I don’t think there are many moments in our Foreign service life that we regret being overseas … except when tragedy strikes at home, and we can’t be there when our family member or dear friend are ailing. One can’t live with regret, but it can be hard not to feel like the abandoner as we read brief messages trying to keep us up-to-date on a situation – especially a medical situation – we know there is so much more we are not hearing, seeing and feeling. We can’t help but have dozens of questions, wondering what we are NOT hearing, wishing we could be there to at least take a shift holding hands or go on the next coffee run. Rue creeps up, and this is what we think about (not being there) instead of focusing on daily tasks and accomplishments.
We’ve just had one of these situations (not over yet, but certainly, in recovery mode), and suddenly, I can’t help but think of the other times we’ve been in similar situations. I remember being the one sending off the terse updates, trying not to get irritated that I have to do that, that I need to keep others in the loop, when all I want is track down someone – anyone – in the know to get my own answers, see and hold my own dear one, and not have to put on the oh-things-are-looking-good façade that can be so tedious to maintain. I don’t want to be texting, I don’t want to be phoning, I don’t want to be emailing. If you are the one in the waiting room chairs, impatiently waiting for the doctor to finish their surgery or procedure and give you the details you’re waiting for, you are in no better frame of mind than if you are the one on the other side of the globe, wishing for an email update so you can know what is going on.
What does this have to do with parenting? Hm. Imagine what your kids are feeling as you go through this. They see how torn you are, they see how much you want to be in two places. They see how hard this is for you. I bet, more than anything, they want to help. Give them the chance. They are not too young to know what it is to comfort someone. Let your kids be there for you; a simple hug can bring a moment of joy and peace.
It’s okay to cry in front of your kids. It’s okay that they see you are torn in different directions and conflicted about what the right thing to do might be. It’s okay because these are the same emotions they experience, and have to deal with, so this can be a valuable life lesson, opening their eyes to the fact that even big people struggle with things as tricky as emotions.
You may very well end up having to take an unexpected trip to be with extended family. Especially if you can’t take your spouse and/or kids with you, this is going to take a lot of short-term adjustments on their part to help get through it. Oh sure, we have friends and help that can step in, but it isn’t the same thing. And when we fly away to be with our normally-far-away family, we spend our time thinking of our kids and spouse, and have to force ourselves to focus on the coffee runs and hand holding. Torn and pulled in the directions of our families, and there is no right place to be.
May you not experience this, and should it happen, may the hug you get from your kids give you solace, and then the hand you hold bring calm and comfort.