When I was growing up, my mother traveled frequently for her work. Sometimes, she was away for just a few days. But more than once, she was away for several weeks at at stretch. This was, of course, before texting, Skype or even flat-rate long distance. So contact with her when she was away was limited to short phone calls every night.
Oh, how I missed her! And how I hated to see her go and how I loved to see her come back. After she got back, she’d hand over brochures from the interesting places she had visited. She told me stories about work, answered my endless questions: what did you eat? What’s it like in a taxi? What did you do between dinner and bedtime? And she would hand us a gift — for a few years, a series of pencil sharpeners disguised as old-fashioned tools and machines. The sharpeners were random (we had an electric one at home) but I know now they were her way of saying being away from me felt a little crappy to her, too.
They were guilt presents. And parents are still giving them.
The New York Times looks into the pros and cons of travel gifts.
Some experts think these gifts make a child feel entitled to something every time the parent goes away. Or parents use them to assuage their guilt and one-up their spouse. In the latter two cases, other experts say your messing with the parent-child power dynamic and what should be a fun way to connect becomes messy and weird.
But the Times gets at the bottom line:
The truth is, presents or no, business trips can be difficult for families, and for children in particular. They may fear for their parent’s safety in far-away, unknown places, and worry, if only unconsciously, that they may be abandoned once their parent has left home.
“We have this notion that we should protect children from hard times like these,” said Ms. Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute. “But children wouldn’t learn how to be grown-ups if they didn’t learn to deal with hard things,” including a parent’s temporary absence.
True! But not always easy. I pined for my mother in a way that my sister never did during these business trips. I never got used to her absences, even as a teen.
I haven’t been away from my kids long enough to warrant picking up a gift, but I know that time will come. And I plan to do what my mother also did: send letters in the mail. Sure, I’ll email and text and call and all that. But a hand-written letter? With poems and sketches and her usual smiley-face signature? Totally the best. I even still have a few, which is more than I can say for the pencil sharpener in the shape of a gramophone.
Do you bring back travel gifts? Do your kids demand them?