We're Spending the Holidays Away From Our Kids, and This Is How It Feels

I'm doing what's right, but I miss my kids and work with my therapist to make sure I'm making sound decisions and working through emotions in a healthy way.

Handsome young African American man, celebrating winter holidays alone at home with a glass of white wine, smiling and talking to his friends and family using a digital tablet computer

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This holiday season will be different for me. It’s the first time I’ll spend it away from my three children. My kids (ages 19, 20, and 23) are with my ex-wife in Wisconsin, and I'm currently living in Medellin, Colombia. 

Despite the emotions of being away, I know I'm doing what's best for my life by putting myself first. I'm here in Colombia, where the cost of living is much cheaper than in the United States, and to figure out what's next in life now that I'm an empty nester—my kids are in college. I battle guilt and feel like a bad parent who's selfish. I miss my kids every day, especially around the holidays. I have many fond memories of them being younger and opening gifts they asked for all year—the joy was worth the sacrifice to afford everything. 

Sometimes you can lose some of your identity being a parent if you don't pursue personal goals. This is my time to live outside my role as a dad. It's a time when I'm getting clear on what I want for the rest of my life. I'm doing what's right, but I miss my kids and work with my therapist to make sure I'm making sound decisions and working through emotions in a healthy way.

More Black Families Are Away for the Holidays

The holidays come with many moments that bring families together, but not every family will experience these moments. People spend the holidays away from their families for various reasons, including work expectations and living far away from loved ones. Black and brown people are overrepresented as essential workers in at-risk jobs. Systematic inequity means Black families often have to miss holiday gatherings to make ends meet. 

Cultural holidays, like Kwanzaa, demonstrate that family and community hold particular importance in Black families. Individuals may feel that being away from their family conflicts with their culture and traditions, making it even harder for Black families to be away from their loved ones during the holiday season. Further, research shows Black families face an additional risk for “the holiday blues” with limited support access. Spending the holiday season away from loved ones may intensify this.  

Some Black parents will spend the holidays away from their children, and the emotions of it are grunting-wrenching. 

Distance Affects Families Differently 

"I feel sad that my son, age 13, is away from home for the holidays," says mom Jennifer Hall. Her son is spending this holiday season in Greece with his father, who is stationed there in the U.S. army. The two are divorced. 

"When he was younger, we would spend Christmas together by decorating the house, ordering takeout food, and watching all of the Christmas movies I watched growing up: Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the epic A Charlie Brown Christmas,” says Hall. “As he gets older and starts to explore the world (hence being in Greece with his father), I understand that some of the traditions we had will no longer be our "normal." He's of the age where only dad can teach him 'man stuff.' So I respected his wishes, and he's with dad now. This will be a tough holiday season without him, but I want him to have what he needs." 

Some parents are away from their children during the holidays for personal reasons, and some are because they have to be. 

Technology Makes Distance Shorter

Having to be away is tough, but access to today's technology gives Black parents an option to stay in touch. Regular Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime video calls can do wonders for a parent's soul. 

Despite the emotions of being away, I know I'm doing what's best for my life by putting myself first.

Parents can call their children and be with them during those special moments. They can feel as if they're there and experience the closeness in a way that was impossible in the past. Black parents may have to work harder due to systemic challenges, but they can be there uniquely. 

Therapy Helps

“Separation from their parents is very impactful on children and teenagers. Children miss their parents when they are apart and often do not understand why they aren’t together,” says Dr. Samantha Madhosingh, PsyD, a professional coach, and certified psychologist.

“If a child feels a misguided responsibility for the separation or feels abandoned by their absent parent, mental health and behavioral problems may result. Parents can mitigate these risks by clearly explaining that the child is not responsible for separating and maintaining regular contact. In other words, be as present as possible even if you can’t be physically present,” says Dr. Madhosingh.

If you’re a parent away from your children during the holidays, talking to a professional through therapy could help you get through the hard times. 

Hug Your Children a Little Tighter This Holiday Season 

If you're fortunate to be able to spend this holiday season with your children, hug them a little tighter. Realize that you're in a position millions of Black parents would like to be in but aren't able to. 

Spend this holiday season focused on loving on your kids and appreciating how the holidays can bring families together despite life's challenges. 

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