Spouse working away from family. How does this work?
March 27, 2013 12:10 PM   Subscribe

As you can see from my past posting my husband lost his job last month. In the meantime the jobs he's qualified for are probably not in our area (CT). Chances are after talking to recruiters in his specialty, he will have to take a job in another part of the country - probably south/southwest.

We are not in the position to move, partly because our kids (all in high school/one in college) and while we have equity in our house, it would still take a while to sell due to its remote location. I think we can do this with the thought it would not be forever. Most likely just for 3 years or so. I assume he would come back on weekends every week or every other week. Our question is how do you broach this with a potential employer? Do you say right up front he's willing to travel but not relocate or should he wait until he gets a concrete offer? Does he try to negotiate the travel bit in his package or just see what's offered? And if you or your family has done this, what was the thing that really made it great (or awful)? How bad were travel expenses?
posted by lasamana to Work & Money (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He will likely need to discuss it during the interview process. The person hiring will have some clear expectations about how that's going to work. For instance, is he expected to travel Sunday to be at the office on Monday morning? What about Friday afternoon? (I speak as someone who was consultant and was accustomed to doing the work week away from home. It's harder than it looks.) Another pitfall is what happens if his boss leaves? You want to be specific in the offer with regard to hours.

Also, it's unlikely that someone will reimburse him for travel to his primary office location. Many people drive an hour each day to commute to work - they don't get reimbursed for the time or costs. You may get lucky here, but I wouldn't expect it.
posted by 26.2 at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our young family did this for 2 months this fall and it was pretty bad. My husband did the every other week thing and in addition to me feeling like a single parent the travel was really hard on him too. I would really consider everyone moving together as soon as possible.
posted by saradarlin at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I travel for work every week and with a bunch of guys with families. They've always lived that way so I think it's ok for them. It's consulting so nobody pays out of their own pocket, and nobody. Our travel expenses are about $5,000 a month, but that's eating out every meal, staying in hotels, etc. You could do a lot less than this, (I would suggest looking at every other week at the least).

Your expenses (say if he rents an apartment) would be:

-Food: $20 a day min
-Flights: $350-$500
-Transportation to/from airport (i.e. Parking): 30
-Apartment/house: $200 a week

So you're looking at least $2,000 a month. He could potentially deduct that from his taxes, but that's $24,000 a year in extra expenses. Hope it's a great job.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I know it's not desirable to move with kids in high school, but I think you have to be honest with yourself about whether it's worse than having your spouse either work on the other side of the country or continue to be unemployed. Lots of people with HS-age kids move, and they survive. I've known people who have had arrangements where they work far away from home, and I have never seen a case where it didn't put immense strain on their relationship and home life. Not to say it can't be done without trouble, but it is very difficult to do.

In other words, none of your options is ideal. So I don't think you should be dismissing any of them, including moving, out of hand.
posted by primethyme at 12:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]

My dad did this for 6 months when I was in grade 10, honestly it was awful for everyone. It didn't work out in our case because of the geographic distances involved (think remote parts of Canada) and the fact that it was way too much stress for my mom. We end up moving south when I entered grade 11. It felt pretty awful for myself at the time, but turned out to be a good decision in hindsight with better access (not a 3 day drive!!!) to my extended family, healthcare access, and better extracurricular activities.

YMMV, I know other families who have done this for years and it works for them. I think it has a lot to do with how much responsibility you are willing to take on. For my mom, she suddenly went to essentially being a single parent keeping track of my 2 brothers and I, and in the end it was too much for her stress and logistic wise.
posted by snowysoul at 12:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first marriage had a three year stint as an LDR. Notice that all of this is past tense. We took turns flying across the country to see each other, every week or every other week. Daily phone calls. It sucked so massively hard that words do not begin to describe how awful it was, and we had no children. That relationship had other problems, but I would not ever do that again. Ever. Especially with children in the equation, no, just no.

Your kids in high school can adjust to a new high school. It's not ideal but it is not the end of the world. Your kid in college does not need you to be close by. Really.

If selling the house is the problem, could you rent it? Would the rent cover the mortgage + property taxes, or reasonably close? Then you can rent a place in your new location, and if things don't work out, there is a fallback position.

If you personally are unwilling to move, that's understandable, but you might want to consider how reasonable that position is.
posted by ambrosia at 12:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

> if you or your family has done this, what was the thing that really made it great (or awful)?

I've known a few families where the husband/father was a fisherman in Alaska while the wife/mother stayed here in Washington State. My impression is that what makes it bearable is a) the money b) strong support systems for the mom if she's doing solo parenting c) long periods where the father is back home with the family and not working so he can get reinvolved with school, sports, church, social life, etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As a consultant, I flew out Mondays, back most Thursdays, company paid for travel, no issues at all in the marriage because we saw each other every weekend. Company was paying for my housing at the client as well so no money issues.

Later, I was offered a job in a new place and husband couldn't move for a year. Totally different situation: I asked to work a modified schedule (during interviews) so I could take off every other Friday without using vacation and they were ok with it... for a while. It was more expensive than expected. We budgeted for the two households but we each spent more money on going out than expected to be social and entertained apart. We occasionally needed to pay for convenience- like doggy day care one day a week so I could catch up on missed sleep, work a long day, etc. Incidental costs from traveling snuck up on us and different times of the year were far more expensive.... Not to mention, the money for marriage counseling (see below).

Why it was so awful outside of money: Though we trusted each other completely, we both got depressed, exhausted, and wondered if our marriage was worth it. It was hard to enjoy each other's friends when we did see each other- often only once a month - because we didn't get the inside jokes. We had unrealistic expectations about how to instantly be intimate with each other again (in all aspects of the word "intimate"). We both wanted to arrive at the other's place and find it clean and feel homey which added pressure to prep things mid-week while juggling life stuff. Also, when we got together, we often had to deal with mundane stuff - taxes, planning family trips, etc. and not just enjoy each other. And there were no "fun" vacations - only visiting each other and family trips.

It was the worst period of our marriage and 8 months into this arrangement, we were in counseling because we were forming our own lives in different places and growing apart and resentful. When we got back together, things improved immediately but we would have divorced if it hadn't been for just a year. I'd never do it again. I'd never recommend anyone else do it.

If you can budget for frequent traveling, try it. If it doesn't work, he could quit or you could rent your house. It was a horror for a year and I couldn't imagine three years.
posted by adorap0621 at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

I've seen a lot of marriages break up over this. Like a ton. The only way it works is if the stay at home spouse is willing and able to take on 100% of the work associated with the family and marital home.
posted by fshgrl at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My father was USAF and then a defense contractor. I went to 4 schools over my high school years. "The kids are on high school" is really not a reason to not move. Teenagers will adapt. They may mope and whine while they do it, but they'll get over it.

Military families go through this sort of thing a lot. However, it is part of the deal going in, and not a drastic change 20 years into a relationship. Also, there is usually a solid support structure in place for the spouse, with lots of people around who have gone through the same thing. It doesn't sound like you'll have that.

If your husband's vocation is in demand in the South I would think he could negotiate a decent relocation package. It's not completely unusual for the new company to pick up your selling costs on the house. So you'll make a little money and you can rent at the new locale for a year to make sure you are going to stay before investing in real estate again.
posted by COD at 1:16 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]

We did it for 3 years and survived intact. The distance was much much shorter though and allowed for every weekend visits without a flight.

For our family, it was my husband who was the one living apart, who suffered the most. With 2 young kids and a full time job, i was busy all the time and our lives could continue on with day to day activities just like they always had. We missed him but had some normalcy. He did not and took it personally that we didn't struggle more without him.

Also, I think we felt pressure to make the time we had together special, which is good and bad. Sometimes we swept over problems because we didn't want to spend the small amount of time we had fighting. Not good.

It did make us appreciate a normal in the same house family life though.
posted by domino at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

One option you might not have thought of-do you have relatives or family friends whom your HS kids could stay with while they finish up?

My thought is that if I had a high school freshman I wouldn't hesitate to move. I'd stay for a senior. In between would be negotiable.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the kids will be OK if you move. They'll be unhappy, but they'll deal. I think your bigger problem is going to be deciding what to do with the house, but talk to a real estate agent (or several) and you might be pleasantly surprised. The market is coming back.
posted by elizeh at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it really matters how reliable this recruiter's advice is. If he ABSOLUTELY has to move, then it makes sense to uproot the whole family. If there is any other alternative, then maybe not. Perhaps post an anonymous question with the details of his career path and field and see if anyone else can find other alternatives nearer you?
posted by 3491again at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I did this for two school years (Sept 2003 - June 2005) between Portland and California. I traveled to CA one weekend a month and my partner traveled to PDX one weekend a month. The teenager was her son -- I entered his life when he was 15 -- which is a different situation I think than if you have been in your kids lives from the start.

It was hard. Even though the flight time was only 2 hrs, there was the TSA delays and then the driving to and from the airport which was 2 hrs. We did break up 3 years later but I think that was for other reasons.

I cannot imagine trying to keep a full time job and do coast-to-coast travel every weekend. I can maybe see doing this if you are in the SE, but not in the SW -- especially if you are not located at an airline's hub.
posted by elmay at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

BTW, consulting isn't a perfect comparison. Consultants have some advantages that your husband will not have:

- For consultants, the travel - flights, cabs, rental cars, food, hotel, dry cleaning - is paid. Your husband will likely be out of pocket.
- Consultants have a support network. Generally, you're not the only consultant at a client site. You have people with whom you go out to dinner most nights or commiserate about missing home. Your husband will not have a similar network.
- The relationship with the consultant/client is short-term. Even though they are paying you, they know that your home/life is somewhere else. If you have demands at home, you can usually work something out to get home.

Also, about that remote location. Do you mean far from an airport? When I was in consulting nearly everyone lived close to a big airport. (Late flights, Winter roads, connecting flights...being far from a hub airport makes everything worse.)

What you're proposing is hard, but it's not completely horrible. I still travel for work, but usually only 1 or 2 days a week. These days, I try very hard to never be gone longer than 2 consecutive nights. If the flight is less than 90 minutes, I usually go out and back on the same day. I actually like having quiet time on a plane to do some thinking.

You want to go into this with open eyes and alternatives. If it doesn't work out would you then sell the house?
posted by 26.2 at 2:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

My dad did this for a few years when my parents were married. He is now happily married to the lady who ran the guest house he stayed in while working. This is an extreme example and my parents' marriage was in a terrible state to start with but don't underestimate how tough this will be for the whole family. You as effectively a single parent, your husband as someone who never stays anywhere for more than four nights, is constantly living out of a bag and may feel isolated from his family and have to work much harder to stay involved with the kids lives and the kids who will be seeing much less of their father and also exposed (consciously or not) to the stresses all this puts on you, your husband and the family life.

My husband and I did several variations on long distance before we got married. Things that were helpful included keeping in touch via instant messaging, keeping spares of various things in both places to ease the transition and finding ways to lengthen the weekend as long as possible. We were fortunate that neither of us was jealous and both fairly independent, but even so there are still times when it sucks to be functionally single if everyone else is part of a couple.
posted by *becca* at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I very much doubt an employer would be willing to pay for trips back home: that's not a work-related expense, that's a *personal* expense. It's a rare employer who would choose to pay for those home trips in addition to a competitive salary; insisting they pay would probably mean they hire someone else..... not good.

Honestly? The best plan is to simply move the family to the job and rent out your Connecticut house. It's not going to kill your high schoolers to change schools --- I was a Navy brat, and if I recall correctly, I went to 16? 17? schools before I graduated HS: your kids might not be happy about moving and changing schools, but trust me, they'll survive. I'm assuming your collage student lives in the dorms, so there's no need to worry about that kid, because they've already grown up and moved out.

Go into it with the attitude that it's all an adventure, because otherwise, if you start out treating it as a hardship, everyone is *guarenteed* to be miserable.
posted by easily confused at 4:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your answers. One of the reasons we decided not to move our kids is that one is a senior, one is a junior and one is a freshman and to complicate matters our son in college is at a state school with a resident tuition. The tuition alone was one reason we thought to stay local. The senior and junior are very opposed to moving and I am sympathetic. We are familiar with military families and they tend to move as a group and have support. We have moved before, some time ago, and corporate moves are not as supportive to the family, I thought.

From your answers I can see that this is not going to be as easy as we hoped. We do live close to Bradley but could do Logan or Providence as well as far as airports go. Perhaps just look at the south and not any west coast/southwest positions. I guess we need to rethink this.
posted by lasamana at 4:59 PM on March 27, 2013

Response by poster: Go into it with the attitude that it's all an adventure, because otherwise, if you start out treating it as a hardship, everyone is *guarenteed* to be miserable.

I think easily confused that pretty much sums it up.
posted by lasamana at 5:00 PM on March 27, 2013

Your college kid *is* a resident. S/he won't lose his/her residential status just because you move, I think, so long as they stay in-state for some minimum number of months. I might be naive, but it's worth calling the admissions dept. to get a thumbs up/down.
posted by smirkette at 6:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Residency for college students is tricky. Sometimes being out of the state for all/most breaks (i.e. to visit you) can be problematic, but, other schools will automatically grant residency if the student went to 4 years of high school in a given state. So, definitely best to call the school and figure out the specific details.
posted by rainbowbrite at 6:10 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

The school I work at automatically grants residency if your kid was in school in this state for all of high school. If your kid has his legal residence in your state still (has his ID registered there, has his "permanent"/mailing address there), I would think he's okay even if you move. The one major problem I would see there is if your kid is living in dorms/at home right now, because he then probably needs to get some other housing officially. But yeah, contact the school's residence deputies to check on this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:25 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sorry about typo, isn't correcting...
posted by keasby at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2013

I'm doing this right now and it sucks. Visiting once a month has actually been visit once a year. Don't do it.
posted by roboton666 at 7:49 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have one son in school as a senior, he's going to graduate (and qualify for residency, most likely) before you move. Traveling home would be more difficult, but that may or may not be a bad thing for a new college student. I wouldn't worry about him.

(Your husband needs to find a job, and then start there. Probably 2 weeks. And then you need to sell the house and arrange for packing/moving everything. That will probably take at least a month or two. We're already at the end of March. I can't imagine that school goes on until much longer than end of May.)
posted by ethidda at 9:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

My dad worked overseas when I was small and we did ok, but the money was really good and the company allowed lots of vacation for homesick employees. Even so my mom couldn't stand it more than two years and took me out there to be with him. My teenage siblings stayed with my grandparents and got into a fair amount of trouble which had repercussions for them later.

Sounds like your college kid will be ok. You HS kids won't like it, but they would like two miserable parents much less. They will survive moving, your marriage might not survive if you don't. Having a house on the market is cheaper than years of two households and plane trips.
posted by emjaybee at 9:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I moved three times for my Dad's job in years - before 7th, 9th and 12th grades. The 7th and 9th grade moves were the toughest - middle school is never fun and I was pretty shy and awkward. With the move before my senior year, I actually had an offer to stay and graduate at my old school but my parents wouldn't allow it. In the end it was the right decision - I went into the new school with a devil-may-care attitude and actually had a pretty awesome senior year - I didn't worry about what people might think and it made me much more outgoing. Best move of the three, in fact.

I think you may be underestimating how tough this will be on your family - two of our moves were preceded by an entire year of just what you're proposing because the house just would not sell. It was very difficult for my mom - trying to keep a house in perfect showcase order with just kids for help. Tough on my dad, too - he missed us a lot. And there's no built-in support in the community like there is for military families or fishermen, etc.

Another thing to consider is his prospective job and how they'll view it - if he gets a job that's supposed to be stationary (i.e. not a consulting gig with traveling built in), they'll be expecting him to relocate. We had a very high-profile long-distance failure with a dean of a school at my old university. She didn't want to move her 9th grade daughter, so daughter and Dad stayed in the old city. In the end, she stepped down and the scuttlebutt was that the 4-day weeks and the divided attention had really interfered with her work. Now this is a more high-profile position and one expected to be out there representing the school and university, but I think it might make his employers unhappy as well.
posted by clerestory at 9:47 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am a consultant, so all my expenses are covered (~ $5000/month, btw). I'm currently working on the east coast while my partner and I live on the west coast. I go home every other weekend. It's working out okay for us, though it's not ideal. I absolutely would not do this if I had children, at least not for any significant length of time. It's hard enough being away from my amazing, supportive partner who does take care of *all* of the household responsibilities. I can't imagine trying to catch up with my partner and my children for 2 days every 2 weeks.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:11 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

In CT, there will be large portions of the winter when visiting for a weekend will be very difficult, because he'll always have the threat of not being able to make it to work if it snows at the wrong time.
posted by anaelith at 3:31 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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