Work Widows: Maintaining the Family Bond While Dad Is Away
By Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
From: Canticle magazine
“I might as well be a widow.” I vividly remember my mother expressing her feelings about my father’s absence at family functions, leaving her to parent their eight children largely on her own. His long commutes—getting up at 4:30 AM each day—prevented him from participating at many events, sometimes out of sheer exhaustion.
“I might as well be a widow.” I sometimes use the same line with my husband when he has to work long hours. Then I wink and say, “Kidding,” so he won’t feel bad that he will be away. I know I will miss him, but he owns his own business and “his boss” is tough on him. He says, “Thank God I am not a Merchant Marine, like my Dad was.”
Being a “work widow” is no laughing matter. For some families absentee fathering takes a toll on family life. Husbands are often required to commute great distances to work, and to travel for business. How do the children and the wife maintain the bond with this integral member on their family? How can a family feel complete when one member is so often missing? How does the family reconnect, pick up where they left off, and continue living in communion when Daddy returns?
For the sake of their family, husband and wife must work as a team to keep their unity intact when Hubby is away. Designated “check in” times, when Dad is in touch by phone to lend his support and advice with his familiar voice, can be comforting. The family can keep him abreast as to their current and upcoming activities, keeping him in the loop. He can even help with homework questions over the phone at times. When it comes to discipline, the parents should always utilize a united front with the children, not allowing the mentality that since Daddy is away, things will be a “free-for-all.” Daddy’s rules still apply even when he is not there to enforce them.
Breakfast, dinner, or bedtime routines are excellent ways to keep the family connected. Even when the husband/father is working long hours, he may be able to participate with a family tradition or routine at either end of the day. When this is not possible due to his traveling, Dad can do his best to participate in these routines over the phone.
Maintaining a regular routine is also important. Careful planning can help alleviate some of the stress in the “work-widow’s” life, advance meal planning and scheduling strategies can make life a bit easier. Cutting down on unnecessary trips with the kids, and preparing some meals in advance to freeze for easy “pull out” dinners are just a couple of ways to ease some household stress. Paper plates lessen time at the kitchen sink.
In some households, Sunday afternoons are used to plan for the week ahead. A dry-erase board posted in the kitchen keeps the family organized. Each person marks down activities scheduled that week to prevent extra trips across town to deliver a forgotten field trip permission slip. Of course, Mom is ultimately the “schedule keeper.” There’s only so much responsibility we can expect from little ones. They are young and they forget.
These strategies may require some creativity and an investment of time on the “work-widows” part initially, but the efforts will pay off when her household is running smoothly, meals are easy, nutritious, and most importantly—her sanity is intact!
When Daddy Comes Marching Home
Roxane Salonen, a wife and mother of five children ranging from eighteen months to eleven years, knows full well the importance of family time. She works hard to meet the daily challenge of keeping her family together and the household running smoothly even when her husband, Troy, is working long hours at his retail business. She says finding the appropriate amount of family time, couple time, and individual time can be a challenge because her husband works long hours to keep the business thriving.
Mrs. Salonen, a children’s author, looks forward to the reconnecting when her husband walks through the door each night. “One of the things we’ve done to help make it work is to instill an evening routine. We eat later than some families, but the majority of days throughout the week, we do sit down together for dinner pretty much the minute Daddy walks in the door.”
Good communication and participation is key to a happy household. Phone calls from husbands before they leave work can help their wives to plan dinner accordingly. Dad’s assistance with dishes, homework, and involvement with bedtime routines helps immensely.
“When bedtime hits,” Mrs. Salonen said, “we come together again, working as a team to get our five children down for bed. Sometimes, longer prayer sessions have been exchanged with the singing of a blessing and a sign-of-the-cross on each child’s forehead. This is the point at which the kids know day is done, and it’s time to settle down, and it usually works fairly well. As long as we stick to this routine, they seem to feel secure knowing that while we may have not gotten as much family time as others, we made that essential connection.”
Families can achieve critical family unity by making prayer an important ingredient in their essential connection. Praying for one another in the morning, again in the evening, and at the dinner table can keep a family close; children can voice these intentions for Mom and Dad as well as themselves, which will help the family to feel connected spiritually. So will Dad’s assurances that he will be praying for all of them, united in spirit, at that particular time, as well.
Communication and Love
The Salonen family stays in touch with their Dad while he is at work by phone, telling him about the events filling their days—soccer scores and school projects. Mrs. Salonen knows her family is never going to have an ideal schedule while her husband works long hours, but she says, “We do what we can to seize the good points of it.”
A family can adapt to their own unique lifestyles, situations, and schedules, finding what will work best to stay connected with each other even when apart. The love and unity of the parents will keep the family thriving.
Husbands and wives should be sure to physically show their love in their children’s presence. Household displays of affection do wonders to reinforce in the minds of the children that their parents are united in love. Dad should seize opportunities to embrace his children as well, showing his love in a physical way—a bear hug wrestling matches, and kisses. This will help the children to remember the love they share with Mom and Dad, even when one parent is absent.
Maintaining the “Spiritual Connection”
The marital relationship is the foundation of the family unit. It must be kept strong and alive. Couples separated because of work must work harder on their relationship than the average couple. Spending quality time together and devising ways to stay connected is crucial; praying for and with each other will bring the necessary grace to get through their challenging schedules.
Husbands and fathers can be a significant pat of their family by participating, even from a distance. Communication is vital both for the family left behind and the Dad. He can reassure them that he is working for them, and will be back as son as he can to the sanctuary of their hearth and home. This will also help Dad to suffer less from the loss of time together so he can conduct his business away with a clear head and a happier heart.
Each time Dad returns to the nest, and the family is reunited, they won’t have to feel that they have to pick up where they left off, because they never “left off” since Dad remained with them in spirit and in love united to mother’s heart and their own because of his devotion to his family and loving efforts to keep involved with them, no matter where he is.
Self-Care Tips for Long-Distance Wives
What can a “long-distance wife” do to keep her marriage alive and stay connected with her husband? How does she cope with the responsibilities in the household on her own without feeling resentful towards her husband? How can she reconnect with her husband when he returns?
1. She can remind herself daily that she and her husband are “one”. They are bound together in God’s love even when they are apart. Daily prayers for each other and their marriage are paramount.
2. She should remind her husband often of the inexhaustible love her heart holds for him. There is no limit to the amount of times she should express this to him! Husbands like to be reminded! She can do this in person, on the phone, in an email or in a love note tucked into his briefcase, suitcase or lunch bag.
3. She should devise plans to organize her household more efficiently to lessen the amount of stress on herself when her husband is away. There is always room for improvement.
4. She should take time for prayer. This requires patience and perseverance but it critical component of her role as wife and mother. When her days are hurried and full to capacity she can make a Morning Offering or a prayer voiced from her heart. In this way, she offers up all of her joys, works, and sufferings to the Lord, so that Jesus will use her loving days as a means of redemption for herself and her family members. Frequenting the Sacraments and visiting the Blessed Sacrament, even accompanied by children, will ensure her peace in her vocation as wife and mother.
5. Talking with other women in the same situation will help by comparing notes about what works, as well as to serve as a therapeutic time to vent a little frustration.
6. Taking time out when possible for enjoyment of a walk in the fresh air, to read a book, visit with a friend or spend time in quiet meditation will refresh her mind and soul.
7. Regular exercise is a great stress-buster and a feel-good practice that will aid the “long-distance” wife to feel healthy and good about herself, while giving her some extra energy. Taking a breath from time to time to refocus helps keep stress away.
8. Planning for times together with her husband when he returns will help keep love alive and give the couple happy alone times to look forward to. Plan ahead by arranging for a babysitter or preparing for dates at home or out will help to make it happen, rather than chancing they’ll find the time and instead get caught up in the busyness of daily life.