I rarely travel for business. And by rarely, I mean I haven't in 6 years. But my husband? Well, at this very moment, he's at the Frankfurt airport, having just arrived from Uzbekistan. He's waiting for his flight to Milan. Three days ago he was in China and the week before that he was in India.
This means the kids and I are home alone a lot. While it's nothing like being a single parent, it is difficult to balance my career and the kids alone a good portion of the time. Here are 10 things I've learned over the years on how to manage with a road warrior husband.
1. Put his schedule on your calendar. Before he goes, he sends me his flight itinerary. I use gmail and it recognizes the itinerary and asks me if I want it on my calendar. I select yes. It's even smart enough for time zones. So, at any given time, it's easy for me to know where he is.
2. Make use of technology. Because of time zone differences, when he travels globally our primary means of communication is text message. But, Facetime, Skype, and regular phone calls all work as well. Make it a priority to connect every day, even with crazy time zone differences.
3. Maintain your own social life. Sometimes as the left behind spouse, I think, "Oh, we'll have to do that when my husband gets home!" Forget it. I'd never see a movie or do things with friends if I had to wait until he was around. I've just made plans with friends to see the newest Star Wars on opening day. I'll buy a ticket for my husband, but if he's somewhere else, I'll ask someone else to go with our group, or I'll just eat the cost. I'm not going to say, "Oh, let me wait until I get his December travel schedule!" Tickets will be sold out by then.
4. Don't save things up for when he gets home. When he first started traveling, we'd always fight when he got home from a long trip. Why? Because I hadn't wanted to bring anything up over the phone, or when he was so busy with meetings. The end result was that he'd get home, jet-lagged and exhausted and I'd be exhausted by holding in every problem I'd encountered over the past two weeks and unload it on him. "Hi, honey, welcome home! Let me tell you all the horrible things that happened while you were gone! And why weren't you here to help me?"
This, by the way, is a recipe for disaster. Now, I keep him up to date on things, regardless of whether he's under a heavy meeting schedule. By resolving the issues as they happen (or with a 6 or 8 hour delay, depending on time zones), homecomings are fun again.
5. Don't forget your own career. There are some things I have to give up to accommodate a road warrior husband, but for the most part, I'm where I'd like to be. (I'd love to do more public speaking, but two of us with travel schedules would mean finding overnight babysitters and we don't live near family.) It can be somewhat difficult to manage a career with no backup for child emergencies, but plan ahead for emergencies. I've found a drop in day care and I switch off kid duties with a friend who also has a husband with an unpredictable schedule. Our kids are the same age, so it works great.
6. Embrace the lifestyle and its perks. Okay, my husband is gone 50 percent of the time, but he's got hotel points and frequent flier miles coming out of his ears. When we travel we get free upgrades on hotels. (We pay for the cheapest room in the hotel and generally get a suite!) We get to hang out in the club lounge at the airport. Once, he earned 12 free nights in a resort, so we picked the most expensive resort in the chain and invited grandma and rented two rooms for six days. Grandma kept the kids in her room. The resort was so fancy, each room had private pool. Cost to us? Plane tickets and meals.
7. Learn about the destination. Now, this can be more or less fun depending on where your road warrior goes. For a year, he was spending two weeks a month in the same town in California. Boring. But lately, he's been going strange places. We've learned things about Uzbekistan that we never knew before. (And considering I knew nothing about Uzbekistan before this trip, that was pretty easy.)
8. Keep the guilt gifts small. Lots of traveling parents and spouses feel guilty for being gone so much, so out come the gifts. When dad goes on one trip per year, that's great. When he's gone frequently, that adds up to a lot of junk. My husband brings home one magnet per city and whatever local food (usually candy) that travels well and he thinks is strange. This is how we ended up with lollipops with scorpions inside. Thanks, Arizona!
9. Remember you chose this lifestyle. Don't give into the idea of feeling "stuck." You're not. You can make changes. If you're not making changes, then you're choosing the status quo. Embrace it. Would I like my husband around more? Yes, but I'm also an introvert, and I've learned to cherish the time I get alone. Besides, I can rewatch my favorite episodes of Doctor Who before bed.
10. Make family a priority. Sure, dad is gone a lot, but when he's here, we do things as a family. It's a high priority. We do a lot of hiking, as it's great exercise and way to learn what the kids are thinking. It also makes them a captive audience for parental input. (If you pull the earphones out!)
When his schedule permits (that is, when he's awake and not in meetings at the same time as the kids are awake and not in school), I have the seven-year-old tell dad everything. My seven-year-old can talk the ears off a field of corn. It's good to connect with dad and it gives my ears a break. The twelve-year-old isn't as eager to talk to dad, but it's still important. When he's home, he reads bedtime stories to the younger child and takes both kids on daddy/kid outings.
Do you have any tips for making life work when your spouse is gone a lot?