How weird is a father-daughter road-trip?
July 15, 2009 7:09 PM   Subscribe

[ParentFilter]: Quick survey of parents - how weird do you think it is for a father to take his toddler-age daughter on a long weekend trip to visit family, while the mother stays at home?

I'm taking our 2-1/2 year old daughter from our home in Philadelphia, to Chicago, for a long weekend to visit my brother and his kids, and to bum around my alma mater for a day (U. of C., Harold's Fried Chicken, Obama's house, etc.). At the time I booked the trip, my wife wasn't keen on going and was interested in the time alone.

However, the closer we get to departing, the more unhappy my wife is about this plan. This would be the first time she's ever been away from our daughter for more than 6-8 hours. During our discussions about it, in addition to telling me how nervous she's going to be, she also indicated that she "didn't know any father who took his child away from his mother like this." Ultimately, we agreed that the trip would proceed.

However, I was wondering whether or not what I'm doing is really that unusual! I think this trip is fine, and hope that as my daughter gets older, that we'll have plenty of occasions where she can accompany me to interesting places. As it stands, we're going to visit family, and my wife has already taken our daughter away for a few days without me.

So, MeFite-parental-units ... what do you think? Weird? Normal? Somewhere in between?
posted by scblackman to Human Relations (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not particularly weird at all. One of my workmates just came back from a week away with his three boys, the youngest of whom is 2. His wife was happy to have the lot of them out of the house.
posted by rodgerd at 7:11 PM on July 15, 2009

It's not weird at all. My guess is that your wife really means that she's not thrilled with being away from her child for the longest she's yet experienced. You're not "taking her away from her mother." It's for a weekend.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:12 PM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

It's normal. I'm sorry your wife is anxious about this, but I don't think what she's saying in that case has any basis in fact. Call home often and have fun.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 PM on July 15, 2009

It's not weird.

The thing is, a mom and child are very emotionally tied and your wife is probably struggling with being away from your daughter. OTOH if she can relax, you are giving her a gift of time alone.

Frankly I'd be more concerned if she WASN'T a little rattled by the separation.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:15 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird at all....but neither is her reaction.
posted by beachhead2 at 7:16 PM on July 15, 2009 [7 favorites]

Motherly anxiety about being apart is normal. But so is taking your daughter with you on a short trip. Try to assuage her anxiety as much as you can, but, no, it's not weird at all.

The motherly bond can be mysteriously strong. I am reminded of hearing some comedian talk about this: "That child is flesh of her flesh! You're just some guy she met in a bar!"
posted by The Deej at 7:17 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Not weird.
posted by The World Famous at 7:17 PM on July 15, 2009

I can sympathize that she may be nervous, but I did it when my kids were little and certainly she's done it the other way. Nothing odd about it unless she's still breast-feeding which is going to be hard for dad to duplicate. I agree that you should call her a lot, just not while driving.
posted by GuyZero at 7:17 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird. In fact, giving each other permission to go on family trips without the other can be amazingly freeing. The first trip will be hard on your wife, but a fantastic bonding experience for you and your daughter.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:17 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird at all. I'd be respectful of her anxiety but it's I think it's a great idea and that plenty of other dads do things like this. Call often and always pick up the phone if she calls you.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:18 PM on July 15, 2009


In fact, works really well for separated/divorced couples all the time.

Plus, it's true, having your littlie wrest from your loving arms for the first, even with your permission or at your expressed request can be quite disconcerting, even emotionally painful, but this is an ideal time for her to do something that she wouldn't be able to because of parental duties - get drunk, run amok, stay up late. That sort of thing.

Perfectly normal, though. Absolutely.
posted by b33j at 7:19 PM on July 15, 2009

I'm a dad of a three-year-old and I just took him for a weekend to visit my parents. This is the first time I've done this, but most of my dad friends with similarly aged kids have done it already. It's totally normal.
posted by escabeche at 7:19 PM on July 15, 2009

Not a parent myself, but I don't think it's weird at all. I get that your wife is nervous having the kid out of her sight, but I'm rather flabbergasted that she'd say she "didn't know any father who took his child away from his mother like this." It sounds to me like she's speaking from emotion rather than reason, because if you try to look at that statement reasonably, it's completely sexist. Fathers already get a lot of crap from society for not being there enough, or not being competent relative to mothers... I dunno, I don't think it's cool at all for her to make you feel like you're doing something weird when you're being a good father. I'm sure she's just nervous and upset right now, but you might gently suggest that it's unfair to say things like that and of course you will look after your daughter well.

And fwiw, my father took me on family trips when I was young (I'm female) and my mom couldn't go for whatever reason. He was also a stay-at-home dad while my mom worked. The bottom line, for me, is that loving your kid, spending time with them, and taking them cool places is never something you should be made to feel weird about, regardless of gender.
posted by Nattie at 7:19 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Not weird at all. Like most everyone else said, your wife is just nervous about the separation from your daughter. I was a wreck the first time I had to go out of town and leave my son at home with my husband...
posted by jenny76 at 7:20 PM on July 15, 2009

Not at all weird. I went away with individual parents at this age (and earlier). And yay for dad/daughter time....I'm in my 30s and I still love mine!
posted by meerkatty at 7:24 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird at all, but because it's the first time away, her reaction makes sense.

I have been with people on their first time away from their kid (their first babysitter, even) and they're always nervous and weird about it. Makes sense.

The maternal-protect instinct is strong, for good reasons.
posted by rokusan at 7:32 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird at all. Perhaps you could reassure your wife by sending her a few pictures a day by e-mail or MMS of you and your daughter doing all sorts of cool stuff.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:35 PM on July 15, 2009

I have such a great and vivid memory of a trip my dad took me on when I was probably 4 years old. It was a long car trip, and I remember sitting in the front seat with my dad (no car booster seats back then!) and feeling very important to be "Going On A Business Trip". We ate pretzels and got very thirsty and stopped for drinks. The people he met with made a big fuss over me and all and all it was a very exciting adventure ... so much so that I remember it with great warmth and affection more than 40 years later.

Have a wonderful trip ... it's going to be good for everyone. I'm envious of your daughter for getting to go on a special trip with daddy, and as the mom of a toddler myself, I'm really jealous of your wife getting a whole weekend to herself!

Safe travels ..
posted by Kangaroo at 7:36 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

My father raised me and as a result I've always been senstive to the rights of fathers. She's your kid. This is a joint parenting enterprise. It's not weird/unusual/wrong for you take your own kid on a trip. Stand up for yourself, but also reassure your wife that you're in control and everything will be fine.
posted by bananafish at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps not all fathers in our society are interested in extended time on their own with their little ones, but this doesn't mean it isn't necessary, valuable, and a loving expression of bonding. I think that in situations where there is a two-parent household, it's nice to be able to spend focused, open-ended time with your small children where you have to rely on and hone your own tools without input from the other parent. It makes you a stronger and more creative parent and I believe that it is reassuring to your toddler to know that both parents can negotiate daily adventures well--it also contributes to your little one's ability to accept flexibility and changes in routine without anxiety.

You sound like your confident and looking forward to this trip, which means that you'll likely both enjoy it and have a lot of positive experiences come from it. Naturally, your daughter will miss mama, but the multiple new experiences and your ready love really will mitigate and manage her feelings--evenings and night/bedtime may be especially harder than usual, but I'm sure you will have developed a strategy by the second night that works well--if you even need it.

I so understand where your wife is coming from, and I deeply relate to that exquisite anxiety she's feeling. I have a son your daughter's age, and he seems so my baby still, so like he needs to be in my arms multiple times a day, and I still need to feel the weight of his little head against my shoulder throughout my day. What helps me is to hear him tell me about his day with papa, what they did, and how obviously exciting it was, and to imaginatively visualize my someday older son's relationship with his father and what it will likely be like given my partner's commitment and interest in spending lots of time with him now. I know that without giving my partner that time, now, may mean he is reluctant to take it back later when I'm "ready" to, because I could push him and his own relationship with his son away without realizing it.

Your wife may not be ready to be without her baby, alone, so this may be a good opportunity for a weekend with her loved ones and girlfriends and buddies. Toddlers give out a lot of love, and I totally feel the sad lonely lack without it, which grows into anxiety, which I express with irrational fear and sadness. For a weekend without the loves of my life, I'd want to be around those that I'm aching to have long, uninterrupted conversations with, or to do non-kiddo things with. It may seem tempting to be alone (oh the sleep I could have!) but it may be more refreshing for her to be busy with good people and activities, too. Think about how renewed you three could be upon the reunion--you wife having had fun and sleep, you having had bonding and adventures (and it will be important that you don't seem beat and complaining about the work of wrangling a toddler for a weekend, or that you tell gory stories about tantrums and difficulties--you would drastically reduce the chances this could happen again), and your daughter being both excited to see mama and brimming with stories.

And yes, send lots of camera-phone pictures, texts, call often, buy her presents, and flirt with her over the phone. Man, I wrote a lot here, but this is one of those little things that come up on metafilter that I feel that my own experiences may be helpful. You three have FUN.
posted by rumposinc at 7:45 PM on July 15, 2009 [9 favorites]

It's not only not weird, it's FABULOUS. It's the kind of thing very few dads even in our family's liberal, involved-fathers circle would do (so, I guess, yes, I would say it's unusual in that sense). I understand your wife feeling weird about her child being away from her, but she shouldn't let that stop you from doing this.
posted by not that girl at 7:50 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

All perfectly normal. I would only be concerned if your wife is making your daughter also feel like it is not normal; I hope she is expressing her anxiety mainly when you are alone. Your daughter should feel perfectly comfortable with it too (though missing mom is normal of course). When I went on a business trip to China when my son was 3, I was so anxious about being away that I planned my trip with the goal of getting back as soon as possible after the last meeting. Once I was there a couple days and kept hearing my son giggling over the phone and having plenty of fun with his dad, I realized I was missing a huge opportunity to sightsee and extended my trip so that I could actually see more than the inside of a conference room! Be reassuring and supportive and your wife will hopefully enjoy the "me" time that she was originally looking forward to.
posted by girlhacker at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2009

Totally super normal. I would be delighted (and a little jealous, in a good way) if my husband took my kid on a trip to see his family.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:16 PM on July 15, 2009

I'm glad you are staying sensitive to your wife's needs while also respecting the need for your daughter to have some special time with you. I think it is very important that your daughter doesn't see her mama sad or anxious about this. When you both go to buckle the little one in the seat, it would be nice if mama were very excited and positive about your trip so that your daughter doesn't see any tears.

Seconding the frequent pics and phone calls. My first weekend without my son was horrible, I was alone and didn't really want to do anything other than worry. I know this may sound silly, but I think it would be really nice if you made sure your wife had at least *something* planned while you are away so that she's not just fretting the whole time. Encourage her to go to dinner with friends, or pamper herself or just do something she can't do when the little one is home. Your wife will still have anxiety, but she will also be having some very important adult-time.
posted by Lullen at 8:22 PM on July 15, 2009

Somewhat related to what you've asked, OP: A friend of mine recently took his two young kids on a trip to see relatives, sans wife. He said that people kept asking "Where is their mother?" (in ways that suggested her absence meant something was amiss or at least out of the ordinary).

I find that kind of questioning very intrusive (and probably sexist), and I know my friend didn't like it, either. But just warning that you get may questions like that from nosy, insensitive strangers.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2009

I don't find it weird at all. Although: as a mother of a young child, I have to tell you something about my inner mental workings - if my husband were to take my son away for a while, though it would have to be much longer than a weekend, I would internally panic juuuust a little bit, and it has nothing to do with my husband's competency. He cares for our son alone a few days a week, so he knows what he's doing, and I trust him entirely. However... there is this little superstitious dread I get when boy is outta my care that I would never forgive myself if something were to happen to him while out of my sight. Sort of a maternal neurosis? Anyway, I fully admit this is nuts, and as such, I would never, ever mention it. The truth is, surrounded by loving carers as my kid is, he's just as likely to come to harm while in MY care as with anyone else.

I don't know where I was going with this, except to say that your wife may have articulated this, whereas I wouldn't. I wouldn't say a word because the fear is base-less and would hurt my husband. It's so sort of inate and silly a feeling, that I wonder that it might be primal?

Oh.... I should step aside for a second here to say that I think that if you hardly ever care for your child in day-to-day life, depending on her age, this fear may be more justified than what I'm talking about. If my husband didn't care for our son, then wanted to take him a long, long, way away, I would have an issue with that, probably.

Anyway, if this is what she's going through, the only way she can get over it is to go with you all. I think if she can't be satisfied - won't go, won't be happy about the situation - then she's just going to have to deal with her feelings appropriately. Travel and experiences like this are what make life great, and she can't expect your daughter to stay home until she's ready to go somewhere.

Can I also just say that I hope she realises that a really involved Dad, who can hardly wait to share the world with his kids, is a great partner and parent to have in your life. You guys will figure this out, but don't let things like this curb your enthusiasm.
posted by lottie at 8:24 PM on July 15, 2009

I took my children to visit my mom without my wife when my kids were 4, 3, and 2. Big Gunn and the little pop Gunns had a great time. It was as normal as could be. Only slightly weird part was changing diapers in airport men's room. My wife was anxious when we left but quickly relaxed. I think the fact that I was an active participant in feeding, bathing, changing our children up to that point made it a no brainer. I also got a lot of attention from the young flight attendants when I loaded three car seats onto the plane in the pre-board. They all came over during the flight to talk me up and to play with my kids.

Your wife is going to have to learn to relax or she will be in big trouble if she gets anxious everytime she is away from the kids for more than 8 hours. Get her a gift certificate to a day spa near your house for one of the days you are gone.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:34 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've taken my son to visit my mom by myself several times, no big deal.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:41 PM on July 15, 2009

Has your wife changed her mind about this because of any comments she's getting from friends/relatives/co-workers? It's possible that others are making her feel guilty about the separation.
posted by Joleta at 8:43 PM on July 15, 2009

Not only is it not weird, I think it's a good thing. Good for you because you get to hang with your kid (natch), good for the kid because she can learn what Just Being With Daddy is all about. You and your wife may be the best parenting team in the world for all I know, but you're still individuals, and your daughter should know you as such.

And it's good for your wife because she needs to learn to let go of the kid once in a while. Her worry is just part and parcel of being a mom. Call home frequently, especially during the first day/first 12 hours, and your wife will be much more relieved.
posted by zardoz at 8:47 PM on July 15, 2009

Another vote for totally normal. My son just turned three; my husband has taken our son on a trip to PA (we live in Maine) every fall since he was one, to visit my husband's brother.

You don't say this explicitly, but I get the feeling that she's a stay-at-home mom and you work and she's always the primary caregiver, and that maybe part of what she's feeling is that you won't take care of your daughter in the same way that she would .... that maybe she thinks you're doing it wrong. If this is true, I refer her to this recent blog post on a great site called Its Not All Mary Poppins, written by a daycare provider who is very wise about parents and kids and parenting dynamics.

I wonder if asking your wife fairly explicitly about your daughter's schedule, eating habits, letting your wife set out specific outfits and maybe even a written schedule for your daughter could help ease her anxiety? And, honestly?

Another tip for your wife from me: Have her say goodbye to your daughter when everyone is home, and then your wife leaves, and is gone until after you and your daughter have left. Trust me that its a lot easier on everyone this way.
posted by anastasiav at 8:48 PM on July 15, 2009

Not weird at all.

Think of it as a small, but important, first step in preparing your wife for the teenage years ...
posted by puffmoike at 8:48 PM on July 15, 2009

It doesn't matter whether or not other parents do this. They should. Kids benefit immensely from time alone with each parent. Reassure her that you'll keep in touch, tell her how much she deserves some personal time, and then enjoy your trip.
posted by decathecting at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2009

Dissenting voice: This is not totally normal. If I was only 30 months old, I would definitely think it was pretty weird to be dragged away from my mom and my toys for a lonnng weekend with my dad while he "bummed around" his old school haunts. It might make more sense if I was a little older.

Also, it doesn't really seem that cool to completely disregard your spouse's concerns. I know, everybody else here says: "Oh, she's just being nervous!" I'm not convinced. If any parent made any important decision about their child against their spouses's intuition or feelings, this would be an annoying test of their relationship.
posted by ovvl at 9:31 PM on July 15, 2009

Dissent: yes, a little on the weird side.

You can use nursing as a good barometer of how long babies and young tots expect and want to be away from Mom. Left to wean on their own, it tends to happen between ages 2 and 4. So 2.5 is a little on the young side for an extended separation for mother and child.

I agree that "Kids benefit immensely from time alone with each parent" and I have fond memories of going camping with my father while my mother stayed home. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this and as many people have pointed out, there are many good things going on here -- but 2 1/2 IS young to be away from Mom overnight. I would have told you to wait a year or two.

None of which is to say that you should cancel your trip; since she initially agreed I have to assume the dynamics are different here. Just -- it is young. If Mom changes her mind about going, bring her without complaint...
posted by kmennie at 9:37 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is there time for you to experiment with a first overnight? Before two or three overnights?
posted by dhartung at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2009

Totally Normal! I'm a Stay At Home Dad of 2 kids (4 and 2). We'll be taking our first trip without Mom next month and it's going to be great! Just be sympathetic with her with your baby mama's plight and everything will be fine!
posted by smithmac_99 at 10:01 PM on July 15, 2009

I don't think it's remotely weird for someone who's never been away from their child for 6-8 hours. I don't think the other commenters have considered this enough. Your wife and child have never been away for a full day or for overnight. And it's not that your wife is going's that your child is leaving the comforts of the family home, which might be harder for your child to deal with. That's a bigger experience than going to bed in her usual bed, having all her usual things around her and waking up in her home. I'm guessing that your daughter is not in daycare or with a nanny. So she may react differently than a child who's been separated from her parent on a daily basis since she was tiny....or than a child whose parents regularly have an overnight sitter/grandparent look after her and so on.

Most of the SAHMs I know in my community have never been away overnight from their kids, except for childbirth. About a fifth of them have been away for one or two nights...but their kids stayed at home with a caregiver or at the very familiar home of a grandparent or other close relative.

So I don't think it's weird for your wife to feel this way. It might have been better to start with just an overnight trip to test the waters.

And this isn't because there's something wrong with an involved dad or mom having a bit of a break or anything like that. It just has to do with what's the norm for your wife and child.
posted by acoutu at 10:07 PM on July 15, 2009

i did this all the time with my granddad. totally fine!

and also (a hyde parker speaking), you're not going to get anywhere near obama's house. there are like 4 kinds of security going on his block. if he's in town, don't even expect to get north of 52nd street.
posted by chicago2penn at 11:25 PM on July 15, 2009

I knew a couple once who left their young kids with grandparents when they went away - and then when the parents decided the kids were old enough to travel with them, they booked the kids into economy class while the parents flew in first class. That's weird. What you're doing sounds totally normal.
posted by crossoverman at 11:39 PM on July 15, 2009

Not only not weird, but totally cool. My dad took my brother and I on a two week road trip from Texas to GA and back when I was eight. Definitely one of the highlights of my childhood. Sure we had some separation anxiety at first (as did mom) but we got over it and had a blast.

Go and have fun.
posted by SoulOnIce at 2:09 AM on July 16, 2009

Thanks to everyone for the wonderful discussion. I think that this thread served as terrific confirmation for what I had observed and and how I had interpreted things. There's just something magical about the bond between mother and child - not that I wouldn't miss my daughter immensely if she was away for a couple of days, but I'd be missing her immensely from the comfort of the couch with my feet propped up, a good movie on, and a cold beer in hand. Fortunately, my wife and I have had time to discuss it thoroughly and she more than realizes that this is part of life, was going to happen eventually, etc. etc. While the idea of doing an overnight test (as opposed to the two nights away jump into the deep-end of the emotions pool) is a good one, alas I didn't think of it. Good advice though.

For those who were concerned about my wife keeping occupied while my daughter and I were away, I should note that her sister is happily leaving her two kids at home in VA and coming up to keep her company this weekend, so she'll have plenty to do. The idea of a gift certificate for a day spa is a great one, and something I'll do straight away. I'll tell the missus that it's courtesy of AskMe.

Again, thanks to all for a terrific thread! I've not been much of a user of AskMe over the years, but having a child seems to generates a bunch thought experiments and fun AskMe questions, if anything, to see how my peers relate to, or cope with certain situations.
posted by scblackman at 3:43 AM on July 16, 2009

Jumping in a little late to say this seems normal to me (but so does your wife's anxiety). My husband & 2-year-old daughter are currently camping while I'm stuck here going to work.

The first time we did something like this, I found it really difficult & cried quite a bit. Now that we're on our third or fourth trip, I find that I enjoy being able to watch a cheesy movie, catch up with my friends, & sleep through the night without someone waking me up.

Phone calls in the morning & just before bed are really helpful. Even just "We had a great night at the park & now we're having blueberry pancakes for breakfast!" (this morning's conversation) is enough to make me feel better.
posted by belladonna at 6:39 AM on July 16, 2009

The trip sounds like a great idea! Some of my best memories from my childhood were special trips with my dad. He started a tradition where he took each of us (myself + 3 siblings) on birthday trips when we turned 10, 13, and 16. The trips are over a weekend, just the padre and the birthday kid to a secret destination. He has a whole ceremony with envelopes by which he gradually reveals the trip details to the birthday kid -- it's a lot of fun. So yes, full steam ahead with your trip, I say!
posted by fantine at 6:50 AM on July 16, 2009

During our discussions about it, in addition to telling me how nervous she's going to be, she also indicated that she "didn't know any father who took his child away from his mother like this."

That's so weirdly worded. Sort of aggressive and blame-y.

How will your daughter be on the trip? When I was a small child around three, I would wake up crying for my mother when I went away with my grandparents once. I was a little bit of a wimpy kid and extremely attached to my mother. I was miserable with my mother.
posted by anniecat at 6:55 AM on July 16, 2009

your wife should realize she will have some perfect "me time" for herself....just remember all of the instructions that she gives you ;-)
posted by sandra194 at 7:24 AM on July 16, 2009

My husband takes our little kids on a road trip to visit family all the time, and I adore him for it. It'll be hard on your wife at first; could she plan something relaxing and enjoyable for herself to do while you're gone, something she couldn't do with your daughter around? (I do things like go to the movies, go out for dinner with friends, cook complicated meals, watch trashy TV, and work on big art projects. And sleep. Sleeeeep.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:48 AM on July 16, 2009

Not weird. Hand your wife a gift certificate for a day at the spa right before you leave.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 8:27 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

tl;dr. Not weird at all.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2009

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