When my daddy isn’t there...

Studies take dad blogger Pierre away from home on alternate weeks, meaning his young daughters see less of him. Here he shares his best tips for ways a parent can make this kind of upheaval easier on young children.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Sketches of a dad taking a selfie with a cuddly toy in the underground and two mobile phones sporting identical heart-shaped stickers.
One of Luna’s cuddly toys keeps dad company on alternate weeks and she puts loving stickers on his mobile phone.
Photo: monpapa.fr

I’m lucky to be living in a small country 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: to read a story, play, or simply cuddle and watch them grow; I feel I’m really present in their daily lives.

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Since September, our routine has changed after I resumed my studies as part of a work-study programme to acquire new skills in my field. This means I’m at my usual workplace one week and training in the Toulouse region the next – a 2½ hour drive from my family.

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

This change has upset the whole scheme of things for the family, particularly my relationship with my daughters, above all with Luna who’s four and having a hard time accepting only seeing her dad 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 recognise me when I came home late on a Friday evening (I admit that the dark circles didn’t help).

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

4 tips for weekly commuter parents

1. Prepare your child for your departure by reading picture books based on this theme. This helps them to identify with different heroes and understand that they aren’t the only one in this situation. It also de-dramatises your departure and helps them look forward to your reunion 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 visualise 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 coloured yellow. This helps her to be aware of time as it passes and she can use the calendar to count how many sleeps left until her daddy comes home.

If you see a dad taking a snapshot of a huge rabbit in the underground, 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 got into the habit of asking Luna if I can take one of her toys along with me to be part of the weekly adventure. That’s how it’s possible to find a toy in photos taken on the train, the underground, at the waterfront, in the lecture room, etc…

Still, I avoid the big cuddly ones, but if you see a dad taking a snapshot of a huge rabbit in the underground, 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 mum, 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 to enjoy them), 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.

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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 any 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, roll on Friday when daddy comes back!

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Daddy blogger Pierre Bel draws 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