18October2017

I just got back from an overseas trip which was significant as much for its purpose as for the watershed it marked in my parenting. I started preparing for the trip weeks in advance - I stocked the house with food and diapers, I warned my daughter's teacher and yoga instructor that I will be traveling. I changed milk brands so that expiry dates wouldn't be an issue. I over-prepared my four-year old that Mama had to go away and made her cry too many times. I asked all the grandparents, aunts and friends to check on my kids and to offer their support to the dad who knew he would manage just fine. I had no choice but to revise my own 'no nanny' policy and welcome the affection that our house help, a godsend in our lives, has for my kids, and she was patient with my lists and my notes. A few days before I was about to leave, as I made yet another trip to the supermarket, I started laughing at myself. I was not prepared in the least for the trip itself, I had not shopped or packed, and I made my visa request at the last possible day. I had made my planned travel about the time away from my kids and over-analyzed and prepared in too much detail for a trip that was to last all of six days.

I arrived in London on a rare sunny morning and afraid that I would wake up feeling lost  without my toddler's soft body snuggling beside me, I skipped napping and sat in the park. I
told myself how much my daughter would have loved the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain where kids splash barefoot, the soft ice cream, and the giant bubbles blown by a street performer. I missed my baby girl with an intensity. I couldn't wait to call home and when I did,I was given a much-needed adjustment to the hype I had put into this short trip. My two year old was sweet on the phone but entirely incoherent. I gave up and asked to talk to his sister who could barely pull herself away from playing to talk to me, I could tell she was well and happy. And their dad, always the realist, responded to my 'I miss you all so much!' with a  flat 'But you just left.'

From that moment on, my stay in London became about me. I did not suddenly stop loving the children who make up my being, but my obsession with them was completely braked. I admitted to myself that full-time parenting had taken its toll and that I was really tired. I was happy to reconnect with that woman who is kind of essential to my kids' well-being, me. I felt no guilt spending three hours in a bookshop and how refreshing was it to eat whatever I wanted! I thought of my kids, of course, but I knew they were safe with their other parent and I thanked our lucky stars for the help, affection and attention of grandparents, aunts and cousins.

Now, I have to admit that in the past, I have been (at least privately) judgmental of mothers who leave their kids at all to travel overseas for pleasure. As a full-time mom who had given my toddler every single one of his baths until I had to leave him for a few days, I had not understood mothers who cede responsibility to others, usually paid help, in the everyday maintenance of their kids. I also know mothers who are not as attached to their children in the physical, need-their-presence-everyday kind of way, in other words, MY kind of parenting. Which as my aunt reminded me when I returned from my eye-opening trip, has been, 'kind of excessive.' She also pointed out, 'the kids managed without you, didn't they?' Of course they did. They even thrived. The toddler had worked on his vocabulary while I was away but was too excited to talk when I got home from the airport, opting for a dance performance instead, and my darling girl wanted to see if I had got her the doll I promised, immediately, in the airport car park.

My point here is that I learnt, in my brief time away, that love is not attachment, nor is it control. I had long suspected that I had confused the three in my obsessive over-parenting. I learnt that in stepping away, I had created room for the other people who love my kids to step in. My mother and their dad formed a bathing-team, our nanny came into her own and developed confidence because I was finally treating her as a nanny, and my daughter had a wonderful time with her dad taking her to the hair salon and swimming. I didn't feel replaced so much as supported in the hard work of raising kids who feel loved.

It is important to spend time with our kids, of course, but a zooming out sometimes helps us re-focus. It took me a long time to get to this realization on the nature of love for one's children. A trusted carer or my co-parent can put them to bed, dress them in the morning, kiss their boo-boos and wipe their bums and I can do other things comfortable in the knowledge that ceding control doesn't mean I am abandoning responsibility. I will be home and parenting them actively soon enough. My children will always need me. I don't have to change every diaper for my son to know that I love him to eternity and back...he just does. Before my trip, my daughter used to dissolve into tears if I had to go out and leave her for an hour - since I have been back, she waves me off cheerfully. I used to confuse excessive attachment with love and figured that if I reassured her a hundred times that 'Mama will never leave you', she would know I love her more than anything in the world. It turns out that I had to leave her for her to know that I do.

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