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After a hospital separation, how do we get reacquainted?
Q: My daughter has been living with my father and stepmother for the past five months while I was sick and in the hospital. She is 2 years old and is coming home in one week; I am flying to get her. I am worried that she is not going to know who I am, even though I talk to her on the phone every day. Do I need to be worrying? She is our first and only child, and is very intelligent and aware of everything around her.
Sarah Kansas City
A: Yes, I’m afraid you do need to worry. But the good thing about worry is it helps you to do the right thing. Over the past five months, your daughter has no doubt missed you terribly. At age 2, she cannot understand your sudden disappearance. It doesn’t matter to her that you called and that you were sick: she is a 2-year-old. I would guess your daughter has attached herself to her grandparents. Your return to your daughter will excite her, but it will also mean losing two people who love her.

In your question, you stated, “I’m flying to get her.” This implies you will fly in, pick up your daughter, and fly out. If this is your plan, I encourage you to slow down and stay with your daughter and the grandparents for a few days. Your daughter needs some time to adjust to this big change. I think you will help your daughter a lot if you can approach her like I just descoted.

Once you are home, you will probably have a couple of nice days, but then your 2-year-old may become difficult. This is normal. Your child is upset that she lost you and she will be upset that she lost her grandparents, and she will be uncertain if she will be left again. So be patient, supportive, and loving instead of disciplining her because you think she is being bad. Your daughter will go through a period of adjustment. I’m sure you are feeling guilty, but it wasn’t your choice to get sick. You have done the best you could under the circumstances. And now you can handle your normal guilt feelings by understanding what all this means to your little girl and by helping her to adjust. I wish you continued good health and many happy days with your toddler.
Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist