One of the aspects of our family life that I don’t talk about very much is that Peter works away from home a lot. He has done this for over 25 years and it has become a way of life for us. Not ideal but it is what it is. Over the years I have become aware that this lifestyle is normal for a lot of people (to differing degrees) so it is worth talking about. Today I’m sharing some of the key practices that have helped us maintain our sanity, our marriage and build a family culture where the kids have a relationship with their dad.
Peter has worked away from home for over 25 years – usually being away for most of the week, for the months between Easter and Christmas. He would fly from job to job coming home some weekends. Here are some of the things that helped me, and I hope that they may help you in dealing with the work demands of your husband and how that affects you and your family.
#1: Accepting his Work as God’s Provision
When we came to this town, we had bought a farm, but the income from that wasn’t enough to cover our daily expenses (as it was a developing farm). We lived in a caravan and there were times when we prayed for money to pay our bills. It just so happened that when we arrived in town, the live-export market was on the rise, and the cattle stations in the area needed a cattle vet. Peter is a cattle vet!
Whenever I had a hard day, or found a bad attitude rising, I would say to myself: You asked God for income, He has provided, you can’t go and say ‘this is not good enough God!’ You can’t kick a gift horse in the mouth so to speak! I believe that God provides our income, BUT He also provides for the strength to cope with the situations that arise.
This along with an understanding of God’s Grace – which I’ll mention later – has been the reason why I have been able to find peace and contentment as well as strength to keep on doign this crazy lifestyle. God provides.
#2: Nightly Phone Calls
Peter committed (to himself) that he would phone me every night. Now, to be honest, some of these phone calls were strictly business as he touched base with messages and what else was going on, but being able to catch up every day gave us the opportunity to maintain our relationship. He would occasionally talk to the kids – though not every night. With this as our experience, I can’t understand men who go away on a business trip and phone home just to confirm a pick-up from the airport!
Relationships are built on communication, and if travel takes you away from home, we must find a way to maintain communication.
Back in the day when our kids were young, we didn’t have mobile phones, and certainly out bush there was no reception, so Pete was using a public phone and often had others waiting to use the same phone. So phone calls did have to be quick. But these days we are much more able to chat about emotional struggles and the ins and outs of my day because we are on a private line.
It is important that we do maintain conversation not just communication if you can hear that difference.
#3: Recognise the Emotional Impact
Often we get so caught up with dealing with all the practical side of living that we forget that our emotions can be affected as well. Until we blow up that is!
I always felt an emotional weight when Pete got ready to go away on a job. This made me cranky! I remember a time when we realised what was going on – every time he would leave we would have a fight over the most silly inconsequential things. I realised that I was building a wall around myself, so that I could cope with all the pressures and decisions of being by myself.
Once I knew what was happening, we were able to talk about it and work out ways to help me not be so intense. One of the things that Pete started to do was pack his own bag. As a young wife I had lovely ideas of writing notes and slipping them into folded shirts etc but as a wife being left at home a lot, these ideas soon left! I switched from him leaving being an opportunity for romance to just survival mode – and that was okay.
You may find other ways to ease this emotional pressure, the key isn’t for your husband to pack their own bag, but rather to recognise how the emotions are impacted and how to be honest and gentle with each other.
#4: Recognise the Kids will be Impacted as well
When our kids were little I recognised that there were times that they were really high maintenance. These were the times they missed their daddy. I noticed that they had a 2-day capacity – then on the 3rd day everything went feral (at least it felt like that!)
So I started being proactive. On this day, the third day of Pete being away, we would take a break from our homeschooling and normal activities and we would do fun things like go to the library, the pool or visit with my friend, and their surrogate grandmother. We’d come home after lunch in town, and have a rest or watch a DVD. Of course, none of these activities took away the emotional sad, but it did give us relational time which I believe strengthened their sense of security.
Yes, kids are resilient but it doesn’t mean the emotional stuff they deal with won’t leave an impression. The more we can do to help them through these hard times the better they’ll be.
#5: Be careful about Discipline
We made a decision early on that when Pete came home he wouldn’t automatically resume discipline. This went hand in hand with the idea that when a child is disobedient, it is directly connected to the parent who gave the instruction. This meant that since I was the one giving the instructions, they were disobeying me, therefore I needed to deal with the consequences.
When you are home with the kids all day it is easy to just dump the responsibility onto the husband who has just walked in the door but I felt it was unfair on both him and the kids as the disobedience wasn’t directed against him, and he didn’t know how the day had gone, or where their heart was at. Of course this would be different if he gave the instructions – he would have to follow through though I would help him gain understanding of where kids were at.
I wanted the little bit of time that they did have together (dad and kids) to be positive not influenced by all the stuff that went on in our day. Just as Pete had to leave his work at the farm gate so to speak, so too did I. What happened in our day, happened. We dealt with it and moved on.
#6: Protect Relational Time
Generally speaking, when the kids were young, they were ready for bed when Peter came home so I tried to create a space for them to catch up before they went to bed. One of my kids’ fondest memories is Peter carrying them to bed upside down! It is these little things that helped establish a relationship even though he wasn’t home every night.
Another aspect of protecting relational time was that we carefully guarded social commitments for when Peter was home. This was a fine line, because we wanted to be involved in the community as a family but the priority was to build our family relational ties first. We had to prioritise how to use the social time that Peter’s work allowed – it was hard at times because we couldn’t accept invites but family time came first.
The third relational time we protected was for our own marriage relationship. Though it wasn’t always possible to have a date night we did prioritise time to have a cuppa together. If Pete came home in the afternoon, this happened before dinner while the kids played or did their chores, if he came home later, then it happened after the kids went to bed. When the kids were little more often than not our date nights were at home – movie night, Bananagrams (a quick Scrabble alternative), or just talking. We learnt to make the most of the time that we did have.
#7: Have a Life – just not too full
One thing we talked about over the years is my getting involved in things even if Peter couldn’t always be there. There is a balance between living life myself, and waiting so we can do things together. An extreme to both ends will create discontent and frustration. So there is a balance between doing things, and yet not being so busy that when he is home I am not.
This is something that I have to remember as I reflect back on our life and see things that we didn’t do – and can easily start to wish that we had. I have to remember now, why we did what we did back then. Our husband’s work will impact our family lifestyle – we can have a victim mentality and feel hard done by or we can take it on and do the best we can.
#8: God’s Grace
Though all these ideas have been very much a part of my journey the biggest thing that has helped me cope with 26 years of this type of lifestyle has been God’s grace.
These two scriptures in particular have been the basis of my coping with life:
2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Eph 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
God’s grace. As I focus on Jesus, and what He has done for me, I am strengthened. As I focus on Jesus, as I allow the Holy Spirit to prompt, convict, teach, guide me in any situation I find myself in (including being a mum left at home with her kids for days at a time), then I can become more and more like Christ. That is what Grace does in our life.
- I can find the patience when I am tired.
- I can find the wisdom when I am overwhelmed.
- I can find the strength when I am exhausted.
So on those days when I’ve had enough my cry is – or has to be: God help me!
When I get my eyes off Jesus, and onto how hard this is, my cry starts to sound like, “Peter I need you at home!” And though that is understandable, sometimes it isn’t the most helpful attitude.
And I can say with all honesty -this is not an ideal lifestyle but it is one that God has helped me live. And he can help you too. Peter’s work commitments is an aspect that I have no control over – it is Peter’s life. My job is to keep my attitude right, do the things that God puts in my hand, and trust in God. God’s grace is sufficient.
Heart Focused Action Step:
Do you relate to this situation? Is your husband away for work? And how are you coping with that?
One of the 8 ideas may have struck a chord with you – but if you still wonder where to start to make life more balanced then can I encourage you to do these two steps.
-1- Reflect on yourself, and where you are at with accepting and coping with your husband’s work demands. Be honest with yourself, and yet take responsibility for the emotions and choices you make in this situation.
-2- Talk to your husband about the impact of his work on you, the kids and your marriage and family. No blaming. Just facts. Propose that you brainstorm together ways to do life better.
Pete is still working away from home a lot of the time. One thing he asked me a few years ago is – what is one thing that would make this easier for you? For me, it is going outdoors, out bush, once a month. That time together, knowing that he is away from his phone, is so restorative.
Its not an easy life and yet, with God’s help you can have a healthy relationship and a loving, secure family life.
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