Physically Absent, Emotionally Present

It can be hard to stay in touch with partner and kids when travelling for work. What can you do? And how can the Non-Travelling Partner help?

Dr. Ken Canfield is founder and president of the National Center for Fathering – a non-profit education and research centre dedicated to inspiring and equipping men to be responsible fathers.

From his years of research, he developed the programme ‘I CAN’, which stands for ‘Involvement, Consistency, Awareness, and Nurturing’. It is a great model, as it gives ideas for how the non-travelling partner can help as well. This kind of two-sided approach is key to creating a healthy and whole connection as family and between all members.

Involvement – requires intentionality, it is a decision to be active in your children’s lives. Both parents, including the travelling partner, are interested in what the children are doing, and do what they can to be included in their activities and interests.

Consistency – is essential despite a lifestyle of travel. ‘Be regular and predictable in your emotions, your schedule, and in keeping promises’, Canfield explains. This builds trust between the children and the parents, key to maintaining connection. Therapist Dr. Pauline Boss is an expert in the field of ambiguous loss. In an interview on ambiguous loss in the life of an orphan spouse, she too puts forward the importance of continuity. ‘Continuity is key. The children need predictability and continuity.[1]’ When family life involves a travelling parent, this might look like regular times to call the kids, or always structuring the calls in the same way.

Awareness – means keeping informed on what’s going on with the family. In this expat lifestyle, often logistics can take over, and long hours or time differences can increase the difficulty of staying up to date. Even small things like in-jokes, a lost tooth, are key. One idea to help this is to keep a running list of news, either to create an update email or as topics to talk about on the phone. Canfield suggests getting feedback as often as you can about your children. Talk to teachers and coaches and keep track of each child’s individual needs and concerns.

Nurturing – is essential, even from a distance. A great tool to learn how best to do this is discovering your child’s love languages, how the give and receive love. Make sure you physically nurture them when you’re with them, but also do it verbally as often as you can, or by leaving them handwritten notes for examples. Instead of being lavish with new toys or other gifts, shower them with displays and words of affection. Affirm your kids for who they are and for what they were created to be. Always remember that it is the responsibility of the travelling parent to figure out how to show love to the kids.

Using the ICAN model can really help travelling parents stay connected with the kids, and your family will be all the stronger for it. I hope this post was helpful, I would love to hear how you get on with it!


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