A few months ago I was at my children’s school attending a class performance. As I was leaving I bumped into a couple whom I knew just casually and we started chatting about the kids and their busy schedules and being actively involved in the school community. I must have sounded more flustered than usual because as we were saying goodbye, the lady placed a comforting hand on my arm and said, “You’re doing a great job, it can’t be easy being a single mother.” I stood there dumbfounded for literally five minutes trying to process what she said. Why, you ask? Because I’ve been married, and happily so, for the last 13 years.
My Prince Charming basically rode off into the sunset with me, only to deposit me at home and gallop away to the airport for a business trip! To be honest, it wasn’t a hard adjustment initially. I appreciated the time we got to spend together and loved the fact that we got space to do our own thing… until we had kids. While an MIA husband meant I could lunch thrice a week with my friends, an MIA father meant I’d be lucky to eat lunch at all! The sleepless nights, endless nappy changes, trips to the doctor, school rounds, birthday parties, annual days, etc. are hard even with a spouse to help out. When you’re doing all this by yourself, you feel like you’re constantly running on the treadmill, and that too uphill. Factor in decision-making and handling your kids’ emotional issues, and ladies: we deserve a medal for bravery!
Now let me swap over to the other side and play devil’s advocate for a bit. Like my husband says, he’s not travelling because he enjoys challenging his body clock. It cannot be fun constantly battling jet lag and adjusting your wrist watch to different time zones!
None of the dads or working moms I know in today’s day and age want to be absentee parents. They do it because their job demands it. Don’t for a moment think that your husband or wife doesn’t realise the moments they’re missing out on; it’s a difficult trade-off and frankly I think they’ve got the short end of the stick.
So instead of sending my husband on a guilt trip cum business trip, I try to put myself in his shoes and cut him some slack. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way on how to raise kids with an MIA partner.
It’s not easy coparenting with a spouse when he’s not around, but that’s exactly what we need to be doing. Instead of resenting your partner for the time they are away, here are five easy tips for getting them involved as much as you can for the time they are there. This is what I do with my husband, but I believe it applies to any scenario where one parent is frequently on the road:
1) The little things that count: It could be as simple as getting him to do the bedtime ritual of story telling, or taking our kids for their weekend classes, or even helping them out with their homework. Being a part of the little things has a bigger impact on my kids than any grand gesture he might do for them to compensate for his absence.
2) Create lasting memories: Sure, let him do the occasional grand gesture! I’m happy when daddy over-indulges the kids once in a while, because it really helps create special memories for them. I’m there to balance things out in his absence, so I let him go all out to express his love for the kids.
3) Make the most of family days: Instead of using the weekend my husband is in town to catch up with friends, I plan something that involves the kids. It could be a weekend away or simply staying at home playing board games with them. Try to plan something that gives your husband real quality time with the children.
4) Take time to schedule time: Give your partner enough notice for any important events vis-a-vis the kids. I usually mark my husband’s calendar with dates regarding sports days, school functions, or parent teachers conferences as soon as I find out. It’s a little extra help that gives him a chance to plan around his other time commitments and his travel itinerary.
5) Technology can be your friend: As much as we bemoan how much technology has made our relationships impersonal, I would say given the pace of life today, it’s a big reason we are able to maintain relationships in the first place! I constantly Whatsapp pictures and videos of the kids to my husband, and ensure that the kids get to Skype or FaceTime with him and share their day’s worth of news. Hard to do that with good old fashioned pen and paper, and it makes a world of difference to my kids to be able to see daddy as often as possible to know that he’s fully there with them.
So remember, don’t make co-parenting a competition about who’s doing what for the children. Make it a collaboration to do what’s best for your children. These are some of the tips I’ve found that really work for my family; I’d love to hear what works (or doesn’t work) for yours!
Aditi Kalra is a part-time writer, reiki healer, and a full-time mom. She’s lived across three continents, raising two high-on-sugar kids while managing one low-on-patience husband!