22 Oct 2013

Coping with a travelling spouse as an expat family

I am not one of those expat mums who can breathe a sight of relief at the weekend when the loneliness of expat life may be relieved by having your other half at home. I am not one of those mums who can reliably say 'yes' to the kindergarten staff when they announce the parents' evening will be on such day. I am not one of those expats, I envy, who can sign-up to meet up other expat ladies for a secret Santa party in a month's time.

Because as well as the loneliness of being an expat mum, I also have a travelling husband. He is away from home for about half of each month. And this includes weekends as his trips are not a mere 2-hour train ride away. In the past couple of months alone, he has been to Berlin, Tokyo, Tunis, Washington and probably a few other places I can't remember. We have had one full weekend with him (but who's counting??!!).
It is a tough set up as I cannot rely on countless numbers of family members or friends to just pop round and do me favours to help me out. After 2 years here, we finally have a wonderful babysitter but she is not always available. She has her own life.

Are you feeling sorry for me yet? I can tell you it is hard (very hard some days) but we survive.

LJ and I have devised our own little coping strategies. And we are getting pretty good at it. We make sure that, when P is away, we schedule plenty of time out of the house: playdates, visits to the zoo, playground, library, etc. I like to plan the days so they are full of things to do (some more mundane than others) so that we (I) don't get bored and I start feeling sorry for myself.

It is not all bad. We also try and use this challenge as best we can and we have developed our own little system to turn it into a learning experience for LJ. We like her to be aware of the world around her and we like to introduce new cultures to her. These trips enable us to do that without her leaving her living room (even though I like when we leave it!!). Here are some of the things we do almost every time:

- use a globe or a map: we do show her before P leaves where he is going on a globe and point out to a few things people in that country like or do. She also likes to ask what animals live there. Tunis was our camel 'lesson'. Tokyo was about kimonos and how people may dress differently. Of course, she has no concept of distance yet but it helps her label those places (for herself and to talk to others).

- contact: we use Skype or Facetime to talk to P daily. LJ now also understands the concept of sending her dad a picture for him to see on his phone, so we use that as a reminder of his presence on the other side of the phone or ipad. 
We sometimes struggle to make the time difference work for everyone. During his last trip to Tokyo, P was about to go to bed when he called us every day and we often saw him in his PJs prompting shock from LJ who didn't understand why he was in his PJ. We had to explain time differences for the first time.

- bring gifts back: the gifts don't have to be anything fancy. LJ used to love when P would bring her the socks and blindfolds of the plane companies he travelled with. She used them with her dolls and teddies. From Japan, he brought her back a little pretend sushi set to play with and this was a wonderful opportunity to explain about different eating habits. 

I would of course love to either be travelling with him to some of these destinations or that he stayed home a little more. But we do try and make the best out of a difficult situation as we all miss each other during those times.


  1. OMG, I could have totally written this post! We do about the same as you. We've also started a little tradition of R bringing back a small flag from each new country. It really can be tough though... Hang in there!

    1. Thank you Sandra. It is tough on everyone. But we have no choice, so we make the most out of it. I like the flag idea. I will suggest it to him for next time.

  2. My husband doesn't travel but I can tell you how hard it was for me at the beginning, with a small child and no friends, not knowing the language. I am so much better now- a daycare, school and friends helped a lot! Good luck, Annabelle- and thank you for this post!


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