My in-laws live in Seoul and visit us about once a year. Our relationship is fraught and complicated, but (hopefully) improving with time. Regardless, they love our two sons and I know they try their best to be good to us.
When my first son was three months old and I was returning to school to finish my last quarter of undergrad, my mother-in-law pretty much offered to take him to Korea with her for the next three months. She was worried I wouldn't be able to handle a baby and school. I, on the other hand, was so appalled at the very suggestion of living an ocean apart from my infant for three months that, in my shock, I blurted out rudely, "I would never do that!"
Fast forward a few years and now we have two sons who are four and nearly two. Every visit, my in-laws drop hints that in a few years they expect us to send the kids to Korea for the summer to stay with them. I know that, as much as they want to spend time with the children, they also think of this as a generous way of giving us a much-needed break. But, much as my reaction to my mother-in-law's initial offer so ungraciously showed, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea. As much as I think that spending a summer (or summers) in Korea would be a wonderful experience for my kids, I still can't imagine sending them anywhere without me. I can barely leave them overnight at my parents' house when Yubo and I manage to plan a night away for necessary romantic purposes. And not just because I miss them, but because they seem insecure and overly irritable for days afterward.
Is this just me being overprotective and overly attached? Perhaps. But, to be honest, I'm comfortable with that. Even if the idea of a whole summer without the kids is mildly tempting (freedom!), I'd still much rather spend that time with them than without them. And as someone who tries to practice attachment parenting, I have a hard time believing that young children benefit from being away from their parents for extended periods of time. I know that there are plenty of Korean American kids (including some of my friends growing up) who spent summers with relatives in Korea and they turned out fine blah blah blah, but I'm still not sold on the idea.
The first time I spent any time away from my mother was during my fifth grade week-long sleep-away wilderness camp. I cried on the bus as we left, clutching the patchwork pillow my mother had sewed for me in one hand and my best friend's hand in the other. I had so much fun, but I missed my mother so much it hurt.
The next time was the summer before ninth grade when I left to spend my own summer away in Korea. I stayed with my halmoni and I spent a few weeks under her watchful care while exploring the city with three of my friends who were also spending that summer in Seoul. It was a wonderful trip - taking the subway with my friends and without a chaperon was one of the highlights - but again, I missed my mother so much that I returned home a week early.
I know that my relationship with my mother was pretty unique (yes, I actually liked my mother), but I really believe that until my kids are older, they won't really enjoy being apart from me. Children need their parents to feel like their world makes sense. I have a hard time understanding the idea that young children are so resilient and portable that you can just send them away for a few months and they won't be worse for the wear. But, in fact, this is exactly what my in-laws think and expect. Yubo's cousin even spent several months of her toddlerhood in my mother-in-laws care when her mother was finishing her graduate degree. By the end of the stay, she was calling my mother-in-law "Uhmma" and, to this day, the older generation just talks as if this is a funny anecdote.
I want my children to know the history, culture and country of their family. I think that experiencing that will give them a better sense of who they are, where they come from and ultimately, a more complete sense of self in the world. But on the other hand, I don't think sending them away from us for a summer is the best way to give them a better sense of who they are in the world. And I won't even get into whether I feel comfortable putting my kids in my in-laws' care for an extended period of time (just return to the first paragraph and the words "fraught" and "complicated" for reference). So instead of sending my kids away for the summer at five or seven or ten years old, I think it would be nice if our whole family went to Korea for vacation someday. And then maybe when the boys are snotty teenagers who can't wait to get out of my sight, my in-laws can take them for a summer. (Or maybe not.)
What do you think? Would you send your young kids away to relatives for the summer? Did you yourself spend summers without your parents in Korea as a kid? Am I making much ado about nothing or do you too have a hard time swallowing the idea of your children half a world away from you?
[image: My eldest son's "first" trip to Korea, when he was still hanging out inside my belly, making me barf every few hours.]