Ever since the kids were little, my husband has traveled a lot for work. It can be a challenge for any family, but when you’ve got kids at home and mom also works, the stakes are higher. Getting it all done when Dad travels is the priority, but you don’t want it to be overwhelming. It can be so easy to focus on each item on your to do list that you miss the fun. As an old hand at dealing with a traveling husband, I’ve learned the hard way. I’ll share some ways we’ve found to make it work!
To be clear, I’m no expert — even as organized as I am, things happen. This last week, I lost the mailbox key and wasted $50 and several hours of my time getting it repaired. (I even got to witness a fight at the post office, but that’s a story for another day.) I don’t know how it happened, but the husband’s car ended up with a cracked windshield. We also ate fast-food on the first night. THE FIRST NIGHT. I didn’t even make it 18 hours!
Still, there are a lot of things I have learned throughout the years and I’ll share them with you!
Parenting Tips for Getting It All Done When Dad Travels
Realize you can’t do it all and more importantly, be okay with that. Not everything’s going to get done, so when you make that massive to do list, prioritize. Be flexible. Decide what is non-negotiable, like making dinner each night, and remove what isn’t, like making it all from scratch each night.
Reschedule non-urgent appointments. If you are getting some routine home maintenance done or starting to volunteer somewhere, postpone if you can.
Invest in whatever type of organizational system you will actually use. I use my Google calendar daily. It syncs with my Android, my iPad, my laptop and even my Kindle Fire. Whatever device I’m using, or whatever device travels in my bag, contains the list of everything I need to do. Each appointment, shopping trip, school drop-off and pick-up goes on the calendar. Each shopping trip has a list, and that’s in there, too. Remember something last-minute? Send yourself a text. Document as you go along so you don’t have to try to remember.
Call in the reinforcements. Family isn’t always made up of those related to you. You can build a family wherever you are and those are the ones you can ask to pick up your son from football. They can be your listening ear when you’re exhausted and whiny. (Not that I’ve done that or anything.) Don’t be afraid to build a support system and ask for help.
Over-scheduling one day may make the next day easier; decide if it’s worth it. Last week, I had zero days without errands and I felt like I lived in the car. Had I planned a little differently, there would have been one day where I didn’t have to get dressed and leave the house. To be clear, I got dressed daily but you know what I mean. There’s a difference between ‘working at home’ attire and meeting people attire. Not only is it less comfortable than yoga pants, but it’s precious minutes becoming presentable. Those minutes are more fun cuddling in front of a favorite movie at night.
Plan ahead. Decide on a menu and make a list of things you’ll need. If you can get away without having to go grocery shopping once you’re on your own, that’s one less thing to worry about. The husband always fills both cars with gas and does a Costco run before he leaves. If you have kids that can drive, keep cash or store cards on hand so they can get urgent items or even pick up fast-food. (It’s going to happen, go easy on yourself.)
Prep the kids. If they’re old enough, give them chores. Taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, distributing laundry — every little thing helps. Help them to realize why dad’s leaving and that you and dad are still handling everything together. If dad’s unable to call daily, tell them so there are no false expectations. No need to incur kid wrath for something you can’t control.
Decide beforehand what determines DEFCON 1 so you know when you should interrupt the husband’s trip. I got pretty good at handling things on my own, even while working, but I still had to make that call once. Our younger daughter was recently diagnosed with epilepsy and was having grand mal, or tonic clonic seizures. They were pretty severe and she was having them enough to mess with her life. Hospital visits, auras, doctor’s appointments, ambulances…it was a lot. One day she had a few at once and I had to use an at-home sedative. Scary stuff. We had a deal going forward that I would call him when that happens.
Before all this mess even starts, create a master file of all your bills, your online accounts, email addresses and passwords. Know your finances so you can take care of things without worry. (My friend was widowed and didn’t know how to get into some accounts; it made an already bad situation worse.) Shared accounts will make it easier to make phone calls and get things done on your own. I got stuck unable to access a savings account once because I wasn’t on it. We fixed that quickly and from now on, even all the vehicles have us both on the registrations.
Lastly, talk with your partner beforehand to make sure you understand each others’ expectations. This is for several reasons, but the most important is that you don’t want to be resentful. It’s easy to fall into the hole of being envious that you’re home handling all the work while your partner is eating out daily, not having to do anything but the job. They travel, you travel to the store, the school and the post office. Make sure that your partner knows your limits and be sure to be honest. Being a “I’ve got this covered, no worries!” martyr makes for unhappiness later. You don’t want his expectations to be beyond what is reasonable either. (In my case, expectations of coming home to an empty laundry basket is one the husband knows not to have. But the house will be clean.)
Getting it all done when dad travels is really a misnomer, in the end. You get done what you can when dad travels instead. Don’t let it stress you out so much that you can’t enjoy the kids or other fun stuff that comes your way. If you get an opportunity to get out of the house for a social or fun event, take it. It’s okay to make it a part of the process, because if the traveling gets frequent, you’ll want to be sure you don’t take a backseat, however erroneously.
Enjoy the stories you make while you’re on your own. Sure, it stinks when you spend your lunch hour waiting for a non-existent post office supervisor to return to the counter, but later it makes for a funny story. One of my favorite stories was from about a decade ago when we were selling our house. The husband was cross-country on a business trip and I’d run out to pick up my son’s favorite food for dinner. We were mostly making meals from scratch for my son’s limited diet, so the food from Dickey’s was a treat. We’d returned home with it and I envisioned a quiet night enjoying dinner together while the other three kids were at events.
Then the phone rang. It was my realtor, asking if I minded if the woman who’d viewed the house the day before could come again. She wouldn’t be able to attend and she wanted to come in 20 minutes. I didn’t want to say no — you never know if that’s the person who will buy the house — so I agreed and immediately began to neaten up. However, my son had a different plan and this was disrupting it. BOOM, the dinner went flying across the kitchen, splatted onto the glass sliding door and wall. Drip, drip, slop.
O M G
Then the phone rang again. I was secretly hoping it was the agent cancelling the visit, but it was the husband. “Why do you sound stressed?”
Needless to say, he got an earful and I speed cleaned the wall and slider. My son’s autistic meltdown calmed down when I let him run upstairs to his room. We have to pick our battles. The woman came to see the house, my dinner got cold but she bought the house! We still laugh about it now, but it did take a while to see the humor in it.
And I’ll leave you with that being my last tip: laugh. You can clean the walls, you can buy a new mailbox key and you can whine about the cost of a new windshield, but you can’t regain the time once it’s gone.