My husband travels for work…and school…a lot. When we moved here from Seattle over two years ago my husband’s company told him they didn’t care where he lived just so long as he continued to work for them. We were completely blessed by that! It also took the pressure off of finding a new job here in VT right away. So he telecommutes the majority of the time but every other month he needs to do two weeks of face to face time back in Seattle. Add to that his travel back and forth to Boston where he is getting his MBA for a 3-4 day weekend every month. It adds up and fast!
When we first moved here I only had one boy to navigate these uncharted waters with. Now I have two making it twice as dicey. The kids have been through separation anxiety, tantrums, behavioral misconduct, sadness, tears, sleep issues, and attachment problems to the parent traveling. I’ve been through tears, anger, frustration, defeat, and more tears.
All that aside, I have learned a few things and I’d like to share them with you. If you travel, or your spouse does, here are some ways to help your littles leading up to – during – and after the trip.
- Prep the Departure: Figure out the best time to tell your children about your spouse going out of town. We’ve told our son important information at the wrong time and that has certainly come back to bite us. You know your kids best, tell them at an appropriate time AND with enough time to process the change.
- Share the Details of the Trip: In order to make kids feel more comfortable about a missing parent sometimes it’s best to share the details. Let them know where you are going, what you will be doing, who you will be with. Maybe get out a map and show them so they have some sort of visual of how far or close you will be.
- Make Secret Notes: My husband did this for me on his last trip. I slipped my hand under my pillow as I was going to bed and found a beautiful letter. It was a wonderful surprise, something that totally made my day, something I needed to hear in the middle of a crazy month. Do something like that for your spouse: slip a love note in his bag telling how proud you are that he works so hard for you or have your kids draw pictures to surprise him at his destination.
- Stick to Your Daily Routines: Kids need and thrive on structure and routines. If you have them in place, keep them. They already have one variable with a traveling parent they need to deal with, they don’t need any more curve balls thrown their way.
- Make Plans: I’ve learned to notify my family and friends when Michael will be out of town. My best advice to you is to ingratiate yourself on them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve invited myself over to dinner and a playdate at someone’s house because the alternative is another long night alone with your kids trying to get through yet another game of hide and go seek. They are your family and friends for a reason, call on them!
- Use Technology: We live in a fantastic time where we can see each other on our phones! It’s the stuff of sci-fi movies but it’s real!!! So get yourself a Skype account, or for you iPhone users figure out Facetime, and have some face to face phone calls. Oh, and another note, the phone works both ways. Make sure you are both putting in the work to call each other.
- Be Positive: This one can be tricky depending on how long the traveling parent is gone. The shorter the trip the more positive I tend to be. The longer…well the happy quotient goes down a bit. I’m not perfect and I’m preaching to myself here too. Kids know when something is up, if you’re sad, angry, or upset they’re going to pick up on that. So do what you have to do to maintain a positive attitude through the whole thing, your kids won’t consciously know it but they will appreciate it.
- Get a Sitter If Need Be: If that whole “Be Positive” thing is getting a little hard then feel the freedom to get a sitter and get some distance for a few hours. It’s no sign of failure or defeat if you need to get a sitter to take a break. It’s more like preventative care.
- Celebrate the Return: Yeah, they’re home! Throw a celebration, go out to eat, do something fun just your family unit. The important thing is to spend time together that day.
- Give the at Home Parent a Break: Spouses who travel need to acknowledge the one who has held down the fort. Give them a few hours off, a day off, a night away at a hotel (oh, I shouldn’t get too crazy here!). They need time to recharge and decompress so show them some love and give them some deserved space.
Travel is never easy for anyone involved. But I hope some of these tips help you next time you’re in this situation.
Are there any traveling parents out there? What types of things do you do to help your kids get through that time?