Our new baby was just two weeks old when my husband had to leave for work overseas for five weeks. We all missed each other terribly. My five-year-old daughter summed it up perfectly when she said, “I miss Daddy like a Mommy and Daddy giraffe miss their baby giraffe when it has been eaten by a lion.”
It was a lot of missing! Difficult for all, to say the least. My husband and I talked every day and my daughter talked to him on Skype frequently; however, it didn't take long for her to start to reject this, stating, “I don't want to talk to him, I want to hug him." An understandable reaction.
My son was also growing and changing every day and it was heartbreaking that my husband was missing all of the little changes happening. I would show him to his Dad on the camera, wiggling and cooing, but, again, it wasn't the same.
When he returned, I surprised my daughter by misleading her about why we had to go to the airport. Daddy was equally surprised as I told him I wouldn't be bringing the kids as it was too late an arrival. Here's a peek . . .
It has been great being together again, even if it is only for a short time, as further travels are imminent. It made me think a lot about being apart. Many families have to do this regularly, and for lengthy times. Due to her husband's work demands, YMC's Julie Cole faces Sunday to Friday parenting six kids flying solo—here's why she would never call it single parenting. For the parent left at home it is often overwhelming and exhausting. For the children it is sometimes confusing.
Can your family unit continue thriving while surviving a parent's absence?
Here are Five Ways To Parent On Your Own When Your Partner Is Away:
Normalize the experience: Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, to be released in February 2015, states that he and his wife Jodi—both writers for the New York Times—have never made a parent's departure into a big event for their daughter. Both have frequent travel demands, and since this was their family's norm, they didn't discuss it for days ahead of time or draw a lot of attention to it. They simply made it work.
Keep up the fun: Celebrate occasions. Try new things and have fun. It is important to take advantage of time together as a smaller unit, maybe try an activity or venue that would be too expensive with two paying adults, or do something special for those left behind. Perhaps take in an interest that you would enjoy more than your partner.
Don't try to do everything: Take some time for yourself. Ariadne Brill, of Positive Parenting Connection, says she tries hard to “carve out time to just relax, read, and enjoy a quiet moment, even if it is just being deliberate about taking a 10 minute break.” Drop lofty expectations. Allow the menu to be simpler, order in, delay some projects. Ron says that when his wife is away he tries to write an easier column at work and increases his time spent working from home so he can focus more on the “everyday logistics.”
Talk to others and utilize your support systems: Perhaps you are part of a community that has experience with absences in the family, like those in the air travel industry, with specific seasonal jobs, or serving in the army. You can look online to see if there are available support groups in these vocations. Ask for help. Often people are happy to pitch in if given direction how. If feeling exhausted and overwhelmed in a way that is getting you concerned, talk to a therapist. It is important to have support, especially if you yourself are far from your family and friends.
Prepare for an adjustment period: If travelling is just sporadic enough to become confusing, the adjustment might be difficult. It is possible that your kids might take your partner's absence out on you. Try not to take it personally, you are just the only one there to receive the result of these separations. It is important to create a safe place for children to share their feelings about the transition. Help them to understand why their Mom or Dad has to travel, and keep them connected by calling/texting/emailing/Skyping and exchanging pictures. Recognize your own adjustment, as well. It is normal if feelings of resentment sneak in when absence is not making the heart grow fonder. Talk about it with your supportive circle and your spouse.
In today's global economy, families having to travel for work is more common than ever. Airlines expect a 31% increase in passenger traffic by 2017. Many families have to weather time apart, be it weekly or for lengthy parts of the year. It is important that you find routines that suit your family, maintaining surviving/thriving environments when a partner is away and creating maximized enjoyment when the family is all together.