Psychologically Speaking: Commuting dads

The key to successful commuting is excellent communication between a couple and between parent and child.

father 88 (photo credit: )
father 88
(photo credit: )
Dear Dr. Batya, My husband recently joined the long list of commuters in our community traveling to North America. He will be gone a week to 10 days each month. Can you tell me your opinion and what the effects may be on our children? - E.S., Beit Shemesh Commuting has become an increasingly popular alternative for families who want to remain here, yet for a myriad of reasons need to work or travel abroad. While clearly having a lot to offer, it's not for everyone. Each family constellation has its own set of dynamics that may or may not make commuting feasible. Most commuting families have explored all of the available opportunities and alternatives and decide commuting is the best choice for them. Commuting adds a new dimension with one's spouse, family and friends. The key to successful commuting is excellent communication between a couple and between parent and child. Naturally, the ages of your children will in part impact how well commuting can work for your family. Another critical factor will be the support available to all of you to make it work. While in general things may go smoothly, life may be more precariously balanced, making it trickier than average when something goes awry and there is only one parent around. You may discover yourself more reliant on friends and family, for example, should you need someone in the middle of the night, yet have less time to spend with them in general as you may be more bogged down with your own work and family responsibilities. In addition, when there is special family time, you may find yourself at times reluctant to let in others who you care about. That said, times have changed greatly and with the help of technology, your partner can be accessed almost immediately for any big decisions and for a sympathetic ear should either of you need it. It certainly makes the time you are together potentially far more meaningful, because to make commuting work, you'll need to let go of the small stuff and focus on the important aspects of your relationship and on your partner's relationship with the kids. One of the most essential elements in your children's adjustment will be how well you and your spouse have adjusted to commuting. It is indeed an adjustment on many levels for both of you. If you do well, most likely they will also. Studies have suggested that both the quality and quantity of time spent together are important in parenting. Hence it becomes essential to ensure that this time is built in. If dad is away, can he make sure that he finds the time to connect with the kids, has a meaningful role in their life, knows their schedules and, when home, is reabsorbed back into the family in a positive way? Younger children may be more impacted by dad's absence because they lack language and are not socially as involved, yet older kids very much need to maintain a connection, if for no other reason so they can check in when mom has "lost it" and still feel someone is there for them. Here are a few ways to help make commuting easier for children: Let dad prerecord some bedtime and other stories so younger children can feel his presence and enjoy his laugh and funny animal imitations even when he isn't close by. Use the telephone, instant messaging and e-mail as a way to keep in touch in between trips home. A Web cam and photos sent to the computer are nice from time to time as well. Children aren't always interested or free to speak on the phone, but try to arrange a few calls at specific prearranged times so that certain events can be shared. Be aware of holidays, school concerts or a special baseball game and if you can't work your schedule around them, plan a special celebration for when you return. Young children may do best with frequent short trips rather than long absences. You may also want to schedule in holiday or summer vacations where they travel to dad if he works in one locale. Flexibility is key! Make sure that when dad is home, he has an opportunity for one-on-one time with each child for day-to-day tasks such as homework or carpooling, but also fun things like a special trip to enjoy an ice cream or hot chocolate. Keep dad in the loop and very much involved in decisions even when he is out of the country. He is an essential family member and needs to be involved in just about every part of the child-rearing process if you want to keep the family close. Get outside support to help with cleaning, homework or even meals if it enables you to spend more meaningful time with the children and time as a couple. From time to time, let the kids pick out a special treat that comes from abroad. Commuting can work successfully for everyone. As it evolves over time, make sure that the benefits always outweigh the difficulties and that the overall quality of life for all family members makes it a positive experience. Good luck! The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.