When I was young, time with my dad always equaled quality over quantity. He’s an orthopedic surgeon, and well, you know, people needed him in surgery and stuff. However, for all the nights he took call and for all the weekends and holidays he worked, the quality time my brothers and I spent with him was precious. I remember our special outings like they were yesterday. He would wake me up early on Sunday morning. Hand and hand we would attend mass in the hospital chapel and then sit down for breakfast in the cafeteria. I loved watching the doctors in their white coats and scrubs, stethoscopes hanging from their necks as they walked. We would rehash the week over pancakes and juice, chatting about this and that. He was (and still is) my “go to guy” for dilemmas and queries. It was our version of today’s “family dinner.” It just didn’t look quite the same. After breakfast we would go on rounds to each of his patient’s rooms. There were some I could visit and some I couldn’t. Either way, I was simply thrilled to be with my dad, no matter the place or circumstance.
Today I live a blessed life with a devoted husband and two wonderful, yet often mischievous children. And, while I would like to think our life together is as picture perfect as it was on Leave it to Beaver….it’s not. My husband often works 60+ hours a week and travels more than 70% of the time. My jaw actually dropped this morning when he announced, while chomping his egg whites mixed w/salsa (I kid you not), that he would be traveling the greater part of the next three weeks. Wow- that was an eye opener, especially since he’s been gone the past two!!
Now, I accept his schedule and I knew what I was getting into when I fell in love with and married my husband. Trust me when I say this isn’t one of those “please feel sorry for me” rants. I am just painting a picture of our family dynamic. That being said, it’s one thing for me to be okay with his travel schedule, but it’s a completely different issue for our children. They are young- almost 6 and 3. They don’t understand cutbacks, downsizing and what it means to have a mortgage payment. They want daddy, and they want him NOW!
Okay, so what do you do when June Cleaver isn’t around to make cookies and cry it out? As our school disaster preparedness director used to say, “You do the best you can with what you have at the time.” I offer the same advice. Here are some tips for keeping your kids connected to a parent that travels for work:
- A map. Simple, yet effective. We map out each place dad plans to visit. The kids like it because they can “see” where he’s going. Children feel less anxiety when we tell them the truth. Sharing where a parent is going and telling kids about the destination can help alleviate fear and anxiousness. If time and sanity permit, we’ll Google where dad is going and learn what we can about the city and state (or country).
- Airport gifts. Purchase the same type (key chain, paper weight, etc.) of airport gift at each destination. This will help young children feel connected and let older children (who will act like they don’t care, but they do) know how much mom or dad cares about them.
- Postcards. Purchase a postcard from each destination. While on the plane or in a hotel room, write a story or some words of encouragement to each child (this may require multiple post cards). Again, each child will feel closer to mom/dad if she/feels that parent is thinking of him/her. Your son or daughter could create a postcard box from a shoebox or container. It could hold all correspondence. When your child becomes lonely or misses mommy/daddy, you could read past postcards to remind him/her of mom or dad’s love.
- A travel journal. You can write letters and/or draw pictures to one another. Complete an entry while you’re gone. Once you return, your child can read the journal and then provide a reply for when your leave again. This is a way for parents and children to intimately express their feelings for one another.
- Skype. While some families do not have regular Internet access, some can take advantage of this wonderful media form. Teleconference as a family- say prayers before dinner, have a family meeting, share stories of the day, or just reconnect. Maybe it isn’t in person, but at least it’s live!
It would be great if we could all sit down for family dinner every night. It would be awesome if every working parent could pull into the driveway at 5:00pm at the end of every work day. It would be insane if both parents could be at every function, party, game and match. However, that is not how reality works for most families. Many of us thrive on some days and simply survive on others. We love our children fiercely, parent with the best intentions and do our darndest to bring up the best youngsters we can in today’s society, all while our spouse is out of the parenting picture.
I hope these tips help reduce some of the stress associated with a parent who is always out-of-town. I would love to hear your coping strategies too. Happy traveling!