This Is The Hardest Part Of A Spouse Traveling For Work

by Mairead Heffron
A mid-length brown-haired spouse who is traveling for work in a grey sweatshirt playing and a blonde...
Maskot / Getty

My husband. I love you.

When you are working away, our house doesn’t quite feel like home; our family is incomplete. I yearn for your return. I look forward to sharing out the parental duties; to your company. I miss the warmth of your smile, your hug and the cups of tea and chats on the couch at the end of the day.

You return from the latest show and, instead of happy families, I am angry, resentful, confused, with a litany of criticisms and complaints.

The clothes dryer is in the wrong place and the laundry basket is overflowing. You are tidying your study and there are books all over the upstairs landing. The dinner is prepared incorrectly, and too late; there are now no dinner leftovers to be used as lunch the following day.

The two-year-old is wearing his baby brother’s trousers.

There are croissants (did you know they are mostly made of butter — the horror?) instead of porridge for breakfast. There are sugary treats for the two-year-old who has wet his pants twice because playing with daddy was so much more fun than remembering to use the potty.

The two-year-old alternates between play fighting with you and demanding loudly to be carried everywhere. “I’m a baby rhino… Carry me… Carry me.” The baby won’t nap because things just got too exciting in the kitchen below.

I come down to the kitchen still in my pajamas and dressing gown, baby in arms. You smile your warm smile, and I scowl.

I always forget this: that the transitions are the hardest thing.

When you are away, I get on with things. I develop my own system for surviving alone.

I make the space my own — my mother cave — gather everything close, find the simplest path through the mayhem to calm.

I know the optimal time to get the two-year-old into his clothes. To avoid a clothes-refusal tantrum while baby is at the peak of his pre-nap fussiness and before the agreed walk/playground trip/car ride. “But I don’t WANT to go for a walk. I don’t WANT TO go ANYWHERE!”.

I know exactly what food is in the fridge, what dinner can be concocted with it, and how to prepare so baby can eat it too.

I have my countdown to bedtime-and-some-precious-me-time routine perfected:

5 pm: Dinner.

5.30 pm: Clean up while baby and toddler on their post-food high.

6 pm: Both into pajamas, the older one with the promise of cartoons in exchange for cooperation.

6:30: stick on Netflix for an episode of Dinosaur Train, telling him sternly he only gets one episode, and take baby upstairs for final feed to sleep.

7 pm: Give in to pleas for another episode of dinosaur train and squeeze in some yoga. Scroll through social media if you’re feeling lazy.

7:20 pm: Tidy up two-year-old’s toys if you feel like an extra challenge. “NOOOOOO Mommy. I NEED all of that lego on the floor. DON’T put it away.”

7:30 pm: Brush teeth, read books, and settle him into bed.

8 pm: Breathe a sigh of relief at the silence throughout the house, put the kettle on, and hope for at least 20 minutes before baby wakes up.

I develop my own system and rely on following that system to maintain my sanity. It feels unsafe to suddenly relinquish control.

Your choices to do things differently feel like an undermining of all the decisions I’ve been making on my own to keep our children well and happy these past few weeks.

You become the fun, celebrated parent and I am the boring, practical one.

The precious calm of the house after bedtime is replaced by you bustling about with chores, or watching films in the sitting room while ironing.

I’ve become so used to planning my days on my own that I forget.

I forget that there are two of us in this parenting thing.

I forget that we need to talk to each other. We haven’t done much of this recently.

I forget that I still need the “me time;” the writing time; the silence of the house when the babies are asleep.

I forget that a husband who enjoys ironing is a rare and beautiful thing.


Sometimes all it takes is time. Time to settle into a different rhythm.

I make a passive-aggressive comment on your laundry abilities. You grow quiet, ponder, observe: “This isn’t how we talk to each other.”

And its not. And I consider what’s going on.

And I breathe, let go a little of control. I allow a new rhythm to evolve.

I write and I explore these feelings. We talk over cups of tea, conversations interrupted by baby burps and “I’m a baby rhino. Carry me Daddy. Carry me.” We talk over glasses of wine by the fire when they are both asleep.

I find new improved “me time.” A stroll on my own. A yoga workshop. A drawing class.

I appreciate the croissants (they are mostly made of butter, after all), the happy playfighting two-year-old, the not having to prepare dinner.

And the ironing, I always appreciate the ironing.

The washing eventually gets done, the books get tidied away…

and the house begins to feel like home again.