It’s always a bummer when Mom or Dad tells you that he or she will be gone for four days next week on business. Now you have to disrupt life as usual and accommodate for everything they do. Plus, having an empty space at the dinner table feels like you’re missing a vital part of the dynamic. My mom always traveled when I was a kid. My brothers and I had gotten used to her being gone every so often. Inevitably, we would forget where she was this time. “She’s in Minneapolis, or was it Boston, no no Columbus.” Dad would yell from the kitchen, “She’s in Chicago guys, Chicago.” And on big trips we would get souvenirs, but it wasn’t the same as having her there. Over the years, we cultivated ways to make it feel like she was there even if she was away.
1. Message in a Pill Box
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Leave messages for one another while mom or dad is away. Take a pill box that has each day of the week on it and put a note and a treat in each box. Each note can count down the days until mom or dad is home with the kids. While a parent is missing the family they can read hand written notes from the kids, and the kids can do the same. For the constant traveler, there can be a surprise every once in a while, like concert tickets for when they get back, a gift card to frozen yogurt, or, for the parent, a coupon to clean the car!
2. Message in a bag
For the less frequent traveler, you can surprise dad or mom by sneaking a note into his or her luggage. Remind parents that you miss them, and you can’t wait until they are home. Coming from a home with a traveling mom, I’ve always heard when I sneaked a note into her bag, she felt like home wasn’t so far away.
3. Have a daily check-in
Call every night for a check-in. This always happened in my house under the disguise of checking to make sure dad had cooked dinner instead of taking us to Chinese for the third night in a row, but I know it’s because my mom missed the mid-dinner banter. Giving a parent the run down of the day takes away the unsettling feeling of not being there with the family.
4. Tell of impending doom
It might sound like the opposite of what you are supposed to do, but everyone loves to feel needed. If dad cooked the chicken with croutons instead of breading (I keep ragging on dads’ cooking, but they are great cooks, promise!), or you forgot your lunch because dad wasn’t there to remind you, let them know! When parents sees they are needed, it makes them feel loved from miles away.
5. Have a project
Having a running project in the house can connect families from afar. Something like a butterfly kit or a garden will keep on growing when someone’s away. During the daily call, updates can be given. Sending videos or pictures of progress is something tangible to hold on to. If it’s something like plants, parents can take pictures of the plants in the places they travel to compare. Kids will get excited when a parent travels to get a taste of what other stuff is out there.
Every once and in a while, have a mini-welcome home party. Bake a cake, make some signs, blow up some balloons and welcome dad home with open arms. It is something fun for kids to look forward to when someone is coming home and the parent will feel loved as well.
7. Don’t forget the home parent
Sometimes it can seem like the worst thing when someone’s away, but that just means there’s more time for the parent at home. My dad would set one day as Chinese day when mom was away. We would go to our favorite Chinese place (where there were mostly take-out orders), and have the whole restaurant to ourselves. We’d bring cards and make a night of it. Making it in the middle of mom’s trip broke up the longer ones and had us looking forward to something fun with dad. Plus, we always remembered who won at cards last time and wanted the chance to beat them the next time around.
No matter how long a parent is gone, keeping them a part of the family when they are away is important. A traveling parent can be a fun addition to family life if you make it a special event. It’s hard for them to be away too, so make sure to let them know how much they are missed. The kids don’t have to be sad when mom or dad is away for a week, but instead looking forward to a special night out, an interesting picture from far away, or welcoming them home. Maybe when they are old enough they will hop on a business trip and keep you company, like I do with my mom!
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