Separation Anxiety: The Parental Version

by Mike Julianelle
image via shutterstock

A few weeks ago, I was in North Carolina with my family. It was a working trip for both my wife and me. We were staying with friends and she was working at her local office. I was working remotely from our friends’ house with a 5-year-old and a baby by my side — or on my hip and crawling up my leg, as it were.

Needless to say, it was hectic and frustrating for everyone. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel for me, and that was a short kid-free trip I was taking at the end of it all, by myself, for three nights.

Finally, freedom. Or so I thought…

A little bit of time without our kids is essential, if only to prevent us from murdering them. It’s not easy to come by, whether you have helpful grandparents nearby or cheap babysitting help. But occasionally, you might be able to get away for a weekend, just you and your spouse. Should you have that opportunity, you always embark upon it with stress-free visions of relaxation, quiet, leisurely meals out at actual restaurants, maybe even reading a book or two, and — dream of dreams — sleeping in.

Then you get wherever it is you’re going, and it’s all of two hours before you start missing your damn kids. Even worse? You also start worrying about them.

Immediately after I arrived at the airport, it started.

My wife texted me that my 5-year-old wasn’t feeling well, which makes sense — he’d been hyped up for weeks, because that’s what happens when you take a 5-year-old on vacation. We were at the beach, staying in new places, seeing old friends, and discovering new buttons. (Seriously, the friends we stayed with are gadget-heads. They have more remote controls than a Radio Shack. Their house is like an Apple store had sex with a Brookstone. My son was in heaven. We now owe them seven-thousand dollars.) He was off the wall for two weeks, and as soon as I left, he crashed. And she was left to deal with it.

Kids get sick all the time; this was nothing to worry about. But worry I did, the entire trip. If I were at home, it would have been no big deal. But I wasn’t. I was away and unable to help nurse my precious little guy back to health. Now, not only was I stupidly worried about him — he was with his mother, he couldn’t have been in better hands — I was also feeling guilty for not being with him.

This is what parenting does. You spend every other minute pining for some time away, and then when you actually do get away, you can’t stop thinking of the exact reasons you wanted to leave!

It’s a double-edged sword. When you’re home, every minute of your children’s cuteness is countered by two minutes of aggravation. When you’re away, every minute of kid-less freedom and relaxation is balanced by two minutes of anxiety over their well-being and guilt over not being with them.

Part of it is because no matter how much you trust your mother or your sister-in-law or your nanny or the cheapest high schooler you’re halfway okay with being in the house while your children are sleeping, no one parents your kids the way you parent your kids. So when you’re not there, you can’t help but wonder if they’re doing it up to your standards. And you can’t help but worry that they’re not only doing it wrong, they’re doing it dangerously wrong. And that one time something happens when you’re not there? That’s in the back of your head every subsequent time you escape.

You’re never free from your kids, even when you are. When I visit my parents, they still wait up for me to get home at night. I’m 40. It’s the agony and the ecstasy of parenthood, and it never goes away. No wonder we’re all so desperate to get a break!