Traveling moms and dads are a fact of life in many families today.  What effect does traveling parents have on children? I decided to write this post today after receiving an e-mail from a working mother asking me this exact question.  After a lot of research, I found that it doesn’t have quite the impact that many of us assumed, as long as we take care of a few important things and wanted to share the good news.

What effect does traveling parents have on children - Kids Activities Blog - suitcase in airport

When Mom Travels for Work

It’s not all bad when mom’s away. Being away from their children for a certain period of time is an inevitable necessity for many working parents today. Some need to travel for work, some need to travel to see family, or some just need to travel for their own well-being.   

According to “In the U.S., 70% of women with children under the age of 18 are in the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor—but indicates that 60% of U.S. adults say they still think children are better off with one parent at home.”

This leaves many of us wondering…

What effect does traveling parents have on children? 

Here are some interesting findings which will let you craft the perfect win-win situation for you and your children in considering traveling and parenting at the same time…

1. Brief Separation May Have a Positive Effect

Being separated from mom is an important part of a child’s social and emotional development.  All young children should have the opportunity to experience the full circle of separation, loss, and reunion with their primary caregivers, even if it is accompanied by temporary fear and stress.

Separation Period Must be Handled With Care

It is through this process that a child discovers that she is capable of dealing with separation and it reinforces her self-respect, self-knowledge, and self-confidence.

However, it is important that children are not exposed to separation for too long.  It is equally important that the separation process is handled with care. If this is not done, the separation may be extremely traumatic for the child, leading to problems both immediately and later in life.

Separation Anxiety when Parents Travel is Normal

It is normal for children to show some form of anxiety or stress in the period that their mother is away or when she returns. Babies from around eight months may get depressed and may not seem interested in their environments whereas older children may show anxiety, clinginess, and anger.

2. Naturally Sensitive Children are More At-Risk (have a caregiver that will offer a lot of support)

The effects of separation on children who are naturally sensitive are more severe and it is usually easier to cope for children after three years of age or if they are attached to multiple caregivers.

child hiding in suitcase of clothes - Kids Activities Blog
Take me with you…

Some children behave unnaturally well with the caregiver and do not even seem to miss their mother, but when mom returns they release all the pent up anxiety and anger and refuse to even give their mother a hug or let her out of their sight. All this behavior is considered to be normal and may take a few days or weeks to normalize.

Separation Grieving is Possible

While the mother is gone, the child may go through different phases of grieving. She may go through an angry phase where she cries a lot, is clingy and throws tantrums or she may go through a phase of deep sadness and longing when she may be inconsolable.

Detachment Behavior is Possible

If the separation continues, she may even start to detach herself emotionally from her mom. The duration of these phases varies from child to child and it is important that the caregiver is prepared to deal with these phases and behaviors in a way that makes the child feel that her emotions are important.

The caregiver must be able to supply lots of love, support, and encouragement to the child. A child who is well prepared for the separation should settle within a reasonable time, usually a few days.

Effect on kids of traveling parent child suitcase - Kids Activities Blog
Being away from them may be as hard on you!

3. When Professional Help is Needed for Separation Anxiety

Some children may need extra support from professional people to cope with the separation. If any of the following behaviors occur and keep on for more than four weeks after the mother has returned the child may need help to cope:

* Constant over-reaction when she is separated from her mother for a short period, for example going to school.
* Abnormal worry that something will happen to mom and that the child will lose her.
* Abnormal fear that something unexpected may lead to separation like getting lost or being abducted.
* Refusal to go to playgroup or nursery school because she is scared of being separated from mom.
* Abnormal fear to be alone or without her mom.
* Refusal to go to sleep without her mom.
* Recurrent nightmares with a separation theme.
* Regression in development for example potty training.
* Constant headaches, tummy aches, and nausea.

Child carrying brief case - Kids Activities Blog
Let me help you pack…

4. Mothers Vs. Fathers Being Away (it matters)

According to a Harvard Business Review by Stewart D. Friedman:  “Children were more likely to show behavioral problems if their fathers were overly involved psychologically in their careers, whether or not they worked long hours. And a father’s cognitive interference of work on family and relaxation time — that is, a father’s psychological availability, or presence, which is noticeably absent when he is on his digital device — was also linked with children having emotional and behavioral problems.

On the other hand, to the extent that a father was performing well in and feeling satisfied with his job, his children were likely to demonstrate relatively few behavior problems, again, independent of how long he was working.

Working Mother Benefits

For mothers, on the other hand, having authority and discretion at work was associated with mentally healthier children. That is, we found that children benefit if their mothers have control over what happens to them when they are working. 

Further, mothers spending time on themselves — on relaxation and self-care — and not so much on housework, was associated with positive outcomes for children. It’s not just a matter of mothers being at home versus at work, it’s what they do when they’re at home with their non-work time. If mothers were not with their children so they could take care of themselves, there was no ill effect on their children.”

5. Children Thrive from Seeing Their Mothers Work

“As it turns out, most of the children who grew up with working mothers, especially the daughters, felt they actually thrived from having a parent who taught them invaluable life skills.”

Pamela Lenehan

All mothers work hard to prepare their children for adult life, but according to my survey, 56% of daughters whose mothers worked said their moms were very helpful in teaching them to be independent (compared to 35% of daughters whose mothers stayed at home).” 

It is inevitable that parents will spend some time away from their children during the early years of their children’s lives. This period of separation can be built the child’s self-confidence if handled correctly and the parents are not away for an extended period of time.   Handle it well and keep a good career and family balance. 

Be sure to make the most of your time when you are together.  Focus on your child and be present in the moment.

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What have you found to be helpful in negotiating travel and parenting? Please tell us in the comments below!

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  1. I’m just curious as to how you would define “extended period of time”. I have a once in a lifetime opportunity to go away and do something very special in October but it’s a 17 day long haul trip and my little boy will be a few months shy of four. He has a good relationship with his Dad and is used to having us both around as we both work for ourselves and parent 50/50, but I still feel sick and torn about it. What do you think??

    1. Hi, Aimee! How amazing to have that opportunity! You know your family better than anyone, and know what works best for you guys. It’s great that we live in an age of technology so that it’s much easier to stay connected while traveling with FaceTime, etc. Think of all the stories and pictures you will be able to share with your little one. Enjoy your adventure!