Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard.
Yesterday, my husband left to go out of town on business for the week. Again. This is not an uncommon occurrence in our household; he travels at least two and sometimes three weeks out of the month.
Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard, though. The burden usually shared by two is carried by my shoulders alone—being “on” from very early until very late, handling every request and need, squeezing in work wherever it’ll fit.
Most nights I’m a zombie by 8:30 p.m. after the gauntlet of dinner, bath, and bedtime routines.
While the stress of it all is significant, something about anticipating it makes its load more bearable. I know it’s going to be hard—but I'm ready for it.
What I wasn’t prepared for is how hard it is when he comes back home.
You see, we develop a routine of sorts when it’s just the three of us and expanding back to a quartet takes more accommodation than I anticipated. Lucky Charms for dinner makes me a cool mom, but is a less-impressive feat when it’s served to someone over the age of 10.
If I’m not careful, I catch myself barking orders at my husband and expecting him to fall in-line with the kids, forgetting that I’m not the only adult around anymore. It’s hard to flip between being The One Who Does All the Things and a co-parent who shares the decision-making and responsibilities equally.
It took several months of settling into my husband’s travel schedule before we figured out how to make it work best.
Now, we make sure he gets a few minutes of FaceTiming with the kids every night between dinner and bedtime. Our children are still pretty young (7 and 3) so we keep it brief, but it gives them a chance to see and talk with their dad and tell him about the highlights of their day.
It also keeps my husband in tune with their moods and new accomplishments, so he doesn’t feel out of the loop when he comes back home on Friday.
The other thing we do that helps is make time for a conversation between the two of us every other night. It was harder than it sounds, at first. He often travels to a different time zone, and his work hours are frequently longer, which means his availability to talk doesn’t always line up with the most convenient times (or happen at all, when things on-site weren’t going smoothly).
I’d rationalize that nothing exciting had happened that day anyway, and there wasn’t much to talk about, so it was fine just to exchange a few brief texts. But eventually, I realized how critical that talk time—mundane details and all—was to keeping us connected and on the same team.
So now, whether it’s me staying up an extra hour or him ducking out of the business dinner for 10 minutes, we are committed to making time to talk with and listen to each other while apart. Hearing each other’s voices has a way of bridging the miles that words on a screen just can’t manage.
I’ve also found it helpful to foster friendships with friends whose spouses have irregular schedules—from doctors to pharmacists and firefighters—these friends know what it’s like to parent with no 6 p.m. relief team. Sometimes, I’ll load up the kids and head over to a girlfriend’s house to do the dinner and bathtime routine together while our husbands are away.
There’s no question that ricocheting between solo parenting and being a two-parent household took some getting used to, and it’s a constant adjustment-in-progress. But as I’m learning, it seems everything in parenting is sort of an adjustment-in-progress, isn’t it?
We’re finding our way though, and you will, too.