There are only so many times I can complain about life getting wonky every time my husband comes home from a trip before it starts to get annoying, even to myself. But unless you've lived it, then the return of the away parent is pretty damn complicated.
But the truth is that it doesn't need to be that way. There is predictability and consistency within the chaos if you can find it. Of course, doing so means you have to be a little more organized, take the horse by its reins, and figure out a plan of attack that works for you, your spouse, and your family. However, after doing this for the last few years, it's worth it -- not just for your own sanity but for your relationship too.
So, here are a few tips that have helped us turn my husband's return home into a mostly happy occasion for everyone.
1. Take his word with a grain of salt. By this I mean, if he says, "I'll be home at 3 p.m." then don't set the timer for 3 p.m. I know this doesn't apply to everyone, but if you happen to be married to a pilot, then you know what I mean. Flights get delayed, the lines at customs get out of control, and suddenly 3 p.m. is now 6 p.m. and you're royally pissed. I'm sure men (and women) in other professions have the same issues. You get my drift. So, just go about your business and continue on with your schedule. It can be super-disappointing, even annoying if he doesn't come home when he says, so don't hold yourself to it.
2. Give him space when he returns (and instruct the kids to do the same). As I've written before, the natural, overwhelmed mom instinct is to toss the kids at him like a football and run. Fight that urge as much as you can and give him time to drop his bags, change his clothes, and use the bathroom before entering him into the fray. Our kids have been taught to greet their father and then leave him alone until he comes down. It's made a world of difference for everyone.
3. Have a pre-arranged sleep in and alone time agreement. I've heard all sorts of arrangements that couples make to give each other much needed sleeping in time and alone time. Drop this idea of it ever being "even" because it won't, but still rally to have your share of time to yourself. Choose one day that you know he'll be home that's your sleep in day. Pick a two-hour window every week that you get to go out alone. Then afford him the same luxury. You might even want to pencil it in (or hey, use a Sharpie) on your calendar. It's just that important to have, particularly if you want to curtail any resentment and bitterness that might arise.
4. Create a division of labor arrangement. Whether it's you cook, he cleans, or he cooks, you clean, or you do both and then he does the entire bedtime and bathtime routine with the kids -- that's all up to you. But figure it out ahead of time so that it's like a well-choreographed line dance and not some crazy mosh pit. In the past, we've found ourselves in a place where I like to clean up right after dinner and he likes to wait until 11 p.m. to do it (and then it never actually completely gets done). So, I oftentimes just end up doing it because I get annoyed that I'm still washing dishes from the night before the next morning. Decide what's most important to you and then go with it.
5. Prep him on any new rules, issues, challenges, or successes BEFORE he gets home. I'll email or text my husband with anything new that happened while he was gone that he should know about before he walks in the door. This way, he's not offering to let the kids watch a movie when their television privileges have been taken away. It's also nice for him to know about the awesome things that have happened, too. I'd never send my business colleagues into a meeting without some prep, so don't toss your poor spouse to the wolves before giving him a head's up. That is unless he tried to tell you his trip to Vegas was completely exhausting. Then you might want to leave out some important details as a little payback. Ha!
There are, of course, a ton more! I'd love to know how you make your own transition better. In fact, I'd love to quote you for an upcoming project I have. So feel free to leave them in the comments, but if you've got some great tips to share -- all of which have to do with the crazy aspects of the away spouse coming home (regardless of how long he or she's been gone) and how you make it easier on you, your spouse, and your kids -- please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo via Flickr/Neosnaps