Let me begin this blog by recognizing that not everyone has the benefit of having a spouse in the first place. Some people are single-parenting full-time. In no way am I minimizing or comparing myself to those particular challenges. I admire you greatly. I don’t feel that when I have to, I single-parent consistently well, so please know I admire those who do this day in and day out. But this is written for those who know the constant disruption of one half of the relationship always on the road and how do marriages survive that? It’s a thinking-out-loud kind of blog because I have some things to share but also because I’m open to what works for others. I find it helpful to know what others do to make the minutes count when they are together.
Weekends are interesting. They bring a switch from me being the 24/7 home manager to sharing the burden: for two days. This is just seasonally, but when he travels every week for months on end, this is how we roll. Reentry is hard. We don’t like doing life without him, but we have to, so when Salad Boy (husband) comes back home, it feels like a lot of pressure for all of us to prioritize:
How should we spend the minutes?
Having been a military spouse and having lived in military environments several times, I know that it looks different when they are gone for months at a time on deployment. There is no regular ebb and flow of return, except maybe the occasional quick few hours on leave home, whenever possible.
Every Friday night, we face the decisions about the weekend. Like anyone else prioritizing time off, it’s a juggle: Do we do a family outing? Catch up on lawn work? Work on that loft bed project? Divide in half to get groceries and run kids to activities? Be still?
That last one doesn’t seem to get enough credit in its importance. Everything else is loud and demanding when competing for our time. “Be still” is just an invitation. It’s quiet. It’s warm and inviting. But we have to come to it and say “yes.” How often I fail to say “yes” and tune out all other life noise around me for even an hour? Way too often.
Psalm 46:10, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
Psalm 37:7a, King David speaking
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.
Psalm 107:29, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Oh, God, if you made the storm be still, then please look at my storm and make me be still as well. I’m saying: “Yes!”
Then there’s also the juggle of Salad Boy and I carving out 10 minutes of talk time, competing with three kids wanting to share about their week and show him things they’ve been working on—and us collapsing in a heap after he took an early morning flight. More often than not, we’re both exhausted.
What do we talk about? What matters most? What can wait, for now, for another week, or perhaps never make it onto the discussion topic list?
I honestly find this part really challenging. Do we talk about one kid’s medical/therapy? Another’s struggles in a certain academic subject? The drama of teen/tweens coexisting in the same home? The epic fails of the weeks? The successes? The fact the washing machine decided to leak while he was gone? The people coming to the door to sell us solar energy? The teacher meeting I called? The fact the kids often blame the only parent here when I can’t pull off being two people? The fact the car is making funky noises? The phone company changed our voice mail, and now I can’t access messages? My own test results?
How much can we jam into quick conversations that will stick? Is it better to focus on three topics and not 24? How can you make up for not being even able to phone most of the time away (there are legitimate, work-related reasons for this)? What can you expect, reasonably, of someone floating back through the house just to do laundry, hug the family, and pack a bag again?
I’m not really sure I’ve figured it out yet. And it won’t be forever. But I certainly can’t do any of it on my own strength.
Exodus 15:2, Moses speaking, ESV
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
1 Chronicles 16:11, Ezra narrating, David speaking, ESV
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
Ephesians 6:10, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Philippians 4:13, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
And then what about that loss that’s felt when stress piles up? Anger? Resentment? Where do we take that so we don’t unfairly drop it all over the person who is providing the main income? Is it fair to keep it in a heavy treasure chest and then spill it out all over him for those 48 hours? Is there even time for that, even if it was the best approach, which it’s not?
This post is written not as a whine fest. It’s me thinking out loud and also writing for those who live this every day. It’s not the worst thing ever. It’s also not really a blessing either. It is what it is.
Even if your spouse is home more frequently, but regularly working late, or checked-out because of work weightiness, how do we do life and stay intact?
I haven’t been good at saying: “No robotics tonight. You’re watching your siblings so Dad and I can go on a date.”
I have been good at proclaiming: “This is a kid-free zone this morning as Dad and I catch up.”
I haven’t done well at having clear time carved out for family outings—or even a plan.
I have done well at turning down invitations to do other things so, if and when our family of five catches a few minutes, it’s just with each other. It’s open.
This post isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about sharing the journey: what has worked and what hasn’t. Salad Boy is very invested in the family and very helpful when he’s here. It’s why there is a huge void when he’s not.
We’re both fiercely independent, which offers a deceiving “strong vibe” that isn’t always there—because we’re human.
And it’s normal for the kids to miss him, to resent the one-parent gig (although I know some people, with no choice, pull that off beautifully), and to take it out on the parent who is home. I get it. I really do.
So, I’m thinking of keeping a journal of a few words/phrases that trigger what happened throughout the week. He can choose from it his top 5, and I can choose from it my top 5. I don’t have time to write it out. Just a few thoughts. It’s a way of making sure he doesn’t miss what is happening here and I feel listened to, understood, as if he was part of the week.
I absolutely believe communication is everything, even if other things on the checklist don’t “get done.” There has to be connecting. Eyes have to look into eyes, and ears have to hear, and sometimes, mouths have to repeat back some of the key points of what was shared. For me, personally, I need to know each weekend he is touching into what I’m carrying around or feeling for our family members. I need to see his hands lift some weight off. And he needs a safe haven where we don’t rage at him when he’s finally here.
The journal is just one strategy. What works for you?