Whether you’re separated due to work, divorce, sickness, or anything else.
Did you know that 72 percent of moms in the U.S. work full-time or part-time jobs? Whether you’re a working mom or a working dad, leaving your little one at home or school while you head to the office can be hard. And it’s even harder for those of us transitioning back to the office after almost a year working from home.
That was the inspiration for the new children’s book Wherever You’ll Be, by Ariella Prince Guttman. The first iteration of the story was actually a poem that Guttman wrote for her daughter, Amalia, when she was just a few months old and Guttman was returning to work after maternity leave. The book addresses the unique challenges that working parents face when they’re separated from their kids, but it also aims to tell children that a parent’s love is just as strong even when they’re not around.
Although the book focuses on a mother and daughter, its message is endless and could apply to a grandparent who lives far away or even a divorced parent who can’t be with their child every night at bedtime.
We spoke with Guttman about why she decided to write this book, how it’s taken on a new meaning since the Covid-19 pandemic (and since she’s had a second child — a baby boy named Adam), and how her own daughter responded when she first heard it.
KCM: What first inspired you to write this book?
Ariella Prince Guttman: I actually first wrote it as a poem to Amalia when I was commuting to work and she was just a few months old. We moved just after she was born, so my commute was pretty long, and that added even more time to the day that I was away from her. It’s difficult going from being with your child 24/7 to then going back to work full time, and it was a transition that I personally needed to work through. Writing to her helped me do that. Kids are pretty resilient, especially at that age, so I think it was really more for me than for her.
Why did you decide to transition the poem into a story?
I didn’t really see any content out there that expressed exactly how I was feeling, and I thought that if I was feeling that way, then other parents might be too. This was before the pandemic, but now that children are returning to school and parents are returning to work, that separation is happening again. It felt like a really great time to share the story, and hopefully, help parents and children reconnect at the end of the day.
The book illustrates not only what the little girl is doing with her day, but also what her mom is doing. Were you hoping to open the door for conversations about how mom and dad have responsibilities outside of the home?
I think it’s important for our kids to know what we do all day. I want my kids to know that while they’re at school, mom has her own day too. Mom is going to learn new things, and practice new skills, and interact with friends and coworkers — there’s actually a lot of similarity in the way we spend our day. It’s not like mom just disappears all day until pickup — she’s doing her own thing, and that’s great. And then hopefully we can come together at night and talk about our days together.
How did Amalia react when you first showed her the book?
I didn’t share it with her until I had a copy of the book in my hands to physically show her, because I felt like that would be the best way to have her understand it. So much of the story is told through the beautiful art and illustrations. Once I could physically give it to her and turn the pages with her we really dove in and enjoyed it together. She sees herself in almost every book we read together. If there are four characters in a book, she’ll choose one to be mommy, one to be daddy, one to be her new baby brother Adam, and one to be her. She did have one critique of the book though — the little girl in the book has a dog, and so of course she took the opportunity to explain that we should probably get one, too. I had to be like, “listen, I don’t think we’re ready for a dog right now. You just got a new baby brother. One thing at a time.”
This book is specifically about a mom who is separated from her daughter because she is at work, but it seems like the message could resonate with a child whose parents are divorced, or even if a parent has passed away. Is that something you considered when writing it?
I was very much writing it as my own experience, but I think however people connect with it is great. Maybe your work looks different from the mother’s type of work in the book, or maybe you’re separated from your child for another reason — my hope is that the book opens the door to a discussion that helps kids understand that parents feel a constant, resonant love for their kids, no matter where they are.
How did Amalia react when she found out you were having another baby, and what is their relationship like?
They love each other so much. It’s really the most incredible thing to witness. Adam is almost one, so they’re almost exactly three years apart. When we brought him home, it was love at first sight. They just adore each other. They play together so well, and she’s always offering him toys or trying to share her things with him. He’s always looking around for her, and he just perks up when she comes into the room.
For parents who work long or unconventional hours, it can be hard to make time for your kids. What advice do you have for parents who are struggling with that?
It can be really difficult, but I think there are ways to integrate yourself into your child’s life. Maybe it’s a daily video call, or a voicemail that you leave for them to listen to when they get home, or a note that you put in their lunchbox that they can find when they get to school. When Amalia was little, she often wouldn’t be awake when I had to leave for work in the morning, so we would video chat when she woke up and I was walking from the train to work.
That way it was almost like I got to be there with her when she was eating breakfast, or picking out her clothes. I would take that time to tell her what I was looking forward to doing with her when I got home. It made those moments that could potentially have been mundane feel really special, like it was our time just for each other.