How to Survive Your Spouse's Work Trip | Olive and Tate

How to Survive Your Spouse's Work Trip


This is a post that I never really planned to write, mostly for safety reasons, but my husband is staying stateside for the foreseeable future and all trips are wrapping up, so here we go! After I shared a few weeks ago that my husband was home from a 23 day work trip to China, many of you reached out asking if I had any strategies to survive a spouse's work trips. 

I'm more than happy to share a few (ok, a lot, this post turned into a ramble!) things we've learned but please keep in mind that this is just what works for us as a family that has a parent who occasionally hits the skies for work. Hopefully you can find a few ideas to make the days go more quickly the next time you're up against a partner's work trip! 

Here are a few of my strategies to keep my sanity while my husband travels internationally for work:

1. Start a shared album
Every trip, we start a new shared iPhone album on our phones. I fill it with photos from our day - the boring stuff, the good stuff, the not so good stuff, anything from school like art work and photos the kids take just for their dad to see. My husband also drops in photos of his day - things he sees out his hotel window, cool signs in other languages, crazy things he eats and he often asks strangers to take pictures of him in cool or funny places. My son, who is almost 5, loves to see the photos that his Dad puts in the album. Many times, my husband is working in Asia so the time difference means that my son wakes up and asks if there are pictures from Daddy - it's really a sweet way for him to start the day. 

For me, I hope this gives my husband the feeling that he is apart of our day and gives him stuff to ask the kids directly about when he's able to FaceTime them. Talking on the phone with a four year old can be a task of it's own, so I know my husband appreciates being able to say "tell me about your awesome rainbow painting!" instead of "what did you do at school today". Ultimately, I know that we most likely won't get the chance to talk every day and when we do, we'll both be too tired to remember the small stuff that happened throughout the day, so the album serves as a special reminder of what we're all up to.

2. Set a timer/reminder with Alexa
We set a reminder for the date that my husband is coming and every morning at breakfast we ask Alexa to tell us the weather and how many more days until Daddy gets back. It helps to have the countdown but it also helps me that Alexa is keeping track - she doesn't seem to get annoyed when she has to repeat how many days are left so I'll happily let her have the task! 

3. Set Personal Expectations
When my husband is away, I have to be super careful to not burn myself out. I set certain "expectations" of myself that might seem silly or weird but they work for me. For example, I plan to get everything I want to get done for the day accomplished before my oldest goes to bed - after that, no matter what is left/hasn't been done etc gets skipped and I get into bed. I actually expect myself to rest. I need that alone time to recharge, to not answer any questions or plan anything or be the go-to person. If I don't take that time, if I don't make that a priority for myself, I crash and burn much sooner. 

I also set expectations as far as my relationship with my husband goes - I honestly don't know if this is right or wrong, but with the time differences and my husband's work demands while he's away, we prioritize his available time for the children. If he has time to FaceTime, we make sure he talks to the kids and has a great chat with him. He and I mostly communicate via text, which isn't ideal, but with our children being so young, it's what we think is best. I do have to remind myself of that occasionally when I wish I could just pick up the phone and call him, but it really is just the way the travel goes. Knowing and preparing my expectations ahead of time helps me keep my mind right.

4. Figure Out Your Worst Time
So, for me, the worst time of day is from 3pm-6pm. It's the late afternoon meltdowns, dinnertime, bath time, bedtime routine hustle and I hate it. So, once a trip, I treat myself to a babysitter/ask my mom to come and help me during those hours. I absolutely know that for most people, a babysitter is a luxury and family is far away. Actually, our family is far away, but my mom is kind enough to come in once or twice during a multi-week/cross-the-globe-style-trip. With that said, if you have the resources, having help even once during your worst time of day can restore your energy and reset your attitude like none other. 

5. Think of little ways for you all to stay connected
This sort of goes hand in hand with our photo album idea, but we try to think of little ways to connect over long trips. One of my favorites is actually practical, but it really does remind me that we're always connected. Our house has an alarm system that can be monitored via an app. Every time I set the alarm, Justin gets a notification on his phone, so he knows we are safe and sound and headed to bed. When he travels to Asia, we're asleep while he's working away, so he keeps an eye on our alarm, watching out for us. When I turn it off before we leave for school, he knows that we're out the door, starting our day. Every single time I mess with the alarm, I think of how he is getting a notice on his phone at that moment and he knows that we're ok, made it through another day and we're one sleep closer to him being home. 

6. Bring Dad Along
This last long trip oversees happened to keep my husband away for my preschooler's Donuts With Dad event at school. Quite honestly, so much of all of the travel just means that we have do what we think is best for our family and for our babes, so my husband and I decided that he would indeed go to Donuts With Dad, but he would do it on FaceTime. I went to the event but FaceTimed Justin in from China (at 10pm his time, no less), clipped his name tag to my phone and we did it all. We propped him up on a cookbook holder, all of the other dad's said hey to him like he was in the room and our teachers were prepared that we would be doing things our way. I'll say this, my husband was sweet enough to find a true American style, pink frosted donut in China and had it waiting so he could eat it with our son "at" Donuts With Dads. Those thoughtful gestures and our sense of creativity when it comes to making all of this stuff feel seamless to our kids are what makes us feel like we can handle the work trip life. 

It may not be the conventional way to do things, but our son was thrilled and we were proud to have pulled it off. Side note: I missed Muffins With Mom because I was also away on a work trip - it isn't ideal, but it happens! 

7. Prepare for the re-entry
Ok, so I'll be honest: the week after my husband gets home is actually the hardest week of a long trip for me. That's right, he's home, things should be easier. And they are in that I have another adult to lean on but the truth is that he's incredibly jet lagged and immediately back to work in the US, so very tired, worn out and just off schedule. Plus, he hasn't been in the parenting routine in weeks, has been only worried about getting himself to and from work and needs a hot second to get back into the swing of things.

My kids also need a little time to readjust to him being home. They are typically very clingy to him the week he gets back, sometimes act out a bit to get his attention and are very curious/nervous about where he is and when he's going to be back when he leaves the house. I also need some time - the week my husband comes home my body seems to realize that it's exhausted and I can't shake the feeling. I am sometimes resentful that my husband can't just jump back in to being Super Dad and am always reminded that just because he's home, none of us get a break. Our lives are still rolling on, lunches still need to packed, forms filled out, birthday party gifts purchased and so on, so there really is no rest for the weary. Give yourselves all of the grace for the first full week, you deserve it. 

Ultimately, during a long work trip, I just do my best to do the best that I can. I'm lucky in that I'm extremely independent (to a fault) and pride myself on doing things on my own. That absolutely makes these trips easier on me - but I do also cut myself a lot of slack. I don't cook a ton of dinners, we eat a lot of Easy Mac, we don't do as many baths as we should, we sometimes drive across town the drive thru Starbucks because everyone is strapped in and contained and I constantly remind myself that it's going to be just fine. 


4 comments

  1. This is so great Stephanie. We did 6-8 months apart in 4-10 week segments for 10 years... the last 3 of them with kids and I hadn’t considered most of these tips. I’m in a moms board for families in the industry we were in with these types of schedules and I’m definitely sharing. I especially love the ways you incorporate technology! We used an app called TinyBeans but her didn’t contribute and it wasn’t trip specific. Love all of this post. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you so much Sarah! I'm so glad there was something in all of those words that was useful :) and thank you for the share, that means more than you know!! xo

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  2. My hubby is in the military and is away for long stretches at a time too, so I can definitely relate! We do a lot of these listed. It's funny how the worst time is always that home from work till bedtime, which is so rough, but it's the most time I get with my babes during the day as a working mama. Re-entry is actually worse than them being gone! When I was on mat leave with my 2nd baby, he came home 5 days before I returned to work and he had to go in to work for 3 half days of those 5. So it was stressful to get the baby to bond with a virtual stranger so he could stay home with the baby on his 2 week leave while I was working. Cheers to single parenting - pour an extra big glass to congratulate yourself on everyone surviving!

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    1. I am in awe of military families and all that you do for us, truly. Our situation is so minor compared to yours, I can't imagine how difficult it is for all of you. Please know that we are so grateful for your family's service and I'm sending you a virtual wine glass cheers!

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