November 8, 2009

To all the wives of travelling husbands

You know who you are eating Cheerios or frozen waffles for dinner with the kids while your spouse is tasting expensive wines at a wonderful restaurant halfway around the country or sometimes the world. You smile and remind the kids "its just another 10 days till daddy gets home", or "this trip was shorter than the last" or whatever variation gets your kids through another stretch of their father's travel.

I just want to remind you that you are not alone, there are a lot of us out there. Other moms struggling to juggle the schedules, balance the kids needs and our own emotions, support our spouses from hundreds or thousands of miles away and who have suddenly developed a deeper appreciation than most for military wives and single moms. I also want to remind you it is not all that bad and there are many benefits that come from this lifestyle you are living right now, even if you can not see the forest while standing amongst the ominous trees.

We have lived this "road warrior" lifestyle in our family for the better part of the last 6 years. Some years or months have been better others feel like they are never going to end. This has been something I never really choose to blog about for fear I will have nothing positive to say. Still looking back on my blog I realize this part of our lives is very obviously missing from here and it is a big part of our lives. This season of our lives may be nearing an end and in reflection of these years I believe we have learned some things along the way that now make a post worthwhile.

We first moved to Minnesota so we would not have to deal with travel in our family and that worked for the first few years of Serona's career. It became quickly apparent to us that travel was going to need to be a central part of his career for awhile and we had some decisions to make, we went ahead and learned how to cope with the travel as a family. There were years he traveled as much as 75% of the time, being gone far more days per month than he was home. Other seasons the travel would slow to a trickle just a few short trips per month. Still our trickle would be considered a lot of travel for many other families. He has been platinum elite (highest level) in airfare miles and hotel loyalty points for awhile now.

At first I was pretty whiny about all the travel he did, I had a 4, 2 year old and newborn at home when we began and I had to learn how to manage everything on my own while feeling like my life was unfair. This phase was not a positive one for us and it took some time for me to realize that his travel was a necessary part of the lifestyle we had chosen (one income with a full SAHM parent yet two student loans and a mortgage to repay). I also had to come to understand that travel was not all rosy and happy for him, he missed us and would much rather be at home eating spaghetti again than traveling yet again even if he got nice meals and stays in exotic locations out of the deal.

Somewhere in our journey I came to a few realizations and lifestyle changes that made the "road warrior" life a lot easier and happier for all of us. These are in no particular order of importance just order they came to my mind tonight.

1. Life must stay consistent when he is here and when he is not for our family. When he first started traveling I found myself following advice to let everything go and almost live two different lives and routines. It started to feel like life with daddy and life without daddy for my kids and that was not a positive thing. Especially because some of my coping mechanisms meant we had fun and easy dinners, more screen time and sleepovers in moms room, which all in the immediate seem more fun to kids. In addition we were continually slipping in and out of different lifestyles and always adjusting expectations, it became confusing and frustrating for all of us. While the advice had been encouraging and supportive in nature trying to help me through a tough time I had to realize that works for the occasional travel situation but not for the consistent pattern of travel we would be living. Once I started keeping life more consistent across all situations we started to thrive and the transitions were more seamless. We still do have breakfast for dinner and let the cleaning go a little more, and may have a more flexible schedule as needed but these are the exceptions now not the general rule, just as they may be in a particularly crazy week while he is home. I find consistency is best for all of us and keeps us a family even when we are apart.

2. When he is home we are together and everything else can wait. I once read that Ruth Graham's friends called Billy "the plague" because when he was home it was as if everything stopped and went on hold and her and the family disappeared from the world for awhile. This is similar to how we are, especially during the busy travel seasons. Everything and everyone else can wait and we need to prioritize our family time and our couple time so we can fill up before the next time apart. This sometimes causes difficulties with other friends or family members as they may feel it is unfair or you come to them when he is away but not there for them when he is home. It is a delicate balance as I still need to be a good friend and I will be if needed but my good friends also understand our need to be together as a family and how fleeting those moments can sometimes be for us. I used to think when he came home it was "me time" or "I need a break" and when the kids were younger that was true I did need to get away or have some recharge time and he needed to help with the kids more. Yet as they have gotten older I have learned what we really need is time together. Even if it is just making pasta and watching movies all day long or playing a board game together or even just all being in the same room reading. My kids have learned their schedules are clear when dad is home and we really try to have a lot of family time then. Their friends will still be there next week when their dad is off to another location. Whenever possible spend time together as a family and have dates when he is home.

3. Eat out while he is away. When he first traveled I would never do this, who wants to take kids out to a restaurant alone and it can seem extravagant, especially if you don't often eat out as a family. I struggled and thought I should save those times for when we can do it all together as a family. Then I realized he never wants to eat out when he is home. Of course he doesn't he has just been eating at restaurants for the last x amount of days or weeks and just wants his favorite meals home cooked at in the peace and comfort of our home. If you have ever traveled for awhile you know the joy and mystery and fun of eating out wears off fairly quickly and you can't wait to get home to eat your favorite foods. This seems even more so when you are vegetarian and your food options are often very limited in parts of the world. Then I want to go out when he is home because I have been having very non exciting food while he is away and hearing/seeing all the wonderful things he has been eating. Not a good mix. So I started eating out with the kids while he travels. Gives me a break from meal prep and fills my desire to get out and have something different and then I am happy to eat at home too when he returns. We don't do this every time and some trips we will do it more often than others but it is a fairly consistent thing for us that I have found helps all of us.

4. Be supportive and not jealous.
Serona does a lot of world traveling and those trips can sometimes be long. Yet whenever possible I encourage him to stay a few extra days even though it makes it longer on all of us. Why would I do this? Because if he has flown halfway around the world I think he should take a day or two to experience the culture, recover from jetlag and yes have fun and sight see. Overseas trips often include weekends and I often encourage him to stay through an extra weekend or go a bit early so he can have more time in the country to enjoy and experience it. Really when is he ever going to have a chance to walk the Great Wall of China, dip his feet in the Indian ocean or walk the streets of London again? Sure I wish I was there with him but I have learned not to begrudge him or be jealous of what he has but rather to encourage and support him and let him experience and enjoy it. He returns more refreshed to us and has so much to share with all of us about his experiences. My kids are getting a unique view of the world through their father's eyes so I am glad he does more than just see the airport, hotel and the office. Yet I know in a heartbeat he would do just that to shorten his trips to get back to us sooner if I wanted or needed that. So I try to encourage him and really mean it and be thankful that he gets to enjoy the things that he does, this has made a big difference for him and for us.

5. Weekend Travel is the hardest, guard them whenever possible. With the exception of international travel as outlined above we try very hard to have him home on weekends. International trips I always know weekends are part of the deal and often encourage him to take extra weekend days for the reasons I listed above. However regular travel here in the US for business we protect our weekends pretty fiercely. Clients often want him to start Monday morning and fly out Sunday, then fly back late friday. While this may be okay (still not ideal) once in awhile it quickly adds up and takes its toll when you travel more than once a month. Serona learned to schedule business meetings on Tues- Thursday so Monday and Friday were his travel dates. If they insisted on Monday then he insisted on a later start time so he could take a 6am flight on Monday morning and wrapping up friday meetings early in the day so he could make a 6pm flight home. This has made a substantial difference for us as we miss him more on weekends as he is usually here and a big part of our lives during the weekend. Also he needs rest time between trips as do we and we can only give the company so much "free time" and Serona has worked hard to hold the no travel on weekends lines whenever possible.

6. Open Communication is essential. We communicate daily often throughout the day. We may do it with phone calls, text messages, emails or instant message but we try to make it a priority for him to communicate with the kids each day atleast once briefly and us as a couple more extensively. We try to continue our regular family business discussions while he is away so they don't pile up and became all we do when he is home. We also still make decisions together whenever possible even when we are apart. We keep up with each other and know the schedules for the day, and how we can best reach one another. Even when he is 17 hours off from us we still make communication a priority, sometimes that means one of us has to stay up very late or get up really early but we still make it happen. We also have an emergency signal that indicates no matter what you are doing you must stop and pick up the phone or call me back now. This was established after he was traveling on 9/11 and not answering his phone because he was unaware of what was going on. Another time he was in China when a bridge collapsed here in MN and he could not get in touch with us for a few hours and was very worried. Still being accessible and there for each other despite the travel is essential and for my kids it keeps them connected with their dad and confident he is still an important part of their lives and they of his even when he is around the world.

7. Take me time while he is away.
I have learned to use babysitters while he is away. At first this was hard to justify financially and I would feel I should "save" them for when he was here and the time we would need together. I have learned for all of our benefit I need to get out when he is traveling extensively even if it is to do the grocery shopping alone. Besides babysitters I will go to our gym and to other activities where I can have some built in me time while the kids are otherwise entertained and cared for. I also allow them to have more independent time or friend time and give me more break time or alone time. In addition one of my favorite things to do is to have my friends come visit me in the evenings at my house. Now that my kids are older I find this works well I can put them to bed or set them up with a movie or game they can play alone and then have alone adult time with a friend. Most of my friends are willing to come here and I try to have nice food and drink options for them here so it is still "getting out for them" and try my best to have very limited to no kid interruptions. Sometimes I will get a babysitter and go out with a girlfriend while he is away as well. I find taking care of me while he is gone helps me be a good mom while I am alone and keeps me calmer and saner. In addition I am more ready to be a good wife and not want to escape and be alone as soon as he comes home. One thing I had to admit to myself (and it was not pleasant) was in the early days I often looked to him upon arrival home from a business trip as "good now you are home and I can be free" here are the kids, chores, and everything else I am going out for some well deserved me time. Somehow I forgot he was just working the whole time and had very little him time either and he is especially looking forward to some us time both as a couple and as a family after being so lonely. One day I realized he has not touched a single person other than the occasional handshake for a long time. On the other hand I am often touched out by my more than usual needy touchy kids, it was like having infants and toddlers all over again.

8. My kids are good kids and they get stressed and act out when he travels. In general our kids are good kids they really are and sometimes I need to work hard at reminding myself that during a long travel stint. All of a sudden we wake up and no one gets along anymore, everyone is picky and prodding and poking each other, arguing over nothing and just plain irritating one another. It typically happens after about 5-7 days after their dad is gone with fairly regular consistency. I never realize it right away and I may lose my temper or my mind wondering what in the world is going on today. Then I have my "well duh" moment and I can find my sympathy again and give my kids the extra attention they need. Sometimes it needs to be one on one with me, sometimes we can do something as a family, sometimes I can get them a playdate with a good friend. Sometimes we just need a change of scenery. This is usually a good moment to go out to dinner as a family and have a movie night sleepover downstairs. Recognizing what is going on helps tremendously and usually that is enough to get us through. We also talk openly about how they are feeling and I let them express frustration, disappointment, hurt etc all while reminding them how much dad loves them and that it is because of this that I am able to stay home with them full time, etc. Honest emotions and taking the kids seriously and letting them feel what they feel and be who they are openly has helped a lot. Then we can start from there and generally come to a better place for them and us as a family.

9. Roles and responsibilities change from season to season and you have to adapt.
Things my husband typically does I have to do. More than once I forget to take the trash down to the curb on the right night, my dog has gone a night without food and we have had too long of grass. Occasionally that is okay to forget or decide not to do but other times you just have to do it. You take on his roles while he travels and yes sometimes he takes on your roles when he returns. More than once he has helped me plow through undone laundry, clean the house or get school stuff ready for the next week when he gets home. We have learned to just accept this as part of our life now and not judge or begrudge the other person for what they can or can't get done. I also try to limit my "request" for when he is home to what I really need done or can't do myself and we learn to let certain things slide during certain seasons. My kids also do more than many of their peers in areas like household chores, yard work and things like shoveling. We are a team and we need to work together and when one person can't be there the others pick up the slack. We have learned to do this with love and support rather than judgment and grudges.

10. I am my kids rock they cling to in the storm.
God is our families rock and my kids understand that and we pray and are people of faith and I am not taking that role from God. Yet in their every day tangible physical world I am that physical dependable force for them. They know I am there for them and they can count on me. This helps them get through the difficulties of his travel and it is an important role that I can not slack on even if I feel like it. I have to constantly remember that I am the steady in their lives and they need to have something like that. There are days I just want to cocoon and be alone and this is not really an option for me. I can have cocooning moments but I need to be there for my kids especially during their time of need. I need to remind myself of this and remind myself that it is a good thing and I am thankful for being able to be there for them. It sounds like it is not a big deal but I have learned maintaining this mentality when he travels (and when he doesn't) has been important and helpful to us all.

11. Your life looks different and is misunderstood from those who have no experience with this and that is ok. I have lost relationships over the lifestyle choices we make to survive and thrive as a road warrior family. Friends who think I am unreasonable to change plans or constantly put my families needs above my friends desires (note I did not say friends needs). People who think I am weak or not doing enough for me. People who think we made this bed and we need to lie in it and not complain or affect those around us, namely them. I used to get upset but I have learned to just let these people walk out of my life and not feel badly about it anymore. They just really do not understand where we are coming from, our motivations, the dynamics of our family and are unwilling to understand or accept that so we are better off to let it go. Also I have learned that unless you have lived this sort of a lifestyle you can not fully understand the challenges and emotions associated with it. Sometimes I feel like I still am whiny or complaining and other times I get stoic. My good friends have learned to get more concerned when I am stoic, quiet and dropping off their radar while he is traveling. It is hard to understand why we would choose this or need to be in this position and how we can manage it but I have found good friends who support and love me through it whether they have experienced it or not.

12. My friends are my support and I need to ask for and accept help. I am blessed with some really good friends and I have learned that sometimes I have to admit weakness or need and ask for help and I have also learned to always say yes when people offer help. This used to be hard for me until I had to live with the chronic pain then it became easier and at some points essential. I have learned to say yes when someone asks can I pick you up something from the store or take your kids for a few hours or run a carpool for you. I have also learned that I need to reach out and ask for help sometimes. This past trip I called a friend and said I just need you to come sit with me and listen to me work through some emotional crap I am struggling with. She came and I was a completely different person when she left a few hours later. Most often what I need is adult conversation with another adult when he travels and my friends are willing to provide that whether by phone, instant message or coming over to visit for a bit.

13. Music helps me. I have learned to keep positive music on nearly the entire time he travels. We often leave the local praise music station playing on the radio 24/7 so there is always a positive message filling the rooms of our homes and reaching our ears and hearts when we need to hear it. I will also put on some favorite music to motivate me to clean the house, or to just relax to.

14. Small kindnesses can make my day and others too.
Serona's parents recently sent me flowers while he was away, made my day. Another friend called just to see how I was doing, made my day. Another friend came over to sit with me while I folded laundry, made my day. The list goes on and on, small favors go a long way, from others to me and from me to my kids. Remembering to be extra gentle with a child, read them a story, cuddle with them or give them a massage all those things help them and take so little of my time and energy. We all need to remember to share the small and easy kindnesses with those around us who are hurting or in need and yes even with those who seem just fine.

15. It is what it is and wallowing is counter productive. I need to not wallow or compare myself to those around me. I have also learned to stop letting the "oh that must be so hard" or "I could never do that" or "I don't know how you do it" well intentioned commments get to me. I can't let them get me depressed or prideful and arrogant. Our life situation is what it is. Wallowing and being miserable doesn't help. Comparing myself to other traveling families doesn't help. Seeing who has it worse or better doesn't help. Being supportive and supported is what helps. Acceptance is what helps. Doing what you can to make it through each day, each trip, each time home is what helps.

16. Transitions are hard so work hard to make them smoother. It is hard to go in and out of traveling. Some of our hardest seasons are when he travels then is home for a few days then travels again, repeat. The constant coming and going is hard. Roles and responsibilities questions arise and tensions increase. Everyone is emotional and expectations are all different. These are some of the most challenging times. They are also some of the most important to get along and have things run smoothly. Do whatever you need to in order to make those transitions smooth. Have the house clean, have meals planned or prepped ahead, have the dry cleaning and packing done, plan to take a day off school or sports or life. Talk about expectations ahead of time and prepare everyone for what it will be like. Love each other through the transitions.

17. Love and grace wash over a multitude of flaws and failings. We all fall down and fail. We get short tempered, we don't hold up our end, we get jealous or frustrated. We mess up and make things worse for those around us. Having extra doses of grace and love seem to really be the answer to help see us through. Remember you are all sensitive and needy right now and remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and the grace and love you would want and you should give your family members and the friends and networks around you.

18. Thank your spouse for all they do. Thankfulness and appreciation go a long way as well. I will often thank Serona for what he is doing for our family even while I am in the throws of dealing with the hard parts at home while he is away. Thanking him for the life he is providing us, the sacrafices he is making and the love he is showing us. Reminding him how much I appreciate all he does. He does the same for me. Often our time apart makes us appreciate and thank one another even more as all we do for each other becomes more apparent. Always be thankful and vocal in your appreciation.

19. Realize and take advantage of the benefits. We have taken some great family and couple vacations thanks to all the miles we have piled up in frequent flyer points and hotel loyalty points. We have gone to Ireland, Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida for a very discounted rate and stayed in first class accommodations the entire time. This is a direct benefit of all the travel my husband does. In addition we have special gifts from around the world, our Christmas tree is filled with ornaments from countries around the world that he picked up in his travel. We have kimonos from Japan, jade from the Orient, a winnie the pooh from London, a didgeridoo from Australia and the list goes on. These are blessings and gifts that few people get to experience in their lives and they are a direct result of all the work we do as a family.

20. Everything has a season and it will pass and change.
6 years seems like a long season, but still it is a season and one that appears to be coming to a close for us for the time being. Even during that 6 year season there were seasons within seasons. Times he would be home for 6 weeks straight and then travel for 6 weeks with just a few days home in the middle. Other times the travel was constant or non existent. You learn to look at your situation with some distance with the end in mind realizing it will not always be like this and you can and will make it through. This can help you in the day to day as well as in your overall outlook.

Any readers out there who deal with these issues feel free to add the tips and suggestions you have found useful in the comments. We can all learn from each other and help support each other in our journeys. If you are entering this phase of your life for the first time or you have been living it for 20 years know you are not alone and be encouraged and supported by each other.

3 comments:

  1. I had a nice long comment but something happened and now it's gone. So I'll just say good post and I'm so blessed to have a husband that does not travel. I can't imagine how difficult it is for your family at times. ((((Hugs))))

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  2. Anonymous9:54 PM

    My husband used to travel for work when our children were younger. I remember that the transitions were the worst. He changed jobs, and has worked a traditional 9 to 5 job less than 10 minutes from our home for the last 6 years. I much prefer this regular schedule to how we lived before, and I worry that we may be faced with his traveling in the future. I thank you for writing about how to deal with this arrangement better. ~Tiffany

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  3. Hi,

    WOW... I just stumbled on your blog today, as I am looking at home schooling my two boys (6 & 8) from May 2010.
    We have been an expatriate family for the past 5 years traveling to world and following my husband to avoid the lengthy separation issues...

    I am at a crossroad right now. I have an option to return home (New Zealand) on my own with the kids, where they will attend a local country school and my husband will be traveling back and forth to Singapore, or following him to Singapore and homeschooling the boys full time.

    There are so many pro's and con's to both choices... I would love to be able to email you with a couple of home school questions... I am so worried about not being able to teach my boys well enough, not being able to keep up with all my chores and mummy duties... The last thing I want to do it jeopardize my children eduction...

    Can you advise?

    TIA
    Mich

    ReplyDelete