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Survival of the Fittest: When Your Spouse Travels

My husband is a collegiate Athletic Trainer and an Army Reservist. The combination of these two jobs mean that he works during off-hours {nights and weekends} and travels frequently for both short and extended periods of time. His schedule is not consistent and can change on short notice. As a result, I am often on my own with my girls from a few days to a month at a time. 

I always knew that we would never be like the families in which both parents work 9 to 5 jobs, but I also never fully thought through the challenges and rewards that would come with my husband’s schedule and parenting on my own. Just like you can’t fully understand what it’s like to be a mom until you actually become a mom, you can’t understand what it’s like to be the only parent home for the weekend with two small children, until you actually experience it. As with all things, you learn how to adapt when you are thrown into the fire. When you’re on your own with little kids, you need to bring your parenting “A” game. I wanted to share some of the ways that have helped me survive {and even thrive} on my own with the girls and the silver lining to my husband’s travel schedule.

Survival Tips

  • The first day/night that your spouse is away is always going to be hard. The kids will be sad, you will be sad, and you all have to adjust to a new routine. Don’t be hard on yourself or on your kids. Acknowledge that emotions may be high on both sides. Give yourself a break from cooking the first night and treat your kids by grabbing dinner out somewhere special. If dinner is already planned, go out for an ice cream treat or head to the playground for some before bed playtime. 
  • Schedule play dates with friends or neighbors that have kids the same age to keep everyone busy. Bonus: plan it for dinner time to get you through the hairy hours before bedtime! Your kids get to have fun, you get to have adult conversation, and nobody is thinking about how much they miss daddy/mommy. Planning them in advance of when your spouse is away gives everyone something fun to look forward to when the time comes.
  • If it’s possible, send pictures back and forth throughout the day with your spouse. I usually send lots of pictures and videos of the girls to my husband when he’s away. Taking pictures gives me something fun to do and it also keeps him in the loop of what the girls are up to. Bonus: Have your spouse send a few selfies or pictures of where he/she is back to your kids. My girls love to see pictures of Daddy, it always makes them smile! Another bonus: if it’s possible, FaceTime with your spouse and your kids in the morning or at night! Your spouse could even bring a book with him and read it via FaceTime before bed. Another idea is for your her/him to bring one of your kid’s stuffed animals to travel with and take fun pictures with the stuffed animal.
  • Try to get out of the house at least once a day. You don’t need to be scheduled for every minute that your spouse is away, but it’s helpful to have one thing in mind that you’re going to do for each day. It’s never fun when everyone is stuck in the house all day, especially when there isn’t another adult around to keep you sane. An activity could be as simple as walking aimlessly around Target on Saturday morning or it could be going to your local library to get over the afternoon post-nap slump.
  • Take the opportunity to do activities that your spouse may not enjoy as much or that you don’t get a chance to do as much when you’re all together. For example, if your spouse isn’t a fan of shopping or a trampoline park, pack the kids in the car and go for it! I have two girls, so my 3-year old and I will do spa nights at home and paint our nails. Another idea is to do some traveling of your own – make it into an adventure by taking a day trip or planning a short overnight trip with just you and your kids.
  • Cut yourself some slack when it gets to be too much. Acknowledge that parenting by yourself is exhausting, and don’t feel that you need to keep your kids entertained 24/7 while your spouse is away. It’s okay if they watch a movie, while you decompress and read a book. 
  • Call in reinforcements and take time for yourself. If your spouse is on an extended trip, call your parents or get a sitter, and take a few hours to go out with friends, go shopping by yourself, or get a pedicure. Like I said, you need to be on your A game when you’re parenting by yourself, so you need to be in top shape mentally. If you can get away and give yourself a break, take it! Also, just because your spouse is away, doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself – ask for help if you need it!
  • The first day that your spouse comes back is also difficult, for the same reason that the first day he/she is away is challenging – it’s an adjustment. Everyone is happy that daddy/mommy is back home, but the dynamic shifts and it can take some getting used to. I’m used to doing everything myself, in a particular way, and, when he comes home, that changes. As with the first day of the trip, give everyone a break. If you accept that your spouse is probably going to annoy you a little bit {and you will probably annoy her/him, too}, the transition will be easier for everyone. Try to relax and acknowledge that you can step down from your A game and let go a little. Plan something fun for all of you to do when your spouse gets home, like an at home movie night, or suggest that your spouse takes the kids out somewhere {or they stay home and you go out}. 

Silver Lining

The time that we do get to spend together as a family is worth the challenges. Because we are not a typical family who eats breakfast and dinner together every night and spends every weekend together, the silver lining is that we are able to truly cherish the time that we do get together. I like to think that we appreciate each other in a way that we may have taken for granted if our situation was different. 

But do you want to know the true silver lining of when my husband is away? I get to have total control of the TV remote and can take up 100% of the bed.

Can you relate? How do you survive when your spouse is away?

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