My husband’s travel schedule has slowly snuck up on us over the years, kind of like a silent-footed thief in my house who steals away the only sane person here. I’m left with only children in my home, and we all know how incredibly helpful they are.
When we first started navigating his new travel schedule, I wasn’t prepared for how much I relied on him to be there for me — just to do things like pick up that last ingredient from the store, be another body that can wake up in the middle of the night when a kid has a nightmare, and just be another adult human to talk to about how amazing/annoying/terrifying/thrilling it is being a parent to our children.
The first few times he left, I floundered. The kids didn’t seem to notice that he was gone, all of their needs were still being met, they were just being met solely by me. After a couple of days, I was exhausted, and defeated, from trying to do everything.
(A side note here: Military spouses and single parents, you are obviously operating on a whole different level than me, and you are my heroes.)
Over the last few years, I’ve had great experiences and not-so-great experiences doing this parenting thing alone while my husband travels. Here are some tips for you if your partner also travels a lot for work:
1. Try to rein in your jealousy of their “free time.”
I know, I know he’s working. But STILL. He is also going out to fancy dinners in cool towns, staying in nice hotels sleeping uninterrupted in large, comfy beds, and usually having a pretty great time. I would just love to be on airplane all by myself for a couple of hours — that sounds like a vacation right about now. It’s hard to be knee-deep in macaroni and cheese and living through the longest story ever told by a 10-year-old while also hearing about the delicious steak at the whiskey bar that my husband had the night before. Jealousy has been the hardest part for me by far.
2. Dinner? What dinner?
Did I mention the macaroni and cheese? Well, that’s fancy dinner around here when my husband is traveling. Sometimes we have popcorn and ice cream. A lot of times we have breakfast for dinner. We don’t sit at the table, we watch ’80s movies, we are lazy. Picture first-semester college freshmen, and that’s basically us.
3. Try not to eat and drink all the things and stay up way past your bedtime.
The party really starts when my kids go to bed. I don’t sleep as well when my husband’s not home, so I delay, and delay, and delay. And nobody is watching me so I might as well binge-watch hours of shows and have that extra glass of wine. This exacerbates the exhaustion I previously mentioned and doesn’t work out in my favor.
4. Try not to freak yourself out.
Get some home security, a big-ass dog, or self-defense lessons. Anything to not freak the shit out of yourself at midnight after you’ve finally decided to go to bed. Lying there in the dark thinking about all the sounds outside and wondering about all the scary things lurking about, and knowing that you are the only adult around can be freaky AF.
5. Don’t be superwoman/superman.
You physically cannot do it all. You can’t be all the things to all the people. Give yourself a break. As long as everyone is fed and clothed, you’re good.
6. Remember that kids don’t care about any of the stuff that you care about.
They don’t care if they haven’t bathed in three days or if the house is clean or if you are wearing the same clothes as the day before.
7. Routine it as much as you can.
Don’t make any schedule changes during this time. If we keep their normal routines happening, they are happier, I am calmer, and everything runs more smoothly.
8. Coffee. So much coffee.
Especially after the “staying up too late, being the only adult who wakes up with kids in the middle of the night, bad diet” trifecta.
This has been incredibly helpful for tricking me into thinking that I’m not the only adult on the planet when my husband travels. We live kinda far out in the woods and so we are constantly FaceTiming grandparents, friends, and their dad. I just try to ignore the fact that he’s dining out at fancy restaurants while I’m still in my pajamas.
10. When your partner comes home, remember that they live there too.
I seem to always forget this part and it makes re-entry a bitch. I have my routine: This is how we do it now. Why are you parenting them differently from me? It’s hard to let go of the reins of the tightly run situation you have spent the whole week perfecting.
So, if your spouse travels a lot, I feel you. It can be both liberating and incredibly lonely. We can do it, even when it doesn’t feel like it, on those weeks that everyone catches the stomach flu and we are knee-deep in vomit. It may not always be fun, but it’s possible, and we just might come out the other side learning something about ourselves.