8 ways to stay sane when your husband goes away and leaves you with three tinies

“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.

Lean in

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. 🙂

S-l-o-w down

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?

when our kids need to hear “sorry”

I’m on the top bunk, curled under the Angry Birds duvet and right next to the Bear Grylls pictures. I’ve been granted my own pillow these days. It’s green with dinosaurs on it and waits for me each night before prayer and slumber.

We look up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and he tells me about his day in these moments. The highs, the lows, what he’s learnt, what God’s teaching Him.

And tonight he recounts an incident.

He’d taken a special lego construction into school as a treat, and his friend had broken it.

“Sorry”, his friend said “Do you forgive me?”

“And what did you say” I ask him.

“I told him ‘Of course I forgive you. Christians always try to forgive'”

I smile and think how much I learn from this little Jesus-follower.

And then I remember an incident. It was years ago but it comes to mind as if it happened today. This same child, this one I’m learning from right now, was the one who was banished in his room for yet again another “episode”. Those days were long and difficult and I felt helpless. Sometimes I forget just how helpless I felt. And I remember how he wouldn’t stay in his room and so I pushed the door and his finger was trapped in the door. In all the hysteria I didn’t realise what was happening and his finger stayed trapped in the door for long seconds.

And this little person, he still remembers that incident.

So I tell him “I’m sorry about that day, the day when your finger got trapped in the door. Mummy was cross and you’d been naughty but I didn’t tell you off in the right kind of way. And I’m sorry your finger got caught in the door. It was an accident but I know how much it hurt you. I’m sorry.”

He smiles at me, and with a gentle hug he says “It’s OK mummy, I forgive you.”

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on parenting and foundation-laying

The parking space was available, and mine to take.  But as I glanced behind me into the emptiness I realised the space was in fact no longer mine.There were no small people seated behind me. Really, when I thought about it, the journey had seemed deafeningly quiet; there was no pointing out of tractors, or cranes, or mixers. No halting of the car to referee a fight. No attempts to pick up dropped hot-wheels cars whilst trying not to crash the car. So really, it should have dawned on me before this moment that Continue reading

what if we allowed our kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Robbos08_1When I first had kids my introverted self had a mild panic attack. It seemed like all my quiet moments had been hoovered up in an instant by one incredibly small person. I found myself clambering for quiet and especially for solitude with God. I needed those moments to reflect. Those moments to pray, to read my bible. Those moments just to have s..p..a..c..e.. Alone. With God.

Slowly I began to adapt and to grab those moments when I could. And I’ve written about this before. But over the years I’ve been asking, and seeking to answer the question “What if we allowed our kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle in the way that we relate to God?” An obstacle is something we either have to remove or find a way round to get to our destination whereas a channel can be a conduit, a gateway – a point of access and grace.

It strikes me that our culture, and specifically our western Christian culture is individualistic. We place great emphasis on my individual relationship with God, my individual intimacy with him. So is there any wonder when small people enter our world that our relationship with God feels a little challenged, or even a little impossible.

Often our response as new parents is to look to find the ways to have our time alone with God. That is good and right. But what does it look like to relate to God with our children, and even through our children instead of despite or away from our children.

Today in church as we sang songs of worship with our kids I was teaching my daughter the words to the songs and then trying to explain the meaning. I don’t always do this. Sometimes we just sing together and that’s both good for us as parents to connect with God in this way, and good also for our kids to see that modelled. But as I read and explained the words to my daughter I believe it was as much part of my worship as if I had been “uninterrupted”. I was sharing with her what God has poured into me. As disciples of Jesus we’re called to make disciples: the overflow of our covenant relationship with God is to disciple others, and our kids are God-given disciples. If you’ve ever discipled somebody you’ll know that as you give and share your life with that person you receive far more than you give. It’s just the way it works. And it’s no different with our kids. So as we choose to disciple our kids what would happen if we started seeing it an opportunity to draw closer to God. Together. Rather than feeling like it’s another place where we’re “giving out” which then requires that we “fill up” elsewhere, aside from our kids.

There are some verses in the bible where some little kids try and make their way to see Jesus and the disciples try and fob them off, pushing them away. Jesus cottoned on to what was happening and called the kids over. He then told his disciples “No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my Kingdom.”

Be like these children. They are the most important in my Kingdom.

As parents, that means Jesus says we should be like our kids. So if we’re blessed enough to have these experts in trust, these people that are most important in God’s kingdom- these children – living in our homes then maybe we might have something to learn from them.

So, what would happen if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than  an obstacle?

Well, when we read our bible stories together at night, those times can be my devotional time as well as theirs. Those can be times when we all hear God’s word to us. There have been many times where I’ve welled up as I’ve read bible stories to my kids . As they express their simple faith, their simple trust and their insightful observations it can be a time when my faith is challenged and stretched. If I allow it.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Every night, when I snuggle up with my oldest boy and we pray for each other, can be an opportunity to grow in prayer with our Heavenly dad. They’re not complicated prayers. They don’t need to be. These are straight-from-the-heart- beautiful-prayers. In those precious times we’re both learning how to pray, and growing closer together to our Father.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Well, when they’re fighting with each other they can teach me again how to lay down my life. If I allow it they can usher me towards Jesus as I recognise my own limitations, my own inadequacies, my own short-comings. And in that place, as I lay a little bit more of me down, I can pick up a little bit more of Him.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

When they spontaneously decide to give a friend one of their favourite toys I can allow myself to be challenged to give away the possessions that I love too. I can be challenged to share what’s been given to me; something that costs me to give away, not just my “reject toys”.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

As I parent my kids and and try to love them as unconditionally as possible it gives me an access point to receive and understand the unconditional love the Father has for me. Kids just naturally know how to receive gifts. As I watch how freely my kids receive God’s love it’s a reminder to me of how He wants me to receive his gift of free love too:

God’s love is a gift and, as anyone will tell you, the whole thing about a gift is, it’s free. All you have to do is reach out your hands and take it. Some people who knew all about getting gifts – in fact, you might say they were gift-experts – had come to see Jesus. Who were they? They were little children.

(“The Friend of Little Children” from the Storybook Bible)

I know we have so far to travel on this journey but I want to keep asking and seeking to answer the question:

What would it look like if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

What about you?

What would it look like if you allowed your kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?