When a friend told me this I paused, “Really?”
Was he travelling too much? Were we being reckless and affecting our children in negative ways? How much is too much, anyways?
Living overseas comes with a lot of unique lifestyle changes. One of them, for most families, is separation because of travel.
My husband travels to teach, preach, and visit ministry partners. Each family is different. Sometimes, mainly the husband travels. For others, it is the wife. For some, they travel to visit projects in their local province. Others journey across the globe to attend conferences. For some it is the constant need to fund-raise. At times it is for medical help or just to connect with family in your home country.
There are actually a lot of reasons we travel. Almost all of us have this in common… a husband or wife that needs to travel as part of their ministry or family needs.
Some families navigate this in healthy ways. Too often, though, it has had a devastating affect on the family bond. Some adult missionary kids still carry the pain of abandonment they felt with their fathers’ travel schedules.
As I write this I am on day 12 of a 16 day trip for my husband. But who’s counting!? (Me.) My husband does most of the travelling, but I do some as well. This can add up to a lot if we are not extremely careful.
We have seen wonderful and terrible examples of families navigating separation. Because of this we have sought input and have an ongoing dialogue. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
1. Honest Communication
No amount of tips or tricks can replace honest and vulnerable communication. How do you each feel about the separation? I have seen situations where the husband just plans trips and the wife simply gets informed. I once saw a leader announce upcoming travel in a staff meeting. His wife found out about it with all the staff! Yikes!
Before any trip gets planned, husbands and wives need to really sit down and be honest about what each can handle.
We then need to truly listen.
I’m so glad we were told that every trip should be evaluated by both my husband and myself… not just what he thinks is best. Together we are honest if we feel this will work. We then decide together.
2. Avoid Obvious Disasters
We made some big planning mistakes in the early days. I remember one trip where my husband was gone for two weeks (the longest we do apart). Because we were new to South Africa, we had no clue about public and school holidays. My husbands trip was over an entire school break… so I was home, alone with the kids for two weeks straight in the dark, wet winter. It wasn’t pretty. We now have a golden rule… no travel over school holidays. Bad things happen to Mom’s sanity!
When looking at a potential separation, we now ask, “Is there any obvious practical reason this is a bad idea?”
3. Prefer One Another
Sometimes one spouse is all for a ministry trip (normally the one travelling) and the other is very overwhelmed by it (normally the one staying behind).
I once had a friend tell me, “Oh, my husband never travels, I don’t like it.”
“Does he like it though?” I asked.
She looked at me, “He loves it, it’s the most life-giving thing he does in ministry.”
I walked away respecting that the husband listened to his wife. But I also wondered if the wife could also make some sacrifices to enable her husband to do something he loved so dearly. Even if just very occasionally.
When we communicate how we feel about travel, my husband and I both ask the question, “How can I prefer my spouse?” There is no pat answer to that. Sacrifices are made on both sides.
The children also need to be preferred. Some couples evaluate trips with their children. They let the children have a voice. This was wonderful for the children to pray and be honest about how they are affected by the travel. What an amazing picture if Dad and Mom said “no” to a trip because of feedback from the kids.
4. Evaluate the Seasons
Not all travel is equal. I definitely found travel much harder when my children were toddlers. It was very challenging and left me at the end of my rope. We learned some hard lessons in that time. I learned how to ask for help. My husband learned that there might be more trips when the kids are older because his wife doesn’t thrive when left alone with whining toddlers!
Perhaps there are ministry challenges, sickness, depression issues, a challenge with a child, or something else that makes separation more challenging. Often a trip would be fine normally, but because of the “season,” it’s not a good idea.
Seasons are not forever. So, don’t be threatened to let seasons shape your travel plans. We try to keep very flexible with our “rules” knowing that each season will bring a different approach to separation.
5. Own the Decision
Once a trip has been planned, we need to own the decision. If we both say “yes” to a trip, we can’t act like a victim of the decision. We can’t pout that “I’m stuck at home while he/she is out getting all the glory.” This is immaturity, and it will hurt our marriages and children.
We have a voice, and now we need to embrace our choice.
I’ll be honest, in our early days I often would punish Chris when he would return, and he would punish me. “Making up for lost time,” we would call it. Upon returning home, the left-behind spouse often expects to be “paid back” for all the extra work they did to keep the home fires burning. We have to be so careful of this. Once the family is reunited, rejoice with the victories and have compassion for the struggles, but don’t silently punish your spouse if you feel “left behind.”
What about you? Do you feel you are managing travel well? What advice and lessons have you learned along the way?
Lindsey lives in Cape Town, South Africa as a missionary with Youth With a Mission. She grew up as a pastor’s kid and dreamed of being a missionary as long as she can remember. At the age of 19 she packed her bags and headed to Africa. She’s been living the missions life ever since. Lindsey is married to Chris Lautsbaugh and together they have 2 sons, Garett and Thabo. Her passion is teaching on relationships including marriage, parenting, dating, sexuality, and friendship. In South Africa she works at a University of the Nations campus, training young people to have a passion for Jesus and people. Lindsey writes at thisisloveactually.com and is on Twitter (@mrslautsbaugh).