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Having a spouse who travels routinely can plunge you into the role of single parent more often than you'd like. You've probably come to terms with your own adult feelings about the situation, but helping your kids cope is another story. Kids may have emotions and behaviors that change from day-to-day or even hour-to-hour, but there are ways to minimize the craziness and keep your own sanity in the bargain. Soothing routines, keep-in-touch rituals and special treats are all ways that you can keep your family close, connected and content while your spouse is away.
Mind Your Routine
For kids, nothing is more important than consistency. When a parent travels frequently, little ones can be worried and confused by the changes in their daily routine. If they're too young to express these thoughts and feelings, they may act out by having tantrums, not sleeping well or being clingy or whiny. There are several ways you can manage this. One is to have a structured routine that doesn't change when daddy's away. This may be especially helpful for kids under 7, as young kids feel comforted by knowing what's going to happen next. If your kids are older, you may want to have a streamlined routine that gets put into place only when your spouse is traveling. This can be as simple as eating off paper plates to cut down on dishes or piling everyone into the master bedroom to do homework, instead of everyone heading off to a different room.
Have Connection Rituals
Just like you, kids need to know where the traveler is, what he's doing and when he'll be home. Karen Stephens, of The Parenting Exchange, says, "Help children maintain a sense of your presence in the home by leaving them with one of your favorite items. It can be something as simple as a sweater, sports cap, book or photographs." Have goodbye and hello rituals in place for your kids. Let little ones mark the calender each day so they can understand when dad will be home. Even if he's leaving at 4 a.m. for a flight, make sure he sneaks in for a kiss or leaves a little note at the breakfast table. When dad gets home, even if it's late, have him check in briefly with each child or leave a small treat, like a sticker or chocolate kiss, on their pillow, so the minute they wake up, they'll know he's home.
Just because your spouse is away doesn't mean your kids can't share their day as they normally would. Find a convenient time to video chat, text or send pictures. Your spouse can use a phone or laptop to show the kids the hotel room, so they can picture him when they need a little comfort. If your kids are older, don't force them to text or chat, simply let them know they have the option to reach out if they want to. Stephens says, "According to their ability to understand, briefly explain what you’ll be doing. Sometimes kids wonder about the simplest things—like how you will get food to eat when you’re not home. If those details worry your child, reassure them there are restaurants and grocery stores where you travel."
Make It Special
If your spouse travels often, try to build traditions that only happen when it's just you and the kids. Whether it's ordering takeout Chinese food or watching silly comedies, build a sense of "holiday" into your time away from each other, so "travel time" doesn't conjure feelings of loneliness and added stress. Get the kids into their pajamas as soon as they get home from school or have a "carpet picnic" while you watch their favorite TV show. Be creative and put the emphasis on letting loose. Kids model your mood: Whether you're stressed and frazzled, or relaxed and calm, they'll follow your lead.
Protect Family Time
When the family is together, try to set aside at least one day a week for family time. It's so easy to get over-scheduled and end up with everyone heading in a different direction, but carving out time for the family to reconnect is important, too. If your spouse gets home on a Friday, try blocking out the next day to sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast together, hang out and catch up. You may find that having private "family-only" time can ease transitions for you and your partner, as well.