This is the second guest post from my dear friend Annie. If you missed her first post, it was fantastic and received great feedback, you can read it here Discipline Strategies – Helping Boys With Their Temper.
Due to his job my husband, the father of our two children aged 8 and 10 years, is away nearly every week for between 3 and 5 days. It wouldn’t suit everyone but for various reasons, after a lot of contemplation and even a break from this way of working, I’ve accepted that, for now, this is the way it will be. This is how we make it work.
Speak Honestly With The Children
From the beginning I have explained to the kids that in this family Dad earns more than Mum and because of the good wage he earns we can buy books, go on holidays etc. As we have just had a period where dad has been doing another job and not travelling they have come to realise that dad travelling means frequent flyer points and them travelling more often.
Make Dad Being Away Okay
I have several things I do only when it is the 3 of us:
- One, crazily, is that when we are having dinner, 2 of the walls talk to us (through me of course). The kids know this is completely made up but just love the grumpy wall’s attitude and are always asking if Walter and Wanda are talking today. Sometimes I curse the day I made this one up but I know they will grow out of it soon like so much else so I enjoy the laughter it provokes even when I am tired.
- Two, eat ‘nursery’ meals. Simple things like avocado on toast or baked beans are often on the menu. Both the kids and I love this for different reasons! Also, very occasionally, I will take them out to eat. This is usually because I need a change to the dynamic of it just being 3 of us again.
- Three, some nights we snuggle up together in the big bed and go to sleep there. I know the kids are not going to be interested in this much longer either so the squashiness and early nights are worth it!
I am conscious that it would be possible to create a situation where dad’s presence is resented. This never seems to be a problem probably because I am still grumpy and tired frequently or perhaps because Mr W is a very easygoing guy who just slots in when he comes home or perhaps because we make sure to:
Create Situations On Weekends Where Mr W Gets One On One Time With Each Child.
There is no doubt we have made a lifestyle choice that could impact on our kids’ relationship with their dad. So we try to counter the lack of everyday presence with shared weekend activities. This happens naturally with our youngest who shares his Dad’s love of cricket and football. At some point each weekend Dad and daughter will go somewhere that usually contains a café stop (and unless Mum remembers to ban it on the way out) a bookshop visit and purchase. (What happened to libraries????)
We are lucky that Andrew’s days at home are sometimes just that. He works from home and if it is a day I am not working we have a lunch date. Not having kids with us during the daylight hours still feels a little like wagging school! At particularly busy times or when I am feeling a little snowed under it is important to make time to get out in the evening even when we are tired. I usually find once a fortnight is good timing, otherwise it can feel a little like a chore because we are both tired and the couch looks good!
Go With Him When We Can.
This may sound glamorous but actually never happens much as the novelty of being in a different place with the kids while he works all day soon wears off. However when he has a long trip to somewhere where we can get out and around relatively easily this does happen. Generally it needs to involve a place with a holiday atmosphere, especially warmth and a pool or beach and he doesn’t go to those kind of places very often! I do make the choice to go sometimes so that he and I continue to have shared experiences of new places. Having said this we haven’t been anywhere with him for 18 months.
Ensure There Is A Three Week Block Of Holidays Somewhere During The Year.
I don’t think this pertains only to our situation but it is doubly important that as a family we have a guaranteed block of time when family dynamics can shift and update where necessary. Admittedly we are often in an unreal holiday environment but it still happens. Although it can be very difficult going back to reality at the end…
I have just dropped back to 2 days a week of paid work. This is partly because we have a new baby in the extended family and I like spending time with the mum while he gets settled in. (Don’t mistake this for generosity! Having had only 2 kids of my own, the chance to cuddle and settle a newborn is a delight. Also the fact that when I’m tired he can go back to mum and dad!) I also like to be part of my kids’ school community.
At the moment I have chosen to put my career in a holding pattern and earn less so that I can have a well-rounded life. I am going to try to make sure I spend one day a week doing something completely frivolous like catching a movie or having a long lunch with a friend. It is just too easy to get bogged down with housework and planning and I have to make a conscious effort not to do this. If I have done something frivolous during the day I get back to mothering with a renewed vigour and it’s a reminder of the freedom I have as a result of the choice we’ve made.
I am a realist and I know we are all working with unique situations. This works for our family with our particular dynamic at this time. Yes sometimes I resent being home alone (usually when one or more of us is really unwell and the physical and emotional strain takes its toll, you know -3am and you are trying to decide if this asthma episode requires hospitalisation or not) but I know there are plenty of people out there parenting on their own full-time and doing a much better job than me.
Finally, anyone who knows us will tell you it’s not an easy option for my husband either. When he is home he spends his time being a dedicated dad and husband and has to rely on those quiet hotel room nights to read and watch current affairs programs! If he wasn’t so committed to the family when at home this really wouldn’t work.
I’d love to hear your ideas for getting the best out of family life when a partner travels.