Q. I have been offered a role abroad which I am considering taking, but to reduce any upheaval my wife and two-year-old son will remain in Ireland. However, I am concerned as to the effect my removal from my son’s daily life may have and would be grateful if you could let me know what the possible impact of such a move would be on him. I know I will see him every month or so, but I am concerned it may affect him at this early stage of his life.
A. In the difficult economic times we live in, a lot of readers will empathise with the decision you have to make. Given the lack of suitable jobs locally, so many parents have to consider travelling abroad for employment. It must be difficult weighing up whether it is better to move your family, with the upheaval this involves, against moving yourself and suffering a loss of contact with your son and your family.
How your potential move abroad will impact on your son depends on a few factors. If you currently see your son daily and are very involved in his care, then it is likely that he will miss you greatly when you move. This will be made harder given the fact he is two, when he may be very attached to you, yet it will be hard to explain to him where you have gone and when you will be back. In addition, when one parent leaves, a child often has to cope with the fact that the remaining parent may be more stressed given that he/she now has to cope with all the parenting responsibilities alone, and may miss their partner as well.
How your son will cope depends a lot on the quality of the care he gets if you leave. Presuming he has a good attached loving relationship with his mother will mean he will probably cope reasonably well and will turn more to her for comfort. And once your wife is well supported within her own resources and extended family, then the loss to your son will be minimised. At age two children are resilient enough and, once surrounded by love and support, can cope with big changes.
If you do have to move abroad, I would also focus on the choices you can make to stay connected with your son and family. For example, you may be able to negotiate a more family-friendly contract that allows you to travel home more often, every month, or for more extended periods. Or you could make a commitment to stay in touch daily with your son, either by making sure to call every day on the phone (even though chats with two year olds can be challenging) or even better use a video phone on the internet, which will allow you to see each other as you talk.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, June 2010. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.