When my daddy isn’t there...

Studies take dad blogger Pierre away from home every other week, which means his young daughters see less of him. Here, he shares his best tips for how a parent can make this kind of upheaval easier on young children.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Sketches of a dad taking a selfie with a stuffed animal in a subway station and two cell phones sporting identical, heart-shaped stickers.
One of Luna’s stuffed animals keeps dad company every other week, and she puts loving stickers on his cell phone.
Photo: monpapa.fr

I’m lucky to be living in a small town where family life isn’t disrupted by distances, and the simple life is the good life. Every night I come home early enough to spend time with each of my princesses – read them stories, play, or simply cuddle and watch them grow. I feel like I’m really present in their daily lives.

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Since September, though, our routine has changed. I resumed my studies in a work-study program to acquire new skills in my field, which means I’m at my usual workplace one week and studying in the Toulouse region the next – a 2½ hour drive from my family.

At the beginning it took her a few minutes to recognize me.

This change has upset the entire family structure and in particular has affected my relationship with my daughters. Luna, who’s four, is having a hard time accepting that she only sees her daddy every other week.

At just seven months, Maëlie doesn’t really understand the situation yet, even though at the beginning it took her a few minutes to recognize me when I came home late on a Friday evening (although I admit the dark circles under my eyes didn’t help).

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few tips to make things a little easier:

Four tips for parents with weekly commutes

1. Prepare your child for your departure by reading picture books based on this theme. This helps them identify with different heroes and understand that they aren’t the only one in this situation. It also de-dramatizes your departure and helps them look forward to your return even more!

I recommend the excellent “When Daddy Isn’t There” by Joris Chamblain and Lucile Thibaudier, a story about a family of foxes. It’s effective in its use of language and superb illustrations, and of course father fox comes home every weekend!

2. Use a calendar to anticipate and visualize the month. We’ve hung a calendar up in Luna’s room that shows the current month. The periods when I’m not at home are colored yellow. This helps her track the passing of time, and she can use the calendar to count how many sleeps are left until her daddy comes home.

If you see a dad taking a selfie with a big, stuffed rabbit in the subway, don’t laugh.

3. Keep in touch. A telephone call every day at the same time is a reassuring ritual that can be integrated into the evening activities. I’ve also fallen into the habit of asking Luna if I can take one of her toys with me to be part of the weekly adventure. That’s why I tend to take a lot of pictures of a toy – on the train, in the subway, at the waterfront, in the lecture room, etc… 

I try to avoid lugging around the really big stuffed animals, but if you see a dad taking a selfie with a huge, stuffed rabbit in the subway, don’t laugh – it might be me!

4. Talk about the highlights of their day. We make sure Luna enjoys plenty of fun activities with her mom, sister and grandparents when I’m not there, so that we’ll have something to talk about each evening: eating pancakes (although I admit I prefer to be there eating them with her), going for a walk in the park, a beautiful drawing, doing some painting… so many little positive moments to tell me about because otherwise, at the age of four, you’re not always sure what to say on the phone.

Get 5 tips for family outing with kids

As with any change in routine, it often takes time to settle into new habits. Such a big upheaval in everyday life isn’t easy, either for me or my family, but we’re managing and we’re always on the lookout for practical advice to improve the situation.

I admire families who live like this on a daily basis because it’s a challenge to juggle everything. Fortunately for me it’s temporary, and in 18 months we’ll be back to our usual routine. Meanwhile, as Luna would say, bring on Friday when Daddy comes back!

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Daddy blogger and illustrator Pierre Bel, who offers some good advice for new parents, draws together with his daughter.
Photo: monpapa.fr

Pierre Bel

Lives: Saint-Céré, in the French countryside
Work: runs the blog monpapa.fr in which he shares his stories about family life
Family: married with two children, Luna and Maëlie

Read all articles by dad blogger monpapa on This is Life