For the past eight years, my husband has worked out of town most of the week. This presents some unique challenges to maintaining family unity. Life is in a constant state of adjustment. I have read good articles addressing the struggles of military families, but there doesn't seem to be good advice for families in my situation. The struggles we face are different because it is not one long stint in another location and then a homecoming. Each week we say goodbye, and just when we have hit a rhythm solo, it is time for him to be home and for us to readjust again.
In case anyone else is in the same situation, I thought I would write out some ideas and things that have helped us thrive in spite of Brian's schedule. By no means do I have it all figured out, but I have learned a few things along the way. I am going to divide it up into two parts. This first installment will focus on the kids.
- Create a Routine: I have a routine for the kids that spells out wake up time, morning chores, snack times, mealtimes, evening chores, and bedtimes. I wrote it down for Brian, when he is home I want him to feel like he is a vital part of our day. Before we had the routine, Brian always had to ask me what we should be doing. Half the time, I would just do it myself because it would take longer to explain it. This allows him to jump right in and help, to be involved in his own way, independent of me.
- Stick to the routine: Regardless of who is, or isn't home, stick to a routine. If Brian were coming home from a long deployment, I would declare a national holiday and we wouldn't have bedtimes or chores for weeks. But you can't do that for two days out of the week, and then expect things to run smoothly the other five days of the week. In my experience sticking to the routine every single day is key. If you move bedtimes, you are probably going to have less time as a couple in the evening. Chores that don't get done while Brian is home will pile up and overwhelm me when he is gone.
- Be Positive: When Brian is gone, I am the only parent the kids have. If I am grouchy, moody and irritable that is their only experience of a parent for the day. Yuck! Who wants to be trapped with that? Sure, I miss him, but so do they. Wallowing in self pity won't help anyone. The last thing we need is more negative energy to add to the situation. This is the one case where I think faking it till you make it works. If you don't feel it, and you fake it... pretty soon you find yourself genuinely smiling in spite of yourself. Being upbeat and positive will make a huge difference in my day and theirs.
- Connection: If I had a number one, this would be it. Make sure the kids stay connected with daddy even when he is gone. When Brian is traveling internationally, we use skype. (Its like a phone on your computer) Its free, and it allows the kids to talk to him, when calling is too expensive. Set up email accounts for the kids, or let them use yours so they can send their own messages.
- Information sharing: In our unique situation, one of my biggest jobs is sharing info with Brian about the kids. When they do something random or cute, I try to make sure that I blog about it, put it on facebook, email it to him, or mention it. People probably think I over share really random, boring parts of our lives online. But, I think it's my most important function, to tell him the stories of our day. It gives him common ground with the kids when he talks to them. They are still younger, and this way he knows what they are talking about when they start to tell him a story. He can tell them how cute they looked, or how funny they were. It's almost like he was there.
- Consistent discipline: Get together as a parental unit (if you haven't already) and literally spell out the rules of your house and the consequences for breaking them. Write all of those rules down on poster board supernanny style and hang it somewhere in the house where you, the husband when he is home, and all the kids can see it, read it and enforce it. The next big step: make sure you enforce all the rules, all the time. It is hugely confusing and unfair for the kids if there is one set of rules when dad is gone, and a whole new set when dad is home. That is just a recipe for disaster. Having tried it, I can also say, only enforcing your own rules is a pretty great way to make your husband feel irrelevant too.
- Responsibilities: Give the kids some responsibilities that will make the house run smoothly. When your husband is gone, you really can't do it all. So often kids feel powerless to change a situation. Explain to the kids how we all need to pull together, and give them responsibilities. Make sure to go back and reinforce how much you appreciate their help. Especially if Daddy lends his thanks, it will give them a sense of pride.
- Have Fun: This is the perfect time to let the kids have their say. Let them choose what is on the menu for dinner. Let them pick the family activity for the night, or the movie you watch. Without my kids, I would never have discovered "Star Wars, the Clone Wars". The positive side to Brian being gone so often is that it gives me an opportunity to foster my independent relationship with the kids.