What is a good age to leave kids behind… by Meng Fong

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time”
..from Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin (1942 to 1981) 



I remember the first time I left The Kid at child-care – he was 3.5 months old. So tiny.

It was gut-wrenching to leave my little baby with a stranger outside of home. It didn’t matter that I had spent a couple of months before he was born searching for the best place to place him when I had to go back to work.

It didn’t matter that I had taken an extra month’s leave without pay to stretch out my maternity leave. It didn’t even matter that I knew he would be in great care. One of the minders was a young, trained pediatric nurse (no kids of her own) who looked after her charges so expertly she would put any super-mom to shame.

The only thing that mattered was that I had to mentally and physically drag myself away from this tiny little being that had occupied my bed, body and mind for close to 18 hours everyday for the last 90 days. 

Like any A-type, mid-life mom, I would agonize over every little thing he did or didn’t do.

Is he pooping ok, did he eat enough, how come I pump so little milk… the list goes on. I must have had, up to 20 baby books – I remember 3 breast-feeding books, the entire collection of  William Sears attachment parenting books which I loved.

I used to sneak over during my lunch time just to watch him sleep – hoping he would wake up so I could pick him up and that he would know that mommy had come to visit. This wasn’t just a case of reverse separation anxiety, it was more like separation trauma on my part.

It took me a week and half to realize that I wouldn’t be able to cope with work if I kept coming back to see him. On the second week, I stopped coming over during lunch and you know what, it worked out a lot better for me. I was certainly less emotional.

Fast forward to yesterday. Before leaving for work, I told a half asleep 5 foot 7inch – 12 year old – with size 10 feet that he needed to make his own breakfast when he woke up. I also listed out all the food that  was already prepared in the fridge that he should heat up for lunch and dinner.He grunted, rolled over and went back to sleep. 

I snuck a squishy hug, just happy that he wasn’t totally awake. Otherwise he would have shoo-ed me off with an “Aw, mom..” and give me his I-am-too-old-for-this face.

True to form – I am now older but still a Type-A mom (that never changes) – I called him around lunch time to ask him what he ate for lunch. In another mommy guilt trip moment, before dinner with friends, after work, I called him to make sure he heated up his dinner. Needless to say, he thought all this calling back to check on him,  was totally unnecessary and all he wanted to do was to continue his on-going relationship with his computer  which masquerades as his tv, dictionary, communication device, and games machine.

In the last year or so, The Kid has been showing signs of independence – so I know it is the right time for me to get back to a full-time job. And so, I will have to leave him behind, again….

 I am worried about ending up like the father  in the Cats in the Cradle song. So it’s back to managing mommy-guilt.

What age was your kid(s) when you had to leave them behind…to go back to work?  When did you stop having separation trauma from your kids?

Happy Week Ahead!


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