Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ask Jamie Jo: Is JJ's Response Really Hypothetical?

"How do you deal with absences and returns of your husband if he frequently travels? It seems that as a family we have one routine and system while he is gone, and then we have to adjust when he returns. It is like going from a two-parent family to a one-parent one and back again. What ways have you found to handle those transitions?"

For those who have no idea what she is talking about, let me conjure up *cough* a hypothetical situation. When dh* [*see sidebar "Jamie-Jo Speak" for all starred* words] is away the wife can more fully devote herself to the Lord and the dc*. Her panache is restored without a partner by her side to witness and or point out her failings. Her new confidence may or may not be warranted, but she enjoys only serving a perfect Master, one who wipes the slate clean day by day. As bad as this sounds, and as much as she hates to admit it, dh's travels provide a break from any and all marital strife.

She begins to make daily decisions usually left up to dh. She groans under the weight of responsibility, but grows closer to the Lord through this occasional suffering. Meanwhile she carries the mantle of spiritual direction and discipline of the kids, growing in her ability and confidence to run the home on her own. For a while, she likes it, if she would be honest enough to admit it.

At the same time she does miss the daily adult companionship dh normally provides, but somehow finds alternate ways to fill that need. She sometimes chooses to be hospitable and to minister to others, but usually she turns to Facebook and online forums to fill the need, and then feels guilty for it afterward. Still other times she becomes a happy recluse, reveling in her newfound solitude in the evenings after dc are in bed.

If not extremely careful, she can become downright narcissistic while dh is gone, seeking every selfish pleasure like online bargain hunting, bubble baths, pedicures, journaling, or reading a good novel. She rationalizes by saying she needs to refuel her emotional tank, but deep down she suspects she is going overboard. (Not that she cares.)

On her good days, she spends her evenings in prayer and meditation, a luxury that pays off in the end, unless she becomes resentful of her dh when he returns and spoils her new habit of solitude.

Meanwhile the dc are enjoying more quality and quantity time with Mom, rediscovering the blessing of having only one parent fussing at them, only one parent to grant them permission, or should I say only one parent who will give in to crazy requests? The dc enjoy the simpler meals, the flexible mom who is suddenly free to read them a story, play a game with them, etc.

In comes dh at the end of his trip, weary and possibly queasy, feeling very needy for dw's* attention which the dc are not ready to share. During his time away, dh misses his dw and dc (depending on the length of the trip) until the very memory becomes distorted. What he longs for is not the family-as-they-are, but an ideal dream family of his own making, a family without faults.

By the time he returns, dw has grown tired of the added responsibilities of answering emails, phone calls, and drop-in visitors on top of caring for the house and kids. By now the dc are taking advantage of her good nature until she's sick of the whole thing. She longs for dh's return - not the return of the real flesh and blood dh, mind you, but the ideal dream man without faults.

If this were a piece of fiction, we would say dh's return is the climax of the story involving a tremendous clash in which expectations are dashed all over the place in an ungodly all-around reality check.

The children, who are no longer quite so dear, miss the subtle hint that they must stop badgering Mom who is relinquishing her push-over-ness. Meanwhile Dad wants them to consult him before going out, meals begin to include yucky things like salad and vegetables again, and everyone is out of sorts as a result of the inevitable discord between the now-two parents, and chaos reigns until the former norm is restored.

Have I come close to pegging the situation? I may or may not be speaking from personal experience, *cough* but I will share a few tips I've learned along the way.

1. First, keep routines the same whether Dad is home or not. No “Yee-haw, let's be slobs and not clean house until the last day,” and no eating ice cream and calling it dinner!

2. Spend the time dh is away listing all the reasons you appreciate him, empathizing with him for always carrying the weight of responsibility for everything financial, mechanical, electrical, spiritual, and otherwise.

3. Explain dh's plight with the dc, and plan for his return by possibly play-acting the role of the ideal dw and dc he misses -- at least for the first day or so. Delay the reality check as long as possible, or make sure it happens gradually.

4. Practice honoring Dad while he's gone.

5. Do NOT dump a list of grievances on poor dh the minute he walks in the door, no matter how many appliances broke down while he was gone.

6. Take care of as many disasters as you can before he gets back, especially things like changing the gas tank and relighting the hot water heater so he can get cleaned up before discovering any major problems.

Oh, and most importantly, pray. Pray before, during, and after dh returns. What else would y'all add to the list? Please add your comments below.

IRL* Truly ashamed that the scenario I painted was not as hypothetical as I'd like to pretend.


  1. Oh, Jamie Jo, thanks for the smiles, laughs, and memories this morning!

    Bless you!


  2. I loved your posting and relate to it in many ways. The difference is that now I only have 1 part time kid(college 3d yr.) The temptation to go overboard on reading and pleasures is oh so real. I am not a missionary in the field except I do consider my neighborhood my field. My husband travels internationally and to NYC several times a month. It is not often practical or God isn't opening these trips up to me on a regular basis. I think my husband would enjoy reading the honesty of your posting so I'm forwarding it to him. My home is in an uproar of long overdue indoor painting. The kid is doing it. He does a great job but every knickknack,picture, artworrk and piece of junk is relocated and sitting out. The kid leaves for New Hampshire today to visit his fiance and family . The painting is mostly done but there are plaster repairs( he also did) that aren't dry because we've been having so much rainy,humid weather. MY dh is coming home Fri. and the kid is not able to resume work till next. week. You see my messy dilemma. I have to try to clean up before Fri. pm. Thanks for the laughs and truthfulness. Mary Jo Baldauff-Peter's CreekBaptist,(Pa.)

  3. You hit the proverbial nail on the hypothetical head. And rats! Do I have to start with #1? That just took some fun away. Seriously, thanks for another relatable post with which we can laugh and amen. Good tips, too!

  4. Oops. Looks like one of my responses got lost in cyber space. No time to recreate it fully. Anyway, I am relieved that my "nakedness" is serving its purpose today. Thanks, Linda, Mary Jo, and Inkyspot

    And no, inkyspot, you can skip #1 if you can get away with it. :)

    In an edited version I forgot to submit I had actually added: "Resist the temptation to give pet sins full reign (ie.: laziness, selfishness, and people/children pleasing).

    Mary Jo, I am a master at messy dilemmas these days. My heart goes out to you in your house being in a disarray. Enjoy the paint job when it's done!

  5. Oh my stinkin' heck. I found myself laughing harder at each. and. every. paragraph.

    I love the transparency you share - and can see why you were nervous over no responses.

    Personally, we don't have this situation so much anymore but I found myself in a few of those paragraphs....:)

  6. This is hilarious. I can really relate. I thought I was the only one who secretly enjoyed dh's absence for the first few days at least.

    Suggestion #6 is the one I hope to skip. I find that the minute my husband leaves, car batteries go dead, we have electrical problems in the house, everything breaks.

    The most hilarious time was once when I dropped him off at the airport while I watched him walk in through the sliding glass doors, the push button mechanically operated window in the back door of our car fell open all by itself. No way to shut the car window! I drove around for two weeks with an open window, barely making it to the mechanic the day before dh returned.

  7. Yep. I *cough* have a friend-of-a-friend-of-my-brother's-uncle who once experienced this, too *cough, clear throat*. ;) ...loved this post. My husband has traveled a lot over the last 9 years. A lot. I agree and loved all your suggestions!
    One thing my husband and I do, also, is we make "notes" while he is away (on scrap paper if necessary) of the multiple interactions (i.e. "had hilarious conversation with son about oranges today") and the little, insignificant things of life... So, that he can share/I can share while we were away. That way, at some point, when we are debriefing... we feel we have not "missed out" on their experiences. Good margin time to actually debrief and process the absence has been really important to learn, as well.
    It is a major learning curve. I love you tackling it here so honestly.

  8. ...but I must add... we do eat a lot more like slobs when dad is gone and ice-cream is a must! Cheese sandwiches and bowl of popcorn are dinner. Must I really change that??? LOL

  9. Nah. Let's scrap the careless remark about ice cream, shall we? It is agreed.

    In its place we will add the suggestion about writing notes of things to tell dh during a debriefing session once he returns.

    You are funny, Stephanie. Friend-of-a-friend-of-a-brother's-uncle indeed.

    Oh your stinkin' heck, Faith, I do miss you!

  10. Oh JJ! It sounds like you've been spying on me for the last several weeks while my dh is in the States. :P Ice cream for supper?! Uh, yeah, it's happened... But we are taste-testing so we can find the best ice cream stand in our new city and take Daddy out for a nice treat when he gets here... Really! (At least, that's what the kids keep saying.)

    I would add that nowadays it's so much easier with Skype. Dh and I talk every day and several times we've worked on projects together on Skype (he sends me a file, I view it, make changes, discuss it and send it back). Yesterday we spent about 4 hours together on Skype. I was doing my own work, checking mail, writing people, relaxing, etc., and he was doing his thing. The kids were in and out, chatting with him. We even skyped his lunch (with my parents) and my supper. I'm 7 hours ahead, so it was nice to "eat together". We usually skype until I go to sleep at night, too.

    Anyway, thanks for the very relevant post!!!

  11. What a worthy, Dad-honoring project to find the best ice cream for him while he's gone. You are so thoughtful!

    I'll never forget the time dh was away, and I had a retired neighbor come over to relight a finicky hot water heater for me. Afterward, the kids insisted he stay for supper! That was one of those ice cream for supper nights. I was mortified, but he just laughed and enjoyed the "meal."

    Yes Skype (and our Lingo phone) do help tremendously whenever dh is in the U.S. or some civilized location. It's when he's suffering out in a remote village and I'm home relaxing that the guilt enters the scene.

  12. LOL! That is so funny! I would have DIED if my kids had invited someone to stay for an ice cream supper!

    Oh, and the kids are quite serious about finding the best ice cream stand so they can take their daddy there when he gets back. I like to encourage them in thinking of good things for him. :D

  13. Thanks for a good laugh this morning! Have you been spying on us?! LOL I like your suggestions, that sounds like a very good way to maintain the stability in the ebbs and flows of the missionary family...thanks for posting!

  14. Oh, yeah, that's it. My "hypothetical" scenario was inspired by you! JJ the Spy - that's me!

  15. LOL - funny - thank you. I had cautiously asked this same question somewhere else recently. Nice to know I am not alone! Ok so can we eat icecream one more night for dinner !!

    just too funny. But helpful also :)
    thanks - my husband is away for nearly a month travelling to Honduras and the states. I do miss him but I have enjoyed the tranquility :)

    Joy B


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