Today’s guest blogger is Evgenya Shkolnik. Evgenya is a tenure-track astronomer at Lowell Observatory, where she studies exoplanets, young low-mass stars, and star-planet interactions. She also is the mother of three young children: Reuben (age 6), Sima (age 4), Leona (age 1.8). Below is an email exchange Evgenya had recently with her friend Kim, a geophysicist.
I need advice/help from a veteran. In two weeks, I'll be heading out to Dublin for a week-long conference and leaving my kids for the first time ever. I'm not too concerned about Sam but I'm worried about how Beatrix is going to deal with my absence. She's almost 2 so won't really understand that I'm just temporarily away. How have your littlest ones coped when you've been away? Any tips? Colin will be with them and I've got my Mom coming out to stay while I'm away so I'm hoping that offers enough distraction. Also, Beatrix still nurses a few times a day so I'm worried that my absence will be traumatizing. And, how do you personally cope with being away from your kids for extended periods? I'm missing them already and I haven't even left yet!! I think I'm going to need therapy after this! Any words of wisdom, or consoling, are greatly appreciated.
All the best,
I hope you are excited for your trip as well. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of family-life, as fun and rewarding as it is, can be good for you. I always make sure to have a good book to start fresh as soon as I get on the plane. But although I do miss the children very much, I try to take those trips as opportunities to a) read a good book, b) enjoy restaurants I'd never bring the kids to, c) sleep a full night, and d) have lots of adult conversation. Although some people (mainly Aaron) think I travel too often, I have to admit that when I'm home for a few months straight, I'm itching to get back on a plane to go somewhere.
I suggest focusing on the "treat" part for yourself to not miss the kids too much. Also, checking in frequently with home always makes me feel better just to reassure myself that all is good. But, I strongly recommend avoiding video Skype. It doesn't help anybody. I know people wedded to this idea, but it just reminds the kids that you are gone, and only leaves the parent who is home with a couple of crying kids at the end of the call. They were fine before I called and very upset afterwards. What Aaron and I do for each other is take little videos of the kids and email them to one another. This way I get to see the kids (almost daily) without the dramatic real-time Skype experience.
As for the kids, they will be fine. Make sure to warn them a few days ahead of time that you will be leaving for a few days so it's not a surprise. Your girl will understand that too, I suspect. Also, distraction, distraction, distraction. They will be busy with their grandmother and that will be exciting, plus treats and new activities. For your son, I would recommend marking the days off on a calendar if he misses you enough to upset him. My 4 year-old likes to keep a picture in her bed of the parent who is away. That seems to help her fall asleep. She also likes to cuddle with one of Aaron's "stinky", i.e. worn, shirts when he is out of town. But that could be just my Sima.
Another bit of advice I received once from a more senior astronomer (Alycia Weinberger, who received it from Vera Rubin) was to make your trip sound exciting and a happy thing for you. To say things like, "I wish I didn't have to go," or "I wish I could just be here with you," makes the kids even sadder because they think you are suffering where you are. She taught me to talk about all the exciting things I will get to do on my trip and then the kids get excited for me too. As the kids get older though, you may want to temper that a bit as they may start thinking that you'd much rather be away from them. Also, they should know that you love your job, which I hope you do. I personally find that a good value to pass on to kids; something they should strive for in their career choices.
Lastly, I don't bring back lots of toys and crap; the occasional Chilean hat or Swiss chocolate bar, but I don't want to set up expectations for every trip. I do, however, take pictures of the fun things I saw or did with which to tell them stories when I get home. I hope these tips help.
Have a great time!