My oldest son, Hunter, had begun having a very hard time when his father left for work in the morning. Each morning, he would scream, fight, threaten, and hold on to his dad, crying and pleading with him, physically trying to keep him from leaving. At times, if I was in the other room with his younger brother, he would unlock the door and chase after his dad.
I was noticing that our mornings after my husband had left were getting more and more challenging, with my son sulking, fighting with me and his brother more than usual, and taking a long time to get out of his “funk.” I tried Staylistening with him many times, as his father was saying goodbye and after he had gone, but he just felt stuck. I decided to try a playful approach.
One day, after nap, we were lying in our big family bed–Hunter, his brother Dominic, and me. I said to Hunter, “How about you pretend to be Daddy, and I’ll be Dominic.”
He seemed a bit unsure, but said “OK,” and looked at me, waiting to see what our game was about.
I reached out to him, and said, pleading, “Daddy, don’t go to work! Don’t leave, Daddy!” A big smile spread across Hunter’s face.
“No, I have to go to work now,” he said, getting out of bed and walking toward the door, “You have to stay here.”
I reached for him, grabbing the back of his shirt, but he slipped out of my grasp, and began laughing. “No, Daddy! Stay here! I won’t let you leave!” I cried. I got up and chased after him, and he pulled me back into the bed.
“You have to stay in bed, Hunter. Here, I’ll sit with you,” he said. He sat next to me, and as soon as I was back under the covers, he started again, “I have to go to work now.”
By now Dominic had begun to play the game too, and both of them laughed harder and harder as I struggled and cried, begging them not to go. We played this way for a long time, and then Hunter spontaneously began the game again several times throughout the afternoon. We had a lot of fun with it.
The next morning, I stayed close to see what would happen when it was time for my husband to go to work. He said his goodbyes, and Hunter whined a little bit, telling him he wanted him to stay, but his father kissed him and said that he would be home for dinner, and then walked out the door without a fight. Hunter turned around and looked at me with a smile on his face, and said, “I have to go to work now!” and the game began again.
Over the next several days we played this game all day long (or so it seemed). The boys couldn’t get enough. In that time, the morning goodbyes became easier and easier, and our days together filled with laughter. Still, many months later, Hunter or Dominic will bring up the game, and play it with just as much enthusiasm as they did the first time. I notice that it gets dusted off more often after one of them has been having a hard time with goodbyes, with anyone they’re close to. I have really come to appreciate how wonderful it is to be there for my kids while they are working through something hard, and being able to stay light and playful with it. It has also give them the power to bring up their feelings around separation in a safe way, whenever they want to.