On a normal parenting day, my husband and I split the duties pretty evenly. He helps with homework, takes the lead on baths, cleans up from dinner and we share the bedtime routine. We’re pretty 50-50 when it comes to parenting.
The difference is more noticeable in household management. I’m primarily responsible for maintaining the schedules, food shopping and cooking, medical care and overseeing the chores. In short, I’m the chief operating officer. And that’s why things can get sticky when I leave.
I chose to be the primary parent. My husband is active-duty military, so I am the one at home day in, day out. But when my career took off, opportunities for me to travel came with it. I wanted to take those opportunities, and he wanted me to take them, too. But how was this going to work?
It was at this point we realized there were things we could do to help when one of us has to travel. Here are some ways to make life easier when you're left alone with the kids.
The foundation of marriage and parenting is communication, so when you throw a wrench into the norm, you need to increase the communication. It helps when you can prioritize trips together, discuss the role the other person will play, and tick through any details about communication while they’re away. Time zones may make phone calls difficult. Can you help with homework over Skype? Can you record the choir performance for me?
Earlier this fall, I traveled for a few days to a place where I would have no cell phone or internet service. This was a huge deal as it meant zero communication back home. The school couldn’t call me, the daycare couldn’t call me, my husband and kids couldn’t call me. My husband had to handle everything — a task he was completely capable of but hadn’t ever done before.
We talked beforehand about what I could do in advance to make it easier. I didn’t want to be insulting or patronizing if I wrote daily schedules, but I also didn’t want him to feel lost and frustrated. Having these discussions helped set everyone up for success.
Almost everything still needs to get done when one parent travels. But not every task or to-do has to be done the same way and they don’t all have to be done by one person. Yes, the children need to eat, but you don’t have to cook every night. Consider what you can outsource, or prepare in advance, and what you absolutely have to do on your own.
When I travel and leave my husband at home with our three kids, I do some tasks in advance. I make sure there are groceries. I have — clearly labeled with directions — meals in the freezer. The laundry is put away.
But I also know that at least one night he’s going to take them out for dinner. And it’s okay. That day he’s outsourcing that task, and it’s special for our kids. They get to spend time with their dad doing something “cool.” And he gets to breathe easier for an hour.
Other options for outsourcing include arranging for meal delivery or even hiring a babysitter for one night so your spouse gets a break from the evening hustle. You can also talk to friends and family about carpooling for practices, etc.
Ask for help
Asking for help is hard in a world where we are supposed to have it all together. But it takes a village to raise a child and you'll need all the help you can get when you're on your own.
Grandparents and aunts and uncles are great for times like these. My dad has come to help out with the kids twice while I traveled. My husband appreciates the extra help he gets in the mornings and evenings and my kids love spending time with their grandfather.
Neighbors are also really helpful in these situations. We often help neighbors with bus stop supervision or after-school care when they have to travel, and they willingly do it for us, too.
At the end of the day, the traveling parent wants to come home and feel missed while the parent who held down the fort wants to feel appreciated. The best way to do this is to take care of each other. Discuss plans in advance, work together to make things run as smoothly as possible, and, remember, not everything has to get done all the time. Happy, healthy families have dirty dishes on the counter and pizza delivered twice in one week.