Over the years, I’ve accumulated a few tips and tricks for surviving those 1- to 2-week-long trips in which my spouse is traveling and my kids miss their dad. I have learned most of these things the hard way, so perhaps you can benefit from my trial and error!
Routine is your friend when dad is traveling.
The first time my husband traveled internationally for work, I thought filling the week with friend meet-ups, outings, activities, etc. would make the week fly by. About halfway through, we were all exhausted, cranky, and our house was a disaster.
So now we say “no” to as many things as we can during that week, and keep maybe just one or two fun things to look forward to. Keep it simple. Stick to normal mealtimes and bedtimes. In the end, everyone will benefit.
Prioritize what matters, and let the minor things go.
This is probably not the week to empty your kitchen cabinets and reorganize. Don’t decide to potty train your toddler. Focus on the basic necessities — meals, laundry, adequate sleep, and keeping the house somewhat together so it doesn’t cause more stress.
I would reserve the dino nuggets and boxed mac and cheese for one or two nights and then cook normal, healthy, easy meals the other nights. For example, I’ll make scrambled eggs and fruit one night, grilled cheese and tomato soup another. My kids absolutely LOVE when we do yogurt parfaits for dinner — a treat we reserve for when dad is traveling. They love helping put the different layers of fruit and yogurt and granola in big glasses and then digging in.
Model for your kids finding special things in the ordinary.
Did the best parking spot free up just in time for your arrival in a crowded parking lot? Announce this to your kids and say out loud you’re so thankful.
Call them to join you at the window if you spot a stunning sunset. Watch as the brilliant pink fades and the day ends. Tell them you’re so happy you get to be their mom. Try not to get so bogged down with tasks that you forget to acknowledge them.
Focusing on the basics doesn’t mean you can’t still make things fun and special when your spouse is traveling.
Are there out-of-the-ordinary things you can do that don’t require much time or effort, but will still make some sweet memories? Once, I made the kids an easy dinner and had them sit on a picnic blanket while they watched a movie. It was a welcome change of scenery to switch up the dinner hour, and cleanup was easy because we used paper plates.
Spontaneous drive-through milkshakes. Kitchen dance parties. Reading out loud a chapter a night from a really good book (after they’ve cleaned their bedrooms). These are all ways you can lighten the mood and make things a bit more fun for everyone.
Give yourself grace, and extend grace to your kids.
Have you been short with your kids because you’re feeling beyond frazzled? Ask for forgiveness and then make space to decompress once you have the opportunity. It’s ok to tell them you’re frustrated. Put on a funny show, enjoy some chocolate-covered almonds, and try again tomorrow.
As much as you might be feeling the weight of one less adult in the house, your kids might be feeling it more. They may bicker with each other or have more meltdowns than usual. Make them a paper chain and countdown to the day their dad comes home. Speak highly of your spouse, explaining in simple terms why he is away. If you just need a good vent, find a good girlfriend to whom you can do so. Then move on.
Balance self-care with realizing it’s also not about you.
Whatever life-giving activities you do on a normal basis might need to take a backseat when your spouse is traveling. Preparing yourself for that ahead of time is a good idea.
I enjoy working out multiple times a week but when my husband travels, this just isn’t always feasible. When he’s gone, I know he’s working hard. And although it’s tempting to dream about being in a conference room sharing thoughts and ideas with people not wearing diapers, it’s not a vacation for him either. The work may be different than what you’re doing, but it’s important. Also, as tempting as it is to check out completely as soon as he walks in the door, give him a chance to ease back into things (especially if he’s just traveled internationally). Once he gets settled, talk about a time you can get away by yourself to recharge.
Single moms, military moms and moms with a traveling spouse… I’m thinking of you.
I’d like to acknowledge that for the single moms in our community, this is the norm. These mamas are incredible and must be acknowledged as such.
In addition, there are many, many military families in our city with spouses thousands of miles away, serving our country for months or even years. Their strength and sacrifice does not go unnoticed. If you are reading and either of these are your story, please know that my thoughts are with you and you are seen. To anyone out there trying to single-handedly survive (and thrive) with little ones, you can do this!