My husband got a job last month after being unemployed for 18 months. His job is about 3 hours away from our home. We are working on putting our house on the market etc. but for the time being, he commutes home late Friday evening and leaves Sunday night. My five-year-old seems to be dealing ok with his absence, but is upset that we have to leave our house. She even has stated she'd rather see him only on weekends than move! My two-year-old son is having a difficult adjustment. During my husband's unemployment, I worked contract jobs and my husband and son were inseparable. I feel sad for him as I'm certain it's hard to understand my husband's presence/absence each week. To add to the mix, I gave birth to our 3rd child, a girl, four weeks before my husband started his job. The two-year-old is quite gentle with the baby and kind to her. His behavior has only mildly deteriorated. We have made a picture calendar with photos of my husband's new office and then on Sat/Sun photos of our house/family. Each day we move a magnet onto the day's picture. We also Skype my husband at 7 pm each night. I, of course, am exhausted with frequent nursings, broken, limited sleep and minimal family support in town. I am so respectful of single parents and their hard work! My question is what can we do to most help our children adjust to this possibly long-term situation? Thank you!
Dad's new job out of town
What a lot you are carrying! And doing a remarkable job of it, judging from the fact that your two year old is dealing with a new baby plus his dad's absence and is mostly doing ok. And I love your chart that shows Dad's office and your home, day by day.
The most important thing you can do is take care of yourself so you can stay centered. Really. Sleep whenever you can. Develop little self-care practices like a cup of tea or sitting in a garden for a few minutes so that you feel nurtured throughout your day. Find a few minutes to call your husband or a good friend and vent, just so you get a chance to talk to an adult who won't advise or judge, but just lets you pour out your feelings so you can re-center yourself every day. Getting out of the house, with its lists and undone chores, is probably helpful, and exercise always uplifts, so gather the kids up and go for walks whenever you can. Find times to hang with other moms so your kids can play and you can talk. Eat healthy but very simply so you don't have to spend much time on food prep.
As for your children, what each of them needs most is time alone with you, which is just what it is hardest to give them. I suggest that you try to develop a bedtime routine that protects at least 15 minutes alone with each child, where you just chat with them about their day and listen to them. This is not the bedtime story -- you can do that with them together, hopefully, letting them each choose a book. But in the time alone you just connect, heart to heart.
During the bedtime sessions with your two year old, baby him. Hold him close and make sure he knows how much you adore him. Let him cry about missing his dad. Play little games to connect with him physically and lovingly, just as you did when he was a baby. Play the "fix" game, which I always recommend to parents with a new baby in the house:
Convince your child on a very deep level that you LOVE him by chasing him, hugging, kissing, then letting him get away and repeating -- again and again. "I need my Michael fix....You can't get away...I have to hug you and cover you with kisses....oh, no, you got away...I'm coming after you....I just have to kiss you more and hug you more....You're too fast for me....But I'll never give up...I love you too much...I got you....Now I'll kiss your toes....Oh, no, you're too strong for me...But I will always want more Michael hugs...." This is my favorite game, guaranteed to transform your child's doubt about whether he's truly loved (and any child who is "misbehaving" harbors that doubt). (From a parent: "I'm kind of shocked how much my son is loving the Fix game!? I don't think I've ever heard my son say, "Let's do it again!" so many times :)"
In those bedtimes sessions, let your five year old express all her upset about moving, all her fears and anger. Just listen and reflect. You don't have to keep reminding her that she WILL move. Just listen and let her get her feelings out. If she cries, great. Hold her and tell her you know it makes her sad and you are so sorry and wish it could be different. Other ways to help her:
1. Get books about families moving from the library and read them together, such as Judith Viorst's book
Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move.
2. Take your kids to visit dad one of these weekends and have a really fun weekend where they do fun things in the town where he works, so they will feel some excitement about the idea of living there.
3. Here's an article about helping kids adjust to the idea of moving:
Mostly, breathe, remind yourself that the joy is in the journey, and keep loving. Everything else can wait!