wife work most during these 3-4 months, and little or none at all while you are away? Can you swap full- time parenting responsibilities during these 3-4 months? If your wife can't do exactly what she wants professionally during these 3-4 months, you can assure her that you will also accept less-than-perfect job prospects when your turn comes. One of you gone and the other working a lot while the children are so young must be very tough on everyone.

No amount of money, benefits or anything will replace what a parent can & needs to give their child. Your daughter is telling you she needs you - put off the ''dream job'' until later in life when it works for your family. You do not get a 2nd chance to raise your children. That ''dream job'' is clearly a nightmare for your family - in retrospect maybe you should not have had children, but they are here now so do right by them and be around to father them. Believes in Family

My situation is somewhat different - I sometimes have to leave the country for a month or so, but I take my kids with me. Still, I think some of this might be applicable.

1. Do you have to do your travelling in all one big block? Or can it be broken up? If you could be gone for 2 months, then home for a month, then gone again, that would be much better than being gone for 7 months at a whack. Also, could your family travel with you part of the time? It's not easy, but better than being separated all that time.

2. While you are apart, absolutely CALL YOU KIDS EVERY DAY, AT THE SAME TIME! This is really critical, that they get to talk to Daddy every day, and tell him all the little things that are so important to them. It needs to be part of the daily routine for them - breakfast, talk to daddy, leave for school or whatever. Every day. Don't ever miss it.

3. Your kids may actually fare better than your spouse. Before we had kids, our positions were reversed and my husband was the one who would be gone for a month at a time. I always had to go through an adjustment period when he got back. The reality was, I got used to not having him around and always getting to do things my way. Then suddenly this man would appear in my house and turn all my routines upside-down, demand my attention, etc. etc. Please be aware of this issue with your wife. Your marriage will take a beating while you do this. I think it can be done (notice my husband and I are still married 10 years later!), but it is hard.

Good luck! As you say, these opportunities come once in a lifetime, and I think that you can make it work. been there (kinda)

Dad away for 5 months in the Army

May 2003

My husband has been accepted to Officer's Candidate School in the US Army. He will be separated from us (me and our daughter who is now 19 months old) for five months. We will be able to visit after the first two months. We have taken video of him reading her favorite books, singing her songs etc. so that I can play it for her while Daddy is away. I am seeking advice, experiences from other families who have dealt with a parent being temporarily separated from the family and what they did to help their children through the separation. I would appreciate any tips, advice or recommendations. I would also like to hear other's experiences and what got them through separation. Thank you

A web cam helps us to keep in touch with east coast family. It's pretty inexpensive considering the benefits. I'm not sure how much access your husband will have to his own computer, but this might be an option. Frances

This is a pretty low-tech solution, but it works very well for our two-year- old son. All of his grandparents and other family members (uncles etc.) live in another state and my son only sees them a couple of times a year. So we got photos of all of them (ideally portrait-style, of just the person's head and shoulders without a lot of background stuff), laminated them onto sheets of paper, wrote the person's name below their photo (i.e. Grandma E), punched holes, and strung the pages together with ribbons, then added a cover with the title ''Jeff's special people.'' My son loves this book (he loves books in general), and can name all of the people in it, and likes to talk about them. Maybe you could make a ''daddy book'' for your daughter. The nice thing about a book, as opposed to a tape or something, is that it can just be there for your child to look at any time she wants; she can take it in the car or to bed... it's really versatile. Karen

I went through the exact same situtation as you, when my husband was sent to Officer's Training camp in Rhode Island. The program was scheduled for one year, and at the last minute we decided to not accompany him mainly for economic reasons.

My husband was broken hearted in leaving my son and I, but the good part was that we stayed with my parents during his absence. My father stepped in and provided my son the male figure presence during my husband's absence and with the support of my parents we were able to survive the ordeal.

It was hard, and a lot of times I felt my son was forgetting his father. But somehow, he didn't. In fact he was always extremely happy to hear from or see daddy. My son is now eight years old, and my husband is finally out of the military, allowing us to settle in the East Bay. After officer's school he went on to college in San Diego as I finished my graduate degree at Cal State Hayward, so we continued our separation even longer. All I can tell you is the following, there is no easy solution. Children are amazing. They can adapt in ways we can only imagine. I think that if you talk to your child about her father, and always address her concerns or sadness for not having daddy around, your child will be okay. Honestly, I think we suffer more than they do because we miss our husbands/partners/friends/lovers, so there are all these emotions involved.

Good luck with everything, and remember time will pass sooner than you expect. Try and keep yourself busy, it helps! Former Military Wife

I don't have many useful words about preparing for the separation, but my husband went through OCS before I knew him, and he simply suggested that your husband would be going through hell and not to expect too much from visits, which are at most two separate 1 hour periods per week until the last week. They're also not private visits. As a point of reference, my spouse went into OCS weighing 165 and came out at 145. It's extremely rigorous. stefani

18-month-old going to Russia with dad for 2 months

March 2001

My husband has decided to quit his job and go back home to Russia for a couple of months. I totally support his decision -- he needs to shake things up. My question: He would like to take our 18 mo old daughter with him... Meet the family in the old country...Save on daycare...Make my life easier while he's gone (I work and am a student as well...) Would you let your kid do this? Am I crazy to think he shouldn't take her? Jennifer

I think it very much depends on the child's relationship with her father - does he currently spend a lot of time with her, take care of her, know how to look after her? I think it would be reasonable to have him do some test days if that's not the case. The other side of it is that you will miss her while she's away - that was also so for my husband when he had to travel for weeks at a time, and our children were very small. I think, IF you are comfortable with your husband's ability to actually look after your daughter, it COULD be a good opportunity for you to realise that you are an important independent person too - and can take advantage of the freedom. Make sure you're comfortable with what you choose, though, and don't feel pushed. - you've got the right to make the choice. Fiona

I would vote no on such a trip. Eighteen months is too young to be in another country without both parents. What if something happened to your husband? What kinds of difficulties would you have in locating and retrieving her? What if his relatives became uncooperative? I think that parents have to be very careful allowing their children to leave the US because customs, laws and language can be different in unexpected ways. Can you find a way to all go together? Louise

I am Russian and recently have come to Berkeley with my son. I think it is a good idea to go to Russia especially if you want to save money on day care etc. because compared to California, the life is really cheap there. But there is one thing to be aware of -- there is a high risk of tuberculosis in Russia (especially in big cities) so take all the precautions - I know that there is no vaccination against tuberculosis in USA but there is in Russia (your husband should know that). It is called BCG and babies receive this vaccination the first week of their birth. It gives the highest protection the first year, then every year there is a check - called Mantoux. I would highly recommend to make this vaccination and hope your family will enjoy the trip. Good luck. Julia

Even a few weeks is a very long time to an 18 month old -- you would have to work hard to reconnect after that separation. The connection between a child and mother is very deep, and I think your child would have a very hard time being away from you for such a long time. It seems like it would be worth the extra stress to keep her here with you, and at some point in the future when you have enough money for all of you to go she can meet her relatives.

I would let my husband take my 15mos daughter everywhere, anytime, providing on the other side she would have the same level of care and attention she has here. On the other end, two months is a long time, perhaps you could visit in a month, or he could shorten the trip.

Of course this is only my opinion, but I think you would miss your daughter terribly if you let her go to Russia for a few months, despite the fact that you are terribly busy right now. If money is tight I think taking a loan out for day care is a great investment.... and you won't miss any important developmental steps. Plus if anything happened while she was away..... I definitely say keep her with you! Ariane