As I type this, we’re on day 2 of Ben’s current 10-day trip. Today I made four trips to the elementary school. I was supposed to meet my 9-year-old for lunch, but I had the time wrong and by the time I arrived he had 7 minutes to inhale his sandwich. My credit card got declined when I tried to pick up our latest newsletter from the printer. I also lost the 9-year-old’s big homework project assignment (that is due TOMORROW) in a sea of papers on the counter. So we spent over two hours after school trying to get it done. #momfail I made a box of shells and cheese for dinner and bedtime came early. Today begs the question: How do I survive when he travels?
I can’t specifically recall the first time Ben traveled for a Nav event without me. But I am confident it was hard for multiple reasons. We love to minister together, and had 10 years of ministry together as a couple before kids. So staying home with a baby while he got to interact with staff and students was emotionally hard for me. But it was and still is also physically and mentally exhausting to be the one completely in charge of meeting everyone’s needs. Here are a few questions that have helped me plan for his absence:
1. How can I prepare ahead of time? I try to make sure I have planned for all meals, and gone grocery shopping before Ben leaves. I also make sure the minivan is full of gas, we have pet food, and enough toilet paper to last! Reducing trips to the store with the kids reduces my stress while he is gone.
2. Who can help me? This has changed over the years. When I had two preschoolers and Ben had a mission trip that lasted for several weeks, I needed back up! We would often invite my mom to fly down and stay with me for a week or so, just to be a second pair of hands, as well as an emotional outlet for me. You may have family nearby that can and will help. Or, do you have a student you could pay to come help during dinner and the bedtime routine? Do you have a staff woman that could spend a night or two with you, so you aren’t always alone? Is there a mom from church or in your neighborhood that could swap some childcare duties with you? Can you drive/fly to be near family or friends that could help? (This leads to my second question.)
3. What do my kids need? When they were small, my kids were pretty adaptable. They could nap/sleep anywhere, and they both traveled well. So there were times when we would go to stay with my parents when Ben was gone on a long trip. As the kids have gotten older, I’ve found that keeping their routine consistent while Daddy is gone is key. They are most secure and comfortable in their own beds, with their own toys, and with their friends nearby.
4. What do I need? When I am carrying the weight of responsibility for our kids and our home, I find that my time with Jesus is critical. I must prioritize my time in the Word in order to keep an eternal perspective and to have patience and love for my kids. When Dad is gone, their world is a little out of kilter. So I need to be in a healthy spiritual place in order to respond to possible strong emotions from my kids.
I also know I need some time alone to recharge. This could be time for a run or a quick Starbucks visit. It is well worth the budgeting and planning to pay for a sitter to come over, even just a few times, to make sure I have time to myself. We also try to schedule a playdate or two with another family, to give us all a way to connect and get out of the house.
5. How will we communicate? When Ben first started traveling, I expected him to check in by phone often. I was missing him and wanted to hear about his time away! I also wanted him to call before bedtime so he could say goodnight to the kids. The more I’ve started traveling on my own, though, the more I realize how unrealistic this is. His schedule is usually not up to him when he is away. There might be a time change. He may have a group dinner that goes late into the evening, followed by conversation with some key staff or students. I have chosen to release my expectation for him to call at certain times (or even to call at all during a whole day). Instead, I receive any communication as an added bonus! The kids will sometimes text him a picture or a bunch of emojis, and he responds when he has time. They are thrilled to hear from him when they least expect it. And when we are missing him, we choose to pray for the ministry he is doing right then.
6. How can I make it fun? We use Dad’s travels as a way to learn about geography. We get out a map so we can see where he is. We pray for him as a family, that he would encourage and bless those he is with while he is gone. I want my kids to be involved in the ministry that our family is doing…and that is possible through prayer. This week, we are going to try to have a big sleepover in our king bed. I’m not sure we will last all night, but it will be a fun memory! We have a few fun meals we only make when Dad is gone. I also have a few TV shows I DVR to watch only when he is gone (This was my prime Downton Abbey viewing time!). It gives me something to look forward to and enjoy, rather than just focusing on the negatives about being home alone. If we can have a few fun things sprinkled in to his time away, it makes it more bearable for all of us!
I know that the needs of each family are different. What works for me may not work for you. But hopefully these six questions will give you a good start in figuring out how to survive (and even thrive!) when your husband has the privilege of traveling to advance the Gospel!
Melissa and her husband Ben have been on staff with the Navs for 15 years, and married for 18. Their family of four moved to Colorado Springs this summer, where Ben continues to serve as the Heartland Regional Leader. Her children, Sam (9) and Vivian (almost 7), are looking forward to a Colorado winter, and praying for lots of snow days! Melissa enjoys reading quality fiction, playing games with her family and a good cup of coffee with a girlfriend (or two!).