“So what’s your strategy with Rich going away?” a friend asked me this week. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I’m not sure I have one.”
After a bit of reflection I realised that although I’m never going to have a 20-point plan of how to cope when Rich is away there are a few principles I’ve learnt along the way. I’ll admit I’m not the most organised person in the world so batches of pre-cooked frozen meals are never going to be my thing. But I guess over the last few years, as Rich has increasingly travelled away from home, I’ve learnt a thing or two on how to make it work with young kids. I wish there was a magic-formula which would guarantee success every time but it appears there isn’t. Whilst we can manage one trip with apparent ease we can have another one, where I appear to do all the same things, and yet it feels like we’re counting down the minutes to Rich’s return (with a week left to go!) Sometimes it’s plain sailing and sometimes it’s plain tears all the way. Kids are kids (and mums are mums) so there’ll never be a formula. But here are a few things I’ve found helpful:
skype. skype. and more skype
Oh thank the Lord for skype. Actually, when the kids were younger they found it harder to connect over skype as it just made them more aware of Rich’s absence. But as they’ve got a bit older skype means that we can sit and eat tea together or do family prayers together or Rich can consult on our lego-building technique (an important factor in the Robinson household). But it’s not just important for the kids; it’s important for us as a couple. I’ve heard other people say that there’s a bit of a re-adjustment period when a couple return back to each other, after time away. This is definitely true for us and particularly for me as I find it easy to become overly-independent. This “re-adjustment” aka “arguing” is really minimized if we keep well-connected whilst Rich is away. Regular skype communication keeps us feeling like we’re still journeying together even if there’s geographical distance.
Be realistic in what you can achieve.
Having a husband away is not the time to prove that you’re superwoman. Simple food, McDonalds, soft-play centres, TV, online supermarket shopping: you are all my trusty friends. And I no longer feel ashamed to call you this.
Work out which are helpful offers of help.
Lots of people offer to help when Rich is away, which is a massive blessing. But there are varying levels of helpfulness. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a discipline to allow others to help. I’m an introvert, so just getting on with looking after the kids on my own can seem like the easiest thing to do. I try to say “yes” to the things that will either bless me or the kids.
Get people praying
Knowing that other people are praying for us makes a massive difference. I usually give people specific things to pray for, and update them with prayer needs throughout the trip.
Help the kids become more independent
I think this is one of the major benefits of having Rich away: I’ve had to teach the kids to help around the house and help themselves to the things they need. One pair of hands to three kids is not a particularly even ratio, so the more helping hands the better. Today I came downstairs to find my eight year old unloading the dishwasher for me #proudmummoment. There’s a greater awareness that we need to pull together as a team to make life work. I’ve also had to work harder at getting the kids to solve their own disputes. I find sibling arguments the most stressful aspect of family life. So I’m increasingly putting disputes back into the kids’ hands: “I know that you two are able to solve this argument so I’m going to do the washing-up and you can come and tell me when you’ve worked out the solution” feels like a much more relaxing and effective alternative to being Robinson referee.
Look for the gain.
There’s always some kind of growth in my life or in the life of our family whilst Rich is away. It may be spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual or financial. But I can easily miss it if I’m not consciously looking for it. It may be something as simple as remembering the kingdom advancement taking place through the work Rich is doing whilst away or what I’m doing at home. It may be seeing the kids mature a little, or some spiritual revelation that I receive from having a bit of extra time on my own with God. Or it may be just be having a bit of girly-time with one of my friends. Sometimes it’s only after Rich has returned that I’m able to see what the “gain” has been, but it’s really great if I can acknowledge it whilst he’s still away.
A place of weakness is always an opportunity to lean into God. This is rarely a pain-free process but a new level of surrender to God brings greater freedom and greater fruitfulness. My weaknesses – my impatience, my insecurities, my inadequacies all float to the surface when Rich is away. So I can either try to stuff them back down or surrender them. Sometimes I manage this. Sometimes I don’t. 🙂
The kids need more of me when Rich is away. I give them more time particularly at bedtime because that’s usually the time when they process how they’re really feeling. Longer snuggles, more stories, more prayer, more conversation. S-L-O-W down.
I know I’m not the only one who has a husband who travels. So how about you: what are some of your coping strategies?