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When a parent works away from home it is tough. Really tough! Tough on the parent that is away from the rest of the family, tough on the parent left holding the ship and tough on the kids. At times of absence, life can become a little challenging for all involved.
We live in France, and for the past ten years my husband has spent a good proportion of the year working in the UK. We would love for him to be based with us year round, however unfortunately we have not yet found an alternative option closer to home that pays the bills! And even if we lived in the UK, he would be travelling a lot, so that is not a solution either. But when he is home, we do benefit from quality time together.
So what are our tips to help children cope when a parent works away and how do I cope? Well firstly, I have to keep my s@”t together! Pining after my husband is no use to anyone! And secondly, the dynamics within the household have to change. I go on autopilot and run quite a tight ship to ensure that everyone is dressed, fed and in the right place at the right time.
The initial goodbye is never nice, especially if the absence is going to be for a long period. I find immediate distraction works well and we often head straight out and about. Try and plan something nice to do as soon as the parent leaves. I often let the girls choose a place to visit or an activity to do. I also try and give them lots of attention but I do try to keep routines the same. It is upheaval enough saying goodbye for a period of time. If I try to change the general day-to-day running it can all get a bit too overwhelming.
One of the most useful things in our household is a count down calender. It helps my 5 year old daughter get a better grasp on the time frame that her daddy is away for. She doesn’t fully understand what four weeks is, so visualising the number of days left to go is really helpful. We usually make our own and have fun decorating it and colouring it in. However, there are a couple of great options on amazon which I may consider for the future.
In the past, my oldest daughter has occassionally played up when daddy has left for work. I have always made allowances for this because daddy coming and going can be quite a big transition. She is generally very good now, but when she was too young to fully express her emotions her behaviour could be questionable. I found that reward charts helped a lot.
Now she is older and seems to cope with her daddy working away a lot better we still use reward charts, but rather than for behaviour we have them to help me around the house. She earns pocket money, rewards builds points for outings in return for helping with day-to-day tasks. This usually simple chores like keeping her bedroom tidy, helping to set the table, helping to clean or entertaining her little sister for short periods.
Because we live in France, I do not have any family close by. This is hard. However, I am lucky to live in an amazing community where many people are in a similar boat and all look out for each other. I have not lived here very long but I already know there are people that I can call on in an emergency. So, I would highly recommend building a strong support network whether through family of friends. If you are well supported, the children are too.
Facetime and video messenger calls are absolutely brilliant inventions. I really do think that video calls make a huge difference in maintaining the bond the girls have with their daddy when he is away. They speak to him when they wake up and before they go to bed, plus whenever they want during the day. We are lucky that he has a job that can often accommodate this. Whenever the girls ask to speak to their Daddy we will always try and call straight away and he will always take the time to speak to him if work allows. Letting my children to communicate freely with their daddy is really important to us.
When the girls speak to their daddy, we try and minimise distractions such as the TV. However, if daddy calls when the girls are in the middle of something and occasionally don’t want to take the time to speak to him he is ok with that too. They speak to daddy because they want to, not because we are asking them to. And we will try to make conversations fun and involve daddy in playtime if we can – even if it is just playing Peepo with my little one over the phone. She finds it hilarious when daddy is there one minute and out of shot the next!
When a parent works away from home talk about it with the children. Discuss why the parent goes, and what they will be doing. Ask the travelling parent to send videos of what they are doing to help children understand why they are away and the role that they do. Use it as an opportunity to start to build a good work ethic with the children from a young age.
When a parent works away it is still really important to continue making parenting decision together. This helps take the pressure off the remaining parent and shows the children that daddy is still a very important part of family life.
I also think that it is a good opportunity to show the girls that not all roles around the house should be stereotypical and that they can be independent. For example I am perfectly capable of changing light bulbs, mowing the grass and doing basic ‘fix it’ jobs around the house. However, I do not profess to being a DIY goddess!
When a parent works away from home, think about little extra touches that the children may enjoy. Think about recording special messages for the children, especially if there is a key date or event to celebrate. Leaving little notes for the children can also be a nice touch.
When my husband is away during a particularly stressful period, often involving illness and sleep deprivation I irrationally start to resent him for not being there. And he now knows better than to complain if he feels tired! I have to remind myself that he is doing this job for the good of our family and without it we would have a lot of unpaid bills! It is sometimes hard not to will time away during his absence but I do try hard (and often fail) not to do this!
For the past two years, when my husband disappears off to work, surprisingly I haven’t felt too lonely. We’ve had a new baby, moved house and integrated into a new community so I’ve been kept pretty busy. Plus, it has taken 22 months for my youngest to learn to go to sleep in the evenings, so it is only very recently that I have found myself sitting alone on the sofa. So now I am finding it really important to keep busy. Blogging helps. As does making the most of watching crap TV.
One of the most challenging things can be when my husband returns after being away for a long period. When a parent works away there is a constant readjustment of being home or away. I get very used to doing things my way. You’d think that having daddy back would be all roses and champagne – but sometimes this reintegration can be a little trying! The challenge of running the house and organising the kids single handedly can be a precise operation and adapting to the other parent coming back can take a bit of getting used to. Plus, in our case with young children, my husband has to adapt to new routines that have been put him place or modified during his absence.
So as well as planning something nice to do when the parent leaves, also plan something nice to do when for when the parent gets back, such as a trip or special activity. We find that this helps the whole family reconnect together.
Parenting solo gives me full respect for single parents. Although I am flying solo for long periods at a time, my husband is always at the end of the phone and we make key decisions together. He is still loving and supportive, even when he is not here in person. I do not take that for granted. We do not live a conventional lifestyle but we make it work. We benefit so much from living in the mountains and bringing our children up here that for now, the longs absences make it worthwhile.
2 thoughts on “How to help children cope when a parent works away”
Thank you for your blog. My son leaves for 8 weeks in kasakstan next week and this has helped me think positively for his partner and children.
I wish your son and his family all the best with the time that they are apart and I hope they are able to do lots of video calls together.