One aspect of our family life that I haven’t put out there very much is that my husband works away from home – a lot, and has done so for most of our married life. There are a few reasons why this doesn’t get mentioned, but one of them is that it is such a normal part of our life, that it is just normal, not needing comment. But I have been aware that this type of lifestyle is normal for a lot of people (to differing degrees) and I thought I would share some of the key things that have helped us maintain our marriage and create a family where there is good father/child relationships and a strong family identity.
Here are some of the things that have helped me, and I hope that they may help you in dealing with the work demands on your husband and how that affects your family.
Accepting his work as God’s provision.
When we came to this town, we had bought a farm, but the income received from that wasn’t enough to cover our daily expenses (it was a developing farm). We lived in a caravan and there were times where we were praying for money to pay our bills. It just so happened, that at the time we arrived in town, the live-export market was on the rise, and the cattle stations in the area needed a cattle vet. My husband is a cattle vet! Whenever I had a hard day, or attitude started rising, I would reflect: You asked God for income, He has provided, you can’t then go and say ‘this is not good enough God!’ I believe that God provides for our income, He also provides for the strength to cope with the situations that arise.
Nightly phone calls.
Peter has committed (to himself) that he will phone me every night. Now, to be honest, some of these phone calls are strictly business as he touches base with messages and what else is going on, but being able to catch up every day gave us the opportunity to maintain our relationship. He would also occasionally talk to the kids – though not every night. With this as our experience, I cannot 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 travels takes you away from home, we must find a way to maintain communication.
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. 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 into folded shirts etc but as a wife being left at home a lot these ideas soon left! I switched from romance to 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 gentle with each other.
Recognise the kids will be impacted as well.
When I had little kids I recognised that their emotions were impacted as well and this made them very high maintenance. 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!) On this day, we would take a break – 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.
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. I wanted the little bit of time that they did have together (dad and kids) to be positive not corrective.
Protect Relational Time.
Generally speaking, when the kids were young, they were ready for bed with 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 Peter wasn’t home every day.
Another aspect of protecting relational time was I 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.
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, Scrabble or Take Two, or just talking. We learnt to make the most of the time that we did have.
Though it is easier to give help to others than it is to accept help, I know that having others help me was a big part of my coping, especially when the kids were young. Friends would help me at church by taking an unsettled baby, or fidgety toddler, someone would pick up the milk from the store for me, or pop in for a visit (adult conversation was very much sought after!) I remember one season of life where our friends would cook a meal, and not only deliver it, but stay and eat it with us. At that time in my life that was easier than us going to their place for dinner.
Have a life – just not too full.
One thing we talked about over the years is my getting involved in things even if Peter can’t always be there. There is a balance between living life myself, and waiting so we can do things together. An extreme to both choices will create discontent and friction. So there is a balance between doing things, and yet not being so busy that when he is home I am not.
Though all these ideas have been very much a part of my journey the biggest thing that has helped my coping with 18 years of this type of lifestyle has been God’s grace. These two scriptures 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.
- 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: God help me! When I get my eyes off Jesus, and onto how hard this is my cry starts to be “Peter I need you at home!”
Though these are the keys that have helped me, I don’t necessarily believe that our lifestyle is ideal, but it is where we are at. 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.
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