It’s no secret that Jeff travels quite a bit for work. It was one of the requirements for his job position. From day one, we always knew that work travel would be part of our lives. When asked in his interview if he would be willing to travel for work, the answer was an emphatic “YES!” Let it be known that there is a difference between the decisions made when you’re twenty-three and starting out and when you’re thirty and you’re parenting two kids. At twenty-three, the idea of work travel across the world sounded adventurous, exciting, even glamorous. Fast forward seven years and this momma and her two kiddos do NOT find Jeff’s work travel so exciting. (And neither does Jeff, for that matter.) However, it is something we have learned to accept and cope with over the years. (While work travel is difficult on our family at times, the bright side is that it affords me to be able to stay home with our girls – something that we highly value at this time in our lives.)
In the past twelve months, Jeff has been away from our family for work for just over three months. Three weeks here, two weeks there, four weeks that-away. It has not been an easy year. We have been stretched in our family dynamics, in our individual roles as parents, in our marriage, and definitely in our expectations. I’m thankful to say that we’ve become stronger for it, but not without our fair share of bumps in the road.
So far this year, we’ve been lucky that Jeff hasn’t had to travel much.This past week was our first taste of work travel for the year. He was gone for four nights/five days. It’s safe to say that our pace of life changes when he’s gone. The three of us girls do things a little differently, a little less scheduled, with a lot more grace, whenever Jeff is absent. Essentially, we hunker down into survival mode.
I hesitate in calling this a “how-to” survive solo parenting, because I certainly don’t have all the answers about how to be the best Mum to our girls when I’m doing it on my own. If anything, parenting solo has made me realize how inadequate I am as a parent without Jeff. Beyond that even, my eyes have been opened to the world’s true unsung heros – single parents. Their strength, resilience, and patience to be the primary provider and influencer in their children’s lives leaves me incredibly humbled. I guess I’d call these survival “tips” instead. “How-to” sounds too hard and fast. Like if you do this and this, you will get this outcome. Every kid is different. Every parent is different. This is just my approach on making it through and enjoying (to the best of my ability) solo parenting when Jeff travels for work:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are some battles just not worth fighting, especially with the sudden upheaval of Daddy being gone. In our house, meal time can be a battle field, even under the best of circumstances. When Jeff is traveling, we exist on Kraft Dinner, chicken nuggets, and frozen pizza. Sometimes for four weeks at a time. The point is, I’m not willing to fight picky eaters at the end of our day when all three of us are tired and impatient.
- Find creative ways to explain the concept of time. This is a hard one, especially with really little kids. About a year ago, when Zoe had just turned three, Jeff was gone for a three week trip to Japan. Try explaining three weeks or twenty-one days to a preschooler who thinks every hour is an eternity. So I implemented the paper chain. I made a paper chain with a link for every night that Daddy was gone. Each night before bed we’d remove one link and then count how many sleeps were left until Daddy came home. This little ritual became something Zoe really looked forward to and helped her visualize the length of time shortening.
- Plan special outings/dates. On Jeff’s longer trips, I usually try to do one special “experience” with the girls each week. Granted, it doesn’t take much to impress little kids, so we never did anything outrageous. Supper at McDonald’s and then time spent at the Play Place was always a highlight. Or sprinkle doughnuts and apple juice from Tim Hortons. If Jeff’s travel would fall during a special event/holiday, I’d try to still celebrate the specialness of that season with the girls. This past year, Jeff was gone for part of October and most of November, missing Halloween and both girls’ birthdays. So we decided to set up our Christmas tree really early as a special treat. (For those of you who know me well, you know that setting up the Christmas tree was just as much for me as for the girls. A bit of Christmas freak over here!)
- Find ways to still take care of yourself. This also can be tricky, especially when everything and everyone really is relying on you. But I’ve started to do little things that give me little bursts of adult “joy” during those very very long days (and nights!). For some reason, both of my girls tend to go through major sleep regressions whenever Jeff leaves. His last trip, I probably averaged about four hours of sleep a night. It was brutal. However, I found adopting the newborn mantra of “sleep when your baby sleeps” while parenting on my own to be extremely helpful. (I am fortunate, that while night time sleep is a gong show, both girls nap daily for a couple of hours – at.the.same.time. Basically, I catch whatever sleep I can while they nap.) While I may not be getting a lot of sleep during Jeff’s travels, I am usually consuming pots and pots of coffee. Coffee is my life blood when I’m parenting on my own, so I try to make it as special as I can. I like to buy flavoured creamers and coffee beans. I also usually buy myself a scented candle and will burn that in the morning when I’m attempting to drink my hot, (fingers crossed) unmicrowaved coffee.
- Ask for help. This is probably the most important point of all. There are times when you just need a break. Family, friends and babysitter – you need a support network to keep you sane. For me, I would travel to my parents most weekends. A change of scenery did both me and and the girls a world of good. My inlaws took the girls each Friday night for their swimming lessons, giving me a good hour to myself where I could relax, read, nap, or enjoy a glass of wine. Those moments of reprieve buoyed me through some very long weeks. I also would have my Mum call or text me each day to check that things were still ok. (Call me an over-worrier, but if something happened to me while Jeff was gone and my babies were left to fend for themselves…I don’t even want to think about it! Hence, my Mum calls me each day to check in.)
And that’s it. That’s how this Momma keeps her head on (somwhat) straight when I’m parenting on my own. Maybe this will be a help to other Mums out there who are not sure how to survive their spouses’ work travel. Or maybe this is just a good reminder for me as I look ahead on our calendar that is already filling up with work trips. Either way, remember that you’re not alone, that asking for help does not make you incapable, and that coffee does wonders, fresh or three-times microwaved.