Parenting Challenges When Your Partner is Never Around

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My husband is a musician and is known to travel for months at a time. Sometimes a tour lasts about four months, others it can be well over a year. This isn't news around here. We met (a lifetime ago) while he was in the middle of a tour and his life of travel continues. Even when he's home, his hours are long. We lovingly refer to him as “morning guy” because he does his best to get up and help get the kids to school when he's in town (even after working past midnight), as he doesn't make it home for bedtime very often.

This is our “normal”. People sometimes ask me how I do it and I'm quite sure how to answer. I'm a believer that all parents face different obstacles, and we all have to find what works for us. “I'm a well-oiled machine,” I joke, while wondering what else I could possibly be.

The truth is that it can be hard when one parent travels frequently or keeps exceptionally long hours at the office. I happen to have a number of friends, both moms and dads, with similar issues (it's not just the musicians of the world who don't make it home in time for dinner, after all) and we like to chat about what we do to keep things running smoothly and what challenges we face.

Here are some of the common parenting challenges that come up (but please keep in mind that all families are different and generalizing doesn't do anyone any good):

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I'm “on” all the time.

When people joke that I'm some kind of supermom, I want to yell, “I'm not! I'm not doing anything well! I'm ten articles behind and I haven't showered yet today and I have a client coming in one hour!” My green light is always on because it has to be.

People used to tell me that when the kids went to school I would have more time. Let me be the first to admit that I genuinely loved every moment of the baby and toddler years, even the hard ones, and I miss those days of long walks and chasing butterflies. I really do. But older kids don't give you some magical gift of time.

School time is work time for me. Freelancing, book writing, and clients all happen during those hours. When they come home, we have some much needed time together, do some homework (ugh) and possibly head to a sports practice.

The days go faster than I would like and I am always on. I'm good about fitting in running and exercise just for me – but then I'm on in a different way. My friends in the same boat all feel the same way. It's hard to truly relax for a moment when you know you're always on.

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Bedtime can be exhausting.

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I actually love bedtime. I love the routine we've had since the kids were babies, I love reading with each one separately and I love our nighttime chats when the lights go down. Bedtime isn't a challenge in our house, but many of my friends with traveling spouses dread bedtime, and for good reason.

When you're on all day, you're out of energy (and possibly patience) by bedtime. Add to that multiple kids at different ages with different homework needs and bedtime can quickly become a struggle. I get it.

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Routine helps. Even if you have a slightly different routine for each kid (my daughter stays up a little later, so she has time to draw or play with her dolls while I put her brother to bed), keeping a consistent routine does help at night. Sure, all kids push back at times (that's what kids do), but sticking to it helps them internalize the process and stay on track.

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It's hard on the kids.

My kids miss their daddy something fierce when he travels. I can't even sugarcoat it – it's just hard. They typically start to show the signs of missing him after a few weeks.

By the power of FaceTime, we stay connected. But it's never quite the same. I try my best to be “MommyDaddy” while he's on the road, but nothing compares to having him home.

We like to send him video diaries of what we're up to and the kids and I talk often about how we're feeling. Talking and supporting one another helps. We're all in it together. Sometimes we even FaceTime him in for a card game or movie night! Do what works!

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You can't do it all.

I'm an under-scheduler by nature and my kids thrive when they have plenty of free time to play, but sometimes it feels like I'm the only one doing things this way. Their friends are constantly doing things. The truth is that we can't do it all. They can each play a sport per season if they want and we pick and choose carefully for extra activities. This works for us. If our schedule is manageable, we can handle it.

I hear the same from other parents with traveling spouses. When one parent handles most of the nuts and bolts of the parenting, that parent has to make hard choices.

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We don't attend every party, we don't play every sport, and we don't pack our weekends with stuff. There were times when I felt guilty about this, but I've learned that part of parenting solo when my spouse is on the road involves making decisions with confidence and not looking back.

If I could give one piece of advice for other parents in the same boat, it would be this: Find your tribe. You might feel alone in this, but you're not. Talk about it. Ask for help. Give help. When you find your tribe, the loneliness fades away.

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Parenting Challenges When Your Partner is Never Around

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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