When you get the call from your child – really a grown man/woman – saying they are off to some exotic third world country to work in humanitarian aid, your first thought is “what a wonderful opportunity. How exciting to see such a place and its people – to learn about different cultures and experience that wonderful new geography. They’ll have such great stories to tell when they come back. I’ll miss them but it won’t last forever.” This is reinforced by the positive response of friends and colleagues. “You must be so proud to know what a positive contribution they are making to those poor souls in need of basic support. It’s to your great credit”.
Then, the doubts emerge. People say, “aren’t you a bit worried about their health and safety? Isn’t there some conflict going on in that region? I wouldn’t like all those creepie crawlies and nasty diseases.” And, what about the risks of kidnapping and hardship, without access to civilised systems and processes. “What would you do if they get into serious trouble?”. You wonder why they can’t get a proper, more predictable, job closer to home?” So, you start to ask questions. “Where are you staying? Who are you going to be with? Have you got all the jabs you need? What about medicines, finance, insect repellents, clean water and suncreams? How do we contact you if we need to? Who’s in charge? Can we come and visit you?” All these questions covering the real one, “do you really have to go?”
Eventually, they’ve gone and you wait for an SMS or an e-mail or something to tell you they’ve arrived and what local facilities are like. Yet, you also dread getting a message – are they ill, hurt or, God forbid, missing? No news is good news. Each day gone by takes you closer to their return. On the one hand, knowing as much as possible about local conditions and what they’re doing helps you to picture what’s going on, however worrying. On the other hand, not knowing allows an illusion of ‘no need for alarm’ to develop. These contrasts between wanting as much information as possible but not wanting to hear about the real risks and uncertainties are what is really stressful: the emotional swings of the parental see-saw from pride to doubt.
Finally, they come back. You utter a great sigh of relief. And, now you hear all the amazing stories – the successes and failures, the laughter and the learning. It’s all so exciting and invigorating. You wonder where they get the strength and determination. You wish you’d been as adventurous when you were young. The photos fascinate you, glossing over the deprivation. Pride swells and a little jealousy rises at the same time. You tell everybody what a great impact they are having and how wonderful it is to hear their adventures … and to have them home again.
Pride comes before the fall. You get another call … “Oh no, you’re not really going to …. next” Here we go – back on the parental see-saw again.