By Lisa Sugarman
I have a husband who travels a lot. Not, I’m hoping, because he needs a break from me and our kids (eeeesh, that would be awkward), but because his job necessitates it. The good news is, according to a recent ABC News report, there are 34.2 million other Americans out there who also travel for work every year. So the girls and I certainly aren’t alone. And like most families with a traveling spouse, we’ve come up with our own personal survival guide to help us manage while Dave’s away. Because with a job of my own, two kids, a house, a dog, a turtle, and a routine to maintain, his being away can be a unique challenge. Although not necessarily in all the ways you might expect.
Fortunately for us, most of his trips are domestic, so he’s usually only gone for a day or two at a time. Only rarely is he abroad. Either way, he’s gone a good chunk of the time, meaning that it’s just me and the girls—our two daughters, 17 and 14. So what that’s made me, by default, is a part-time single mom. And lemme tell you, it can get interesting.
First of all, being even a part-time single parent really puts into perspective what life is like for all the full-time single parents out there who are on call 365 days a year. Talk about respect. Don’t know how you do it.
Now Dave’s been traveling like this since our oldest was a newborn. So it’s a way of life for us. We all know the drill when the carry-on bag comes upstairs. But like anything that you live with on a regular basis, you learn to adapt. And you do it because you have to. Because one of the most important things we who work and raise families have to do is maintain that work/life balance. And sometimes to do that you have to give up something in order to gain something. And sometimes, that something might be having your spouse around five days a week.
Now I’m talking about all this mainly because I like to talk about things that (A) I know about from personal experience and (B) other people out there might be struggling with. And when I really thought about it the other night, as I was packing Dave’s overnighter, I realized I know more people out there who have a family dynamic like ours than families who don’t. And just based on what I hear from my friends who live with it like I do, I know it’s not easy, no matter how long you’ve been doing it.
And it doesn’t matter who you are or how finely tuned your family routine is, every one of us struggles with more or less the same things. Things like not having any time to yourself, being responsible for all the housework, balancing all the cooking and the cleaning and the shopping and the chauffeuring. But even those things, as time consuming and daunting as they can be, are generally pretty manageable when you learn how to budget your time and prioritize. And when you learn how to take advantage of all the cheap child labor you have right in the next room.
Believe it or not, the things that can be the trickiest, especially for me, are actually the things that happen when Dave comes home. Crazy as that sounds, it’s true. And it’s the dumb, irrational things like getting annoyed when he adds all of his dirty laundry to my finally-empty laundry basket that really get to me. Or when he reaches for the remote when I feel like I’ve earned the right to watch the Chopped Champions marathon. Or when he turns the air conditioning off when I’ve got the house at the exact perfect temperature for feety pajamas. It’s irrational, territorial stuff like that that I struggle with the most. I know I’m wrong, but I just can’t help myself. Sorry, babe.
I know it’s easier for some people to tolerate the separation than it is for others. Believe me, I know. Some people welcome the time alone when their spouse is away. It’s a time to reset and recharge. The old absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder thing. And even though it means you’ve inherited longer days, more chores, and less down time, the down time you get is your own. Just like the hot water in the shower, the clicker, all the pillows and covers, and his parking spot in the garage. And that almost makes it worth it. Almost. And if those things can somehow make the being apart tolerable then great. You just have to keep in mind that you can’t get too comfortable going it alone because you do have another half and when their business trip is over, that missing link is gonna walk right back in through the front door and reattach to the chain.
But it’s inevitable that your irrational mind gets annoyed that you have no help or support around the house when your spouse is away, even though you know they’re working. See the problem is, you also know that they’re getting showered and dressed in a quiet bathroom, shoving their dirty clothes in their suitcase, eating out at five-star sushi restaurants, taking a run in between meetings. Ok, I need to stop.
What we all need to do is remember that there’s a purpose for their absence. And without these business trips, the bank account balance would never get out of the red. And that would be bad.
I try very hard to stay conscious of the fact that Dave’s not away by choice and that at the end of the day, he’s away from his family. A lot. And that’s hard. Because if his being away is hard on us, then being a frequent flyer on a half dozen different airlines can’t be easy on him either. I’m honestly not sure how I’d do it if I had to. And I really do try to remind myself of how I’d feel if I was in his shoes. As he often reminds me, the novelty of traveling all over the world wears off very quickly. And that just proves that we both make sacrifices in different ways. Because the truth is, while there are times when both of us jokes about trading places, I’m not sure either one of us is better equipped to deal with the trade if we could.
So I guess I’m really just saying all of this out of support for my other bunker buddies out there who continue to take one for the greater good of the team. It’s not easy to stay back behind enemy lines, under constant fire, while your other half is away on furlough, relaxing in their Heavenly Bed on the twenty-third floor of the W Hotel in San Francisco. Damn. I really do need to stop doing that.
The bottom line is that living apart as a family, even only on occasion, is a challenge for everybody. But it’s doable as long as everyone stays conscious of what everyone else needs and what everyone else is going through. And some Ghirardelli chocolates in your carry-on bag to show your wife how much you love and appreciate her is a nice touch, too.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at Spirit of ’76 Bookstore.