How to cope with a spouse who travels for work

Stacie and Chris French and their daughters. Stacie French travels regularly for work as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
(Stacie French)
Chicago Tribune

Chris French readily admits life would be easier if his wife, Stacie, a flight attendant, didn’t travel regularly for work, leaving him with child-rearing plus a full-time job.

“When she is at work, she is gone!” said French, 46, an oil and fuel sales representative. “I’m essentially a single parent, not just for when she’s at work, but typically the day before and day after, as she has to prep, get to sleep extremely early for a very early departure and then she’s exhausted when she gets home.”

But even with the stresses, they have managed to skirt some of the tensions that can derail families with a traveling parent. Strong communication and dedication are key, the couple say.



Stacie French, 51, took seven years off of work when her girls were born. When she returned to her job at Southwest Airlines, she spent many days and nights away. Her husband was often running the house, and Stacie would need to readjust each time she came home.

She said her girls were shellshocked. Having a hands-on dad who was determined to keep the family together helped pull them through, she said.

“It takes someone who really steps up, because that’s what he did,” said Stacie French. “I have to say his commitment has held us together through many struggles, and he’s much better at keeping communication flowing. … He likes to have check-in conversations, just to see where we both are,” she said.

Anisa Zvonkovic, head of the Department of Human Development at Virginia Tech, has researched the effects of work on people for several decades. She said that although there are challenges, there also are potential positives for families with one spouse who travels for work.

“One thing I’ve found in the cases where people are parents, particularly when mothers travel, fathers are much more involved. … They kind of have to be,” Zvonkovic said. “It creates some really strong father-child relationships, which is a good thing.”

The Frenches said some of their positives include a flexible work schedule, and travel and health benefits the airline offers.

“One thing we (flight attendants) all talk about is we get to sleep in today, get to have our toenails polished or (lie) on the beach in Florida,” said French. “And I don’t have to feel guilty about it because I’m not home with my kids anyway.”

The number of Americans who traveled for work increased from 103.2 million in 1990 to 151.4 million in 2009, according to the National Household Travel Survey. The number of women who traveled for work jumped 226 percent from 1969 to 2009, compared with an increase for men during that time of 69 percent.


Molly and Fred Fletcher, both 44 of Atlanta, make sure they communicate regularly about who will handle which home responsibilities while Molly travels for work. Molly is a CEO, motivational speaker and author. The couple have three daughters, a 13-year-old and 12-year-old twins.

“Our relationship is anchored in a tremendous amount of trust and faith, so our ability to have that as the center of our connection is integral,” said Molly Fletcher, 44.

“Molly and I are teammates in life, and one has to remember the big-picture family goals when things get chaotic,” said Fred Fletcher, who sells commercial real estate.

For Joe and Kyra Cavanaugh and their 12-, 15- and 20-year-old sons, work travel has created a strong bond and open lines of communication.


During the first years of their marriage, only Joe Cavanaugh, 54, traveled regularly for work. Four years ago, Kyra Cavanaugh, 50, president of Life Meets Work, began to travel

“It’s really easy when you’re the only one home to be just all-consumed and feel like you’re losing yourself,” said Kyra Cavanaugh. “You have to make sure you take time to have a workout or have a glass of wine with your friends, even if that means they’re coming over to your house when your kids are asleep,” she said.

Cavanaugh said she also has video face time with her 10-year-old and texts her 15-year-old while away, at their request. The couple work from home and keep a regular calendar of events and duties.

“I chuckle sometimes when I hear folks could never travel for business or be away from their family,” said Joe Cavanaugh, a vice president of sales in the natural foods industry. “Some of those same people work all day and night … so who’s missing out in that scenario?”


Janice Neumann is a freelancer.


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