Note from Laura: I originally posted this on my old blog, but have migrated it over here as it fits well with this week's show, Ep. 62 | When Dad Works Long Hours. I've also updated it as I wrote it more than two years ago, and of course, God has used that time to further teach and sanctify me as I navigate life with a husband that works more than usual. For more on my journey and how God has used it in my life, as well as lots of practical tips, definitely check out the show linked above!
Ever since I've been married my husband has worked long hours. To give perspective (and I suppose some credibility as to why I'm writing this post), my husband typically works 12 hour days, and though he is supposed to have every other Friday off, he works them most of the time and at times, he is unexpectedly called in on the weekends or in the middle of the night. He also goes through long seasons once or twice a year, working 12-15 hour days (or nights) for anywhere from 30-90 days straight (yes, even weekends).
I know there are a lot of professions that require husbands to work long hours and I am not the only mother preparing and eating dinner with the kids by myself. But it can feel like a very lonely road sometimes and it can be tough to know how to talk about it or what to do, because for most of us, we know deep down, it's not going to change anytime soon, so what good does talking about it do?
That said, I'm not writing this to say that I have anything revelatory to add, nor do I always have a good perspective or follow the advice I'm about to share, but in seven years of being married to a man that works long hours and four of which I've been a mom to small children, I have come a long way in my attitude and learned a few tricks to ease the frustration.
So to the mom whose husband works long hours, this is my letter to you.
Believe The Best In Him: It's easy to convince yourself that he'd rather be at work than home with you and the kids. Because, as you might like to tell yourself, "If he wanted to be home, he'd be here!" But if you've ever worked in the past, you know first-hand how difficult it can be to leave when you want or need to, and how great the pressure is to give, give, give to work, the greatest taker in the universe. Know and believe him when he says he'd rather be at home with you and the kids. Recognize the pressure he's under to not only preform well at his job, but to provide for the family. He has a lot of responsibility he's under, give him grace as he figures it out the juggle and believe the best in him no matter his actions.
Be Honest About How You Feel: I can't tell you the number of times my husband has walked through the door and in the next breath after we greet each other I say to him in a neutral voice, "I'm upset with you, and I don't want to talk about it now, but I do want to talk about it soon," and I choose to have a good attitude until we have a chance to talk. What I really want to do is give him the silent treatment, willing him to apologize for being late again, to recognize the struggle, the frustration, the hard day I've had and, well, basically grovel at my feet, asking for forgiveness.
Usually it's because I feel neglected and need attention, affirmation or recognition. But my time with him is so short each day, I've learned through years of doing it wrong - it's not worth going through the rigamarole of me wanting him to figure me out - I basically ruin any precious time with him I do have. So if I tell him right away, I feel a weight lifted knowing he knows, and he knows we need to talk later after the kids are in bed. I'll be honest, this is SO much easier said than done. But if I keep the gospel in mind, remembering that I received grace even when I didn't deserve it, I know I can extend grace to someone else - even when I feel hurt or like I've been wronged. Love your husband with the heartbeat of the free grace you've been given, and don't make the mistake of frittering away the time you do have with your husband.
Don't Play The Comparison Game: You hear about friends who have husbands that are home "just after five," or who can visit their husband with the kids at work for lunch, or who's husbands even come home for lunch and at times, you sort of want to strangle them for EVER complaining about not seeing their husbands, or having a long day, or needing a break, etc. - particularly when you've been parenting-alone for two weeks straight, but comparison is never worth it. It only leads you into pride or despair, neither of which model the gospel. Remember that Christ's redemption of you frees you from needing (or even being able) to judge someone else for being a "wimp"/ feel superior because you can mom-alone longer, or even to end up jealous of someone else's situation (all things that I swing between). Plus, remember that everyone has their own hard things. Another mom's hard may not be a husband that is gone a lot, but they have their stuff - don't fool yourself into thinking that someone else's life is perfect.
Change Up The Evening Routine: My husband typically gets home between 6:30 and 9 p.m. which means I can't really count on him in the evenings - even for the bedtime routine. For a while we tried eating a hefty snack at 5 p.m. to tied the kids over so we could have family dinner at 7 p.m., but it still didn't necessarily mean we'd eat with him, and honestly, holding off two hungry toddlers is like telling bears not to dig into a jar of honey. Best to run and hide and just let them have it.
So for this season, we don't have regular family dinners. It's unfortunate and hard, but for me to try to hold the kids off for a late dinner that my husband would *maybe* show up to was creating bitterness in my heart. So an easy fix was to just feed the kids eariler, then leave a plate for him to warm up. The kids and I often do errands after rest time or dinner, a bit unusual, but it helps to pass some of the more difficult parts of the day. Remember that your schedule doesn't have to look like the rest of the world's where the kids go down right at 7 p.m.! (And bonus, my kids wake between 8 and 9 a.m.!) Your family is unique, so look for ways to adjust your routines to help relieve some stress.
Don't Wait. Go. Just go. Get out of the house. Go to that party, leave for vacation, attend the weddings, get to that barbecue, just DON'T WAIT. He can meet you there when he is actually off.
Protect Him With Your Children: We all know our children key off our own attitudes and it can be so hard to mask the disappointment or frustration when we find out, yet again, our husband has to work later than usual or miss an activity. Continue to make daddy special to your children, even when they don't see him that often. Let them know how excited daddy will be about something they've made or done, call him and tell him stories from the day if you can, and make special videos/photos/art, just for daddy. The disappointment for your children will be inevitable, but you can teach them how to deal with it through modeling a positive attitude for them and reminding them daily how much daddy loves them and wishes he could be with them.
Protect Him With Others: Having a husband that works a lot means sometimes, they miss a lot of important events. Birthdays, holidays, family events and outings, often it seems like no date is safe, even if just two hours earlier they were supposed to be able to go on that double date with you and now you're a third wheel. Not many people will understand how much your husband works or even more so, why he has to work. Which can be tough when you don't really understand either. Just like your children will reflect your attitude, your friends and family will to. So protect your husband with your words and actions, letting others know how much he wish he could be there, sign the card for him, send the note for him, etc. Basically, make him "look good." That means I take care of the things my husband doesn't have time to remember or do, speak highly of him when he's not there and always cast him in a positive light - even when I'm hurting because he can't be with me somewhere.
Remember, You Are Not Your Husband's Holy Spirit: It took me years, YEARS, to truly understand conflict management and resolution in marriage (and this is an area I still need work in)! Even today, I often want to convict my husband in areas that I feel he could, ahem – grow in – with my holier-than-thou words or my dutiful actions (with a side of a silent, grumbling spirit), but that's not my role, nor will it ever even work because I am not my husband's Holy Spirit. Remember that this is likely hard for your husband too, love him through it with words of life and truth, modeling a gentle and quiet spirit, and remember that sometimes, saying nothing is the best course of action.
Remember Your Identity In Christ: I could write an entire post on this, but the basics are this: Remember where your true hope and identity are found. Not in a friend, your children, a blog post, the way you "survive" each day, or a husband that is present, but in Christ. Our natural tendency is to worship anything other than God - and we can tell when we are doing this when something makes us disproportionately more upset than it should. I would often get very angry with my husband for being home late and let's just say my response was a bit ... excessive. Remember that your husband will fail you. Every time. If it's not work, it'll be something else. Don't put your hope and trust in him, but it in the only One that will never fail, never leave, never disappoint: Jesus Christ. When you look to God as your full satisfaction, you'll find that your attitude and responses are much more stable.
Run to the cross each morning and every minute after to find your foundation. Even though it is hard to believe at times, you know the truth, so repeat it to yourself, over and over again and find friends and family who are not afraid to repeat it to you as well.
Pray for God to Work In Your Own Heart: Pray all the time that you would have a well of patience and endurance that doesn't run out. Pray for grace when you fail, and grace when your husband fails. Pray that things change and he works less, and pray that you'll be supportive and content for as long as he works the long hours. The truth of the matter is this - you can do all of the above that I've listed, but God is the only one that can truly change your perspective and attitude, by changing your heart in his timing and grace.
So all of that said, here are a few final thoughts. What you do? It's UNBELIEVABLY HARD. No denying it, it's so difficult to have a husband that works long hours. But you are not alone and you can do this, and you can do this well. You won't be perfect and sometimes the hard days will come out of nowhere, and suddenly he won't make it home for something and as try as you might you just want to hit something or scream or cry into a pillow because you just want to be done and have help and you want him home so badly you physically ache.
But it is in our weakness God shows up strong. I can honestly say that my husband's work schedule has probably been the number one thing God has used to refine and sanctify me in the past years. While it hasn't been easy, I can see how God has used it for my good, and ultimately for his glory. Which in a way, means I can honestly sit here and write that I am thankful for all the hardship his job has brought. Because if it means I am identified with Christ more, then while it tastes bitter going down, its returns have been nothing but sweet.
Remember: Your present circumstances can and will change all the time, but your future never does. Your eternity with the King is secure and guaranteed - and that is cause for great joy, no matter how many conference calls your husband takes at 2 a.m.