previously published in Simply KC magazine in October 2011 issue
by Stacey Hatton
One of the most difficult parenting challenges in this century has to be the added stressors of parents traveling for work. In the past, a traveling salesman would go door-to-door or perhaps drive or fly overnight, but not nearly as frequent as today. Plus, the extended stays are becoming more common.
So how does a family successfully connect with a key family figure absent on a regular basis? Technology assists in this bonding, although it does take thought, effort and time; however, many families find it’s worth it!
Forms of Communication
Phone calls are the easiest way to get in touch with your traveler, since the pony express is so outdated and unreliable. Most families set up times in advance the next time they will talk, according to everyone’s schedule.
Texting is convenient and inexpensive for overseas communicating in comparison to most phone calls, unless you have a good plan or the traveling parent’s company pays for texts and calls. Unfortunately, this is only effective for the stay-at-home parent and older children.
Emailing is valuable; however, the sound of voices, inflections and tones can be misinterpreted and missed. This method won’t provide young children comfort unless a photo is attached. Even that can be scary for infants and toddlers who don’t understand why the parent’s face is on a computer screen instead of home cuddling with them.
Stephanie, from Overland Park, says her husband used to travel every 4-6 weeks. When asked about traditions she incorporated to keep her girls from missing their father, Stephanie said, “I would let my older girl sleep with me. Also, my husband would talk to them in the evening and we would go out to dinner or try something fun.” She ended with, “The best tradition was when he got home we did the kid hand off and he would watch the kids. This HAS to happen!”
Rob, a Prairie Village father says his wife works 7 days a week, “The kids and I spend so much time together, but my favorite thing to do (with them) is cook. It’s the one thing that is age appropriate and age customizable for all of my kids’ ages, 6, 4, and 2. If we bake a cake, for example, (the youngest) bangs on the pots, (the middle child) cracks the eggs, and (the oldest) does everything else while dad watches them make my food. Win-win! We all share the kitchen-destruction, the process, and the eating. It really is a great way to get them all on the same page.”
A Kansas City mother, Jen, says her husband brings home magnets from different states he has traveled to. “The kids are anxious to see him and they also get a geography lesson.” Jen says when her husband is away for long periods of time, they use web conferencing to communicate. “It gives your child a ‘real time’ visual and the family can check in. This still gives the father the ability to parent so they can inquire about school, homework, their day, etc.”
Web Video Conferencing
Families didn’t have the luxury of video conferencing with the traveling parent until recently. Now it’s so easy, FREE, and should be used often to keep the family bond alive.
Skype video calls can be made with most computers which have web cameras installed. Go to: www.Skype.com and sign-up for the free program on both computers – the family computer and the computer used by the traveling parent. Actually, you probably get better conversations doing this than if you all were at home! If your computer doesn’t have a built-in web camera, a separate one can be purchased at any electronics store or department with computers.
Here are some web conferencing games to get your family started, if it at first feels awkward: Stephanie, a mom of one preschool boy, from south Overland Park suggests, “You can have dinner with Dad.” Set up the laptop at the dinner table and pivot the computer to whoever is talking during dinner. Just like having Dad there for your family meal! Or you can make dessert with the parent and eat it in front of the camera…teasing them, of course, on what they’re missing.
Have the traveling parent take one of the kid’s favorite bedtime stories with them on their trip. At bedtime, place the laptop on the foot of the bed or bed stand and have the parent read to the kids. With young ones, you can have them even hug the monitor goodnight and give smooches. This works especially well with toddlers and preschoolers since their imagination still allows this magic to occur.
My kids play a game they invented with their traveling Daddy, named “1-2-3-Funny Face!” All of them repeat the title and then they all look into the web cam with the craziest face they can make. The girls and their father get big laughs out of this – the kids ask for this game each trip.
Remember…any family communication is better than none at all. And the family that laughs together swaps better stories family reunions!