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Missing a Parent

Leaving the family to work abroad is a sad reality. Here’s how to help your child cope

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Dear Suzi and Paolo,

Good day. I am writing to ask about a problem with my six-year-old son. His dad recently left for work abroad and my son would always cry, missing him. The first month, he would cry almost every day. Now, three months after, he does not cry as often but he still does every now and then. He is always sad. I also noticed that he does not eat as much and he does not play with his friends like he used to. I tried cheering him up. I even bought him a PSP. Now that vacation has started, I’m afraid that he will be sadder with nothing to occupy his time. Any advice?

Marigold Domingo

Commonwealth, Quezon City

 

Suzi says

Hello mommy Marigold! Thanks for writing in. I really do feel bad for your son. And for you! I can only imagine the difficult life of a family with a loved one who works abroad. I’m sure you are also trying to be strong for your child so as not to aggravate the situation.

You didn’t mention for how long your husband will be away for. There are some contracts that take years and I’m hoping your husband’s is shorter than that. In any case, there are many ways to communicate now and you can take advantage of it for your son. There’s Skype, Face Time, Viber, and WhatsApp, all of which you can use to stay in contact with your husband.

Set a time, every day if possible, and call your husband. It does not even have to be a conversation. Even a text message would do. Ask your hubby to send photos to keep you both updated on what he’s busy with. That way, your son will understand that his father’s job is important. Talk to him and explain why his dad has to go away and work abroad. Tell him that it’s for his own future, for the family’s future. I am sure your child will understand the situation.

If you know when his contract will end or when he can come back for a vacation, mark that on a calendar. Make that a target date for your child. It will be something he can look forward to.

Plan activities with him, too. Go somewhere and bond with him. Mark those activities on the calendar, too. These will serve as “breakers,” days he can look forward to so that can take his mind off his dad’s homecoming.

This summer, try enrolling him in summer activities. That should keep him busy on some days and it may even be an opportunity for him to make new friends. Other than that, your time and care will be the best things to help him along.

Good luck mommy! I hope you and your boy will adjust eventually to this challenging situation.  God bless your family!

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Paolo says

Hi mommy Marigold. Thank you for your letter. It’s a tough spot you find yourself in and I feel for you and your son. At that age, or at any age for that matter, it’s hard to process a parent’s need to be away. And even if he is mature enough, it is still quite a sad thing.

It’s a good thing that you’re keeping close tabs of your son’s emotions and are able to see his needs. I really don’t have a formula to solve the problem but can offer some suggestions. We have many tools at our disposal in this day and age. Just a few years ago, the cost of daily overseas phone calls was too expensive for regular communication. But now, we have Skype, Viber, and other options that help us stay in touch with our loved ones abroad without breaking the bank.

You didn’t mention if you’re able to keep in touch daily with your husband but I hope that it’s an option. There’s nothing like a daily dose of cheer that comes from a simple call or Skype session. It’s something that can be arranged between your husband and your son, too. Maybe right before bed or at the start of the day? It would certainly help to ease your son’s sadness. Another idea is to keep a daily diary addressed to his father. This can help him process his feelings better. I realize he may not be writing very well yet but maybe a daily drawing for his father will achieve the same thing.

Much of what he feels may be feelings of abandonment. Talk to him regularly about it and help him verbalize what he’s feeling. Make him understand that though his father hated to be away from the family, he left because it was necessary. Reassure him that his father being away is not permanent.

You also mentioned trying to find things like game consoles to take his mind off missing his father. Perhaps, you can also consider activities that have a component of interaction between him and other kids his age? A summer course maybe? Perhaps he has an interest he’d like to pursue? The only caution I would have in doing this is that it might trigger his longing for his dad all the more. Be cautious when you choose a summer activity for him.

Like I said earlier, I don’t have the magic formula to solve the problem. But I think extra attention and reassurance from you will go a long way in helping him get through this tough situation. Good luck!