Head Women's Soccer Coach Brian Rigby's Family Featured in Chicago Tribune
Feb. 7, 2013
By Joan Cary, Special to the Tribune, Feb. 6, 2013
In Amanda Rigby's home in Chicago, Friday night or Saturday is designated family time when checking email is not allowed, and Sunday night is when family sits down together to view commitments and plans for the week ahead. There's a good chance Amanda or her husband, Brian, will be traveling for their job.
At Scott Bussen's home in Milwaukee, his three sons were given a choice when Scott's employer, MillerCoors, moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2009. The family could move to Chicago or accept that dad's 90-minute train ride to work and home would mean he couldn't be at all of their evening activities anymore. They chose to stay in Milwaukee.
While more parents are working from home, others have to spend long hours and days away from their families because of their jobs. They commute long distances to work, travel out of town and even spend Mondays through Fridays in other cities before coming home on weekends.
Simona Cirio of the Family Institute at Northwestern University said she often hears about the sacrifices families are making for the job, and although most families manage, it isn't easy.
"Working it out takes some discipline, skills and intention," said Cirio. "Stressful situations in the family don't just fix themselves."
Amanda Rigby, a forensic advisory services partner at KPMG in Chicago, is away on business in the U.S. or abroad 30 to 50 percent of the time. Her husband, a soccer coach, also travels for work some weekends. It's the only life their 9-year-old daughter, Remy, has ever known, she said.
"The key for me is communication," Amanda Rigby said.
The Rigbys use Skype and Facetime to talk daily when one parent is traveling. Remy shares homework with her mom through Skype and likes for her mom to talk to the dog through Skype as well.
"I'm not always there in person, but I certainly feel a part of her life," Amanda said. "I call and talk to my husband and daughter every night, and I don't feel like my day's complete unless I've talked to them. Technology has made a big difference."
Every Sunday family members watch "The Amazing Race" on TV, whether they are together or miles apart.
"It doesn't matter where we are," Amanda said. "At the beginning of each season we pick a team we cheer for, and the Internet streams it everywhere."
For other parents, being away doesn't mean cross-country or international travel. It means regularly leaving before the kids are awake and coming home after most of the day's activities are over.
The combination of an insecure job market and slow housing market has caused more people to tolerate long commutes and to think twice about uprooting for a job, said Hani Mahmassani, a Northwestern professor and director of Northwestern's Transportation Center in Evanston.
Mahmassani said surveys show the national average commute is 20 to 22 minutes each way, but people like Scott Bussen spend a lot more time in transit.
Bussen, manager of marketing communications for MillerCoors, leaves home in Milwaukee before 6 a.m. and gets home about 7 p.m. The father of three boys ages 11, 13 and 15, Bussen uses his 90 minutes on the Amtrak train each way to do additional work, make phone calls and email, so his time at home can be spent with his family.
"The alternative was to uproot my kids from what has become home to them," he said. "The biggest impact is on my wife, Julie. The chauffeur work I was helping her with has become more of a burden on her."
Although he continues to coach his boys' team sports, he has to be upfront about his schedule.
"If they have a 6 p.m. game, I won't be there until 7," he said.
It helps, Bussen and Rigby said, to love what you do and to work for a company that gives employees the flexibility to meet family needs.
Cirio said every family member is affected when one parent is away. The adult at home can feel overworked, tired, stressed and unappreciated. The one who is gone can feel lonely, isolated and left out. Weekends tend to be complex and short as they try to squeeze in family time and chores.
"It's important to be inventive in how you stay connected," Cirio said.
She suggests that parents contact each other frequently with brief updates. Instead of a one-hour conversation when you are tired at the end of the day, try to work in five five-minute updates by email, text or phone so there will be no surprising news at the time of re-entry, she said.
It is important for the traveling spouse to acknowledge and appreciate the other's increased load at home, and for the at-home parent to tell the traveler that they are missed.
"Don't wait for each other with a wish list of things to do," she said. "Take that moment when you first see each other to acknowledge that you miss each other and you're glad you are back together."
Out-of-town parents should also be aware that being home is not just about recharging and resting. Parenting and problem solving has to be done on the weekend as well, she said.
At the Hecker home in Glen Ellyn, family members are glad that dad Paul no longer has to live in Michigan from Monday through Friday for his information technology job. His current commute still means long days away from home, but they're happy he comes home at night.
Hecker commutes an hour or more each way to and from the north suburbs. His wife, Rebecca, also works full time. Their children are 11 and 14.
When Paul worked in Michigan for several months, he would leave on an early Monday flight and come back late on Friday.
"It was stressful," he recalls. "I couldn't help with homework, fix dinner, put kids to bed, get them up. They responded OK. They're kids. There were things they had to miss out on because there was no way to get them to places. It was hard on my wife, hard on all of us."
Now he is home at night, but they face different issues.
"I'm here, but I'm not here," said Hecker. "I still can't make a lot of functions. Sometimes things just don't happen. But I know a lot of people are worse off, and I should be happy with what I have. "
Cirio said parents should not dismiss a child's lament about missing a parent who works out of town. Even teens have commented in counseling how they wish their mom or dad was around more, she said.
She suggests that kids send their traveling parent a quick summary of their day so mom or dad are not starting from scratch when they get home. Both, she said, will feel better connected.