In general, feel very good about the routine that my husband and I have set up. We have divided responsibilities of the household and parenting so that we can both conquer our professional obligations. In fact, I will write a whole separate post on partnership and support systems to manage academic work and parenting. For now though, I want to address how I get by during those times that my husband’s job requires travel – for up to a week at a time. Suddenly becoming a single parent, even as temporary as it is, throws everything off kilter. In the past before my son came along, I would spend most of his time away sulking. My work productivity would go down even though technically I had more time without the distraction of a husband. You may have already guessed that things have changed since our son, Miles came along – which also coincided with the final year of my PhD. I no longer have the luxury of a good sulk. Instead I have come up with some creative strategies to keep life moving along, if only hopping on one foot!
1. Throw a dinner party the weekend before their trip
At first glance, this is a crazy idea. Company? At a time like this?! Absolutely, and here is why. Knowing that he is going away often has the effect of making me sad and a bit apathetic about household stuff. But having people over not only boosts my mood, it also motivates me! I invite people over for the Saturday or Sunday before he leaves, then I am suddenly in a frenzy to clean up the house! This is totally a learned behavior from my mother – and it’s her voice I hear in my head telling me that I MUST vacuum before anyone sees the house! You also are generally expected to provide food for guests, and while I am at it I can prepare food for Miles and I to eat throughout the next few days.
2. Have a “special”
Maybe this seems like another crazy idea…but doing a little something for myself helps to keep the doldrums at bay. It doesn’t have to be major – and if it is, it often ends up being abandoned anyway. Something small, but special – like getting a haircut or going for a pedicure – means that you still value yourself and your time, even if your spouse is away. This extends beyond personal hygiene and beauty. I try to do something special – like a fun and special outing with Miles. Our lives still go on while Daddy is away. There have been many work trips when I felt like Miles and I were just passing time until my husband came home. I didn’t think it was fair to me or Miles, so I started planning events – like a trip to the zoo, museum, or Legoland. Even smaller things can be what we call “specials.” This week we tried a new recipe for cornbread. Spoiler alert – it came out terrible. That is what you get when you let your 20 month old measure out the ingredients! We also have a lot of “firsts” that make things special. This week we also dug a hole for the first time. I didn’t have a good reason for doing it other than knowing he would think it was fun. The point is that at Miles’ age, almost anything can be special and fun. That is the perk of toddlerhood. Last time Daddy left, Miles and I went to get ice cream at the Frosty Caboose for the first time (his first time, anyway!). Would my husband have liked to be there? Probably. But can I put every experience on hold until the weekend? No! This small practice reaffirms my self-esteem. Even without the context of my partner, my and Miles’ time is worthy of special occasions!
3. Work from home
Not everyone can do this, but if you can work from home then I suggest that you do. Even if it is only for a couple of the days. I find that working at home boosts my productivity. Perhaps it is all that time I save in brushing my hair or getting dressed! Dressing for academia is not easy. See Gina’s post on fashion for teaching college classes. In years past, I would force myself to work at my office, only to fritter away the day chit chatting because I craved a social distraction. Now, I work from home and plan a social outing for after work as a reward. Working from home can boost my productivity on certain tasks, like writing and statistical analysis (yeah, I do a lot of that). It’s not always feasible though – and it’s important for my particular work to get into the lab as well – so everything in moderation!
4. Keep the routine
If you have a routine for you and your child, then keep it up. The routine is sacred. The routine cannot be violated! I have a toddler, and routine is particularly important at that age. However, routine is a huge comfort for any age. Having your spouse away is stressful and emotionally taxing. Knowing what comes next allows your brain to relax. It frees you up to enjoy being in the moment.
5. Take help where you can get it (or buy it!)
The sun does still rises on dirty dishes, so if you are okay with a little mess then don’t worry about it. I find the mess to be stressful, but when I am alone with Miles it is a major struggle to keep up with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and, oh, right, I am supposed to be working on this manuscript! If a friend or family member offers to bring food or do my dishes, I force myself to accept their help. I used to stand firm that I could handle it on my own, but now I accept the gracious offers and embrace the social network that we have built. I don’t generally reach out for help, but hey…if they offer, why not? If you don’t have extended family or close friends near by, consider paying for a house cleaner or taking the laundry out to get done. We have done this more than a few times! Is it cost effective? Not really. Is it sanity effective? Definitely!
6. Acknowledge that ‘they’ are missed
Even starting at 5 months old my son started to act differently when dad was away on a work trip. Now at 21 months it is only more pronounced. He asks about his ‘dada’. He goes NUTS when he gets to talk on the phone or Facetime. He is cranky and petulant, especially during the parts of the day when Daddy is usually most involved, like bath time. He is much less likely to sleep through the night and quickly finds his way into my bed. I could stand firm and refuse him, but frankly we are both missing daddy. I see the benefits of giving him some extra cuddles and accepting his barnacle like behavior more than I would otherwise. If he were older we might talk about it, but at this stage all I can do is hug him a bit longer.
7. Try a sleep aid
Hopefully, this isn’t too controversial a suggestion. After 7 years of marriage I get antsy when sleeping alone (unless he is snoring – that’s a different story). I get anxious about being in the house without the security of knowing that my husband will protect me robbers, zombies, and spiders. So a bit of melatonin or even a half dose of Benedryll ensure that I get the rest I desperately need. Without rest, it is that much harder to meet the demands of work and toddler parenting. I do advise caution though. I am the only parent in the house. I am the in-case-of-emergency person should the worst happen.
in a way these 7 tips reflect the stages I go through from enthusiastic on day 1 to completely wiped out on day 5. What are the ways that you cope with spouses traveling?