May 21, 2007
Parents who travel frequently due to career committments miss out on several significant moments with their children. Strong bonds with the spouse can also weaken when one parent is gone for a long time, and the other is left to singlehandedly care for a child and keep up the daily routine.
Children may also feel abandoned, and may not understand why Mummy or Papa is away from home for so long and so often. They miss the parent who is away, more so if they share a strong bond with that parent. The traveling parent, the stay-at-home parent and the child all end up having to deal with a lot of issues. It is important, therefore, to alleviate the stress of such situations -- a little bit of communication and a lot understanding can help make things easier for everyone.
The travelling parent
Parents who are travelling fequently due to work-related issues usually miss home very much. They feel like they are missing out on their children's lives and important events that come up. They may not be there for the first milestones in their children's lives -- the first step, the first word, the first time they perform on stage, etc. They may not be able to attend school events such as annual functions, sports days, parents' day or anything that is important to kids.
These parents often start feeling lonely, and sometimes come to believe that their family responsibility has been reduced to nothing more than providing a paycheck. When they return home, they may feel like they are intruding, and are not part of the daily routine. They may feel like they have no power to make any decisions for their children, because they are never around. A travelling parent may feel like he/ she is not involved in the children's lives like a real parent should be.
Presented below are a few tips for the travelling parent to help make such separation easier.
- Let your children know when you will be leaving, and when you will be coming back. Mark it on the calendar, so they can cross out each day till your return.
- If you are going to another country, show them the place on a globe or in an atlas.
- Try and eat a special meal together on the day of your departure.
- Make a treasure box with your children, by decorating a shoebox into which they can put reminders of everything that happens to them while you are away.
- Ask your children to help you pack.
- Express a lot of love and show affection to them. Hug them, kiss them, and cuddle them. For toddlers and younger kids, get a special doll or teddy bear that they can hug when they miss you very much. You can also record your voice singing their favourite song or nursery rhyme, which they can hear as and when they please.
- Spend an evening alone with your children, and give your spouse some time off from caring for them before you leave on a long trip.
While you are away:
- Make it a point to call home everyday to talk to your children and your spouse. Try and call at the same time each day.
- When you are away for longer trips, take a camera along so you can click lots of pictures to share with your family when you come back. Also, leave a camera behind with your spouse to capture what is happening in your children's lives (it doesn't have to be an expensive camera, but the investment will be worth it for the moments that you miss out on).
- Get a souvenir for the children from every place you go to.
- Collect brochures or any keepsakes from the places you have been to -- post cards, coasters of hotels, cancelled tickets, boarding cards, stationary, etc. They may be worthless to you, but you can use them for a collage-making activity with your children when you get back.
When you get back:
- Hug your children and your spouse. Let them know how much you have missed them.
- Share the photographs and/ or videos that you have taken while you've been away. Tell your family all about your trip.
- Ask your children to show you all the things they have collected in their treasure box while you were away. Give your undivided attention to them, and listen to what they have to say. Even if the treasure is just a rock, or a leaf, or anything that is not significant to you, remember it is very important to them.
- If you have been to another country or a place very different from your city, encourage your child to look up more information on the place, and share information about the locations you have visited, the people, their customs, traditions etc.
- Plan a special outing with your family as soon as you are back. Re-celebrate events that you may have missed -- birthdays, anniversaries etc -- by having a special night dedicated to those occasions.
- Spend one-to-one time with each child and your spouse to catch up on the time you have been away.
The stay-at-home parent
Stay-at-home parents often feel overwhelmed and alone. If they are not living in a joint family set-up, they feel even more burdened with running a house, caring for the children, managing finances and a social life. They may even be employed, which makes things even tougher. A stay-at-home parent may start feeling like a single parent without any help. Resentment towards the travelling partner may start to build; they may even envy their spouses the peace and quiet of a hotel room.
Here are a few tips for the stay-at-home parent.
Before your spouse leaves:
- Make sure the children get some alone time with the parent who will be travelling. Take this chance to finish all the work that you will not be able to once your spouse has left, and you have to shoulder more responsibilities.
- Consult your spouse about any decisions that need to be taken regarding the children or the domestic set-up when he/ she is away.
- Take an evening off to de-stress yourself -- take a head massage, go for a girls' / boys' night out, do anything that refreshes you.
While your spouse is away:
- Stick to the children's daily routines. Take up the role that your spouse performs, if required. If your spouse got the children ready for school or dropped them to the bus-stop everyday, for instance, you take up that task for awhile instead of leaving the maids to do it.
- Make sure the children and you talk to the travelling parent every day, if possible.
- Keep up the outings that you take as a family each week, eg dinner out on Friday nights, or swimming every Sunday afternoon, etc.
- Maintain a diary to take note of things that happen everyday. After all, sometimes the little things can mean a lot, and we don't always remember to talk about them.
- Encourage the children to make a miss-you card or welcome back banner for the parent who is returning from a trip.
When your spouse returns:
- Be ready to return your spouse's responsibilities to him/ her. This will help a travelling parent feel like part of the family again.
- Make sure your spouse catches up on one-to-one time with the children and with you.
- Fill in your spouse on all the things that have happened while he/ she has been away. Knowing about the daily routine will help your spouse stay connected.
- Share photographs and videos that you have shot. Let the children explain them if they would like to, which most likely they will.
- Take an evening off again to rejuvenate yourself.
Every member of the family should keep the communication going, and remember to express love and appreciation at all times and in all ways. And most importantly,make the most of the times when your family is together!