In the previous post we looked at the tough challenge Mom faces with Dad working “up north”, especially the situation that is created when he arrives home again. We have also acknowledged in this brief series of postings that living in one place, while working in a non-commutable distance at another, presents challenges to a couple and to a family that may be beyond its capacity to deal with in a healthy way. So what now? Can a family be truly healthy when one parent spends so much time a significant distance away?

Every family is unique, and there is no one rule that fits all. In addition, some families have resources other than money that help to alleviate the challenges of a parent working at distance. These include grandparent(s) that live in the area, and good friends and neighbours who are agreeable with sharing the load in childcare, for example. Taking advantage of having these resources is an acknowledgement that we can’t do it on our own, and without question helps ensure a happy, healthy home, even if one parent is often unable to be physically present. In general however, the working “up north” scenario tends not to be sustainable over a long period of time. What this truly means is that it is almost impossible for everyone in a family and within a couple to have their needs met consistently without one parent being present for more than a few days per month, especially if this goes on for years on end.

Why is this so often the case? After all, there are plenty of examples in our society of single mothers successfully raising a healthy family, and where everyone is able to find health and happiness in a meaningful way. The difference can come from the quality of the parental relationship that is present within the home back here in the Okanagan: when a husband and wife, or common-law couple is unable to spend time together outside of playtime with the children, tasks and planning, or other regular family activities, that primary relationship will likely suffer. When Mom and Dad are arguing much of the time, or failing to find time to enjoy each other’s company without distraction, that relationship is far less likely to be getting fed in a positive and sustainable way. Everyone in the family will feel Mom and Dad’s lack of connection, and this may create a feeling much darker than simply the absence of one parent might. The divorce process can even start to become a realistic scenario.

For argument’s sake, let’s suppose there are few resources available to a mom at home with three children, and when her husband is gone, she is left largely to fend for herself in getting everyone’s needs met. How long can this scenario continue, without anyone being pushed past the limits of their own abilities to cope with this family dynamic? While each family and its individual members all have their own tolerance for this, it is almost guaranteed that Dad’s working far away cannot continue indefinitely, and probably must have a clear end date in sight if the family is to have the best chance possible to prosper. With an end date of some kind, hopefully agreed upon by the parents and even the children, there is a light to focus upon. It actually matters far less whether he moves back home, or the family permanently relocates in order be nearer to him while he continues his career.

There will be an understanding among his wife and each child that while Dad may not be at home much now, there will soon come a day when he will be able to spend much more time present at home; able to attend football practices, ballet recitals, and just as importantly, spend some meaningful time with his wife, where there is time to discuss more than simply how long he is home or the logistics of the day. The Dad and Husband will be able to share not just his time, but also his heart, and do so with all his energy and focus. It is his heart, shown through his love and presence that can be the difference between a happy family brimming with love, and one that struggles to find connectedness and even its purpose together.