I live near DC, where a lot of people’s spouses travel for work. Some are gone for weeks or months at a time or a few days every week. I really have nothing to complain about, but what fun would that be?
During my husband’s last trip, longer than most, I had to admit something to myself—it’s just not fun when he calls home.
I get that his job involves social events—dinners, drinks. But calling to say good night for bedtime inevitably involves him not being able to hear us and me only hearing the sound of grown-up revelry. The kids at this point aren’t hearing anything, because when things aren’t fun, they just walk away.
Or when we talk in the morning, he’s just rolling out of bed after a lovely night of sleeping in a room alone, knowing no one was going wake him. If he’s tired, it’s because he was out late. Poor thing. Meanwhile, I’m trying to wrangle unbrushed teeth, grab a to-go breakfast, and get kids out the door, which is basically the least fun thing parenting has to offer.
Adding a phone call to our bedtime routine isn’t exactly seamless. It just gives me another to-do. Brush teeth, wash everyone’s face, and don’t forget to call daddy to say good night.
The kids really do miss him when he’s gone—they tell me so several times a day. And they even think they want to call him on the phone, but it’s “Hi, Daddy!” and then they’re out. It’s not fun—it’s annoying.
It’s not that I don’t think he should call. He should. In fact, if he didn’t, I’d be pissed. So it is a bit unfair to say that it sucks, but it does suck.
Single-parenting (and I use the term loosely, in the temporary, it’s a verb not a noun kind of way) while a spouse is gone is the kind of thing for which one should earn bonus points. To be cashed in for a day off or a night away. I know. Keeping score is petty. Oh well. I earned those points with hard work and phone calls home do not subtract some because you’re helping out via conference call. Not until there’s technology for brushing kids teeth via Skype.
No phone call is going to make it easier. In fact, every phone call makes it a little harder. With each call, he reinserts himself back into the world he’s left behind, and the kids are reminded that their daddy is gone. So when they’re not distracted and paying no attention, they’re start whining about how much they miss him.
If I was the one away, I’d probably want to say good-night, too. There’s no perfect answer here. I realize he can’t win.
But I do think that traveling parents should disabuse themselves of the notion that they’re doing anyone a favor with those phone calls.
Of course, I will always pick up the phone and say, “I miss you. I love you. The kids miss you. They love you.” It’s all true. But what I really want to say is, “You know what? I’m doing this. I got it. I can handle things without you. So don’t try to make yourself feel better by keeping us on the phone.”
It’s a lot easier to just be in an on-my-own mode, enjoying any benefits that come with making all of the decisions and doing whatever we want. Like not having anyone annoyed if bedtime is late or dinner was lame or the kids aren’t bathed or whatever else having your co-parent around reminds you that you’re not doing quite right.
A military-wife friend, whose husband went on long deployments for much of their marriage, told me that there are three phases with every absence—before, during and after. For me, it’s “I’m hunkering down so leave me alone,” “Wow—this is actually manageable and I’m totally doing it so I rock,” and “Now it’s your turn, cuz that was exhausting.” The easiest time is the actual time away. Totally unfair, I know.
I love my husband, but nowhere is it written that I have to love the calls home. And now it’s written that I don’t. But, dear husband, don’t think this means you’re not calling home anyway. Because we love you, dammit.
And we will be really happy when we see you again.
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