Ask An Expert / Anxiety

I am a mom with a 1-year-old son. Is a weeklong separation every 4 months OK?

A support network and regular routine are key

Steven G. Dickstein, MD

I am a working mom with a 1-year-old son. My job requires that I will travel for approximately one week every four months or so. While I am away, my son would be at home with his father and our wonderful nanny. He is a healthy little guy — happy and well adjusted it seems. Is a one week separation from me okay?

The truth of the matter is that nobody really knows how much separation a child can tolerate, but a child who has been around his mother for a year and has been able to attach to her definitely knows who his mom is, for starters.

People often wonder, “If I leave my child in daycare,” or leave him alone with someone else, will that cause problems? One thing to remember is that kids are amazingly resilient. Generally speaking most kids will tolerate lots of things as long as there are stable figures in their life and basic consistency of care, a good routine that doesn’t change too much, and ways to maintain contact.

In this situation, having a dad and a nanny certainly provides stable figures. And the amazing thing with the technology now is that you have the ability to see the child and interact with the child even when you are far away. And one week out of four months is regular, and also not a really dramatic absence.

This is also a matter of, is this what your family needs to do? We do what our families need to do, and then adjust to it. We really don’t see attachment issues unless there is a pervasive problem or really harmful deprivation. Most kids can tolerate quite a lot.

It is simply very important to understand that this is going to be kind of a big thing for the child, and there may be behavioral changes that relate to the change until the child settles in to the new norm.