Ask Coach Carrington: Can You Come Home, Mommy?

I left on a work-related trip yesterday and won't be home for 3 more days. When I FaceTimed my husband and daughter this morning, she was at first excited to realize it was me. Then, she asked me (in a sentence structure so well constructed that it surprised me) to come home. When I replied that I would be home as soon as I could, she burst out in tears. Do you think it's better not to FaceTime when I'm away?


Oh, my heart goes out to you! Knowing our kids are upset when we're unable to help is a wound to any parent. By the time I reply to this question you may be home with your daughter already. I hope you had or will soon have a happy reunion, and that any tears shed this time are happy ones. I would be curious to know if you tried any more FaceTiming with your daughter on this particular trip and how those episodes turned out, but with what you gave me to go on I will suggest a few things to consider.


Any time we have to be away from our kids carries the potential to be difficult for both parent and child, but when kids are very young the difficulty is compounded by a child’s genuine confusion about the nature of separation. While we are fortunate to have so many technological ways to keep in contact over a distance, your dilemma highlights some of the confusion experienced by a child who sees Mommy but cannot touch her, hug her, or view her outside of the confines of a screen. It can be hard to determine if the benefits of the connection outweigh the experience of a sad little girl who misses her Mommy.


You ask whether you should stop FaceTiming while you are away. To have a strong opinion about that I would need some additional information, so rather than tell you what to do I will offer you some questions to consider so you can make a thoughtful decision yourself. I would encourage you to trust your intuition, if you feel any particular answer feels more compelling, with consideration for the following:


  1. What was your husband’s response when your daughter became upset? Did he feel able to adequately calm and comfort her? Did she soothe quickly or did her contact with you set off a long episode of distress? If your husband is the one who regularly attends to your daughter when you are away, I would solicit his thoughts on how distressing it is for her to see you but not have you there. If you two are both feeling concerned that the FaceTiming is too upsetting, it may be wise to take a break during upcoming travel. Either way, his input can be greatly informative.
  2. What happens within you when you see your daughter crying over your absence? If you enjoy the connection you are able to have and don’t get overly anxious at her distress, perhaps you can find a way to make it work. If seeing your daughter dissolve into tears turns you into an emotional wreck, plagues you with guilt, or otherwise sabotages your own emotional well being, it may be wiser for you to chat on the phone or send her some hugs and kisses through Daddy.
  3. What is your understanding of your daughter’s ability to understand and accept the confines of FaceTime communication? You don’t mention your daughter’s age, nor whether this was your first attempt at FaceTiming or if this has been an ongoing pattern over some time. What, if anything, have you done to set her expectations about what happens during a FaceTime call? It may well be that another call or two and your daughter will adapt and begin to enjoy the connection, however limited it may be. On the other hand, if repeated FaceTime attempts have ended in tears, perhaps her confusion or the intensity of the disconnect between seeing you but not being together is too much for her to cope with at this stage.


Ultimately, I would look to the well-being of each party involved, with an emphasis on your daughter’s state of mind given that she is the most openly distressed and is the least equipped to cope. If you are inclined to give FaceTime another shot, perhaps your husband could prep your daughter ahead of time, explaining that “We can see and talk to Mommy, but she won’t be able to come home for a few more days.” Or you may try building up to FaceTime with some phone calls first, before you add in the visuals of FaceTime. Again, it may simply take her some time to adapt to the rather odd arrangement of having access to Mommy, but not complete access. 


I strongly encourage you to take your cues from your daughter. Search for ways to remind her that you think of her and love her while you are gone so that it strengthens her ability to cope with your absence. If FaceTime is a compelling tool for your family, by all means continue to search for ways to ease her intoand out of the experience. But if FaceTime continues to cause tears, she may find more comfort from a phone call, a recorded message of your voice that you leave her before you travel, or a special memento or photo of you she can hang on to until you arrive home again. Remember, even if you take a break from FaceTime now it doesn’t mean it can’t be a valuable connection tool for you both down the road when she more readily understand the limitations of technology to bring Mommy into the here and now.