How to Cope With Spouse Working Out of Town
With all due respect to all the single parents out there (and I mean that I’m floored by- how do you do it?!), I often find myself feeling like a single mom. With a 2 year old and a 5 year old, a job to get to, and a husband who travels just about every week for 2-3 nights, I often find myself going it alone.
There’s no way around it - having a husband (or wife!) who travels for business is a major drag. Whether it’s three weeks in Beijing or just one night a month here and there, being alone with the kids (and your job and the laundry) is just no fun. Not only does being the only caregiver for the children for days on end leave you exhausted, but being trapped inside a house with two sleeping children at night and no adult contact is just plain lonely.
I used to cringe at the thought of my husband being gone for even a night, but I have unwittingly become a pro at dealing with short-term single motherhood. It’s still no picnic, but I have found that I can more easily handle my husband’s weekly travel schedule with a little planning and creativity.
Tips for the Practical Side of Things
Being the sole adult responsible for getting the kids out the door, getting them to daycare and school on time, feeding them, clothing them, and getting them to sleep, while juggling my own job, doing the grocery shopping, and making sure the house doesn’t explode (is that all??) is certainly a challenge. Here are some of the things I do to help me get through the day without my husband around.
- Wake up before the kids. In my house, the morning is the number one most stressful time of day. The kids wake up hungry and needy and getting everyone out the door can feel like trying to escape an imminent hurricane. I learned early on that, as painful as it seems to wake up before my children, doing so enabled me to peacefully get myself ready before the onslaught of the day. Even 20 minutes allows me to quickly shower, get dressed, and eat a little something in peace before the barrage.
- Make plans with friends. I think one of my biggest challenges, when my husband is away, is getting bored. I never realized how much I looked forward to my husband coming home in the evening until he started not coming home. Even on days that I go into the office (yes, I am lucky to work part-time), the late afternoon can still drag on interminably, especially without the promise of someone walking through the door at some point to shake things up. Making plans with friends (dinner playdates are a favorite) helps relieve some of the late afternoon doldrums and helps time slip by.
- Make dinner easy. This could also fall into the “treat yourself nice” category, but one (small) advantage of a spouse traveling is that there is one less mouth to feed. I love cooking, but my husband being out of town is the perfect time for kid-friendly meals (like lasagna, make your own pizza or burrito bar, or just pulling something out of the freezer). It’s also a great time to go out to dinner on a playdate. I figure if my husband is eating on an expense account, I might as well treat my kids and myself to a meal out once in a while!
- Start bedtime early. The second most stressful time of day in our house is bedtime. Everyone is tired and wound up, and I pretty much want to do anything other than try to force my kids to floss, but my secret weapon is starting bedtime early. And, I mean, super early. Nothing helps decrease stress like extra time. In fact, sometimes I’ve had so much extra time after bath, tooth-brushing, and PJing, that I’ve had to be creative about filling in the time before bedtime. Of course, in my household no one ever complains about some extra bedtime stories, so we often cozy up and read lots of books together.
- Treat yourself. I haven’t yet mastered this, but I think it’s really helpful to figure out a way to treat yourself nicely when your spouse is out of town. For some, that might mean getting a sitter one night and going out with a friend. For others, it might mean some other type of indulgence, or even just neglecting some household chores. Whatever it is, find what you need to relax when your spouse is away and make sure it happens.
- Negotiate a deal. Yes, your husband or wife is traveling for work and not pleasure. But, let’s face it, there are no red-eyes, business dinners, or conferences that can hold a candle to being home with the kids full time with no relief in sight. While it’s always been unspoken (oops, it’s in writing now, honey!), my husband pretty much gives me the mornings off when he’s in town. Sometimes that only accounts for 15 extra minutes of shuteye, but not having to jump out of bed the second my kids awake, for me, is like gold. For others, it might be some time out with friends, time to get a pedicure, or an extra night of take-out. Figure out what it is, and make sure your spouse agrees to it!
Tips for the Emotional Side of Things
Having a spouse who’s on the road a lot can be downright lonely, and can be hard on the kids; they miss dad, don’t understand why he’s gone, and don’t have much sense of time. Here’s what we do in my family to help us feel connected.
- Schedule a time to talk. I know, it seems silly to have to schedule a time to talk to your spouse, but when my husband is on the road, he pretty much eats, drinks, and sleeps work. He’s often busy at meetings most of the day and when he’s in a different time zone it can be virtually impossible to talk. Still, I can count on one hand the number of travel days he’s had when we haven’t talked, at least for a few minutes. Check in with your spouse before they leave to figure out what times of day will be the best to talk. If you need to, make an appointment.
- Figure out rituals that work for you. My husband never leaves the house (sometimes at 4:00 a.m.) or returns (sometimes at 2:00 a.m.) without giving me a kiss on the cheek. I usually don’t remember it, but somehow knowing that he will kiss me when he comes home makes me happy.
- Tell the kids about travel plans. I guess this is a no-brainer, but every time my husband travels he has a conversation with my kids before he leaves, letting them know that he’ll be gone for a few days. Importantly, he reminds them that they need to be on their best behavior and they need to “help take care of mom.” Well, it’s worth a shot anyway!
- Take dad to the airport. Whenever it’s possible (usually only when my husband travels on the weekend - drag!), we try to make an outing out of taking him to the airport. My kids love it - there is so much to do and see. We have a quick dinner at the burrito place and send dad off through security. It gives my kids (and me) a chance to really say goodbye and lets them see, in real time, dad going off on a business trip.
- Use voicemails and skype. My husband often leaves a long voicemail for my kids when he’s on the road. They get very excited when I tell them there is a voicemail from daddy. Not only does it help them stay connected to their dad, but it’s a great way to motivate them to get ready in the morning (e.g., “After you’ve brushed your teeth you can listen to daddy’s voicemail!”) and keep them busy while I’m doing the dishes. My husband leaves great messages for them, and often asks them questions about their day, leaving a pause after each question. I love watching them yell out answers at the computer screen! We do also sometimes skype, which is harder to arrange, but lots of fun when we can pull it off.
- Remind your kids every night that dad (or mom) will be back soon, and that she or he loves them. As they get older, kids can fill out charts or be reminded about how many more nights it is until dad comes home to help them get a sense of when to expect the other parent.
Making it Work
Being left at home by a traveling spouse can be a major drag. Treating yourself well and learning a few tricks to get you and your kids through the day is an important step. It’s equally important to find ways to feel connected with your spouse when they are on the road, and to make sure that you’re getting some special treatment from them when they are at home. With a little planning and effort, surviving the day (and week) without your spouse can be done, especially when a give-mom-a-massage-when-you-get-home is on the calendar!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
rawan on September 07, 2019:
I am having a hard time to deal with it, my last child will be leaving high school next year, my husband only visits 2 times a year, for 10 days each time. I did my masters, I am working, I visit my other 2 kids at their school. But they too, don't want me to be around all the time. I find my self the more I am stressed the more I eat. I can't sleep, I don't know why money is so important. Yes it does pay the bills. friends, they are busy with their life too... yes they will make a time for you once or twice, but then that have their families also. The family has separated that I don't even feel that I have a family. Everyone is on their own, and so is my husband.
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Roxanna on May 08, 2019:
Yes mee too . I feel also alone . My husband work in another town . He doesn’t have upurtinety even to have child . Now since 2 mounts I’m alon just 2 times a week we see each other . And he show me how he is in wonderland and he doesn’t care nothing I’m getting bored of it . I can’t sleep night I’m almost 42 years old ! But I don’t now why is so scary for me to sTay alone . I almost keep on all light at night !!!! I’m not happy . I will be happy if someone help for advise . Thank you
email@example.com on November 13, 2018:
I love reading these posts. Makes me feel less alone and more understood. My case is a little different in that my husband has a sickness and may require a kidney transplant at some time. He continues to work to support us, long hours as he has his own business and he does travel on occasion. Not so much this year as in previous years. The hardest part is not seeing him and not knowing how his illness will progress. I want my children to have positive memories of him and I try to make the most of every moment when we are all together. Thank you for your advice.
Jme on October 25, 2017:
That's the hardest part is feeling alone. As long as you and your spouse have strong conection your child will too. Im married to my soulmate & we are alwas connected. What is what we make at. If we act like our children are missing something they will be. We give them the best I can and make sure that they have the best father when he is here. We recently bought a house n my husband has only been here on weekends. It's hard to make it a home wo him but it's possible. Make sure his stuff is around and talk about how much loves the kids. Its day by day and keeping communication open. It's not easy but if you have a a true relationship with somebody that loves you as much as you love them it is doable he is out providing at home for the family I will always be here standing by his side.
Shusu on December 20, 2016:
Great post. Ideas seem very practical and doable.
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shah on October 31, 2013:
I have a wife that travels 2to 3 times a year. And the longest she will be away is 4 to 5 nights. I once asked if we could make a weekend of it, we have kids, but she said no. Saying it would be pointless coz she would be tired at night, which would be the only time id get ti see her. It really gave ne feelings of being unwanted and surely not good enough to be with her. How do i deal with that.
LauraGT (author) from MA on August 05, 2013:
NinjaHen: That's rough to have such limited opportunities to communicate. I *love* the videos! They really do help to make the kids feel connected. Good luck!
NinjaHen on August 02, 2013:
I have a 2 year old and another child on the way. I also work full time. My husband is going somewhere we won't be able to communicate except once through e-mail each night. I was feeling a little overwhelmed until I read this article. We're already doing a lot of the things suggested. Before he left, my husband made a bunch of cute videos for my daughter that I can show her on the tab. We also have a special one I can show her on the TV while I'm getting dinner ready. (What a cute guy!)
LauraGT (author) from MA on March 05, 2013:
dearmommy: Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you found this hub useful. You certainly have your hands full!
dearmommy on March 05, 2013:
I have a 4.5 year old, a 2 year old, and a baby on the way, as well as a husband that travels often. We also live about 1.5 hours from all our family. I agree with everything you said, and think you have touched on all important areas!! Great hub, and good to know I am not alone. :)
LauraGT (author) from MA on October 18, 2012:
PallaviGaurav: Thanks for commenting. Yes, it is very important to help make sure the kids know the travelling spouse is still there for them. My kids love getting messages from dad while he's on the road.
PallaviGaurav from South Africa. on October 18, 2012:
Its is indeed true Laura!!! Its all about how you manage circumstances when your spouse is out of place. You have to keep nurturing your kids in a way that their bond for the other parent remains the way it should be...
Loved the tips for helping oneself out of the trauma..helping guidelines indeeed..voted up..!!!
MomsTreasureChest on October 16, 2012:
Great tips, thanks for sharing!
LauraGT (author) from MA on October 15, 2012:
Thanks Pamela! I imagine there are struggles even when the children are out of the house. Hmmm... I guess I have about 15 years to adapt to that one. :)
Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on October 14, 2012:
You covered everything important in this subject. I really enjoyed this. My husband travels every week, but we don't have children at home anymore, so it's pretty easy most the time for me. I don't think I could have done it when I had children at home. Great hub. Voting up and useful.
LauraGT (author) from MA on May 10, 2012:
Thanks Kebennett1! Good luck to your niece. It definitely gets easier over time as you figure out what rituals work. I'm sure even without kids it is very challenging, though in a different way.
Kebennett1 from San Bernardino County, California on May 10, 2012:
Great ideas! I will share this with my niece, her husband goes to boot camp late July and then on to his first tour of duty. They just got married on April 13th 2012. No kids yet but one day :)
LauraGT (author) from MA on May 10, 2012:
BDeRicco: Thanks for the perspective of the travelling spouse! It can't be easy being away from the family so much and having to relinquish more parenting control to the one who stays behind.
BDeRicco on May 10, 2012:
Hey Laura - nice article! When I worked at EDC I was often gone for longer stints, and I went back to work when our son was 4 months old. As the mom traveller in a travelling family a big issue for me was letting go and letting my husband do things in his own way - offering advice only when asked, holding guild and worry at bay - that's hard stuff!
LauraGT (author) from MA on May 10, 2012:
Julie K: Thanks for the tip! Teaming up with other moms is a great idea and something I do often. I just need to develop an app for this. There are way too many times when I bemoan my single motherhood only to get the reply, "Yeah... John was gone all last week!"
Julie K. on May 09, 2012:
Laura, a traveling spouse is hard at any age for your kids... mine are now 12 and 8, and my husband has always worked long hours or traveled 3-4 nights per week. If you have friends with traveling husbands I found it fun to team up to make dinners... You will feel better and eat healthier. Tuesday nights my house, Thursday nights another house... it worked better when the kids were little, now I am driving in circles in the evenings with kids' activities. So, use the tip while you can!
LauraGT (author) from MA on May 09, 2012:
Crystal, thanks for reading and for the vote of confidence. Hopefully my tips for coping can help others in a similar situation!
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on May 09, 2012:
Great idea for a hub, and clearly, you're an expert. I'm not married, so I can't relate, but it seems like you're finding ways to cope with a very difficult circumstance. This is excellent advice for those in similar situations. Voted up.
LauraGT (author) from MA on May 09, 2012:
Thanks Larry! "Travelling spouse syndrome" - I love it. Is that in the DSM-4?
Larry Wall on May 09, 2012:
I use to travel a little in my last job and know it was hard on my wife. The longest I was ever gone at one time was three days. I was gone a lot of weekends when my mother was ill, so my sister could have a break--so both my wife and I were exhausted.
Your suggestions are good and should be followed by people with the traveling spouse syndrome. Very good Hub. Voted up.