The simple answer to this is ‘never’, but knowing this is not terribly useful for the poor parent who wishes to understand when it is safe to start travelling around the world, leaving their family behind them.
Teenagers need you more than they will admit
However much they will protest otherwise, the average teenager needs you more than they are willing to admit.
Past a certain age, they don’t necessarily need you to sit with them, keep them company, feed them, water them, organise them or in any way try to control how they spend their days. They do however need you to be in the house, so it feels like a home. They need to know that you are there when they need you. They need to trust that they have someone to come to when they suddenly feel the need to share – even for only a minute per day. And, if you’re not there too often, they begin to feel your absence and resent it. In my opinion at least.
A parent’s freedom needs to be carefully extracted
So, as a parent of teenagers, looking for the freedom to depart for several weeks it is sensible to pad the route. Your sons and daughters should be carefully prepared for your absence.
They need a great deal of notice. The longer the trip – the more notice. They need to be included in your plans and allowed to get excited on your behalf. It is a good idea to imagine that you need to get their permission. In fact, this is not really all that far from the truth. You may be in charge – but your first responsibility as a parent is to them.
I personally believe that a parent’s freedom requires careful extraction from routine family existence. The second we assume it is our right to pick up and drop everything for a few weeks to ‘take care of our own needs’, the second our offspring will balk at the idea. Instead, by giving them the respect they deserve, and building a web of trust and sharing around the event of our departure, we can ensure that our family life remains stable and that we will come home to supportive teens rather than upset kids who feel they have been ’abandoned’.