A while back I asked a holding the fort mum if she would be willing to speak about her experience living outside her home country, with a partner who frequently travels. Here are her answers. Do you relate?
What has it been like for you with a partner who travels a lot?
It is tough. We agreed with my husband that I would stay home with our daughter until I found a job while my husband continued with his work and traveling. It got harder when we had our second child without any close relatives nearby. I did not have any. Then my husband got a job in Switzerland and I was alone with the two kids for about 5 months, with a 5-year-old and a newborn. I could not join my husband immediately so stayed back with the kids to sort out some unfinished business.
Were you expecting a lot of travel?
Yes, I did expect a lot of traveling because that was part of my husband’s job. My short-term homemaker plan turned into a permanent homemaker because of the circumstances we were in. In Geneva, we were on a waiting list for daycare and got a place only when our son turned 2 years old. My husband’s traveling did not reduce which was another reason I could not work because I had to take care of the kids.
Any advantages or disadvantages for the couple in your opinion?
Advantages definitely mostly for my husband for having me at home and not worrying about house chores and school communication, homework, tantrums, teenage mood swings and etc. It does get exhausting when you are alone with kids and no close relatives by to help in case of emergency. Interestingly, I have a better routine with my kids and the house chores when my husband is away. I am very organized, I guess because there is no one to rely on I make sure everything is done on time. My husband is a great father, he always tries his best to call daily whenever he can and talk to the kids, he used to read books to them and played on the phone or Skype when they were younger. It is hard for the kids when their dad is away for long periods. Our older kid understands and is more independent now but our son is very attached to his dad and really struggles when Papa is away. There are definitely no advantages to extensive traveling for couples or their kids.
- What would you say to couples who are starting off?
They have to be on the same page. It is very important to talk to each other and voice your concerns whenever something is bothering you. Stress piles up and if you don’t talk to each other the problems won’t get solved on their own. They have to bear in mind that there can be an emergency situation when you are alone and have no one to rely on and it can get emotionally challenging and depressing. You also have to prioritize many things when you plan a move. Each family chooses what is best for them and what to expect from a certain move. For us, we always prioritize schools first and then the security/safety of the place we move to. We always choose a country where I will feel safe when alone with the kids, of course, if you have the flexibility of choosing where to move. There are also many benefits to traveling for the whole family. You get to meet new people, new cultures, and new traditions. Children can have a much better understanding and appreciation of the world when they meet different people with different backgrounds and values. I am happy where we are at this stage of our lives and how many amazing places we visited over the years as a family. My only and biggest regret is I lost my career because of changing places.
When my husband used to travel for longer periods it took us a while to get back to a normal routine after he returned. There were tense situations at times but mostly we did get through the difficulties together.
How did you make it work?
I love to plan everything and I always need to discuss small and big issues, it helps us a lot in our situations. We worked the system out from the beginning on how and who should be doing what. We talked about the terms and requirements and what to expect from each other, such as planning business trips on days that are not significantly important in the family’s life. When my husband has the travel dates we make sure they are not on our birthdays, anniversaries, kids’ school holidays and etc. So far it has worked pretty well. I sometimes joke that I am the family therapist. Whenever we have problems or misunderstandings I always call a meeting. (To know more about family meetings, check out this article) It is not easy and sometimes very stressful to solve certain things but we overcome them eventually. We also have family meetings with the kids about school, education, life, behavior and etc (I am the meeting leader). When my husband is home he does not work late hours (part of our agreement but there are exceptions on rare occasions for late-night meetings due to the time zone), evenings and weekends are family time. When my husband is home, he helps with the kids and helps me with the house chores. He does cook meals on the weekends, and I take time out. I think if we stayed in one country we would have been bored, same for our kids, they like to explore new places. We are very lucky to have this opportunity to see the world through work, it is hard and stressful at times but it is worth it.
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Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.