Our family has the blessing and the curse to have a family member who travels frequently for work.
The upside is that Mr. Q. accumulates a lot of FF miles and hotel points. We fly to Alabama a couple times a year and Mr. Q and 1 kid usually fly free. We also generally have enough hotel points for 4 free nights at a nice hotel in the summer and a couple other nights during the year. I also got to fly free to Hawaii a few months ago and we have another trip planned soon where one of us (maybe both) will fly for free.
. . . and that's the end of the upsides.
For years, I really, really struggled with his traveling. Even before children, I would wail and moan about how hard it was to TAKE CARE OF 2 DOGS by myself. (The Gods are seriously paying me back now). I know that there are a lot of single parents out there (some by choice, most not by choice) that have to do this all the time. Even if they have a former spouse or partner that they co-parent with, I'm assuming that Wednesday nights and every other weekend "off" doesn't make up for the rigor of solo parenting the rest of the time. To them, this post may sound whiney.
But for the rest of you in a relationship with an active, committed partner who travels, you will totally get this.
In the past few months, Mr. Q has had a couple long-ish trips (3-5 nights) where I haven't felt like I had been hit by a train at the end. I reflected back on those trips and compiled a list of tips and tricks.
1. Tidy the house and make sure everyone has clean clothes for the duration. If you can, put each child's favorite shirt/outfit in a hidden location so you can whip it out if needed in the morning for a mood change.
2. Grocery shop before spouse leaves.
3. Hire a 10 year old kid (preferably one with younger siblings or cousins) to come over for the 30 minutes before dinner and stay for 30 minutes after dinner. Our mother's helpers are usually here for 90 minutes. They play with the kids while I finish getting dinner ready, sit with them at the table while we eat, and then play with them afterwards while I quickly clean up. Our girls have several snacks while watching their night-time tv, and Ramona tends to dawdle, so I usually ask the mother's helper to sit next to her and remind Ramona to keep eating. Seriously, that's what the 10 year old does for about 5 minutes and it makes all the difference.
4. Do not deviate from your established family routine. In fact, move the family schedule earlier by 10 minutes. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing this. I will have the girls eat dinner in the car on the way home from an activity rather than eat it late when Mr. Q is out of town. I call myself "The Colonel" when Mr. Q is gone because I am even more rigid than usual.
5. But at the same time, if your spouse travels regularly, build in a small, extra fun event that doesn't tax the schedule. On the last afternoon/evening before Mr. Q comes home, we go out for ice cream. It's something we all look forward to and it marks the absence for them so they know that they can expect him back the day after we have ice cream.
6. Let your child lead whether they want to talk to the parent. We exchange text messages or e-mails with Mr. Q, but the girls don't talk to him on the phone. It makes him feel sad to hear their voices, and it sometimes makes them sad too, so I don't like to risk it.
7. Have some "tantrum breaker" items on hand. A small toy, a new book, a special snack. But for heaven's sake, don't bribe with those things. Just pretend to "find" them when an unreasonable tantrum is imminent. For example, if Ramona starts to fall apart because she is insisting that she is a teenager and goes to high school and Beezus is refuting this "fact", I'll call out from the other room, "Oh my gosh ! Where did this come from ?!?! FIG NEWTONS ?!?!" or "BLUE APPLESAUCE" or "BISCUITS" or "NEW MARKERS" and they'll both come running in all excited. This has to be used sparingly lest they become wise and should be saved until the last day or two.
8. Try not to schedule anything too important in the morning, but if you have to, ask a friend to take your child to school or to the bus stop. Those precious few minutes can make a big difference.
9. Have something special on hand for the stay at home spouse, too. A magazine, a special show on the DVR, or a snack. I forgot to get myself special treats this time, so I've been having to make do with the regular old Giant brand ice cream sandwiches, but they're still pretty good.
Mr. Q is due to come home tomorrow afternoon from a 4 day/3 night trip. He's coming from a time zone that is a 6 hour difference, so it will be tough on him for another 36-48 hours after that. This is the first trip that he's been on in a long time, that I haven't felt some kind of annoyance/anger/resentment. I'm trying to think more about why that is, and I've got a couple ideas. It feels much, much calmer.
Last but not least, I want to mention military spouses. For them, long separations are a way of life. All I have for you is many, many thanks for the sacrifices that you and your families make for our great nation.
1 week ago