Oh, the traveling parent, lovingly called "TP" in this post. We love them. They work SO hard. But it really sucks.
The TP comes in many forms. Parents might only travel for the occasional work meeting. There are those who travel for one to two nights a week on a regular basis. There are parents who travel for extended periods internationally (or domestically). And of course parents serving our country and leaving for much longer periods of time. Our family fits into the "extended periods of international travel" category.
At first, as parents who apparently live in a bubble we thought it would not affect us to have Hubby traveling long periods of time for his new position at work. Our kids would go about daily business and it would be no big deal. Well, that was the case for about two minutes. Now that M is a fully-functioning toddler, she asks questions. Lots of questions. And only in the way a toddler can. As a parent, you might know what I mean. In that high pitch I-Am-Going-To-Cry-Give-Me-My-Demand-Right-Now-Or-I-Will-Blow-A-Fuse way. This was followed by middle of the night wake up sessions (and only when Hubby was traveling). The kicker was a report from daycare that M was talking incessantly about Daddy all day. Our hearts broke! What is the at-home parent suppose to do to lessen the blow of the a TPs absence? I'm not Criss Angel and can't make Hubby appear out of thin air, so I had to come up with some other ways to make do which brought me to making this list. Here is what is working well for us right now:
1. Talk about it before TP heads out the door. Start the conversation about a week in advance (I know you can't always do this with last-minute business trips). If you are a parent to a toddler, you won't be having a long conversation about it, but make a point to mention it daily leading up to the time. When we see airplanes in the sky we say, "Daddy will be flying in an airplane in a few days to go on a work trip." Draw pictures of airplanes, trains, and cars with TP in them as a project together. You get the idea.
2. Make a countdown calendar . Younger kids especially have trouble with the concept of time, hench the never ending Are we there yet? questions. Making a countdown calendar can help them visualize time. A paper chain countdown where you remove a link daily is a fun idea. In M's room we made a calendar on her chalkboard and every night we put an "X" on that day and count the amount of sleeps until TP comes home. As you can see, his arrival date has a big heart on it.
3. Drop TP off at the airport together. If that is possible, try to make it a family outing. It is easier then having them come home from school and TP has just disappeared.
4. Use technology to its fullest. If you have a toddler, you know they are notorious for talking about a person until you can't take it anymore and then you get said-person on the phone and they are silent -- so you might think what is the point of this. M usually goes silent, but you can tell she is in a better mood from her Skype, Facetime, and phone calls from Daddy when he is out of town. Even Baby A gets in on it and bounces with excitement seeing and hearing Daddy talk. I highly recommend getting the Skype app for your phone if you don't have Facetime, especially if your TP travels internationally. We use it daily on Hubby's trips to text and video-chat on the go.
5. Read books about TPs. I started this with Hubby's last trip and M really loves these books. It helps her to understand and until I started looking, I never knew how many awesome books on this topic for small children were out there. We have Countdown 'til Daddy Comes Home
and The Invisible String
both of which I would recommend for both boys and girls.
6. Make a photo album of TP. This idea came about accidentally. M was having a really tough night when Hubby left a few months ago, so I thought it could be helpful to look at pictures of him. I grabbed her one year photo album and it has been a hit ever since. Since M has a tendency to be a bit rough with books and rip pages, I ended up making a small album on Shutterfly with pictures of family, mainly her and the Hubby, to look through when she wants.
7. Celebrate the arrival of TP coming home. Make it a mini party. Draw some pictures or a banner, bake a cake... you get the idea. Make it fun for your child when TP gets home and give them quality kid/parent time.
Some other ideas I have come across include having a box to store things the child wants to show TP when they arrive home (report card, sports medals, movie stubs, etc.) and for older children to write in a journal any updates or feelings they are having so they remember what to share with TP upon their arrival home (this could be useful if you can't talk to TP daily). Then for parents traveling really long periods of time (military for example), sending things in the mail (care packages and postcards) can be a fun way to keep TP connected to the kids and vice versa.
So yes, it sucks when parents travel, but staying connected to the TP throughout the trip and talking about feelings that your child (and you!) are having can help. I think the main thing is to let kids know it is normal to miss their TP and feel sad, even that you feel that way too. By being able to talk about it and do fun things surrounding TPs departure and arrival home it can help lessen those feelings and make time go by quicker.
What do you do when you or your husband or wife leaves the home for extended periods of time? What works, what doesn't?