Do you have a checklist for preparing for a spouse's work-related travel? I was wondering because every time my spouse travels, by the end of the week we're in cereal-for-dinner, Zoobomafoo-marathon, crunchy floor mode. I was looking for a list of prep work to do to make the week easier.
I have quite a bit to say on this topic, as my husband used to travel a lot for work. Not only are there logistics to be managed (what Sandra appears to be talking about here), but there's plenty of emotional reframing that needs to happen as well. At least there was for us.
Get caught up on the laundry
I have a slight laundry impairment, so keeping up with the washing, drying and folding is always a chore. I note in my calendar the week before any business travel to get the laundry caught up so packing is less stressful. (We've got tons of laundry tips, btw.)
Make the travel time and location concrete
The night before one of us leaves, we talk to the kids about the trip, marking on the calendar the days we'll be away, and we show them on a map where we're going. We talk about the reason for the travel, and where we'll be staying. Involving the kids in the trip talk (and the pre-travel prep) always helps them adjust.
Plan easy meals
I would always mark days my husband was away in my calendar and plan kid-friendly meals during that time. We ate plenty of spaghetti and scrambled eggs. And cereal with fruit is a perfectly acceptable dinner, I'll have you know. It was sort of a relief to lower the dinnertime expectations for that week.
Make dinner plans with family friends
Feeding children is easier when there's more than one adult around. Think about inviting another family over for a potluck or a pizza night.
Simplify the routine
It's okay if the kids don't get a bath every night, or they skip soccer practice, or they watch a little more TV. They'll enjoy the break and you can relax a bit.
Decide in advance on communication times
We chose an after-dinner phone call or instant message. If for some reason one of us was unavailable, we could count on a good-night voicemail.
Important: see Separate "Family Goodnight" and "Adult check-in" phone calls below.
Get a babysitter
Even if it means having a neighborhood sitter come over after the kids are in bed, take a couple of hours to yourself. You deserve the break, and everyone will be happier for it.
GET A BABYSITTER
Did you ignore me last time? I'm serious. Do it.
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And now for the tricky part (at least for us).
Emotionally normalize business travel
Business trips used to go down like this: he'd leave, all would be well for a day or two, but then the strain of shouldering home and kid care would begin to wear on me. Like Sandra, I was in chaos mode by the end of the week.
Our phone calls while he was away were awkward attempts to share what was going on, when really, we just wanted the other person to listen and sympathize. I began resenting my husband's room service meals and Heavenly Beds. He missed me and the kids, but also wanted to talk about the pressures of his work. He also had a bit of guilt about how much he enjoyed his time away, and he knew, if he talk too much about the fun parts, I would blow.
By the time my husband got home, not only was I tired and irritable, I felt I was owed a little penance. (Not proud to admit it, but there it is.) I overlooked that his trips were often grueling and intensely social (hard for an introvert who's used to working at home), and that he too needed to rest.
After one too many tense "reentries," we sat down to work it out. We came up with many of the items on this list. He took time before coming home to relax so he could jump back into family life. We set aside time after his return for me to go out with friends or to be alone. Most importantly, we recognized and appreciated each others' hard work, and reminded ourselves that we were on the same team.
Separate "Family Goodnight" and "Adult Check-In" phone calls
Those nightly phone calls were so important for the kids, but my fatigue and resentment would sometimes seep in, robbing them of a simple, loving moment with Dad.
It was unfair and wrong for them to have to deal our tension, and it only made the strain of his absence worse. I got honest with myself and zipped up any resentment I was feeling during our "goodnight" phone calls. If there was something I needed to discuss, I called my husband back after the kids were in bed.
I also learned to sort which crises needed to be hashed out and which should just deal with on my own. The less phone bickering, the better for all of us.
* * *
It took time and plenty of work, but we've finally gotten to the point where we all look forward to business travel — both my husband's and mine. It helps that the kids are older, but we've also reframed the entire process. We feel good about the other getting a "grownup break," we enjoy our evenings alone (whether at home or on the road), and the person who's home gets to have fun solo time with the kids doing stuff the way they want to do it.
I'm sure you've got stories to tell. How does your family prepare for business travel?
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