Family breakdown is such a big issue in our society today. I feel very fortunate in that it hasn’t affected anyone in my immediate circle of family and friends, but my daughter has been exposed to it for the first time through school. In Birdy’s class there is a little kindy boy, called Josh whose Mum and Dad aren’t together. He lives mostly just with his Dad, but his family situation is fairly complicated. It didn’t take long before my daughter wanted to know why his Mum didn’t live with them as well.
Family breakdown is a pretty scary topic for a little kid to understand.
We haven’t really had to discuss it until now. I didn’t want to hide it from her. But I also didn’t want her to worry that something like that might happen because it is a bit frightening for kids. So Chris and I together explained that sometimes when Mummy’s and Daddy’s aren’t getting along they have to live separately, but that they still love their kids just as much. We talked about it a little bit, but I also reassured her that we are a family and we will stick together.
It’s so important for children to feel safe and secure within the family unit.
This was brought home to me so strongly just the other day. I was walking to school with my daughter and Josh was also walking with his Dad. When we stepped out to cross the road, I was holding Birdy’s hand on one side and Josh reached out for my spare hand. At first I was reluctant to hold his hand because I don’t know him or his father very well. But as we continued crossing, he kept reaching for my hand and I didn’t have the heart to reject him so I held his hand. As I did so, he looked up at his Dad, then he looked at me with a big grin on his face and said, “It’s like we’re a family!” That just broke my heart.
“It’s like we’re a family.”
Obviously families come in all shapes and sizes and lots of things can happen that are beyond people’s control but there is within us that fundamental yearning for family, for a sense of belonging. Wherever possible, it is important for kids to have time with their Mum and their Dad together. Even if Mum and Dad are separated. They want both their parents at their birthday party, their school concert, their soccer grand final. We went through a period when I was working during the week and my husband was working on weekends, when it was rare for my daughter to be home with both her parents. And she would often say to me, “I don’t want just Mum or just Dad, I want both my Mum and Dad.” They need quality time with the whole family, whatever shape that takes. If there can’t be both Mum and Dad, then it might be with Aunties or Grandparents, or with adopted grandparents even, but they still need that sense of belonging to a family group.
That’s why it’s a good habit to make a regular time for family time.
At the moment our most regular family time is usually Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday nights when we go to church. But I also make holidays a big priority because that’s when you really get to spend a lot more time together – we’re actually away on holidays at the moment. We don’t have a big budget for holidays, so we usually keep it pretty simple, but I think it’s so important to have that regular time when the whole family is together, so the kids feel really strongly connected to the family unit.
For families that are undergoing a separation, there’s a very helpful picture book called Mum and Dad glue by Kes Gray. It’s about a little child looking for a glue that can stick Mum and Dad back together. “My mum and dad are broken, I don’t know what to do. My mum and Dad have come undone, I need to find some glue. I need a pot of parent glue, to stick them back together, I need to patch their marriage up, I need to make them better.” It’s a really sad story, but the conclusion of the book is that Mum and Dad will always love their child, and that’s a love that will never be broken. I think it’s a really helpful book for kids who are either going through a separation or seeing someone else they care about going through it.
This time next week I’ll be in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea, getting ready to head out on the road, delivering Christmas shoeboxes filled with presents to the children of Papua New Guinea. For those who aren’t aware, Operation Christmas Child is part of the work of Samaritan’s Purse and they spread Christmas cheer to children who otherwise probably wouldn’t receive a gift. I’m pretty excited about the idea of seeing the children receive their presents. I know it means a lot to them to think that somebody in a distant country cares about them enough to send them a special box full of presents. It sounds like a cliché, but I know it will be a life-changing experience. I’m just slightly concerned about leaving Birdy for five whole days!
I’ve never really gone anywhere without her. I left her overnight with a babysitter once for our wedding anniversary but we were back home by 8am the next day. Just the other day when we had The Voyage of the Dawntreader preview screening for work, Birdy had a sleepover at my sister’s house. Now I must admit I quite enjoyed having a night out without her, but when I got back home the house seemed strangely empty. And when I woke up, there was nobody squashing me off the edge of the bed. Normally I go to sleep in the usual way, lying on my half of the bed, but when I wake up Birdy has crawled over the top of me, sandwiched herself in between Mum and Dad in the wee hours of the morning, and I’m like a seagull perched on the edge of a cliff, about to fall off, with Birdy sticking her legs and arms into my back at all sorts of impossible angles as if she’s trying to give me acupuncture. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep without my early morning torture session.
I think she’ll be fine. If she does miss me at all, it will probably be at bedtime, because we always cuddle up in bed and read 4 or 5 stories together. It’s our special little time at the end of the day. But I don’t think she’ll miss me too much because she’ll have an army of people looking after her. My husband will be there (when he’s not working), my sister’s coming down to stay, my parents are helping out for a bit and then there’s her other Aunty and Uncle and cousins who live nearby. So she won’t be deprived of TLC. And as long as she manages to stay out of hospital for five days, I probably won’t be too worried about her. I thought I might try to leave her a little letter to open every day while I’m away so she knows I’m thinking of her. I’ve also got to figure out how to get my phone to do international roaming. I don’t think I could go for five days without at least sending a kiss and a cuddle down the phone!
Have you ever gone away without your kids? What’s the longest period of time you’ve left them for? How did you cope? How did they cope? Are you glad you did it? Do you have any ideas to help make the separation go more smoothly?
PS. I won’t be able to blog from PNG, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about when I get back!