My oldest son, Hunter, was having a very hard time when his father left for work in the morning. Each morning, he screamed, fought and threatened, trying to hold on to his dad, crying and pleading with him to keep him from leaving. At times, if I was in the other room with his younger brother, he would unlock the door and chase after his dad.
I noticed that mornings after my husband had left were getting more and more challenging, with my son sulking, fighting with me and his brother more than usual, and taking a long time to get out of his “funk.”
I tried Staylistening with him many times, when his father said goodbye and after he had gone, but Hunter just felt stuck.
I decided on a more playful approach.
More Playful Goodbyes
One day after nap, we were lying in our big family bed – Hunter, his brother Dominic, and me. I said to Hunter, “How about you pretend to be Daddy, and I’ll be Dominic.”
He seemed a bit unsure, but said “OK,” and looked at me, waiting to see what our game was about.
I reached out to him, and said, pleading, “Daddy, don’t go to work! Don’t leave, Daddy!”
What do you know? A big smile spread across Hunter’s face.
“No, I have to go to work now,” he said, getting out of bed and walking toward the door, “You have to stay here!”
I reached for him, grabbing the back of his shirt, but he slipped out of my grasp, and began laughing.
“No, Daddy! Stay here! I won’t let you leave!” I cried.
I got up and chased after him, and he pulled me back into the bed.
“You have to stay in bed, Hunter. Here, I’ll sit with you,” he said. He sat next to me, and as soon as I was back under the covers, he started again, “I have to go to work now.”
By now Dominic had begun to play the game too, and both of them laughed harder and harder as I struggled and cried, begging them not to go. We played this way for a long time, and then Hunter spontaneously began the game again several times throughout the afternoon. We had a lot of fun with it.
The next morning, I stayed close to see what would happen when my husband had to go to work. He said his goodbyes, and Hunter whined a little bit, asking him to stay. But his father kissed him and said that he would be home for dinner, and then walked out the door without a fight.
Hunter turned around and looked at me with a smile, and said, “I have to go to work now!” The game began again!
Over the next several days we played this game all day long (or so it seemed to me!). The boys couldn’t get enough. And in that time our morning goodbyes became easier and easier, and our days together afterwards were more laughter filled.
Many months later, Hunter or Dominic will still sometimes bring up the game, and play it with just as much enthusiasm as they did the first time. I notice that it gets dusted off more often after one of them has had a hard time with goodbyes with anyone they’re close to.
I’ve really come to appreciate how wonderful it is to be there for my kids while they are working through something hard, while being able to stay light and playful with them. It’s also given them the power to bring up their feelings around separation in a safe way, whenever they want to.
I couldn’t have imagined something so simple would bring about so many fun times, and have the power to heal.
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