A parent’s frequent and prolonged absences due to business travel can put enormous strain on a marriage and family unit as a whole.
Such an arrangement is even more difficult when no extended family is nearby to help ease the burden. Two experts share proactive ways to keep your family and your marriage strong while maintaining your own physical and mental well-being.
Make time for yourself. You may keep the home fires burning, but don’t burn down the house. Self-care is essential. Follow a healthy diet, exercise and get adequate sleep. “Just like on an airplane where they tell you that you must assist yourself before you can help the person next to you if the oxygen mask drops, we can’t help our kids until we help us,” says Laura Murphy, a certified parent coach and president of Real Families, Inc.
Plan evenings out with friends once in a while, engage in hobbies for personal fulfillment or relax with a favorite DVD or TV show after your children go to bed. “Instead of viewing it negatively that he is out of town, I enjoy the silence at nighttime after the kids go down and make it ‘me’ time,” says Sarah Roe, a mom of two boys.
Practice considerate, creative communication. Meaningful communication builds stronger relationships. Debbie Mandel, a stress management expert and author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, suggests couples send each other flirty emails, talk on the phone after the kids go to bed and share details of each other’s day. Discuss problems concerning the children and the household to give your spouse the opportunity to weigh in with suggestions.
Rediscover the lost art of love letters and tuck a thoughtful note into your partner’s suitcase. “Writing down how we feel about each other – we could all explore that a little more,” Murphy says.Help your spouse feel connected by sending him text messages, as well as picture messages of the family engaged in day-to-day activities.If your partner travels with a laptop, www.skype.com is another valuable way to communicate – and it is a free service. Carrie Petruncola travels two to five days a week for work. “It’s possible to have just as strong a family, if not stronger than those who don’t have traveling spouses,” she says. She sends frequent text messages and uses a webcam to stay connected to her husband, four-year-old daughter and infant son. She also leaves ‘I love you’ notes throughout the house for her family to find.
Need more ideas? Make a special phone call just to your child, speaking exclusively to them. If you will be gone for an extended amount of time, write a note on a hotel postcard and mail it right away so that your children receive it before you get home again. With a little ingenuity, turn your spouse’s travels into an education for your kids. Murphy taught her children geography by placing a pin on a large wall map showing their dad’s location on each of his many business trips.
Beware of resentment. With every challenge concerning the children and the household falling to you, not to mention the demands of your job if you work, too, exhaustion and stress can quickly lead to anger and resentment toward your spouse. “Stress management and self-confidence depend on perception,” says Mandel. “For a marriage to really go the distance, you need to perceive you and your spouse as a team – each with a specific skill set. Sometimes you carry the ball, and sometimes he carries the ball.”
If, however, you find resentment taking over your life and deteriorating your marriage, Mandel recommends calling a family meeting when your spouse returns. “Suppressed and silenced, stress will propel ‘road rage’ in a home,” she says. If the situation is not working for your family, discuss financials and decide if better options exist. A little empathy for each other goes a long way, too. “At least understand and appreciate each other’s contributions. Many unresolved conflicts are due to inattentive listening,” Mandel says.
Send out an S.O.S. While many parents are lucky enough to have family nearby, just as many have no close family around to help. A support network among friends and neighbors is essential and can lessen feelings of isolation. Hire a baby-sitter once in a while or ask a close friend for help. If hired childcare isn’t an option, create baby-sitting co-ops with other parents in which you take turns caring for each other’s children.
Keep it simple. To combat meal-time havoc, assemble meals ahead of time or plan simple meals for the week. Take advantage of “kids eat free” places when your spouse travels or plan an afternoon playdate and early dinner with a friend to break up the week and enjoy adult conversation.
Regroup when your spouse gets home. When your partner returns home, make quality family time a priority. In addition to nurturing your marriage by planning date nights and time alone as a couple, plan family game or movie nights and have dinner together. Your partner should spend some one-on-one time with the children, too. Not only does this give you a break, it helps your spouse reconnect with the kids. “It doesn’t have to be a big production. It could be reading books at bedtime,” Murphy says. “Make a conscious effort to engage with your child. Create quality moments even if it’s just sitting by them, being silly together or engaging in their play.”
While her husband embarks on his frequent work-related odysseys, Christa, a freelance writer, holds down the fort with her two children.
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