Working mom, check. Two young children, check. Little dog, check. Involved and helpful co-parent, check. Except for, you know, two weeks a month.
I am part of the lucky crew of moms whose partner, in this case my husband, travels regularly for work. Lately, it’s been two weeks or so a month, and it’s not just across the country. It’s across the world. China, to be exact. A 14-hour time difference. Our days are flipped inside out when he’s gone. But we survive. Here’s how:
Ask for help.
All. The. Time. With a kindergartner and a preschooler, the girls are in school during the days, but I often need help with pickup (sometimes even drop-off). So I have a nanny who can drive, but I also rely heavily on my family, my neighbors, and other sitters. No, it’s not ideal, and most of the time it’s like herding cats, but if you’ve ever spent a full weekend with two miniature drama queens, you better believe you need a couple of hours to yourself every now and then. If you have kids that aren’t in daycare or school yet, GET A SITTER. It will be the best money you’ve ever spent. I promise.
Set a routine, and stick to it.
My kids manage better when they know what’s coming next. Sometimes this makes me feel like a dictator (and I’m sure those who know me can attest), but my kids know bedtime is 8, they know a sitter picks them up from school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they know they have to go the gym daycare on Saturdays. It’s just gonna happen, like brushing your teeth every night, so arguing is futile.
Keep it simple.
When my husband is away, cooking goes out the window. I know better than to make a messy meal for two kids, who will just complain the whole time and hardly eat anything anyway. I rely on easy dishes like pasta, scrambled eggs, and the occasional (or maybe more than occasional) stop at Chipotle or Tokyo Joes. They can have a gourmet dinner next week.
Stay in Touch.
For a lot of families, FaceTime and Skype are the way to go. With a 14-hour time difference, this isn’t always easy, so my husband sends the girls videos of himself in different spots around the different cities where he travels. They get to see his face, hear his voice, and believe me, they watch them over and over again. Then we send him fun videos back!
For yourself, and for your kids. They miss dad and this will probably manifest itself in some bad behavior. So schedule a play date, a park date, a wine date. You need adult interaction outside of just work. Even if the kids have to come along, don’t shortchange yourself.
Bribery is everything.
Any parent of young children knows that it can take 3 hours to put on shoes, and when you have to do it for yourself and the kids every single day, it can get frustrating. So frustrating that you might need a coffee. Or 12. On days we really need to get moving, I bribe my kids with a trip to the coffee shop. But not until they get their sh!t together and MOVE. They get a pastry and I get a coffee, and everyone is happy. Bribery also works for the returning parent. This usually consists of a random stuffed animal from an airport gift shop, but you know what, those are some of our kids favorites.
Go easy on yourself.
Doing it all is freaking hard. Every bath, every bedtime, every lunchbox, every breakfast, every accident, every tantrum, every night waking, every everything. It’s hard. You’ll probably screw it up. I know I do. But I also get every hug, every kiss, overhear every funny conversation, and see every smile. I know he misses those like crazy when he’s gone. If he comes back and the house is a disaster area, well, we can worry about that later.