Tips for Surviving a Travelling Husband (or Wife!)
I learned to juggle when I was younger but I never knew it would prepare me for this
With all due respect to all the single parents out there (and I mean that, I’m floored by how 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 travelling 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 a 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 travelling 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, who 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 make 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 travelling spouse can be a major drag. Treating yourself well and learning a few tricks to getting 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!