12 July 2012

Staying Sane When Your Spouse Is Away

Whether for military service or business travel, short term or long term, it's likely that even those of us with a supportive parenting partner will have to go it alone at some point. Following are six tips for keeping it together when your significant other is not around.

1. Be prepared. For a short trip, this may be as simple as stocking up on groceries and making sure the car is filled with gas so you don't have to worry about it. For longer separations, consider the things your spouse usually takes care of that you will need to add to your radar (e.g., I would never remember what day the trash is picked up if it weren't in my calendar because that's not my usual domain). Use bill pay and other automatic set-ups when possible. Arrange for someone to take care of the lawn.

2. Be really prepared. It's pretty much a guarantee that during the time your husband is gone, something completely out of the ordinary and semi-disastrous will occur. Have a plan. Know in advance who you would call if the washer, the toilet, or the roof started leaking. Make sure your car maintenance is up-to-date, check the tires and fluids, and confirm you have roadside assistance. Change all the smoke detector batteries. Know where the nearest emergency room is. Make sure you have flashlights and candles.

3. Embrace routine. You don't need to account for every waking hour, but having some semblance of a schedule, even if you normally balk at the idea, is critical. If nothing else, it means you don't have to think too hard about what to do next when you feel overwhelmed. For us, we also have a few activities we always do on certain days to help make the week more predictable: groceries on Wednesdays, park time on Fridays, etc.

4. Respect that each child will respond differently. Our six-year-old wants to know details (where he is, what he's doing), to mark days off on the calendar, and to be my official helper. The four-year-old kind of understands, but doesn't have a great grasp on time yet, so she needs to be distracted and kept busy. At 20 months, A barely notices. Really. Sure, he'll be excited to see Daddy again, but as long as his primary object of affection (Mommy) is accessible he's good.

5. Don't take it personally. I remember the first couple of times Dear Hubby left for a long stretch, I would worry when I didn't get a response to an e-mail, or a phone call when I expected one. Keep in mind that whatever your spouse is doing, he's probably just very busy and not slighting you. If you plan to correspond via video chat, clarify when and how often this will be possible. 

6. Take care of yourself. You won't be able to help your kids through the transition if you are running on empty. Prioritize time to do whatever fills your own cup. For some that may mean time with friends, away from the kids. For others it may mean joining a gym with free child care. Maybe family could visit during his absence. Everyone has different needs when it comes to what energizes them.

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