Lifestyle

Planning for family member work absences can help

We recently learned that my husband will be going away to work for an extended period. He will be home for a couple of short visits, but will be gone for the better part of 10 months.

I think I could have handled this a year ago, but am worried about how I will handle it now. The problem is this — we have a new baby. She is six months old and we are enjoying her so much. She loves playing with her dad and laughs when he walks into the room.

Since finding out that he will be leaving, we are so sad thinking about everything he is going to miss with her. I am also freaking out about how I am going to manage everything on my own, especially since I am quite nervous about being a new mom and none of our family lives nearby to help out.

How will I manage? How can we stop feeling so sad and enjoy our last few weeks together before he has to leave?

Work absences always present challenges for families.

Workloads double for the remaining parent, routines are disrupted for everyone, and it is hard to adjust to the leaving and to readjust to the returning.

Many jobs do require regular absences and if this is going to be the norm in your family, it is a good idea to start figuring out how you will cope now.

Any good plan for coping needs to be developed by both of you so that even though you will be physically separated, you both have input into how the family runs and you can feel like part of a team.

My first suggestion is to start focusing on how are going to cope rather than on how bad it's going to be. Don't lament everything that he will be missing with your daughter.

Instead, think about keeping him up to date by sharing these things when you talk. He will be able to enjoy her and will feel excited about all her milestones, too.

Make plans for contact while he is away. If he will have cell and Internet service, there are a lot of options for video contact — Skype, Face Time, Whatsapp are a few. With these options, it is almost like being there in person.

Text contact through messaging systems and e-mail are great (and fast) options for regular contact. Phone calls are great, too. And, you might even consider some old-fashioned letter writing.  Whatever means you have for staying in touch, do it as frequently as your schedules and time zones will allow. When you talk, share the good things and also the challenges. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable telling the good stories either from home or from work because they worry about causing the other person to feel bad for missing out.

Don't avoid the good things. Instead, try to enjoy each other's experiences vicariously.

Conversely, don't avoid talking about the challenges at home for fear of making your husband feel helpless or frustrated. He might have some good solutions. Conversations only about problems aren't usually that satisfying for either person, so look for a good balance.

Have a plan for handling household and vehicle emergencies.

Make sure you have numbers for housing, the bank, an auto repair shop, and your insurance company. If you don't already have one, open a joint account for handling emergency expenses.

Don't spend your days in limbo waiting for your husband's next visit home. Instead, plan something enjoyable for yourself; something that you will look forward to during his absence.

Keep busy. Meet with friends, particularly others with babies.

If you are new to the Valley and don't yet have friends, make some fast! Try to find other women who live with workplace absences and deal with them very well. Don't spend too much time around people who view this absence negatively and make you or your husband feel worse about it.

Make a list of household projects like making curtains, or organizing storage, or setting up a home gym (even if you don't have gym equipment, you can set up a workout space). This kind of project makes you feel productive and in control of your life.

Learn something.

Take an online course, register for a course at NIC, take a parenting course, enroll in a one session course through the recreational centres. Register for a fitness class. Join a parent tot program.

Schedule your days like a workday (I am assuming that you are on a maternity leave). Get up, shower and get dressed, make a list of things to do for the day – include chores, fun stuff, parenting things, and breaks.  A really good habit for new mom's who have babies who nap twice a day is to get into the routine of doing chores during one of the naps and to take a break during the other one.

If possible, arrange to take a trip to visit family or have them come to visit you (unless family visits are very stressful).

Before your husband leaves, plan a date for when he returns. If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

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