I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while. Partner Away Parenting is pretty much how it sounds; parenting while your partner is away – be they working away, in prison, or living long distance.
For us it’s working. Not Just Rosie’s Dad is a lorry driver, so often he will go to work on Monday at 4am and return Friday evening. Some nights he makes it home, but it’s usually a case of tea, bath, and bed for him as he needs to be up at the crack of dawn the next day.
We have had this life for a couple of years now, and during that time I’ve noticed lots of things:
- There is almost no (bordering on zero) support for PAP. For example, were I a single parent, I’d be able to access Gingerbread, an online resource for single parents. However, because I’m married, there is no provision, no support network for me. It’s like we are a subset that doesn’t exist.
- Healthcare professionals just don’t get it. When I’ve been struggling, when I’ve gone and asked for help, they listen and then they tell me I’m doing too much, can my husband do more and pick up the slack? Well, considering he’s at the other side of the country, no, he cannot. There is only me. And they do not know what to say to me because my family does not fit into a neat little box of ‘single parent’ or ‘two parent family.’
- Weekends are hard work. I would not compare myself to a single parent, but others have done and again, all that shows is how much they don’t get it. Yes, my husband is home on a weekend, but that does not mean it is all sunshine and rainbows. He is used to being master of his own domain all week, and then he’s home and he can’t remember where the bloody egg cups live, he doesn’t know the bedtime routine, he doesn’t know what channel My Little Pony is on, and he can’t work out what ‘da cowts’ means. (In case you were curious, it’s a two year old’s way of asking if she can let the cats out.) And naturally, he is frustrated. He does not feel at home in his own home. For me, I am used to my evening solitude, to my own space in bed, to going to sleep when I am ready. It is hard for both of us. Sometimes, it is easier for both of us when he is not here.
- It has changed our relationship. We’ve never been particularly co-dependent, we’ve always had our own lives, but now more than ever we are both painfully aware that I do not need him. I run this shit five days a week all by myself, another two isn’t going to make a difference. I feel stronger, tougher, more capable. I feel it and he sees it. He sees it and feels threatened. What he doesn’t see is that I may not need him here, but I do want him here. And to me, that is a big difference.
- Stating the obvious somewhat, but it’s bloody hard work doing this myself. All day and all night I handle this. I manage the house and the bills and the cats and I work my arse off to be the best mother I can be. It’s tough and it’s tiresome, and it feels like there is just never a break. Friends talk about desperately clinging on till half past five when their partner walks in and takes over – I cannot imagine how wonderful that would be. It’s a huge amount of responsibility too – everything rests on my shoulders.
- It’s lonely. Being a stay at home parent is lonely enough, but at least through the day I can usually find somewhere to go or someone to hang out with. Evenings are a different matter. Everyone is with their families, doing what normal families do. At our house, there’s just me and Rosie and then Rosie goes to bed and there’s just me, with no one to talk to and no one to cuddle.
Now, I know that all of that above sounds like a huge moan, and of course it’s not all bad. I consider myself very lucky to have a wonderful husband that sacrifices his time with our daughter to go and work, so that I can be at home all the time. And of course it’s fantastic that our finances are arranged so that I don’t have to go to work. But that doesn’t change the reality of our situation, the difficulty of seeing my daughter run into my bedroom on a Monday morning shouting for the Daddy she absolutely adores, or how hard it is that she associates Daddy with work (I’ll often catch her saying to herself, ‘Where Daddy? Daddy work.’)
But mostly, I wanted to raise some awareness and I wanted to send out a message to other people in my situation – we may be a somewhat neglected subset of parents, but I see you out there, holding your family together, navigating this strange sea with a partner who is only sometimes there. It’s an odd kind of twilight we’re in, but I see you and I get it. I can’t promise you it will get any better, but I can promise you you’re not alone.