How Economic Realities affect Family Structure and Roles

The economic realities of husbands working away from home have a distinct impact on families. These days it is quite common for largely the father of a household to work in a different geographical area.  As much as it seems to be more “normal” the impact on relationships needs to be noted.

Case study 1

Patti is American. Due to her husband’s work experience and the economic realities back home some years ago her husband chose to work in South Africa. Patti was quite accepting of this for the first year or so. But soon she observed it was having a negative impact on the family structure. As a result she and their two children joined her husband.

The adjustment for everyone was difficult. Her husband had been used to living the life of a bachelor. So he would do as he pleased: come home when he wanted, eat when he wanted, etc. This led to conflict as he was an absent husband and father living in the same house as his family. It took months for them to actively work at strengthening the bonds between the family members again.

Case study 2

For the past 10 years Sandy’s husband only comes home over weekends due to economic realities. They have two children. As a result Sandy has become extremely independent. She functions like a single parent.

At one stage her husband blamed her for making decisions without consulting him. Her reaction is that he is absent so she is the decision maker. She runs her own business too. Logistically it is not always possible to contact her husband. And so she carries most of the responsibility.

Sandy was resentful initially. Her husband was not there to share the responsibility of raising the children. Soon she saw her husband purely as an income generator who lived the life of a bachelor. Over time she realised this situation offered her an enormous gift: she had become independent. Therefore she felt less dependent on her husband emotionally. Something she was pleased about.

Her children found it difficult though to only have a father over weekends. They missed his presence.

The above situation often applies where a husband has his own business. When you work for yourself your mind is seldom off work. The economic realities put pressure on business owners to always be a few steps ahead. It means extended work hours. This leaves very little, if any, time for family if you want a successful business.

How economic realities affect relationships

I have observed the following at times:

The wife often takes on more responsibility and the husband becomes “side-lined”.

The wife enjoys her independence and it is difficult for the husband to fit into the family structure when he returns home.

The husband can become used to his space and see responsibility at home as a curtailment of his freedom.

The children revert to the mother for decisions and the father is or feels left out. She may even reach a point where she makes it obvious that his input is less important.

The children have a closer bond with their mother unless the father makes an effort to stay in touch with his children.

Some thoughts to ponder

Talk about the impact of your spouse’s absence.  Take stock every now and then and consider alternative options. As a couple you can make a different decision. One couple decided that having the father at home was more important than the money he would have earned away from home.

As mother encourage your children to contact their dad. Preferably the father makes time to connect with his children and what is happening in their life. Ensure that children are kept busy in a constructive way e.g. sport, hobbies etc.  Find activities where there are other strong male role models.

It is important to look for the hidden gifts in the situation as opposed to being the martyr. Several women relish the space when their husband is away on a business trip! As mother, make time for yourself. Make time for you as an individual person with her own interests and hobbies.

If your well-being is affected by being a temporary single parent, seek help. Today’s economic realities bring challenges. This is life! How we respond makes the difference.


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Posted in Business Owner, Parenting.