Battling the “Frequent Flyer Widow” Blues by Pat Gohn
For years, I was married to a frequent flyer. Truthfully, it was not something I enjoyed. Mostly it was something I endured. But I did learn a few things from those years that may help other spouses deal with habitual business travel as I did.
Before he would leave, I always stood on “our step” – the one that brings my shorter height more in line with his lips – and gave him a kiss worth remembering. The kind that would make our kids blush when they were little… a G-rated public display of affection, but enough to get the point across. The kind that says I’ll be missing you and I’ll be right here when you get back.
Then came my traditional “wave” from the front door as he droves away. I would take a deep breath as I would say a little prayer. This aspect of his career life was, at the least, a necessary inconvenience and, at the worse, a hardship we bore.
Here are 10 ideas, in random order, that have helped us deal with the separation both as a couple and as a family.
ONE: Keep tabs on each other.
Decide in advance when you will or won’t call each other and make this a priority as far as possible. Texting is okay, and email is nice, but live voice contact person-to-person is what stirs the heart, and keeps relationships intact.
Before my husband would leave, depending on his destination, we would decide on what times were feasible when I could expect a call, or when it would be good to call him. We usually settled on a nighttime call for me, at the end of our days when he was back at his hotel and we both could unwind. (Naturally, this varied depending on time zones. Sometimes he and I would have to set alarms on watches, phones, or elsewhere as little prompts to help us keep the time zones in sync.)
When my children were little, my husband made it a priority to have a once-a-day phone conversation with them sometime within the two-hour window before their bedtime. This often required some scheduling heroics on the part of my husband depending on his time zone as it intersected ours. If time was really tight on my husband’s end, rather than play pass-the-phone with each little child, we opted for using a speakerphone. Then we interrupted whatever we were doing to have a family chat with Dad. These days, families make use of internet technologies like voice- and video-over-IP chats via their computers.
He would review the day with each of them and talk to them about the people and places he was visiting. Sometimes we’d find a map and let the children find he location.
Every call always ended with sufficient “I love you’s” and similar affirmations.
As my children grew into teenagers, these calls to my children became easier; Dad could call them directly on their own phones or text and vice-versa.
TWO: Keep him close in your heart.
Besides phone calls, I always keep my husband’s photo in my workspace in the kitchen and in the office. And if I’m at home, I keep one of his jackets or sweaters by the front door. I like seeing it there as I come and go, and sometimes I would even wear it outside if I was going to run an errand or join the children outside or walk the dog. Or I’d play music that would remind me of him, or write him a letter to send while he was away, or to tuck into his suitcase on the next trip, or under his pillow when he returned.
And, I would pray for him… for his protection, for his success in his business, and for fortitude in the lonely moments while being on the road.
THREE: Keep his travel itinerary on hand for your sake and for his.
It goes without saying that if you have an emergency at home while your spouse travels, you’ll want to be in contact with him. For the sake of emergencies, always make sure you have your spouse’s full itinerary, complete with hotel, airline, and work-related phone numbers at the ready. You never know when you are going to need it. Keep it in your purse or near the phone. Tell your older children where this information is as well.
Have more than one phone number to contact your spouse such as their administrative assistant, boss, or traveling companions. Keep handy his corporate travel agency contact or online booking service.
For your traveler, it’s important not to become overly reliant on cell phones and other mobile devices. They can malfunction, or get lost or stolen. Not to mention batteries die, internet connections break down, and public phones are getting scarce.
There have been times when my husband was in a remote region of a country where the internet went down. He needed me to call his travel agent because his travel needs were changing by the hour, and he could not get through by phone or internet. Fortunately, I could help him out from home.
Another time he was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing at a different airport than its original destination. Such an event causes pandemonium at an airport for hours. Grateful as we were for his safety, he still was in the aftermath of the event and he needed me to alert his boss of his delay while he figured out how his was going to continue his travel, as well as recharge his blackberry.
FOUR: Be resourceful.
Naturally, emergencies related directly to the people in your family need to be communicated as soon as possible with your spouse: a death in the family, a sudden medical emergency, a severe car accident, etc.
My rule of thumb is always “people before things.” Therefore, emergencies related to people in our family, I always communicate with my husband as soon as possible. But depending on severity, as far as possible, emergencies related to things, such as home or car or finances, I try to see what I can work out before calling my husband who is away from home.
Just because I have a cell phone doesn’t mean I have to use it for every little problem that comes up in my day. That would only add stress to my husband’s day, when often he is not in a position to help. If he calls me during the day, I’ll update him, or maybe send him an email about something that’s “brewing”… but I try to take things in stride, and see what I can do to remedy the situation.
This means that as far as possible, I am knowledgeable about our house, car, and finances. If I cannot fix a problem myself, I have a list of service providers that I can call in to help, or at least get an estimate while I’m waiting to discuss the problem with my husband. Between trips, I often had conversations with my husband about where he would like me to get help before a problem arose.
With that said, I always keep some extra cash on hand.
FIVE: You don’t always have to go it alone.
This really applied to life with small children when daily routines are both helpful, but at times, tedious. When I was a stay-at-home mother with small children for long stretches of business travel, I needed an adult break once in a while, even if I never left the house.
During the week, I would plan for a friend to come by at night for coffee and dessert. Or if my children’s needs allowed, I planned a lunch date out during the week. Visiting with another adult helped those weeks pass by, plus allowed me some time to catch up with friends.
At times, teaming up with another friend who had a traveling husband, or inviting a single mother and her kids over for supper helped both of us cure loneliness that can creep up.
SIX: Do something out of the ordinary.
While routines are great in the family home, doing something silly or different can have a happy result and make happy memories even while Daddy is on the road. (Plus it will give the kids something to talk to Dad about on the phone!)
Simplify meals: Have breakfast food for dinner. Picnic in the living room. Eat dessert first. Let the kids plan and “cook” a meal as appropriate.
Camp out: Get out sleeping bags, or set up “camp” in the living room with candles and flashlights. Make popcorn or a special dessert while playing games together. Mom gets the couch. Kiddies get the floor. (A good option on weekends, not on school nights.)
Have a field trip: Take a mystery ride and don’t tell the children where they are going. Get to the zoo, a museum or a local historical site, a lake or the beach, or over to Grandma’s house. It doesn’t matter where, just that you go and that it is fun for you and for them.
Seven: Learn to enjoy solitude.
Admittedly, this is a lost discipline in our high-powered multi-tasking culture. Creating space to think and breathe and create is often hard to come by.
When my husband traveled, I had some “space” open up for me after the children went to bed. And even when they were teens, their evening schedules often included homework or jobs. I could often carve out a few hours each week after dinner, during my husband’s business travel, to pray quietly, to read a book, to watch a chick-flick he might not care for, or to pursue my writing craft or musical composition.
While enjoying social networking or reading some blogs might be fun for some people, I’ve found for renewal of mind and heart, often doing something creative brings more dividends that than just being passively engaged.
Eight: Plan a date with your spouse.
This is a sure-fire way to beat the blues that come from being separated from the one you love. I recommend the date being within a few days of his return. It can be simple and inexpensive, but it will be something both of you can look forward to.
Don’t begrudge the expense of a babysitter. You both deserve it. If you must be frugal in your budget, it might be time to add a line item of babysitting to your budget and work toward making it a reality. Then you can plan and not feel guilty about the expense, and enjoy the process of planning the date. For a few lean years, I traded babysitting time with a good girlfriend who had the same need. The benefit was that she was someone who knew my children and my house, and I could really relax when she was there.
Planning the date for a few days after his return allows him to restore from his travel. My husband usually needs a day or two to recover from the fatigue associated with business travel, time zone changes, and meals on the road. Besides, he’s more fun on a date when he’s refreshed.
However, I will tell you one story that does not fit that mold. Sometimes business travel interferes with birthdays, anniversaries and similar special occasions, no matter how carefully we plan around them. Weather delays, airport traffic, it all can wreak havoc on a family calendar. After a flurry of incidences like that, I boldly planned a super date since I had the budget. My special occasion date had a co-conspirator in a friend who took my children for a night. I arrived at the airport in my best dress and picked up my weary traveler. After greeting him, I told him we had a dinner reservation at a restaurant we both liked. When the check came, I slipped a hotel room key in with the change. I don’t recall fatigue being an issue on that date.
Nine: Make “coming home” pleasant and welcoming.
The space shuttle and other spacecraft experienced a certain amount of heat-shield loss upon re-entry of the earth’s atmosphere. In a way, this can happen to us humans as well. Business travel is not all that glamorous. It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to be “on” all the time. Coming home should be sweet, refreshing, and welcomed.
When children are small, make Daddy’s arrival back into the clan a true homecoming… and enjoy their excitement in welcoming him back. But then, try to make minimum demands on him the first few hours home. For me, this meant making sure the living room and the master bedroom was tidy and a place to relax. It didn’t often matter if the rest of the house was a bit chaotic. But giving my husband a chance to change out of work mode to home mode was key.
Honestly it often took great self-control on my part to not overwhelm him with my own immediate needs; like my need to talk to another adult, or have him fix the screen in the back door again. There would be time for all of that. For now, the emphasis is on welcome and hospitality. And gratitude.
Pray for each other while you are apart for one another. Pray for the children. I already alluded to this above.
It is often helpful, when dealing with your own struggles during business travel separations to pray for others who deal with separation.
Through the years, I prayed for families who have loved ones in the military or government security agencies. These families live through deployments, often without knowledge of their loved one’s whereabouts. I’ve really come to appreciate the depth of personal sacrifice these families are making to support a loved one in deployment.
I’ve prayed for families who are separated by long hospitalizations, or treatments that take them to distant cities in search of a cure. As a cancer survivor, I’ve met so many people who have travelled from afar to receive medical care in the fine hospital where I was treated. I was so fortunate to have such care near my home.
I’ve prayed for families separated by incarcerations, natural disasters, or war.
Most of all, I found myself praying for single parents. And my gratitude for my own situation would swell. For I knew the date and time that my spouse would come home and my solitariness would come to an end.
Finally, I’ll admit that if I could end all this business travel for us, I would. Yes, we’ve had the benefit of frequent flyer miles for personal travel now and again. Its still not worth the trade off.
Copyright 2010 Pat Gohn