Do you travel for work? Do you spend the odd night, or maybe regular nights away from home?
I do on occasion, and I generally enjoy it, but the goodbyes and the separation – that’s hard.
It always begins the same way, I kiss my children goodbye and remind them I’ll be home in a couple of days. I hug them tight and blink back tears, and I feel awful, overwhelming guilt.
The word “selfish” runs in circles through my mind. I squeeze my husband’s hand, wishing I didn’t have to let go. I climb into my cab feeling lost. I want to run back inside.
So why don’t I just stop doing it? Find another job?
Well mainly because that panic is irrational – a little last minute separation anxiety – and it passes. I slowly regain my equilibrium. Logic and reason kicks back in. I remind myself: I love my job, I love my family, and it’s ok to love both.
It’s like that rising horror you get as the plane takes off, “Oh my god I can’t do this. Why did I get on? What kind of idiot goes 30,000 feet in the air?! I want to get off! Oh wait, it’s fine. Ooh look, I can see my house from here.”
But of course, no matter how much I rationalise, I still miss them terribly, and the question that comes back as I settle in for the night in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar place is, “Do they know that I love them? Do I show them enough? Does Mark know how much I appreciate him? Am I a good mum?” You know, all the questions we fretful parents ask ourselves on any given night, only amplified because on those nights, I can’t tiptoe across the landing, sweep away damp curls and plant gentle kisses on foreheads flushed with sleep.
Mark works away sometimes too, and I know he feels the same wrench. I think it’s pretty universal – whether you’re away for the night or just heading to the office for the day, there’s an element of guilt.
Over the years, we’ve naturally developed little habits to help us feel connected. Here are the ones that really work for us to help us feel joined, even when we’re apart. They might seem silly – every family is different, of course, and what applies to us might not apply at all to you – but these are the things that keep us strong, and maintain a togetherness we need.
Involve them in your journey
A photo from the station, a snap of the clouds before landing, a quick Face Time call from the hotel room before I run back down to dinner. I keep them posted with little digital postcards. Nothing’s too mundane, it’s not about entertainment, it’s about connections.
Those little moments bring them into my world, keep our lives connected, show that they’re always a part of me, even when we’re miles apart.
Have your partner / childminder / grandparent do the same
From simply eating breakfast to earning a sticker for good work in class, not being there to share in their day is hard.
Receiving photos (through WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or email, for example) of the kids’ little moments means a huge amount to me when I’m away.
It means I can say, “Well done!” as they hold up the results of a crafting afternoon, I can witness that expression of pride as they run out of the school gates, I can see them swinging extra high at the park.
And even if I’m in a work situation where I can’t look at my phone for a few hours, logging on to see a photo or two of the highlights of the day’s adventures is pretty darn special.
Skype them their bedtime stories
Virtual bedtime stories are my favourite part of the day when away on business.
The kids choose books to go in my suitcase, and I read them over Skype from wherever I am. I get to see them snuggled up, hear them giggle, catch up about their day, just as I would at home.
You can never say “I love you” too much
Ok, maybe you could if you really were trying to be annoying, but in practice, it’s never something I tire of saying or hearing.
I call “I love you!” down the speakerphone to the kids when I’m away, and Mark and I send “love you” / “miss you” / “thinking of you” / “how’s it going” messages to each other throughout the day.
All these things add up to a small handful of brief exchanges on busy days. They might seem inconsequential, but they mean I always feel close to my loves and they always feel close to me, even when we’re too far away to hug.
It’s simple really, I love my family, and I do all I can to be close to them, no matter where I am.
When I’m away with other parents, I see them all doing much the same – stepping out during a break for a quick phone call with their youngest, or holding up their phones over dinner to share a funny picture that has come through of their children’s exploits that day. I guess we all figure out our own ways to cope because we all need to work, and we all need to stay close to those we love the most.
Do you do the same? I’d love to know how you stay connected to family when working away.