Travelling for work isn’t always glamourous, especially when you’re leaving behind kids and a spouse who feels stretched thin. Here’s how some families cope with it.
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 (family pictured above).
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 single-handedly 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,” says Kumari (family pictured above).
“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.”
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 pick-up 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 child-free 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.”
(Photos: Families’ own)
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