HOME ALONE

Trav­el­ling for work isn’t al­ways glam­orous, es­pe­cially when you’re leav­ing be­hind kids and a spouse who feels stretched thin. Here’s how some fam­i­lies cope with it. By JASSMIN PE­TER-BERNTZEN

Young Parents (Singapore) - - Contents -

How to cope when your spouse is a fre­quent flyer.

After 11 years of trav­el­ling on the job, Les­ley Shep­herd­son Su, 35, a re­gional train­ing and re­tail man­ager, has a solid rou­tine go­ing on.

A few days be­fore her trip, she in­forms her hus­band, Joel Su, 37, her mum and helper about her des­ti­na­tion, leav­ing with them her flight and ho­tel de­tails.

As she packs, Les­ley tells her boys Tris­tan, six, Tyrell, four, and Tilden, two, all about the coun­try she’ll be vis­it­ing and after lots of hugs and kisses, she’s off.

Be­ing in the beauty travel re­tail in­dus­try, monthly busi­ness trips are part and par­cel of Les­ley’s job. She does mostly re­gional hops, vis­it­ing coun­tries like Bangkok, Korea, China and Kuala Lumpur across two weeks ev­ery month.

Some­times, she does ad hoc in­ter­na­tional trips as well. Her trav­els can last any­where be­tween three and five days. It’s some­thing her fam­ily has got­ten used to, but it still comes with its chal­lenges, Les­ley ad­mits.

“Tris­tan was five months when I had to do my first trip after be­com­ing a mum. Dur­ing the lead-up to it, I was hop­ing the flight or the meet­ing would get can­celled. At times, I my­self wanted to can­cel the trip!” she re­calls.

Nor did it get any eas­ier after Tyrell and Tilden came along. “I still What­sApp my hus­band and helper all the time to check on the kids,” she adds.

“She can be very an­noy­ing when she does that,” Joel jokes.

YOU’RE FREE, I’M SWAMPED

Be­ing mar­ried to some­one who trav­els heav­ily for work can po­larise cou­ples in terms of their roles and day-to-day in­volve­ment with the fam­ily, notes mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist Anoushka Beh.

Throw young kids into the mix and the stress lev­els go up sev­eral notches, not just for the par­ent who has to pull dou­ble duty at home, but also for the one who’s jug­gling hec­tic travel-sched­ules with ev­ery­day du­ties in the of­fice and at home.

“Spouses left be­hind with chil­dren can some­times feel like the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of car­ing for the kids sin­gle­hand­edly comes with a lot of pres­sure, and also feel lim­ited in terms of their abil­ity to have in­creased flex­i­bil­ity in their own sched­ules,” Anoushka points out.

“They may also feel alone at the end of a long day, with­out a part­ner to share both of the joys but also chal­lenges of rais­ing kids, which can be very iso­lat­ing.”

At times, these par­ents may also per­ceive their trav­el­ling spouses as hav­ing fewer re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and re­stric­tions when they’re over­seas, which can ul­ti­mately lead to re­sent­ment, Anoushka adds.

Ku­mari Revi, 37, couldn’t agree more. Her hus­band Kelvin Caleb, 36, han­dles in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, which re­quires him to travel reg­u­larly to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries – some­times at very short no­tice.

This means Ku­mari is left to jug­gle her job as an ad­junct lec­turer while tak­ing care of their three-year-old, Dhi­lan, and run­ning the house­hold.

“It was much harder when Dhi­lan was a baby. I couldn’t have done it with­out fam­ily sup­port and friends,” Ku­mari says.

“My mum and her helper would come over dur­ing the day to help out, but I had to man­age the nights alone with him, which was very scary.”

Be­ing a new mum and hav­ing to do the lion’s share of child­care un­der­stand­ably took a toll on the mar­riage.

“I felt re­sent­ment be­cause Caleb got to be some­where else. I know it’s not fair, but I used to say things like, ‘You get to travel, you get to go on a plane and be in a fancy ho­tel’, while I was stuck at home with a new­born,” she ad­mits.

“Then there was the anger as well. When he came on Face­time that I would im­me­di­ately start cry­ing, sim­ply be­cause of the frus­tra­tion of be­ing left at home alone to care for a child.”

MISS­ING MILE­STONES

Spouses who travel don’t have it any eas­ier. They of­ten feel dis­con­nected from the day-to-day lives of the fam­ily, Anoushka notes.

“They may also feel a lot of tran­si­tional stress, con­stantly hav­ing to adapt from be­ing sep­a­rated and then re­united with their fam­i­lies. And pow­er­less in re­la­tion to the de­gree of in­volve­ment they have in rais­ing the chil­dren with their part­ners, de­spite want­ing to be more in­volved,” she adds.

Les­ley’s trav­el­ling sched­ule ev­ery other week meant miss­ing out on her ba­bies’ im­por­tant mile­stones. Ini­tially, she also strug­gled with see­ing her sons be­ing close to her helper, but she’s grown to ac­cept it and ap­pre­ci­ates her even more now be­cause she’s re­li­able and loves the boys as her own.

One thing Les­ley is not all too fond of – her hubby’s no-holds-barred ap­proach to par­ent­ing, es­pe­cially when she’s away.

“When I’m run­ning the show, the boys can watch all the TV and eat all the sweets! I tell the boys when Mummy comes back: ‘Sh­h­hhh’,” Joel quips as Les­ley rolls her eyes with a smile.

Trav­el­ling of­ten also means miss­ing out on spe­cial oc­ca­sions and fam­ily gath­er­ings. Caleb has had to fly off on his birth­day and on his first Fa­ther’s Day.

“We’ve missed so many func­tions be­cause Caleb wasn’t around, and it was just im­pos­si­ble to go alone with the baby. I ended up stay­ing home a lot,” Ku­mari adds.

Then there’s the guilt that comes with not be­ing there for your kids when they need you the most.

“I still re­mem­ber once when Tris­tan cried when I was leav­ing. He was go­ing through sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety… it was re­ally hurt­ful,” says Les­ley.

She also re­calls the time when Tilden had to be rushed to the hos­pi­tal for a tummy prob­lem when she was in Kuala Lumpur.

“I wasn’t too far so I hur­ried back, but I still felt bad,” she adds.

What both­ers Caleb the most is the help­less feel­ing of not be­ing able to sup­port his wife more.

“I was aware that Ku­mari had to do a lot more of the heavy lift­ing – car­ing for Dhi­lan 24/7, manag­ing meals, li­ais­ing with her mum for sup­port and trans­port. I don’t think I’ve truly made up for the sac­ri­fices she has had to make,” he ex­plains.

“Also, when­ever Ku­mari sends a video of Dhi­lan, I do I wish I was there with him.”

MAK­ING IT WORK

When Les­ley’s boys were younger, hus­band Joel strug­gled with manag­ing them and his de­mand­ing full-time job. He had to leave the of­fice at 6pm sharp to pick them up from child­care, which meant

his work was in­ter­rupted.

When he tried to catch up after the putting the boys down for the night, he re­alised he was too spent to get any proper work done.

Even­tu­ally, the Sus de­cided to rope in all the grand­par­ents and aunts to help out. To­day, the grand­mas take turns stay­ing with the kids and Joel when Les­ley is trav­el­ling, and Joel’s dad is on child­care pickup duty.

Joel is also now do­ing his own busi­ness – he’s a prop­erty agent who also owns a cof­fee cart. This gives him the free­dom to be in con­trol of his time and be present for the boys when Les­ley is not around.

In fact, he’s now able to ac­com­pany Les­ley on some of her trav­els. Some­times, they take one of the boys with them. Other times, such as their re­cent trip to Paris, was child­free so they could re­con­nect as a cou­ple.

As for Ku­mari, things have got­ten eas­ier now that Dhi­lan is older and she has a helper. When Caleb is trav­el­ling, she keeps her­self busy by plan­ning play dates, catch­ing up with friends and spend­ing the week­ends with her fam­ily.

Caleb ad­mits it’s harder to leave Dhi­lan now be­cause he’s more vo­cal about miss­ing his dad. But thanks to What­sapp and Face­time, keep­ing in touch in real time is eas­ier.

When he’s back, Caleb makes it a point to take a day off to spend time with his fam­ily. When it gets too over­whelm­ing and he needs to skip a trip, he ex­plains his sit­u­a­tion to his bosses and col­leagues, who have been un­der­stand­ing.

LIFE LESSONS LEARNT

When­ever her hus­band is out of town, Ku­mari is re­minded about how dif­fi­cult solo par­ent­ing can be and this has made her ap­pre­ci­ate Caleb even more.

She also feels be­ing thrown into the deep end has made her a lot more self-suf­fi­cient and con­fi­dent about par­ent­ing.

“I think if not for the trav­els that took Caleb away, I would never have been able to do cer­tain things that I did. It re­ally forces you to find a way to cope,” she notes.

Les­ley’s busi­ness trips have given Joel the chance to fulfil his big­gest wish – to be a hands-on fa­ther.

“Grow­ing up, I didn’t have much in­ter­ac­tion with my dad, who worked the grave­yard shift as a taxi driver, which made me want to have that with my boys,” he says.

“I never thought I had it in me, but I never knew that I could ac­tu­ally do it un­til

I did.”

The Su fam­ily

Ku­mari & fam­ily

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