So my husband has been traveling a lot lately. Mostly? I’m excited about this because it’s the result of a promotion that he worked hard to achieve. I’m incredibly proud of him, and I’m thankful for the benefits that outweigh the challenge of a traveling spouse. I truly aim to write this post with a grateful heart. Because—though I wish my husband could be around more—I have literally nothing to complain about. My children are healthy. My marriage is strong. And my husband works so hard to provide a beautiful life for us. I have NOTHING to complain about. So please know that I say this with honesty and not with burden: Solo parenting while your spouse is out of town for work can often be a challenging experience.
Toddlers? Not typically known for their even temperament and adaptability in times of change. They like predictability and schedules. My oldest only recently wrapped his brain around the idea of daddy being available to play on the weekends and at work on week days. So when he also finds out his dad will be gone for four days? He tends to lose his mind. I honestly don’t blame him. I lose mine a little bit sometimes too.
My youngest doesn’t notice much yet. But he does randomly ask for daddy when I’m not expecting it. This sends my oldest into a tailspin as he cries, “No! Daddy’s not home! Daddy’s at work! He’s on a plane! I MISS DADDY.”
Me too, buddy.
We’re admittedly still getting used to the “gone every week” level of traveling that comprises our new normal. However, I have had the great privilege of reaching out to women all over the country for advice. (Hey-oh, mommy group!) They offered some great tips on how to handle the transitions. Let me share some things we’re finding helpful:
Create a countdown.
I give my son a choice between a construction paper chain or a sticker chart. We make this together the morning his dad leaves. Each subsequent morning at breakfast, he takes a ring off of the chain or adds a sticker to the chart. This helps him visually process the number of days until he sees his dad again. He also just thinks it’s fun to play with glue and stickers. So simply making the chart on that first day creates a nice distraction.
Meal plan to the extreme.
My favorite thing about my husband’s trips? I can make whatever I want for dinner. And I usually cook no more than twice. I have no problem with leftovers, and my kids are fine as long as I swap out their sides. I also build in at least one meal out – a Chick-Fil-A playdate, a Panera run, whatever provides something fast and kid-friendly and gets me out of the kitchen.
Take full advantage of technology.
My son and I Google his dad’s destination and talk about it. This week, my husband is in Florida. So we talked about the beach a bit and snuggled while I told him about how he was born in this magical place near Mickey Mouse’s house. We talked about fishing off of the coast. I insisted my husband take pictures of the water and boats for me to show the boys. I also send photos and pictures to my husband so he can stay looped in on the “boring” stuff we do every day—like bath time or play-wrestling.
Figure out what works for you.
I initially assumed I would get a ton done during my husband’s absence. Sometimes, I do. Other times? The kids wear me out so completely that I instantly fall asleep on the couch at 8:00pm. Usually, I end up with terrible insomnia that results in my trying to grab a nap the next day while my kids rest. As with everything, we seek a balance. I try to give myself one full night “off” from domestic duties. Then I split the rest of my to-do list up across the time he’s gone.
If childcare is an option, do it.
My oldest is in a Mother’s Day Out program twice a week, and I am such a better mother because of it. I love him so much, but I need a little bit of space sometimes. I need to miss his sweet face. He needs to make friends and adapt to a “school” environment without me. I will be putting my youngest in the same program in the fall, and I am beyond excited. I’m going to grocery shop alone. I’m going to meal prep alone. I’ll clean my house. And it will stay clean for hours before I pick them up. Bliss.
Right now, when daddy’s gone, there is no true rest for me. We decided that, as my husband’s job required him to be more absent, I would set aside most of my work in order to be fully present. This seems like a nice idea at first. But I slowly realized that “fully present” take its toll. Even when the kids are asleep, I am hyper-vigilant. I sleep lighter. I won’t even take cold medicine when I’m sick because I’m afraid I’ll sleep too hard and not wake up if they need me. On the first night of my husband’s return? I’m usually bone tired. It’s like that weight of constant awareness is lifted. And I can finally breathe deeply again. I eagerly await the few hours each week that I get a reprieve from that this fall.
I know I’m not even remotely alone in this balance of motherhood while on my own. Some of you have spouses who are gone for months at a time. Some of you have traversed deployments or have spouses who work off-hour shifts that mean you don’t see them much. Still others are full-time single parents (a whole different ball game from solo parenting). Many of you handle all of this while also working a full-time job. My hat’s off to you all!