“When will Daddy be back?”
This was and is a question my kids frequently ask. Since they were born, my husband has traveled for work. For years he was gone at least two nights a week and sometimes a week at a time. There’s been no routine, no consistent presence of their father home every night of their life. Though it’s the norm for them and they are used to it, it does have its challenges.
Many families have at least one parent who has to travel for work. Some travel every week, others intermittently. Parenting can be challenging enough for two parents to manage, let alone when one spouse is gone for work, leaving the other to manage everything. The parent left at home can be overwhelmed and exhausted. Discipline issues come up. Children miss the parent who is gone. The family at home gets into a routine without the other parent and upon their return, there’s always a period of adjustment. And the parent who has been gone misses out on the daily life of the family.
How can families make the best of it?
1. Include the missing parent: As much as possible, include the missing parent in what is happening at home. With all the ways to connect virtually these days, it’s easy for children to communicate with the parent who is away. Phone calls, emails, face-to-face contact on the phone or computer, texts—there are many ways to keep in touch with the parent who is away. We often text my husband photos of fun events that happened during the day.
2. Help children know what to expect: It’s hard for young children to understand their parent’s travel schedule. And for many people who travel for work, the schedule isn’t consistent. When our children were younger, we talked about how many “sleeps” it would be until Dad returned. When they started to understand time and calendars, we posted a calendar in the kitchen where I highlight the days during the month when my husband will be gone. Whatever the method, the important thing is that children know that their parent’s trip away has an end date so they can look forward to their return.
3. Stay on the same page: It’s important for parents to be on the same page regarding parenting and discipline issues. The children need to know that their parents are communicating and are united in their decision making. I let my children know that my husband and I talk on the phone and communicate together about them. This helps keep children from playing one parent against the other or assuming that the one who is away doesn’t have any involvement in parenting.
4. Enjoy the time you do have together: Certainly, it’s not ideal for a parent to be away from home. It’s important to enjoy the moments you do have together as a family. When there’s less time together, each moment should be spent well. Special meals, movie nights, game nights, and being outside together are all ways to enjoy time together. For the parent who travels, it’s important that they spend intentional time pouring into the hearts of their children when they are home. Though their time is limited with their children, rich quality time can go far in molding and shaping the life of a child.
5. Community is important: The church community is important for the family who has a parent out of town. When my children were younger, I often got together with other young moms whose husband’s were away. We met at playgrounds or parks and had picnic dinners, met at a restaurant, or took turns hosting dinner at one one another’s home. In this way, we helped and encouraged each other during the time of day when it was often hardest. My church community also pitched in to help out when things went awry and I needed help.
It’s hard to have a parent away for work—both on the parent who travels and the family who remains at home. But families can be intentional in finding ways to make it work. How about you? Do you have a spouse who travels for work?