“Where is Daddy?” Supporting a Toddler’s Need for her Traveling Daddy


“Where is Daddy?” is one of the most common queries around our household lately. Well, that and “Why is it nighttime?”

The first is a much simpler concept, but certainly harder on the heart.

My husband travels for work and is out of town about 60-70 percent of the year. This can mean he is gone for weeks, even months at a time, or dashes in and out a few days each week. We are extremely grateful for his ability to provide for our family, but handling the separation is an ongoing struggle for me as a wife and mother. For our three-year-old daughter LillieMarie, the absences are nearly traumatizing.

So what do you do to keep a child assured of his or her daddy’s or mommy’s love when one parent is on the move more than at home? When your child is a melting puddle of “I miss my daddy!,” what’s the best answer for comfort?

Our answer: It’s complicated…and we are doing our very best.

Where IS Daddy?

A three-year-old’s concept of space and time isn’t exactly the easiest to reconcile with such questions. So, I’ve tried the most literal method I could think of for tracking our states-trotting family member: maps and stickers and lines that follow our daddy everywhere! I bought an USA Dry-Erase Decal Map that fills up nearly an entire hallway. The only requirements were that it needed to be big enough to see all the small cities that make up each state, it had to be markable multiple times, and we needed to find some of those cutesy removable stickers to make it even more interactive.

Let’s follow Daddy:

Daddy is given a sticker at the beginning of each trip, usually a purple fairy door. Each day, we move that fairy door to daddy’s current location, leaving a place-holding sticker in the city he just left. Then we draw a dash, zigzag, curly, or otherwise creative line to connect his past location with his present. In other words, we create a gigantic treasure map where daddy is always the treasure and we are following the clues to where he is.

LillieMarie seems to be interested in this more on some days than others, but on the days where she really needs to know where daddy is, our daddy tracker has become a life saver. For the moment, she isn’t interested in knowing states or capitals or interesting facts, but I’m hoping to introduce ideas about weather, geography, and history as we progress along this mapping journey.

Other things we mark on the map:

Our home is always marked with a pink fairy door, her grandparents’ home is usually a large flower of some sort, and her favorite cousin in Ohio is marked by an actual fairy. This way we can say, “Look how close daddy is to Grandma and Grandpa,” or “Daddy can wave to Aunt Lizzy as he goes by!”

An obvious solution is getting creative with technology:

It will surprise no one that FaceTime (or other visual communication tools) are paramount in connecting our little one with her daddy. But how do you get the best bang for your digital buck? Daddy doesn’t always have much time, or often, strong enough internet service for long chats. So far, we’ve come up with a few quick and impactful interactions:

1. Daddy reads us a book most nights.

This is a work in progress! The last trip out, I simply held the phone up so daddy could read the words from the book, but that can be challenging as angles, camera lenses, and the itsy-bitsy script of toddler books intermingle.

So, this next round of traveling, I’m going to get him a copy of five of her favorite books. This way, each night he can read one and we can follow along. I am hoping this will help keep the “move the camera a bit to the left,” from disrupting the story.

2. Daddy plays Go Fish!

We’ve started playing a toddler version of Go Fish! that allows her daddy to join in. Everyone lays out their hand so that it is easily seen by all present — whether digitally or physically — and daddy can play with a little help from his super special assistant, LillieMarie. I’m going to start finding more games that lend themselves to digital participation. What games would you suggest?

3. Daddy watches us play.

On the rare occasions where free time and internet play nicely, I often just hold the camera steady, stream daddy’s image onto our Apple TV, and let the two interact. LillieMarie will show her daddy all her new “nesting” tumbles (aka gymnastics), cook him something yummy in her little kitchen, or talk his ear off about the time “the Grinch stole her muffins.” (In case you were wondering, the Grinch really loves Lillie’s blueberry muffins.)

Lastly, but perhaps paramount, is repetition: “Daddy loves Lillie.”

The final trick in my arsenal to fight off the daddy-is-traveling blues, is simply to remind LillieMarie as many times as I can every day just how much her daddy loves her. To remind her just how much he is sacrificing for his family to keep us in a house with clothes, shoes, and, yes, muffins. Every time I say, “I love you,” I always add “and Daddy does too.”

What does your family do? I know we aren’t the only ones with a loved one who travels for work or for service. What are ways you keep each other sane and connected?


  1. Awesome idea Becca! I love all the above tips as they serve dual purposes. The “let’s follow daddy” program not only connects Lillie and Andrew but it also promotes early learning of Geography, English and Technology.

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