My toddler has been randomly asking, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I always respond truthfully: “He’s at the office.” I even describe what his dad is doing so that “office” doesn’t seem like just another word that means, “not here.” I wondered where the onslaught of questions was coming from, and figured that he’s noticing his dad’s irregular schedule. Unlike me with my set hours, my husband is working on a tough project these past few months and consequently has had the most irregular 9-to-5 job these days: sometimes he’s home early and some nights he isn’t until after our toddler is asleep. Recently he only saw LO for five minutes in the morning before heading out.
And so the “Where’s Daddy?” questions started popping up. He would ask at random times with no relevance to what we were doing and wouldn’t necessarily ask in any particular tone. Just, “Where’s Daddy?” After a particular day where he kept asking about his dad so much that I finally called my husband to talk to him on the speaker phone, my husband and I discussed what could be going on.
“Maybe that’s his way of saying he misses me,” my husband suggested. And up until he said that, I hadn’t realized that my toddler had no way of expressing “missing” someone. I had always assumed he asked questions to get answers, rather than to convey a particular emotion. He’s aware of emotions like happy, sad, mad and such, but we hadn’t addressed the terrible feeling he must have for missing his dad. At least I get to see my husband in the evenings; my toddler is often fast asleep by the time his dad comes home. In other words, it must hurt not having his dad around.
The worst thing for my husband is that my toddler takes it out on him. Rather than jumping all over his dad when he comes home, LO instead prefers me over his dad and fusses if his dad so much as tries to spend time with him. My husband becomes discouraged, and it’s a terrible cycle that could continue all because they miss each other but my toddler still doesn’t know how to express his hurt from missing him.
The next few times he asked about his dad, I elaborated on the answer. “He’s at the office. Do you miss Daddy? Sometimes it doesn’t feel good when we don’t see Daddy for a long time because he’s not home. That’s called ‘missing’ someone.” He still asks where his dad is, but I noticed that the more I expounded on his emotions, the less likely he was to give his dad some ‘tude. I continued to describe what his dad was doing at work so that he knows it’s not for lack of wanting to be with him that he’s not here. On a recent day off, we even visited him for lunch where LO was able to see his office.
We also give him “placeholders,” like my husband’s watch where he tells LO, “Hold on to Daddy’s watch and keep it safe while I’m gone. When I come home, you can give it back to me.” This helps him know that his dad will absolutely come back and that he’ll see him later. And if my toddler won’t see his dad at night or in the morning, we give him a stuffed toy monkey that he associates with his dad.
In an ideal world, my husband, toddler and I would spend every single day together (well, most days!). But in the meantime, while my husband’s project is still wrapping up, we rely on addressing emotions, placeholders, and plenty of patience and love to help our toddler address the times he misses his dad.
What do you do when your child misses one parent?