Sunday, 19 August 2012

When My Husband Works Out of Town...

A reader recently asked if I could share how we manage to parent and run "Little Home In The Country" with Kelly working out of town.  The short answer?  Not so well, LOL.  The long answer?  Grab a coffee...

Our philosophy behind living through this kind of lifestyle is rather like looking for the rainbow in the dark and stormy sky.  We know this arrangement isn't forever, so we look for ways to make it more tolerable in the meantime - planning for some "rainbow moments" in the week that he has off and is home with us.  It's been just under a year now, and it's unlikely that Kelly will be taking a local position until sometime in 2013 (not our choice, it's just the way it is), so we've got a ways to go...

Kelly currently works 5 hours away with a 14 days on, 7 days off rotation.  This is actually our preferred schedule of all the possible combinations as a full week off is far preferable to working 11 on and 3 off or 10 on and 4 off.  Too much driving with those rotations and not enough time off to relax and do anything together.

First and foremost, our priority is our family.  All other aspects of life are a distant second.   Most of our time is spent making sure that our marriage is healthy and our children are well.  That sounds so easy as I type it, but it is REALLY hard to accomplish.  Truly, we always feel like someone is getting short changed, but our goal is to simply do the very best we can with the time that we have together.  

From my point of view...

When Kelly is away, I go into survival mode.  I realized the last time he worked away, that staying healthy is the most important thing that I can do for my family.  With only one parent home and available, it's critical that I stay well in order to keep the home fires burning.  I balance my responsibilities with the kids, our home and the garden so that I'm able to take good care of myself.  I'm far from perfect but I strive for balance.  To achieve this:

1)  I try to get to bed at a decent hour.  When I'm overtired, I always get sick and that makes for a tough 2 weeks with Kelly gone.

2) I try to stay active and exercise each day.  In the winter that means doing an exercise DVD 6 days/week, and in the summer that means lots of outside work/gardening.

3)  I get out in the fresh air every day.  Summer is easy, but winter is hard.  Even a 10 minute walk around the property when it's -30C makes a HUGE difference in my outlook, my health and my mental state.

4)  Making time for personal pleasure.  For me, that is reading/researching, sewing, scrapbooking, gardening, etc...  Late night reading means that I have to go to bed BEFORE I need to be asleep.

5)  Time to go out alone.  One of my favourite ways to recharge is to take a tea/coffee to the library to browse the shelves alone...  I try to schedule one "go out alone" session each week that Kelly is gone, but sometimes I can only manage it once in 2 weeks.

6)  Time with friends.  I aim to schedule one friend tea/coffee date each time that Kelly is away.  Catching up with a friend is a huge spirit lifter and is an important factor in maintaining a healthy mental state.  Even a chatty, long distance phone call to a close friend works, but a face to face visit is always the best.

7)  Regular chiropractic visits and regular homeopathic consultations to keep me in top form are essential to my health and wellbeing.

8)  Eating well.  Avoiding sugar as best as I can is a HUGE boost to my health.  I do indulge in treats occasionally, but I try to eat regular meals and get enough fruit and veggies in my diet because I simply FEEL better and have way more energy when I eat that way.

9)  Asking for help.  When I'm not coping well (for whatever reason), I reach out and ask for help.  Now that we don't have babies and toddlers in the home, I need outside help less often, but occasionally, the need arises to have some assistance.  When I am able, I like to return the favour, by assisting a friend in her time of need.

10)  Staying in touch with Kelly.  With technology what it is today, staying in touch has never been easier.  Being in regular contact has really helped us to stay close and feel like we are involved in family decisions together.  When he comes home, we don't feel like strangers (which sadly was the case many years ago before cell phones and free family chat time).

11)  Lowering expectations.  I am a perfectionist and a workaholic by nature.  I always have a HUGE list of projects and tasks to work on both inside and outside.  I am prone to burn out because I push myself very hard to get a lot done.  It takes TREMENDOUS self discipline to let things go.... my vegetable garden is weedy, the house is not perfectly tidy, our meals are simple and I'm not canning much this year.  I always look for the most efficient way to do things and instead of pushing myself so hard, I force myself to let things slide right now...  that is the hardest challenge for me and I sometimes resent having to do it, but that is what this season in life demands...

From the kids' point of view:

1)  They HATE having Dad away, and the first night is always rough.  I plan for a relaxed evening with some extra time with the kids leading up to and at bedtime...  the younger kids need assurance that we can get through the 2 week shift.  

2)  Calendars.  Paige and Reece both have their own calendars so they keep track of when Dad is away and when he is coming home.  

3)  Calling/texting/face time/sending pictures.  The kids send lots of pictures of their day to Dad.  Art, schoolwork, projects, the animals, etc...  this really helps to keep Dad "in the loop" of the day to day everyday moments of their lives.  He feels less isolated and they feel like Dad is "with them" and involved :)

4)  Time to talk.  Young children can't always identify and express negative feelings.  It's really important that they have time to talk about their feelings, vent their frustration and express their sadness.  Sometimes, it takes a little nudge and some leading conversation from me to get the ball rolling...  not that I want them wallow in misery, but from time to time a good cry or a long chat is needed.

5)  Routine!  Sticking to a regular routine is SO helpful in providing stability and comfort for the kids.  They feel secure when the rest of their world is stable and constant.  The very last thing they need with Daddy gone, is upheaval and unpredictable days. 

When Kelly is home on his week off, we make the most of it!

1)  We stay off the computer as much as possible.  It goes without saying that the computer can really suck valuable time away from our week together.

2) We clear the calendar.  I try to not schedule appointments and commitments during the week that Kelly is home.  After being away for 2 weeks, the LAST thing Kelly wants is for us all to be running around and out of the house all week.  This does take some planning and a good amount of discipline, but it really makes for a relaxing week off.

3)  We spend time as a family to just BE a family.  We play board games and watch movies, we listen to music and cook together... whatever we feel like doing, we do, even if it's just hanging out and relaxing.  We make sure to have Mitchell and Kelsey over for dinner at least once while Kelly is home so that Kelly can feel plugged into their lives.  I get to see them a whole lot more than he does just now... 

4)  We make a list of home repairs/maintenance tasks that are essential plus a list of "hopefuls".  Those are tasks that we'd really like to do if we can fit them in (building the greenhouse, working on finish carpentry on the house, working on land/garden chores/construction projects, etc.).  We take each day as it comes and we try to not be super busy each day of Kelly's week off otherwise, he returns to work feeling like he never had a rest!  The weather sometimes dictates our plans...  rain means indoor work, and hot sunny days lend themselves to outside chores.

5)  Family outings.  A cheap movie, a paddle down the river in the canoe, the Science Centre, swimming at the city pool, etc...  balancing the need to do fun things together without being away from home too much is key.  We both like to be home on Kelly's days off, so we don't go out any more than necessary.

7)  Adult time.  This is probably the hardest thing to accomplish.  With 4 children in the home from age 19 down to 8, there's a lot of competition for our time.  Our best conversations happen early in the morning over our favourite coffee.  Sometimes, we have to turn the kids away and shoo them off in order to have that conversation time alone...  I don't feel guilty about that, because we spend the whole day with them!

As we are nearing the 1 year mark of Kelly working away, we're feeling more than ready to have him working back home again.   Living apart for 2 weeks at a time requires that we all live very mindfully to make it work.  That in itself isn't a bad thing I suppose, but we are all ready to have a "normal" family life again...  let's hope that 2013 brings a local position!


  1. It is tough, but you have worked out a really good strategy for dealing with it. You are so right, you do have to go into survival mode, but you cope - and you do, LHITC, brilliantly.

    My husband worked away for much of our married life, the worst times were when the children were very young and he was away for 6 months at a time - then home for just two weeks holiday - luckily that contract ended after 18 months!

    I really hope that the right local position comes up before too long. In the mean time - I salute you and your wonderful family!

  2. Your strategy looks good! I'm sure the hardest part is when you "change gears" and your husband has to say the goodbyes and go back to work! This is a sacrifice, no doubt. One that the military has to do also.

    Once my husband had "strike duty" where he was locked in the plant with others and had to run the operations until the stike was over, which was about four months. It was an awful time. He was allowed to come home for Christmas. (years ago...I was young and we were just married).
    Best wishes, love,andrea

    1. Wow, Andrea, that sounds horrible and YES, my heart goes out to those families who have husbands and wives serving in the military overseas (often in dangerous situations). Single parents have plenty of struggles as well dealing with similar issues... shared custody, blended families and all the scheduling that those arrangements entail.

  3. WOW Your strength of character shines through in those words of advice. It must take a lot of discipline to make that all work, well done. As far as I can see it's you alone that keeps your home fires burning, job well done. :)

    1. Awe... thank you so much. It's not just me, we all kind of muddle through using this plan. :)

  4. Good planning and I'm sure that it works.

    I just have to say -- Reece doesn't look much like his Dad, does he? :o

    1. Rose, Reece actually looks a LOT like his oldest brother, Mitchell (who takes more after my side of the family). Our second oldest son, Ian is the one who looks most like Kelly...

      We had family portraits taken recently so I'm going to post a picture as soon as we get them back :)

  5. I can only imagine how hard it must be saying goodbye and getting the family rhythm going again each time. But you have some fantastic strategies in place which i might add have really inspired me and i shall be 'borrowing' some!Hang in there lovely...sounds like you are doing a fantastic job under these tough circumstances and i am in awe....thanks for sharing your thoughts with us x

  6. As the person who requested this post, thank you! My husband is also working 2 on/1 off, but we don't have kids yet. It's tough for us right now because there aren't really any jobs in his field (biology/environment) which wouldn't have him away from home. Anything close to home wouldn't pay very well, at least not for a young person without too much experience. So we're looking at this schedule for quite a while, but we'd like to start a family too and I know it scares him to feel like he'd be out of touch with our kids. I think he's worried he wouldn't bond well with them.
    For the moment, we're focusing a lot on keeping strong communication with each other. Have you tried Skype? There's no cell service where my husband is, but Skype has been a lifesaver. We can't talk, we have to chat via messaging, but just being able to see each other's faces, to know how we're making the other person laugh or smile, helps tremendously. And a few times he has been able to call me from a camp phone, when I had a low week and really needed to hear his voice.