Many families find themselves separated by distance at some point in their lives. Job requirements, further education, career changes, military assignment, and other situations arise where one person in the family needs to temporarily leave.
In their book, Side by Side Strategies: How Two-Career Couples Can Thrive in the Nineties, Jane Cuozzo and Diane Graham indicate that the average nontraveling couple spends fewer than twelve minutes a day conversing. Travel can actually improve a family’s communication if they make a special effort.
Daily communication is the process by which all family members convey their feelings, attitudes, facts, beliefs, and ideas through what they say and by what they show in their behavior. Spending time apart can make the time together more valuable if channels of communication remain open.
Mary Dooley Burns has identified the 5 R’s of family change during separation: roles, rules, relationships, routines, and recreation and celebration. Sometimes these changes are enjoyable or helpful to the family members who are left behind. Some changes may make the transition of reunion more difficult.
Burns encourages families to work together to identify the changes, then evaluate them when the absent family member returns home. Potential problems can be identified and prevented before the next separation. Following are some examples and suggestions that may be helpful during a family discussion.
How do the jobs and responsibilities change when one person is away? How do they change when the person returns? How are these changes helpful (or unhelpful) to the family members who are still at home?
Do the rules stay the same or are they more lenient or strict when one person is away?
How do relationships with relatives, friends, and even family members change when one person is absent?
Do daily activities continue at the regular pace or are special arrangements needed to fill the gaps of the absent person? What other changes are made in the day to day happenings of the family?
Recreation and Celebration
Does the family put events on hold until the person returns, or continue events without the family member? Planning ahead can help the family decide which way to proceed.
Which of these changes seem to create tension or difficulty when the absent person returns? During a time of family conversation, select one area of concern to work on. Decide how to make changes that are helpful to all family members and that continue to work when the family is reunited. Talking out concerns or problems may be the first step to strengthening your family during these transitional times.
Strategies for Staying in Touch
Below are some additional ideas that come from military sources. Because separation, reunion, and transitional times are more common in that occupation, much research has been conducted for their families. These ideas can be used for anyone as they travel. See which ones you might like to try:
- Plan in advance how you will most likely be communicating. Make a date for phone calls. Talk about sending letters and pictures and be sure to follow through. Take a tape recorder and send tapes to children. Young children will be able to communicate through tape much better than through letters.
- Write regularly! Frequent short notes are much better than occasional long letters. Choose a schedule and do your best to stick to it.
- Write to each person separately. This will help them realize that you value them as individuals (especially important with children).
- Before you leave, tape several stories or songs for children and special poems or messages for your other family members. In letters or phone conversations, reveal where you have left these tapes, so that they can have a special surprise.
- Take pictures of your daily activities. Remember, what you are doing is very different from the life you left, and what you’re family experiences on a daily basis. Describe your duties and environment. Describe your schedule and how it differs from what everyone else might be doing at the same time “back home.”
- With modern technology, send a fax or e-mail often, just to let your family know you are thinking of them. Make plans for your homecoming.
- Use maps and postcards or photographs to make your destination and return tangible. This is helpful for everyone to visualize where you are, what the time is, what the climate is like, what the food is like, and other important changes in your lifestyle. . * Use a calendar to mark the return date. Make it a special part of the day to cross off another day and remind family members of the homecoming time.
- Plan the homecoming, so that everyone knows what to expect. If travel is a necessary part of your job, begin some family traditions. (Wear a certain color or article of clothing to the airport or bus terminal, prepare a favorite food, etc.)
Research indicates that planning ahead helps to facilitate a successful homecoming. Keeping good communication, a positive attitude, and a strong support system will help to make the transitions of a family member coming and going easier for the whole family.