Separations

Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
—Kahil Gibran, Lebanese-born American poet

Military deployments. Extended business trips. Hospitalizations. An older teenager leaving home. Divorce. Death. A move. Even briefer, smaller separations such as leaving a child with a sitter or starting school. Many families struggle with separation. Here’s how to cope.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Keep tabs on all family members during a separation. Every person deals with separation and grief differently.
    • Figure out ways to stay connected to your loved one. E-mail, letters, phone calls, Skype, text messages, video clips, and photos are only a few ways to keep in touch with a loved one far away.
    • If a loved one has died, talk about it. Keep meaningful reminders of the person (such as photos) in your home. Be honest about how much you miss the person. At the same time, be clear that each person can have a good, full life—even if sadness is present.
    • Find creative ways to stay close when you’re away from your kids, such as sending homemade cookies or drawing pictures. For more ideas, see read Stay Close.
    • Let family members cry, get angry, or express other emotions in appropriate ways. Being separated can stir deep feelings.
    • Know that some separations are okay or even happy, like going on a trip or to camp. Others are tough emotionally, like someone being in the hospital, in jail, or on a military deployment.
    • Talk about what you miss about your life before. When you move, you can miss your old home and neighborhood. When someone gets sick, you can miss what he or she was like when they were well. It’s healthy to talk about “before” and “now.”
    • Prepare your kids each year for starting school. Starting school for the first time (or a new school for the first time) is a big deal. Don’t overlook other school starts and changes. Many kids find it difficult to adjust to being at school after being at home during the summer.
    • Connect with other families that are dealing with separation. Families of deployed family members can support each other. So can families struggling with sickness or divorce.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Keep a photo of the living loved one who you are separated from in your home. At some point during the day ask, “What do you think Dad (or Mom) would say if he (or she) was here?”
    • Be active. If your child is sad, have them shake their sadness out by shaking his body.
    • Give your child a lot of attention. Listen to what she has to say about missing a family member. For ideas on what to do from birth to age 5, read Please Don’t Go from Parens.com.
    • Even if there isn’t a way to stay in daily contact, create a daily ritual to think of the person. Maybe your child can draw a picture each day. (Then when the person comes home, he will be surprised with the great gift of so much art.)
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Read aloud books about separation. Consider Llama, Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney; Red, White, and Blue Goodbye by Sarah Wones Tomp; and Bye, Bye! By Nancy Kaufmann.
    • Ask your child how she would like to stay connected to your loved one.
    • Continue to find interesting activities to do. Being separated doesn’t feel as bad when you’re involved in activity.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • At this age, some kids may not think much about being separated from a family member. They can be immersed in their own lives or with their friends. At the same time, some kids at this age can feel even more emotional about a separation. It depends on the circumstance and the child.
    • Talk about the adjustment of being separated—and then of being reunited. It can be hard on a young teenager to get used to an older sibling being away at college for 15 weeks and then have her home all the time for a four-week winter break—or a three-month summer break.
    • Kids at this age often go to weekend-long or week-long residential camps. Tuck away notes and surprises for them to find while they’re there. Be aware that some kids will handle the separation well while others will have a harder time.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Although older teenagers may seem not to be bothered by having a family member away, remember that most act tougher than they feel. Keep an eye on your teenager. Be aware that your teenager may be talking about the separation with friends and not with you.
    • Ask your teenager what he or she thinks about a family member being away. Most teenagers will tell you if you ask.
  • Keep family rituals and family holidays intact. Even if someone is away, teenagers still thrive on the family maintaining the connections that keep it strong and together. Continue having family meals and celebrating holidays. Continue sticking together as a family.

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