How to make a 'connection bridge' between you and your kids when you're apart.

When it is time to be away from our children — whether that’s just for the day at day care or school or for longer periods of time for travel or a co-parent’s turn to have the children — we can still strengthen our connection with them.

I became focused on bridging the time I was away from my children because leaving them was ripping at my heartstrings!


GIF via "Despicable Me."

When it was time for me to go conduct a parenting presentation, even if it was just for an evening, one of my young ones used to have a complete meltdown. He’d start hanging on me while I was getting ready and even chase me down the street as I drove away. This was so stressful for him, the babysitter, and me too! I needed to find a way to teach him that I still loved him when I was gone and it was OK to be away from each other.

Thankfully, I discovered some techniques, which we worked on as a family and I passed along to my clients, that address the main reasons children hit the panic button or feel sad when their parents aren’t around.

Imagine creating a “connection bridge” to span the time when you are away from your child.

The three keys to successfully use a connection bridge are: preparing your child in advance that you will be apart, letting your child know the specific time when you will be together again, and using some sort of small object to “hold the connection.”

1. Prepare them in advance by filling their "tanks."

Fill your child's "tank" with love and attention before you leave. Photo via iStock.

A good bridge involves already having filled their “tanks,” which are imaginary containers that hold our children’s capacity for our connection. Each child has a unique tank that gets filled by their parent(s) through love, attention, and focused time together.

When our child’s connection tank is full, they are much more tolerant of separation. With a full tank, you can then add a time promise and an object for your child to remind themselves of your connection when you are apart.

And here's a tip: The first thing our family does every morning is gather on the sofa for snuggle time. When the kids start peeling away to play or eat, I know their tank is full. “Hitting the ground running” can drain everyone’s tanks very quickly and is the first thing I talk to clients about when they say mornings are their least favorite time of the day.

2. Young children can tolerate being away from their caregivers when they know exactly when they will see them again.

For little ones — as most young ones can’t tell time — use a marker they will understand like, “I look forward to seeing you right after circle time,” or “Daddy will be picking you up right after your afternoon snack.”

You can also use a calendar to mark out “sleeps” if you need to be out of town or they will be at a co-parent’s for a period of time. Note the day you will see them again on a calendar. If there is a family calendar where all the activities are posted, write in which day you’ll return.

"Daddy will be picking you up right after your afternoon snack."

Your child might feel upset and powerless that you need to be apart, so try to give some of that power back with choices (between two things). Perhaps ask, “I’ll see you again in three sleeps. Do you want to color that day in the calendar with a marker or put a sticker on it?”

Use technology to your connection bridging advantage when you are away overnight: programs like FaceTime and Skype are the next best thing to being with your children in person. In order to connect with little ones through the internet, rather than asking questions, which you are likely to get one-word answers to, walk around the room you are staying in with your computer to show your kids around. Children can find the view out the window and what the bathroom looks like very interesting!

For day-to-day separation like school drop off, try a banana note! Use a fine screwdriver to imprint a note into a banana skin. The imprint will be invisible at first and darken throughout the day.

Photo by Andrea Nair, used with permission

3. In addition to knowing when you will return, find a small object that a child could keep in a lunch box or pocket to hold when they are missing you.

My son made rainbow loom bracelets for me to wear while I'm away. Photo by Andrea Nair, used with permission

I like using small rocks, old pieces of costume jewelry, rainbow loom bracelets, or sticky notes to do this.

When you are still together, take your connection object and rub it in your hands or hold it close to your heart. Saying something like, “I’ll fill this rock full of my love so if you feel sad when I’m gone, you can rub it to get some out.” Use language that you and your child are used to. Also, stuffed toys are great for longer separations: Hug the stuffie and say, “I’ll fill this guy with love so you can hug him whenever you’d like to.”

When we create a connection bridge with our children, we are essentially teaching them how to miss us.

We want the main messages to be that it’s OK to be apart and that we don’t love them any less or feel they are any less important when this happens. Sometimes we have to be away from the people we love and showing our children how to do this will help them feel less sad during times of separation.

What kind of connection bridge objects does your family use?

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Over the past 30-plus years, there has been a sea change when it comes to public attitudes about LGBT issues in America. In 1988, only 11% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while in 2020, that number jumped to 70%

Even though there is a lot more work to do for full LGBTQ equality in the U.S. the country is far ahead of most of the world. According to Human Dignity Trust, 71 jurisdictions around the world "criminalize private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity," many of these specifically calling out sexual practices between men.

In 11 jurisdictions, people who engage in consensual same-sex sexual activity face the possibility of the death penalty for their behavior. "At least 6 of these implement the death penalty – Iran, Northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen – and the death penalty is a legal possibility in Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, and UAE," Human Dignity Trust says.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!