Are there 4-year-old air warriors?
November 15, 2010 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Would a weekly long-distance commute be good or bad for my 4-year-old?

How is the plan I am considering likely to impact my child? What could help make this doable?

Plan I'm considering:
Work 4 days a week in Pakistan, travel back to UAE every weekend. Do this with 4 year old child in tow. The flight is 3 hours. With check-in time, etc., make it 5 hrs each way.

Things you're probably wondering about:
- Family support setup in Pakistan is solid.
- One big emotional plus for child is that this way there will be time spent every week with grandma, aunts, uncles, who are MUCH missed since moving away from them a year and a half ago.
- Husband works alternating 5-day and 6-day work weeks, so he can't be the commuter.
- Should be able to make arrangements with school for child to be there only 4 days/wk.
- We're wouldn't be doing this for the money. In terms of finances, if the job in Pakistan offsets all of the costs associated with changing our setup this way, I'd be satisfied.
- I am reading various sources about commuter marriages including this AskMe about a mom wanting to work far away, so am not looking for general advice about them. This question is specifically about my child's best interest. There may be another question specifically about commuter marriages at some later point.

To work in Pakistan on a regular basis while my husband continues to work in the UAE, while maximizing the amount of time the family can spend together.

I would particularly appreciate insight from people who have actually tried this.

Bonus: I can't figure out how to search for this on google. Have tried "commuter marriage" "commuting with kids." Are there search terms that are likely to be more productive?
posted by bardophile to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Aaugh. For all my careful previewing, I forgot to add that child has been a good flier on this trip in the past, and on other short flights.
posted by bardophile at 9:59 AM on November 15, 2010

So, basically, you and your child would essentially live in Pakistan and go to the Emirates each weekend to visit daddy?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:00 AM on November 15, 2010

What other benefits do you get from working in Pakistan? Would the work make you happy?
posted by amtho at 10:09 AM on November 15, 2010

A lot of academic couples end up doing something like this for at least some period of time - you could search for "two body problem", which is the joke name for this problem among academics.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2010

I was your kid. I wasn't flying weekly, but I was, at least once or twice a month, flying between the Marshall Islands and either Pennsylvania or Hawaii. This was while I was in third grade, so I was probably around 8. For me, it was about as annoying as being dragged shopping with my mom, which is to say that I got restless during the trip, but tolerated it fine once it was over.

Talk to your kid and see if the child is fine with it. I warn you, though, at some point the child isn't going to want to fly to UAE, or perhaps worse, not come back to Pakistan with you. Be ready for this. One month when I didn't want to go to Hawaii, my mom arranged for a neighbor to watch me. I really appreciated that. So you may want to consider, when it doesn't conflict with school, letting the child stay in UAE a week once in a while
posted by bfranklin at 10:19 AM on November 15, 2010

Seems fine to me. Your kid will become great at getting though airports and entertaining him or herself quietly, both essential life skills. Children are adaptable and can get used to pretty much anything. Really, it seems like this would be harder on you than anyone else, since you'd be doing the escorting and managing.

Some thoughts: Has the child flown much before? At that age, the changes in air pressure caused my ears to hurt terrible on airplanes. If this is an issue, then of course this much flying could be traumatic. Second, you should consider buying the kid a portable dvd player, for your sanity.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:19 AM on November 15, 2010

It doesn't seem necessarily like a bad or a good idea; the only things I'd consider are:

* possible illness. If your kid gets ill and can't fly, is that okay or will that mess up too many things?

* as your child gets older, they may want to be at home with their friends (and the school may not be okay with this arrangement as the work gets harder).
posted by dzaz at 10:25 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I spent four hours each way on a train every weekend of my life starting at age 4 to roughly age 15. I went to school in Milan every week and went back to my hometown in the Dolomites every weekend. My extended family lived there, my friends lived there, my pets lived there, I felt like coming home.

Two things came of it:

1) I hate Milan, but that was unavoidable.
2) I developed a love of reading that bordered on the fanatical. It is surprising how many books one can go through reading 8 hours a week.

If it means bringing your child "home" for part of the week, it's worth it. Be ready for the questions and demands and tantrums once your child is able to express a strong, logical preference for Pakistan or the UAE.
posted by lydhre at 10:27 AM on November 15, 2010

bluedaisy: Yes, exactly.
amtho: There are lots of benefits. For one, the work would yes, make me happy. For another, I like life in Pakistan a lot more than life in the Emirates. If it weren't for the fact that I love my husband dearly and that I think dad, kid, and I wouldn't be able to cope with longer separations from each other, I might have moved back with child a while ago.
posted by bardophile at 10:34 AM on November 15, 2010

I'd be less concerned about the travel itself and more about the stresses involved for the kid in trying to split his existence between two separate households, with two casts of characters and in two completely different places, each week. How much impact this loss of consistency has will probably depend a lot on your kid's temperament and the details of the respective living situations in Pakistan and UAE. How does your child handle novelty and transitions, for instance? Does he/she currently get a lot of facetime with Daddy that might be missed while living in a different place? Will the resources be there to maintain Skype/phone contact with the absent caregivers during stints in the opposite country?

At a minimum, I'd say try to do your utmost to make sure there's as much held constant as possible between the kid's life in Pakistan and in UAE-- that is, try to keep the same schedule, the same rules, do many of the same activities, maintain contact (whether virtual or real) with the same people, and so forth. Four is still fairly young, and while he'll doubtless adapt, it's probably worth putting effort into maintaining whatever other structure you can to compensate for this one very large weekly disruption.
posted by Bardolph at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2010

Fortnightly in one direction or the other? Maybe. Not weekly. dzaz has a point about illness - kids do get ill, annoyed, you name it - and any one of those things could either throw off your schedule or at least make for a more frustrating trip.

Check out the roadwarrior threads on Flyertalk. Unless you've done this much travel before, it will grow tiring fast and you may be the one who doesn't necessarily want to fly every week, even if your child does (especially if they're getting lots of great family time in Pakistan).

A three hour trip, plus check in, getting to and from the airport, inevitable delays etc can quickly eat up a day (I have long stretches of traveling weekly - I know this all too well). Are you sure you want to do that every single week?
posted by wingless_angel at 10:38 AM on November 15, 2010

Bardophile, this might not be the direction you want to go, but is it possible that you guys can go every other weekend instead, or maybe 3/4 weekends each month? Will you still go on weekends when spouse is working 6-day weeks? What about playdates with friends and other activities for your child: his/her life will be in Pakistan, and will she/he really want to leave? What about birthday parties that will be missed? This will become a bigger deal once kindergarten starts (and there might be less flexibility for the 4-day week then).

In any case, I wonder if once in a while (once a month?), spouse can come visit you all in Pakistan, especially on those 5-day weeks.

I was once an expat, and it seemed in situations like yours, like it was typically mom and child who got to stay put, and dad who had to travel. Maybe you can make some sort of compromise? In any case, though, I think if you and child will be happier in Pakistan, then it's okay to do this. You can always re-evaluate down the road.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:48 AM on November 15, 2010

On illness: If child couldn't fly back from the UAE on time, it would mean I would have to take time off work, which is the same kind of hassle as taking sick days when your kid is sick. If child couldn't fly from Pakistan, that would mean not seeing dad one weekend.

I guess I'm thinking that having a weekly schedule is less disruptive than a fortnightly one. "On Thursdays we fly to the UAE to spend Friday and Saturday with Dad. On Sundays we fly to Pakistan. Mon-Thurs we go to school." Or something like that. I'd appreciate conflicting anecdata.
posted by bardophile at 10:50 AM on November 15, 2010

I'm going to throw my 2 cents in . . . I travel with my kids a few times a year, so I can't really give any information on traveling one a weekly/schedule basis. I'm sure you're well aware of how exhausting travel is - not that you both won't somewhat acclimate. I'm fairly sure I'm much less adventurous than you are, but I cannot fathom doing this on a weekly basis with my four year old. You'll travel to the UAE and once you're settled, it's time to leave. And then you'll repeat that each week without ever getting your feet under you.

I understand your (and your child's) need for consistency and a schedule. But a weekly trip seems like a lot of upheaval even if it is a consistent upheaval.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:29 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kids are highly adaptable, but this really does sound quite physically tiring for both of you.

Me, I would advise to aim for fortnights instead of weekly. Seems like it would easier on the extended family; easier on the child, who otherwise misses out on everything that is weekend-only in Pakistan; and easier on you, who otherwise goes without any days for yourself.

Perhaps you could arrange things to take 3-day weekends in UAE on husband's 5-day work weeks, to maximize the quality time.
posted by desuetude at 9:33 PM on November 15, 2010

I've done this by car (4 hr trip (and 4 back) every weekend for 1 yr). And partially flight, but only once a month for another year. And now we travel by air about 6-8 times a year so it still works for us

if you can reduce the hassels of getting to and from the airport (and if I know the UAE & Pakistan this will be easy) this can work pretty well. The car survival games were quite different from the flight so I'll stick to flight here:

Children adapt to whatever you place in front of them. There are vast amounts of ways to make this interesting. Most kids love counting and observation games, these can become more sophisticated over time. One of my son's favorite ones about guessing nationality from clothing & appearance (without staring) eventually developed into guessing the languages you overheard as you passed a group of people. We developed these into Spy games, so we had to act very naturally and be as unobtrusive as possible. No-one should notice us but we would notice everything.

We also focussed on excercise as sometimes, especially when there are flight delays there can be a lot of down-time so I bought us pedometers and we would walk around until we got to a certain number (again he loves numbers!) We then devised various activities using the stairs, seats etc., to use other muscle groups. Again we'd make this into a game so either it would look like we were excercising or we had to make it look like we were just moving around doing the occassional odd thing. It gave us quite a few giggles.

The most important thing about this was I wasn't working or trying to work during the exact travel time even if that was a substantial number of hours. A few times I took work with me and that worked too, in the sense that he got to entertain himself, learn to get himself out of boredom which is an essential coping skill for any kid, but it was vital that we first had lots of time to practice games & techniques that he could later do alone. I soon found that I enjoyed the time with him so much that I avoided bring work as often as I could. We got time to rehearse "scripts" (my son has Asperger's) where asking for a juice from the assistant the first time is quite intimidating but having worked out a few potential scripts with Mum he would try it and feel a real sense of achievement, especially when he was successful in another language.

We got really good at paring away all the annoyances (packing favorite foods or treats/books/games) or simple making up things to do for every eventuality. One very good skill he developed was "What if" and we had a safe enviornment to try out all manner of scenarios. In my experience airports are incredibly safe, YMMV. "What if you came back from the shop and Mum suddenly wasn't there?" "What would you do? Brainstorm time!" (admittedly he was 8 when he started going to the shop to get a magazine on his own. In this way we could broach sometimes quite scary things but because I was introducing them as a game and he knew there were answers if he just tried to think it through.

Later with smartphones and wi-fi I deliberately kept this time for him and about him. It actually became some of the best times we had and he still tells funny stories about it.

We developed a few different ones while in flight but I've already taken up lots of space. Feel free to MeMail me.

It seems from what you describe that in Pakistan they'll be surrounded by the extended family which is fantastic for any kid, while in UAE they'll be with Dad so this could very well be the only 1:2:1 time you'll get. I'd do it again in a heartbeat but I do acknowledge that these flights are longer than the ones we made.
posted by Wilder at 12:24 AM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the thoughtful responses. Right now, I'm only at the initial stages of considering this plan, so I appreciate this food for thought tremendously.

I'm leaning right now towards "let's start out with the intention of traveling every week, but be prepared for the possibility that fortnightly will emerge as the more practical option."

For me, the big question that's emerging is whether, for all three of us, the emotional stress of not seeing Mr bardophile every week will be greater/less than the stress of traveling and switching locations every week. And I realize that's one that no one else can answer for us, really. But thank you for helping me think this through.
posted by bardophile at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2010

Y'know, just another thing to think about. Travel doesn't always go as planned: flights can be delayed (for hours), flights are cancelled, roads are closed, etc.

Here's my anecdata: I was in a yearlong situation where I was driving 4 hours back and forth every other weekend. Get out of work Friday, go home pack up the kids and the car and hit the road. But sometimes there were delays, traffic problems, a kid got a fever halfway through the ride, someone vomited another time, etc. Sometimes the four hour trip took 9 hours.

I would imagine with air travel, the possibilities for veryveryvery long delays are much greater and much more annoying (I was always able to try a detour).
posted by dzaz at 9:45 AM on November 17, 2010

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