Should I go on this trip to India -- without my kids?
January 9, 2017 3:22 AM   Subscribe

I am a doctoral student, and a chapter of my PhD would benefit from a week long visit to India. I have two very young children who are quite dependent on me, and I've never been to the developing world. Advice?

For Reasons, this trip (to Calcutta/Kolkata) would be need to be made in the next couple of months -- it's not absolutely necessary, but it would be incredibly helpful for my doctorate, and unfortunately can't be delayed given timing restrictions. (I also have special funding for the trip from my department.) By that time, my oldest kid will be three, and my youngest would be 10 months. I am still breastfeeding. I have an excellent husband who is willing to move heaven and earth to make this happen (i.e., he will probably take a few days off work at the very least). We also have childcare three days a week.

I guess this question has practical and emotional parts. First, practically, I'm still breastfeeding. Would pumping be a total disaster in India? I am happy to pump and dump, and give frozen milk (or formula) while I'm away. Also, how do I handle the separation (the first one?) My kids are really clingy to me, and though they obviously love their father, I am the "comfort" person. For example, this morning I was exhausted and wanted to sleep in a bit, and my older kid had a complete tantrum, screaming fit until I came downstairs to help her with her breakfast. She tells me "I love you Mama" at least 20 times a day. No, she is not spoiled, no we definitely have limits, she just really wants me around. I don't even know how to explain to her that I'll be gone for a week.

And then there's the emotional side. How will I handle this? I've never been to a developing country before, and it's not like this is a tour -- I'll have to find my own way around, get the info I need, etc -- I'll have some guidance but basically I'm doing this on my own. This terrifies me! I might have seen it as a fun adventure before I had kids, but now I keep worrying that I'll die or get really sick (unreasonable, I know), and leave my kids behind -- that it's a reckless and selfish trip. I suppose even apart from my kids, I'm just nervous about managing a trip entirely different to one I've ever taken before.

I was one of those people who thought that her life would not change drastically after kids and now laugh at the idea that I could do the same things I used to do before kids. At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity for me.

Any thoughts or advice? Thanks!
posted by caoimhe to Travel & Transportation around India (27 answers total)
When I read the post title, I thought you would be gone for a month. It's only a week: you should just do it! Yes, there will be emotions on both sides, but emotions are OK. You will not permanently damage your children or yourself.

Regarding the practical aspects: I suppose there will be people helping you in Kolkata? Otherwise find someone. Being all alone and feeling vulnerable in a huge city is never good.
And if you want to resume breastfeeding when you return, you will need to pump - another option would be to say it is a very good age to stop. My youngest stopped by herself at ten months. She is in every way more independent and more attached to her dad than her older sister, and that is a good thing IMO. Going away for a week might aid a similar development. My oldest daughter is a lot like yours, and though I love her dearly, I don't think I could have dealt with two equally clingy children. It's lovely that they are different.
posted by mumimor at 3:41 AM on January 9, 2017 [19 favorites]

India can be hard work to get around, so getting some help while you're there is sensible.

On the occasions when one of us had to go away and leave the kids when they were quite small, telling them (truthfully) "Dad has to go away for a week so I need you to help look after Mum and sibling. I'll miss you, but you will have each other and we'll talk on the phone".
posted by hawthorne at 4:14 AM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

This trip would be a no brainer for many people, but that you need to ask here on Metafilter tells me that you are not ready. Don't go. You won't make the most of India if your mind is constantly back home.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:27 AM on January 9, 2017

Go!! It might help the older one branch out on her comfort people to include daddy and, even in the event that it doesn't, you'll only be gone for a week.

Go, work hard, have fun, Skype/FaceTime home!

(My almost three year old daughter only had one meltdown when daddy -her absolute favorite- went on vacation for a week. My ten month old son didn't give a hoot. They were moderately excited to see him when he came home. My husband definitely missed them more than the reverse).
posted by lydhre at 4:31 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's only a week and will significantly help you finish a PhD? GO.
posted by emd3737 at 4:36 AM on January 9, 2017 [25 favorites]

Go! I went on a similar trip last summer. My kids were about six months older than yours at the time, I was still nursing the youngest (a lot...), I had never been away from them for more than overnight. I went and it was great. I did take the opportunity to wean, but I was ready (and I still had to pump for comfort). The kids were fine.

The worst part was that I didn't talk to them the whole week. I told my husband that if he thought it would be worse for them to hear or see me and not have me there, I'd respect that and he did end up thinking that (based on a two-day trip I'd made a month earlier). He sent me pictures daily and it was a little hard for me but we got through it and it really benefitted my work.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:49 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think it will probably be really hard for you and maybe for your kids too but: it's only a week. They will not remember this week a year from now, and you are an adult who knows it's only a week. I wouldn't go into it expecting to have *fun* but I don't think there will be any lasting damage.

So, go! If it's worth it to you!
posted by mskyle at 4:52 AM on January 9, 2017

Go! As a parent, the only thing I regret is how many opportunities I turned down (or participated only half-way because I kept leaving the room to FaceTime my kids half a world away) because I thought I needed to always be with my kids. Go.
posted by saucysault at 5:06 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

While I cannot help you with your children (good answers above, though), I can say that India is a country that will give you a culture shock. Whether you love it or hate it depends on you - think New York City at its busiest multiplied a few times.

Some questions:

1. Where will you stay? If its a comfortable hotel in a good locality, it will make your life a *whole* lot easier
2. Who will you work with? If its a Elite institution, its much easier since the campus, people etc will be no different from the US. If its a normal University, expect things to be a little difficult at first. If rural areas, be prepared to see some extreme poverty (Kolkata has lot of slums)
3. Food habits - if you like typical American food, with no spice, your choices are slightly limited, but there are plenty of American fast food chains to comfort you.

I have been to India multiple times (not Kolkata though), so please feel free to memail me if you need more info.
posted by theobserver at 5:10 AM on January 9, 2017


This trip would be a no brainer for many people, but that you need to ask here on Metafilter tells me that you are not ready

Or, alternatively, you know that this is a big hurdle for you and are looking for support in how to do it.

While it is true that you can't always do the same things once you have kids, a week-long trip to India is definitely something you can do. I think the key thing is making sure you have the support that you need. Ask as many people for help and support as you have to (both at home and abroad).

Give yourself this opportunity, not only for the sake of the opportunity itself, but also for the sake of learning how you can do this kind of thing now, in the context of being a parent.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:22 AM on January 9, 2017 [16 favorites]

As a person without children, it's easy for me to say go, but I DO think you should go since it is for a week and since it will help you finish your PhD.

I'd also try to reframe any guilt you're feeling in making the decision (or guilt you feel when you're on the trip if you decide to go) to knowing that missing a week with your children may make you MORE available to your children for MONTHS since your research will be further along, and you'll be that much closer to being done with your PhD. You'll be able to be more present with your children with the progress you've made toward your research and PhD.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:58 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am a super crunchy attachment parent. I'm still breastfeeding my 3 year old, we co-sleep, I'm the primary caregiver and she's not in school yet.

I took a 3 night/4 day trip when she was 20 months old. There are aspects that I would have done differently--I think that age was very difficult for her, because she was very attached to her routine but didn't have great concrete thinking/communication skills. I hand expressed way more frequently than anyone told me I should (most said that at 20 months I could get away with once a day/not at all but that would have been a recipe for mastitis for me). I probably expressed 6x a day and ended up dumping 24 ounces a day. My kid refused to take any milk at all at home and just drank a lot of juice. She had some wicked separation anxiety after that made the next few months very difficult. In some ways, I felt pushed and pressured toward going. I don't precisely regret it--it was a work trip and good for me--but I wouldn't go away from a kid that age again.

I'm going away again next month and my child and I are now able to talk about what's going to happen. I don't expect it to be perfect (she will probably have a few rough nights with dad) but she tells me that she plans to snuggle him to sleep. I'm going to plan to do morning google hangouts at a predictable time each day. We will watch the "grown-ups come back" episode of Daniel Tiger a LOT.

I think your kids are the perfect age for this and that if they have supportive care givers it will go very well. However, because I wish someone had said this to me: if your deepest heart is telling you that you're not ready yet, it's okay to choose not to, too. Honestly, I think the hormonal factors of breastfeeding can complicate it and make it a lot less great/freeing/liberating than it would be for other parents (I spent a big chunk of my trip weeping while hand expressing in my room). You have to do what feels right for you, and that might not be what would feel right for anyone else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

More practically, here are some ways you can talk to a 3 year old about this:
  • roleplay with dolls
  • Draw a list of things kiddo can do for comfort when you're not around (hug daddy, hug baby, hug a toy, sing a song, draw a picture to mail to Mommy)
  • Just chat about it casually: "If I went on a trip and wasn't here when you were sad, what could you do? Here are some ideas."
  • Watch Daniel Tiger, if you don't already. I STG that show has given my child a better emotional vocabulary than anything I've done independently. The "grown-ups come back" episode is episode 2, if I recall correctly, "Daniel's Babysitter."

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:03 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you done fieldwork before? It is tough, especially in a developing country. A week in a new place is, in my opinion, probably too short to get much out of it. Feel free to memail me to discuss more. I'd also suggest that you post this on the academic mamas Facebook group.
posted by k8t at 7:10 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

YES "Grownups come back" has been so so helpful to us and our toddler for an emotional vocabulary.

Pumping / dumping while traveling: bring lots of extra parts and batteries so you're not SOL if your valves rip or you have voltage issues. I actually found pumping while traveling to be both a hassle AND ultimately a welcome bit of meditation once I got going - just to sit still for 15-20 minutes after all the hustle of being on the road to space out or daydream or think about my baby. Kind of nice to schedule a few breathers throughout the day, and it's great not to have to also worry about adequate storage / transport of the milk which to me is the bigger stress.
posted by sestaaak at 7:14 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think you should go and you should decide now so that you can put as much time as possible into planning your trip to maximise its value. Talk to your supervisor asap to discuss what you need to do to get the most out of the trip in terms of planning access to people, getting things in place, taking advantage of your department's contacts etc. Basically what k8t says, it would be easy to get not much out of this and you need to use someone else's hardwon experience to try and get over hurdles before you get there.
posted by biffa at 7:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Go. Your kids won't even remember you were gone a few weeks after you come back and it will give them time to really get to bond with Dad instead. You are going to have to leave them at some time, a week when Dad is able to pick up the slack & it's not an emergency is the best time. Don't ring too much but keep in touch, ringing every night will just remind them you're not there, but as sestaaak said kids need to learn adults can go away but will come back.

Be casual about it around your kids, they will pick up your stress. Make sure Dad knows any part of the routine he's not already aware of & get him to stick to it as much as he possible can when you are gone, it's the change that bothers kids more than anything, keep everything else as "normal" as possible. You might also want to start moving some of the routine over to Dad now before you go so that it's the new normal already and not a sudden change.
posted by wwax at 7:35 AM on January 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

I was just in Calcutta doing [very superficial, exploratory] research for a [quasi-] academic project! I don't have kids, and I'm a fairly experienced traveler, but I'm also shy and I'd never been to India before, though I did have the help of my partner who speaks decent Hindi. It was a really nice trip.

Logistically speaking, I used Uber a lot while I was there. I'd never used Uber before (and don't in the States as a matter of principle), but it's affordable and took all the stress out of negotiating with auto [motorized rickshaw] drivers. You can also use Ola, a homegrown ridesharing app. I also--ick, so-called sharing economy--stayed in an AirBnB in Tollygunge and the host was so solicitous and friendly, calling three or four times just to be sure I was finding my way around and didn't have any trouble; it reminded me much more of the hospitality I've encountered using Couchsurfing over the past decade than any AirBnB experience I'd ever had in the States. The metro is easy and straightforward, and if you'll be taking it regularly you should just get a stored-value card. You may be able to get an affordable sim card at the airport with Airtel if your phone is unlocked/GSM-friendly (I know you can at the airport in Delhi), and it's invaluable to have Google Maps and bus/metro directions at your fingertips, but otherwise it might be worth it to pick up a cheap smartphone in Kidderpore if you're tech savvy and a very good haggler, and know what a good price is in advance from internet research. (But really, I'd ask friends in the States if they have an old GSM phone kicking around they'd share for a week or so.)

My primary worry about your trip is that a week isn't very long! Look, you're going to be jetlagged and out of it for the first couple days, and you'll want to spend a day or two sightseeing. Also, even though Calcutta isn't an especially large city, the sheer hustle and bustle of the urban streetscape in India is often tiring and you should be sure to build in some downtime for yourself to recover and keep your mind sharp! I'd suggest staying for at least 10 days; any few extra days will be invaluable for a research period so brief, so give your future self this gift now. :)
posted by tapir-whorf at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

The kids will be fine, and to be honest, you not being there as a backup will make it easier for Dad to do the soothing duties in the future. Because you are both the parents.

The milk: Is it possible for you, given your current supply, and your plans for weaning, to stockpile enough milk to basically stop nursing completely after you leave? Because maybe using the trip to switch could be helpful for you (you'd still need to pump and dump, but not often enough to maintain supply, just often enough to keep you comfortable, I guess).

India: as said above, it's a different place. But you're only going for a week. The internet is full of advice for Westerner's visiting India for the first time, but I think that if you are reasonably paranoid about where/what you eat and drink you won't get sick and you definitely won't die.

Have fun!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:13 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wait, are you planning to wean soon? If you're not, it's okay not to use this trip as a reason to wean. I know weaning trips are often touted as the best way to wean, but cold turkey weaning can be very hard on some moms emotionally and hormonally. Adding your first major separation from your kids to it is a lot. I'd say that you want to make sure that you have options if you can't get to a power outlet or your body doesn't respond well to a pump. I had an electric and a hand pump with me when I traveled and could only get a few drops out with either. I was very glad that I knew how to hand express, because my boobs were hard as rocks. My supply did take a hit, but with a 10 month old (or older) they'll be able to easily rebuild it when you return from your trip.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

My family is from Calcutta and I went many times as a child. It's a super-intense city and as a Westerner/First Worlder, you'll see a lot of open poverty far beyond anything you've seen before and insane traffic and yes, it will be an eye-opening and extremely different experience. But certainly don't worry about dying or anything like that. Be careful with what you eat, take your malaria medication, look both ways before crossing the street and maybe, stay in Western hotels, if that makes you more comfortable. In terms of sexual harassment and violence, Calcutta is known to be a significantly safer city than North Indian cities like Delhi (though I think you will likely stand out a bit more than you would in Delhi, as there are far fewer expats). The first time I went, I was a four-year old who had never left the US before. My brother and sister-in-law are planning on taking their infant daughter there in a few months. You won't die and if you take normal precautions, you likely won't get sick beyond traveler's diarrhea.
posted by armadillo1224 at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2017

On the non-childcare side of things: I agree with others that a week is a very short time for fieldwork, but if you are just going to do a couple interviews and you have those lined up ahead of time it could certainly work. It might even be too short for archival work, although if you know the archive you want is well-organized I guess that could work, too.

I would advise you too get in touch with some grad students (ideally at your university, even another department is fine) who have already worked in India. They can put you in touch with another academic who's already there, or give you local academic contacts, and that kind of thing makes everything much easier. I do research in a developing country and it's not at all unknown to get emails out of the blue from people in other departments or universities asking me how I went about my research, or for tips on how to get contacts or do practical things, etc. An academic listserv (try an H-Net one devoted to South Asia or India or even West Bengal in particular, if there is one) could also be a good place to get feedback on your research plans or to look for practical research tips.
posted by col_pogo at 9:01 AM on January 9, 2017

If at all possible, I would suggest taking a shorter trip somewhere local for 2-3 days before this trip, so that both dad and kids experience mom being gone for a few days before you leave for a whole week.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:09 AM on January 9, 2017

I think only you can decide and a lot of people have given you some good things to think about so I am just going to relay my work travel with kids experience.

When my littlest was 15 months I took 3 work trips and it was okay. She was always super clingy and I think I secretly worried that she would bond too much with daddy but when the traveling was over she went right back to being mama's girl. When I was away my husband reported she asked for me but when told I was away she was fine. She was weaned at the time so I can't speak to that aspect. Older daughter has always been totally okay with us traveling.

When my husband travels I hear "I miss daddy" sometimes but kids are okay.
posted by MadMadam at 10:30 AM on January 9, 2017

Go if you have to. However as a woman, alone, please be very careful in India, it is a highly unsafe place for women and is only getting more so (there is a lot of groping/molesting in public spaces like trains, buses, markets etc) and do not get into autos after dark just by yourself (or taxis). There is a special phone number for foreigners to call police in case of trouble (you get more prompt attention in case you need help)
Regarding poverty, there is a lot of that but you will see a lot of resilience amongst people who struggle daily in their lives. Calcutta will be very overwhelming but also interesting.
posted by metajim at 12:40 PM on January 9, 2017

I did an academic program when my oldest kid was 2 that required 4 weeklong on-site stays. I was initially really apprehensive but it didn't really faze my kid at all. He was a little sad (but not inconsolable or anything) the first day, then he got used to the idea that I was away but I would be coming back soon and that was pretty much it. The rest of the week he was happy to see me when we Skyped but otherwise he was enjoying the time with Daddy. I've always found that my kids are clingy circumstantially--if someone is around but not paying attention to them, they get clingy. If that person is not there, it's not a big deal. (My younger kid puts on a big performance every day at daycare dropoff and then as soon as we're actually out the door he's totally fine and just goes and starts playing with one of his classmates.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2017

Go. If it'll be incredibly helpful to your dissertation, go. Because a week trip there could save you months of work down the road, if not more, if something comes up when you're finishing writing, or getting ready to defend, or doing revisions. Think of this as an investment for your future, and also your family's future, especially if it cuts down on any stress later on.
posted by umwhat at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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