22 July 2008

Checklist: How to prepare for your spouse's business travel

Amazon: Samsonite Casual Wheeled Laptop OvernighterThe four words no stay-at-home parent wants to hear from his or her partner: "I've got a business trip." Hence, Sandra's question:

Do you have a checklist for preparing for a spouse's work-related travel? I was wondering because every time my spouse travels, by the end of the week we're in cereal-for-dinner, Zoobomafoo-marathon, crunchy floor mode. I was looking for a list of prep work to do to make the week easier.

I have quite a bit to say on this topic, as my husband used to travel a lot for work. Not only are there logistics to be managed (what Sandra appears to be talking about here), but there's plenty of emotional reframing that needs to happen as well. At least there was for us.

First, logistics.

Get caught up on the laundry

I have a slight laundry impairment, so keeping up with the washing, drying and folding is always a chore. I note in my calendar the week before any business travel to get the laundry caught up so packing is less stressful. (We've got tons of laundry tips, btw.)

Make the travel time and location concrete

The night before one of us leaves, we talk to the kids about the trip, marking on the calendar the days we'll be away, and we show them on a map where we're going. We talk about the reason for the travel, and where we'll be staying. Involving the kids in the trip talk (and the pre-travel prep) always helps them adjust.

Plan easy meals

I would always mark days my husband was away in my calendar and plan kid-friendly meals during that time. We ate plenty of spaghetti and scrambled eggs. And cereal with fruit is a perfectly acceptable dinner, I'll have you know. It was sort of a relief to lower the dinnertime expectations for that week.

Make dinner plans with family friends

Feeding children is easier when there's more than one adult around. Think about inviting another family over for a potluck or a pizza night.

Simplify the routine

It's okay if the kids don't get a bath every night, or they skip soccer practice, or they watch a little more TV. They'll enjoy the break and you can relax a bit.

Decide in advance on communication times

We chose an after-dinner phone call or instant message. If for some reason one of us was unavailable, we could count on a good-night voicemail.

Important: see Separate "Family Goodnight" and "Adult check-in" phone calls below.

Get a babysitter

Even if it means having a neighborhood sitter come over after the kids are in bed, take a couple of hours to yourself. You deserve the break, and everyone will be happier for it.

GET A BABYSITTER

Did you ignore me last time? I'm serious. Do it.

* * *

And now for the tricky part (at least for us).

Emotionally normalize business travel

Business trips used to go down like this: he'd leave, all would be well for a day or two, but then the strain of shouldering home and kid care would begin to wear on me. Like Sandra, I was in chaos mode by the end of the week.

Our phone calls while he was away were awkward attempts to share what was going on, when really, we just wanted the other person to listen and sympathize. I began resenting my husband's room service meals and Heavenly Beds. He missed me and the kids, but also wanted to talk about the pressures of his work. He also had a bit of guilt about how much he enjoyed his time away, and he knew, if he talk too much about the fun parts, I would blow.

By the time my husband got home, not only was I tired and irritable, I felt I was owed a little penance. (Not proud to admit it, but there it is.) I overlooked that his trips were often grueling and intensely social (hard for an introvert who's used to working at home), and that he too needed to rest.

After one too many tense "reentries," we sat down to work it out. We came up with many of the items on this list. He took time before coming home to relax so he could jump back into family life. We set aside time after his return for me to go out with friends or to be alone. Most importantly, we recognized and appreciated each others' hard work, and reminded ourselves that we were on the same team.

Separate "Family Goodnight" and "Adult Check-In" phone calls

Those nightly phone calls were so important for the kids, but my fatigue and resentment would sometimes seep in, robbing them of a simple, loving moment with Dad.

It was unfair and wrong for them to have to deal our tension, and it only made the strain of his absence worse. I got honest with myself and zipped up any resentment I was feeling during our "goodnight" phone calls. If there was something I needed to discuss, I called my husband back after the kids were in bed.

I also learned to sort which crises needed to be hashed out and which should just deal with on my own. The less phone bickering, the better for all of us.

* * *

It took time and plenty of work, but we've finally gotten to the point where we all look forward to business travel -- both my husband's and mine. It helps that the kids are older, but we've also reframed the entire process. We feel good about the other getting a "grownup break," we enjoy our evenings alone (whether at home or on the road), and the person who's home gets to have fun solo time with the kids doing stuff the way they want to do it.

I'm sure you've got stories to tell. How does your family prepare for business travel?

Related: Buy the business trip present before you leave

More: Marriage and relationship hacks

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Ironically I'm on travel in Perth, Australia (yes it sounds more luxurious than it really is), and the best thing for my wife and I is a web cam. Not just hearing her voice on the phone, I get to see my wife everyday. I miss the love of my life terribly but this is the next best thing. Best investment for both of us and our laptops.

Business travel is much different in our family, since my husband (my daughter's daddy) is serving Active Duty with the US Army. His "business trips" last twelve months or more. Some of your ideas were dead on in our situation, but others (like predictable phone calls or detailed itineraries) just won't happen, unfortunately. I think the biggest helper with us is having pictures of daddy all around the house -- on our fridge, in my daughter's room -- so she is always reminded of him. When he is at work for long periods of time while stateside (either overnight or for weeks at a time training in the field), I do my best to explain to her, only two years old, that he is at work, working hard, and doing his best to keep him and his friends safe. The occasioanl webcam chat has been a deployment life-saver in our home.

Wow! Where was this a week ago? My husband (who hardly ever travels) was gone for a week for a work conference. I'm not all that experienced in the subject, but it's fresh in my mind.

A few things helped me stay sane:

My brother came to spend a few days with my son and I (we live 5 hours away from any family), so that was a treat for child and mom.

My hubby took one of my sons toys with him and took pictures of it all over Las Vegas (his destination). He got this idea from some commercial, but I don't remember which one. It made for great fun and a way for my preschooler to relate to where he was on some level. My hubby said he got a few odd looks, but it was worth it.

We also had a regular talk time (sometimes with the aid of our web cam).

Perhaps the most important for me, though, was a rule we established: I would be happy to listen to all the details of his trip (the spectacular hotel, great food, etc.) AFTER he came home. I didn't need to have this picture in my mind while I was cooking, cleaning, and trying to maintain order. I had to remember that this trip was a part of his job, and that the only reason he does any of this is for his family.

My hubby told me yesterday that he has a 5-day trip coming up in September. I've never thought about getting a sitter during this time. That is a FABULOUS idea! Thanks for the tip!

My husband travels for work about 50% of the time. Getting a babysitter is a sanity-saver. For one thing, it motivates me to keep the place halfway decent. But mostly it's just important to have some down time, where you're not 100% responsible for everything that goes on in the house.

This is not just a challenge to families with a stay at home parent. It can be a huge challenge to families where both parents work and both parents occasionally travel for business.

My partner and I both work and when one of us travels, the other must often adjust work schedules to work around pick-up/drop-off needs, in addition to the working out the kids' demands with only one of us here.

The web cam is a great way to stay connected to kids as well as each other.

Planning stress-less activities as well as meals is a huge help. And we both feel that it IS the responsibility of the parent who is leaving to help plan for those days when you are out of town and away. Do the extra laundry before and after. Call folks to make arrangements for playdates and/or kid swapping while you are gone. Lay in stock the kid-friendly meals or pizza coupons.

And, hey, you DO get to ask for a little more attention and consideration when you have been alone with the kids for days on end.

On the other hand, it might be easier for us because we both know that next time, roles may be reversed and the traveling parent will stay at home, so we try to be as supportive as possible.

My hubby is going out of town this weekend (not for business, but to visit a sick relative), so I'm doing the easiest thing possible: staying with my parents!

oh yes, the web cam is very important!My hubby is currently on a three week business trip and my 2 year old looks forward to his morning daddy video-cast.

Also, while he's away on business we set regular intervals for email communications regarding home/life logistics.

Life would be much harder pre-Internet! And without a supportive daycare provider who is willing to deal with flexible scheduling.

My husband travels regularly for work so we always do the following:

1. Pre-trip, I make a meal plan to last the entire trip and a day. Then I make sure I have everything I need in the house, including things in case of a vomiting virus or fever. This way I never need to make an emergency trip to the grocery store.

2. I keep a blog and update it every day with a story that I don't tell him about. Then he can check it when he misses the kids and me.

3. Post-trip, he makes it up to me by getting up with the kids for a few days or seeing what I need to recharge.

4. Everything that needs to get done in the morning before day care gets done the night before - picking out clothes, anything to be packed up, etc. I take advantage of times the kids are sleeping to do anything to help me save time.

My husband and I both travel for work. We found that getting a webcam has been a great thing for us and the kids. They have a fun time "seeing us" when we are away. We make that part of the bedtime routine for the kids when we are traveling.

I went on a 3 week business trip where I was in a time zone 7 hours different. The two things that kept my wife going were taking my 15 m/o daughter and going to my in-laws and a webcam.
We had a set time to use skypevideo everyday and my daughter loved it. Sometimes I would get a surprise from my daugher, when she missed me she would climb up the stairs and point to the computer and say 'Dadda, Dadda' and my wife would call up on skypevideo.
The only downside to the webcam is that now my daughter has an obsession with seeing pictures of me on the computer.

Like Katherine, I'm married to a road warrior who's gone 2-3 days most weeks. Here are my tips:

Try to make your work life as uneventful as possible. I try not to have early meetings on his travel days, and to set deadlines for when he's around so working late isn't an issue.

Don't stress over food. My husband is the cook in our house, so we eat a lot of leftovers and sandwiches when he's gone. We also cook out with friends. Big treat: frozen pizza or TV dinners .

I do household tasks that require a lot of concentration--bills, detailed planning, etc.-- and get ahead on my blogging while he's gone. It keeps me from getting lonely and frees up time when he's home.

My husband and I both travel for work. A few tips that I will add:

If you can do a chore that is normally yours before you leave, that saves the parent left at home some trouble. My husband smashes the recycling before he goes. I pack lunches for my son and leave them in the refrigerator when I'm away.

Kids' nights at fast food restaurants are a good way to get out of the house, eat, and not mess up the kitchen. Chik-fil-a and Moe's are our favorites. Chik-fil-a has a playground, as a bonus.

I always do this, but it helps my husband out a lot when I'm gone - when I fold my son's clothes, I match them into complete outfits and put them in hanging shelves. Makes mornings so much easier.

Give yourself something to look forward to in the evening after the kids are in bed. I'm partial to an adult beverage and some mindless TV.

My husband goes out of state every Sunday and returns home Thursday night. I quit my job after my son was born so I am with baby 24/7. I have found that doing the bulk of chores like grocery shopping and laundry are best done when my husband is home so that I only have a single mid-week load to do if baby ruins all of his clothes (we live in Texas, he's in diaper only most of the time) or quickie trips to the store if I forgot TP paper or something. My husband and I talk every day on the phone and when he is back at his hotel before baby's bedtime we talk on the webcam via skype. Thursdays are Daddy-comes-home days and he lavishes attention on baby during the waking hours and mommy in the evenings and maybe nap times. The most important thing is to remember that you aren't horrible if things slide while you are temporarily a single parent.

Well, so cool to see I'm not the only one dealing with this issue! I'm a stay at home Mom with a 3 year-old son and I'm 8 months pregnant. My husband travels VERY frequently; he's typically gone for a Monday to Friday stretch 2x per month. It can be hard but we've learned to adjust.

We talk at least once a day, and no fair whining about who's got it harder...we're both getting our jobs done. We all enjoy getting little text messages about what we're up to, or that we miss each other, and Matt (my husband) LOVES for me to send cell phone pics of whatever Ian's doing so we try to do that alot for each other.

Matt usually reads Ian his bedtime books alone the night before he leaves and before tucking him in they talk about him leaving on a trip and when he'll be back. They use their fingers to show 4 days, or 5 days, or whatever. This gives them time together and prepares Ian for what's gonna happen. Then, I help him fold down his fingers to "see" how many more days left when he asks about when Daddy's coming home. I also let him call Matt's cell phone whenever he asks to. Matt knows to keep it on vibrate or ringer off when he's busy so if he's tied up Ian gets to leave a message. These are often pretty funny and Matt likes to save them to listen to later when he's lonely and missing home.

I have a rough schedule that I follow to stay up on housework and such thru the week, i.e. bathrooms get cleaned on Fridays. That way I just do a bit each day and the house doesn't become a wreck, and then when Matt returns the house is pretty clean and I can focus on family time.

I, too, try to do my big shopping when hubby's home so I can go alone and actually get what I need. I do short trips midweek with the little dude in tow if needed.

I start on my husband's dirty laundry as soon as he unpacks it so it's not a big rush when he's trying to get ready to leave. As for us at home, I try to be caught up on ours BEFORE he returns.

We have GREAT grandparents and I take advantage! I've been so tired with the pregnancy this time it's been so helpful to have them. I drop my son off with them to babysit when I have boring errands, or OB-GYN visits (lots these right now d/t the pregnancy). Papaw is also really good to just pop by our house and suggest a visit to Great-Granny's house, the park, or the tractor store (Ian's favorite-he's a regular!) This lets me nap, or clean house, or just chill out alone.

I don't care about the meals too much either. While Daddy's out of town we have simple stuff like quesdillas, mac 'n cheese, soup and sammies ect. I just don't do a big meal for just the 2 of us. I also always try to plan a meal out with one of my friends or family members during trip weeks, even if it's just meeting one of my sisters at McDonald's for lunch. We eat supper at my Mom's house a bunch too which is great, it breaks up the loooong evenings and you get a home-cooked meal too!

Most every trip week I try to plans something "special" for me and Ian to do while Daddy's gone. We usually do it mid-week or the end of the week to have something to look forward to. Sometimes it's Chuckie Cheese's or the kid's museum, sometimes it's to the bookstore or library. I like to check out new-to-us parks/playgrounds which is fun and cheap. Lately, it's been to the pool mostly.

My favorite is that we ALWAYS have a big breakfast at home ASAP after Daddy's return. My husband is the pancake and french toast king, my idea of cooking breakfast is usually cereal, oatmeal if you're lucky so we all enjoy this together. Ian often says, "And then Daddy will be home and we'll have pancakes in da morningtime!"

Lisa Z, Hope you read this.

My dad was in the Navy when I was in the kid and he used to make tapes and send them to us. They were of him singing and reading stories and talking about the ship and every now and then a buddy of his said hi. He would fill a tape and send one. I think he recorded one before we left too. Anyhow I think it made him feel more connected to normal family life, and it became part of our bedtime routine(my mom was not the best story reader so it really helped out).

Anyhow hope it helps. :-D

My husband travels and when home he often has long days where he leaves before we're up and gets home late. I agree with the advice to get a baby-sitter, but we're on a very tight budget. My solution is the YMCA. I not only get a break from kids, but also a workout and a shower, two things I usually don't get when I'm home alone with the kiddos.

When my husband traveled for business when my kids were 1 and 5, I hired our teenage babysitter to come over from about 5-8pm to help me with the evenings. It allowed me to get home from work, cook dinner, and get the kids to bed without being completely overwhelmed.

SOOO glad to find this and realize there are others like us-- two traveling parents! Lots of great ideas have already been mentioned. My only other addition to the list would be a chain. If one of us is going on a long trip (4+ days), we cut up strips of paper and have the kids color each strip. Then the leaving parent staples them together into a chain like you put on a Christmas tree. The leaving parent hangs it in a special spot with the kids-- bathroom, breakfast table, etc. Each day, the kids cut off a link to count down until the other parent is home. When the chain is gone, the parent is home. Our daycare recommended this when our oldest was a toddler, and it has helped each of our pre-literate kids understand "how long until Mommy/Daddy is home." It has been a lifesaver!

My husband just left for a 4 1/2 week business trip to Germany. The six-hour time difference has made it really difficult for communication between us since I also work full-time and the kids (3yr old + 2yr old twins) are in day care all day. Before leaving for his trip, my husband made a video of himself reading stories to the kids. He must have read 10 books or so, as well as little "I love you" and "good-night" messages for the kids. I played it for the kids for the first time last night. We cleaned up the toys and put our PJs on (all part of our normal bedtime routine), then sat down for "a special surprise." When the kids saw Daddy on the TV there were squeaks and squeals of "DADDY!!!" I let them watch/listen to two stories, saving the others for the many nights until Daddy comes home. In the meantime, we have webcam "dates" arranged for once during the week (since it will be the middle of the night for Daddy) and the weekends, when work and day-care schedules are not an issue. Seeing their Dad read their favorite stories and tell them “goodnight” and “I love you” seemed to be the perfect remedy for little ones that miss their Dad.

Dinner time is also a time of day that challenges me the most. It's difficult to get a well-rounded meal on the table in a timely fashion with two working parents and three famished toddlers. When one of those parents are out of town, especially for a long time (a whole month), the challenge seems even more acute. Advanced planning is the answer that works for us. I make the week's menu and grocery list Friday night after the kids go to bed. Saturday morning we do our grocery shopping. That's when I have the best shot at having well-rested, well-fed, happy, cooperative children in tow. Then during nap time on Saturday and Sunday I cook up a storm. Pre-made meals (casseroles, side dishes and even main dishes with slightly under-cooked meat) take much less time to warm up throughout the week when everyone's starving after coming home from day care. By the time the kids put away their security blankets and animals from day care, use the restroom and wash their hands, dinner is ready! It really is a lifesaver. I allow for going out to dinner one night a week, which gives us something to look forward to without breaking the bank.

This post has been a lot of help to us as we prepared the final days of my husband's trip. I hope this addition is yet another helpful contribution. Thank you!

I'm not a stay at home mommy yet, but will be soon - currently 6 months PG. My husband travels for work a lot, internationally, sometimes for up to 5 weeks at a time.

We too rely heavily on our webcams and services such as MSN Messenger, Skype, and SightSpeed. Couldn't live without them.

It's great to find this list and others in the same boat since I was in the process of making a list myself. Here's what I had so far . . .

First on the list is that he make sure the vehicle left at home has a full tank of gas.
Second, make sure that we are fully stocked with the giant bag of food needed for our pets, and that the yard has been scooped of all poop.
Third, take out the trash before he leaves home, if needed.
Fourth . . . Well, I'll be adding some of the things posted above.
Thanks!

I think a lot of it depends on if your hubby is gone for weeks at a time (like mine) or home on the weekends, etc. Mine is gone for up to 4-5 wks at a time, 50 - 80% of the time. It can be very hard on a marriage and I think that communication is the number one thing to keep you together, especially when the spouse gets home from the trip. Take time to let each other know how you feel, the stresses of travel, what they can do to help, etc. And it works both ways.

However, here are some logisitical things to make it a little easier.

1. Pay someone to mow your lawn. With kids and being responsible for everything 24/7, there is just no time for mowing the yard.

2. Find someone - family, friend, etc. to have dinner with every once in awhile. It helps being around other adults.

3. Find something in the evenings to do to unwind - tv, reading, etc. after the kiddos go to bed.

4. Try to keep the house in order and get out of the house each day. This can be a challenge for me, but I feel so much better if my house is clean, the dishes are done, etc. and if we get out and go somewhere, it doesn't matter where. I use a planner to help me keep track of things we can do on days where nothing is scheduled... feeding the ducks, playing at the play-place in the mall, even grocery shopping counts IMO as getting 'out.'

The worst part of my husband's travel is that he would always catch a bug while gone and bring it home to the family. So in addition to the general resentment about travel, I got to take care of a sick family while I was sick myself.

He had a business trip planned where he was hosting a booth at an industry conference. There were going to be 50,000 people at the conference. So I sent him out of town with a "care package": a big bottle of vitamin c, big bottle of hand sanitizer and a tube of airborne. I told him to keep the vitamin c and sanitizer at the booth (so he could share with his co-workers) and take the airborne twice a day.

He came home healthy, and the rest of his team did, too!

Monera, thanks for that touching story <3

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