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Keeping Kids Connected to a Parent that Travels for Work

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!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer September 30, 2010 at 7:07 am

I think that a supportive energy in the house is the most important thing. That you value your husbands efforts to provide for the family is a great lesson to the children. The pride and security that you felt being your father’s daughter is obvious when you write about him. I can’t wait for that book. 🙂

I had a young lady tell me once that she was a single parent as she rolled her eyes and cackled and then finished with – well I might as well be, my husband is deployed… I told her swiftly that I hope she never told him that, that she should not only appreciate his contributions and support but she should verbalize it – especially in front of the children. For gracious sakes! He’s living in a tent in the desert while you play with your children in an air conditioned a house with a refrigerator full of food and running water and you have the audacity to act flippant about his occupation! Holy cow. So rude. So that might have been a bit of a digression but i always thought that she was probably not doing the children any favors about their dynamic with their father by not only making light of his situation but also by outwardly dismissing his contributions and the fact that there was an active marital commitment taking place. sheesh.


smartypantzed September 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm

What a great comment about appreciating the parent who isn’t always at home. I point out consistently that part of why dad works so hard is so that I can be there them when they need me. Thank you for your perspective and comments!!


Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I love reading your blog and really enjoyed today’s post about family dynamics. I especially like your idea of creating a postcard box. What an amazing keepsake to have and reflect upon as children age.

I grew up in a family where my dad commuted one hour to San Francisco and would arrive home every night around 6:30 when dinner was promptly served. I never understood and still don’t how my mom managed the timing for our family of five. Truly amazing!

My husband also travels extensively and as a mother of a 3 year old and 4 month old, I wish we could have more of the nighttime routine that I remember as a child. What I strive to do is when my husband is home, we shoot for a family dinner. Some day’s it works and other days it doesn’t. And I’ve had to become OK with this, that it’s not picture perfect. The weekends are about the quality time for us. My husband will take my daughter for a couple of hours and they will go to the park, go swimming, or will simply run around with a ball. She loves this time with her dad and always comes home with a smile and can see she feels his love. She’s still young, but she definitely understands that daddy isn’t home some nights and she misses him. The quality time is so important for nurturing.


Optoisolator : October 31, 2010 at 11:28 am

children toys that are brightly colored are the best toys to give to your kids, just make sure they are not made in china “


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