If there is one person who is definitely flourishing during
my mom sabbatical, I'd say it is my son. During the last few months, my
son's father has taken on the role of primary parent, and I've witnessed my son
taking steps that I would have thought were out of reach. Working as many hours
as I am and being away from him can feel overwhelming. But when I see his
progress, it's hard to deny the very tangible benefits of our new living
Our son has Down syndrome and his progress has always been
visible, yet slow and measured. He does everything in his own time, which is
often incompatible with that of his peers. Before last year, he had been with
me 80 percent of the time. I had him in occupational therapy for academic
progress, speech therapy for language development, and behavioral therapy for
challenges in this area. We did this for years, but in a few short months with
his dad, he has substantially progressed in every area. I know every situation,
child and family are unique, but here are a few ways my kid has benefited from being
away from mom.
My son has much more autonomy with his father. He is able to
make choices for himself and exercise those choices without adult interference
(when appropriate of course). In general, fathers seem to hover less than moms,
giving children the opportunity to explore and discover themselves and the
2. Respecting Boundaries
Boundaries set by fathers seem to be more immutable than
those set by mothers. My son's father has set a rule that our son can no longer
watch YouTube without adult supervision. My son now self-regulates and will share this rule freely even when I'm not privy
to the new boundaries.
3. Academic Achievement
I'm not sure what it is about his father's ability to make a
request and get a result—maybe it has to do with wanting to please or to get
love and acceptance. Whatever the case, my son has started reading sight words
in the last several months. His language is clearer. And he is able to ask for
what he wants in order to get his needs met. He mimics his dad, and as a result
is exhibiting mature behaviors that further his academic achievements.
4. Father-Son Bonding
My son has grown attached to his father and prefers his
company to mine, and yes, there are moments when it's not easy to stomach. Long
car rides with endless streams of tears and begging to go back to daddy wrench
me. And it also soothes me to know he's happy with his dad. He soon gets over
the tears, and we have a great time.
5. A Strong Advocate
I hate to say it, but advocating for our son through the
medical, educational and state systems often had me frustrated and even in
tears. It was a full-time job for me that often got the best of me. My son's
father has been an advocate for children in foster care for over a decade. He's
able to apply his professional training to the personal experience we have with
our son. He sees a need, understands the protocols, and moves toward goals. He
builds teams to support our son's development. He never calls me crying (the
way I called him on more than one occasion.)
6. Emotional Well-Being
My son no longer is witness to my crying bouts and depression. There were times when I just couldn't control my sadness and the tears that often accompanied it. I could see the concern and even fear in my son's eyes as he'd watch tears stream down my face. "Mommy why are you crying," he'd ask. "I'm sad and scared, sweetie."
I never wanted to hide my emotion from my son because I think it's good thing for kids to see the range of emotions in their parents. However acute sadness is overwhelming for an adult, so I'm sure my son had enough to last a life time in the past year. Some days I had to remind myself that I was an adult and capable of pulling it together because that's what is needed when you're caring for a young child. Our time apart has given me space I need to feel all my emotions and know that my son is in the care of his dad who isn't likely fighting tears during any part of the day.