Traveling for work tough on parents, children

Tony Turner (right) of Crystal Lake sits with his daughter, Lexi, 15, as they play with their dog inside their Crystal Lake home. Tony works as a pilot for American Airlines and is away from his family most of the month.
Tony Turner (right) of Crystal Lake sits with his daughter, Lexi, 15, as they play with their dog inside their Crystal Lake home. Tony works as a pilot for American Airlines and is away from his family most of the month.

Tony Turner makes a living above the clouds.

The 52-year-old has been a pilot for American Airlines for almost 22 years – a career choice that means he spends a large portion of his life away from his family. He said he spends as much time as possible with his wife and two children at their Crystal Lake home before soaring into the air to earn a paycheck.

“It’s hard, but I try to stay as involved as I can,” Turner said. “There are a lot of times when I miss [family] things, but I don’t have a choice. There is always a little guilt in the back of your mind.”

Turner is one of many parents who choose a life on the road as their profession, a choice that becomes a balancing act for couples who want a healthy and happy family atmosphere.

“When we think about parents who are traveling, we think about the idea of safety and security that we want to maintain while the parents are gone,” said Zachary Sikora, licensed clinical psychologist with Centegra Physician Care. “The child needs to be educated and in the loop.”

Bags Are Packed

Turner is a junior captain on a reserve schedule for American Airlines, so he doesn’t have a set flying schedule.

He is given 12 pre-plotted days off each month and is on call the rest of the time.

He can end up going anywhere, at anytime, for as much as six days at a time.

When he gets the call, mainly on weekends, he is expected to get to the airport within about two hours.

“I’ve always got a half-packed bag with me,” Turner said. “When we have family things planned, we generally take two cars.”

When he is home, Turner can be found giving his stay-at-home wife of almost 25 years a break by taking over carpooling duties, helping coach his son’s hockey team or taking his daughter to pom squad practice.

“The big thing is that we do a lot of family stuff together,” he said. “It really sticks with the kids when you are not around. I’ve got to give all the credit to my wife.”

His daughter, Lexi Turner, doesn’t know any other lifestyle.

When he’s home, the 14-year-old spends as much time with him as she can. When he’s away, she tries to talk to him at least once a day, if not through text messaging.

“It has been hard, but it is all I have ever known,” said Lexi Turner, a freshman at Crystal Lake South High School. “We are a tight-knit family, and when he is home, we are all together. The traveling almost makes it better because we are not always on top of each other and have space.”

She also credited her mother, who at times acts as a single mom.

“She is amazing,” Lexi Turner said. “My mom has to do everything when he is away.”

The Other Side

Jen Arendt is a stay-at-home mother of two whose husband has been traveling for work for more than a decade.

Her husband handles restoration work for areas and buildings that have water damage, such as from hurricanes or floods, or when sprinklers go off. He also helps provide temporary power and climate control.

The majority of his travel comes during emergency situations, such as when he was sent to New Jersey for two weeks after superstorm Sandy or to New Orleans for five weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

“We have a pretty good system down and take the good with the bad,” said Arendt, 40. “He understands and recognizes that it is more work for me, and I try and run things smoothly with the kids so that when he is on the road, he doesn’t have to stress out.”

When their children were younger, it was harder for the couple’s son and daughter to understand why daddy was gone so much, Arendt said. As they have gotten older, a series of rituals has helped them better understand.

Those consistencies include talking to them every morning and night when he is on the road, always bringing them home a souvenir or memento from where he has been, and using FaceTime, which is similar to Skype, to see their familiar faces.

“I’ve known my husband for 30 years and we know as a couple that this is what he does,” said Arendt, a Fox River Grove resident. “We support each other and try to explain to them that even though it is hard, this is how dad makes money.”

Open communication and rituals such as those used by the Arendt family is the key to easing the anxiety in their children, Sikora said.

“It’s important to set up some rituals to connect with the child,” he said. “It could be daily or a couple times a day. We certainly live in a society that has numerous ways of maintaining that connection.”

Besides applications such as FaceTime or Skype, other ways include having parents record bedtime stories or prayers before they leave so the child can hear them, and speaking daily on the phone while the parent is gone.

SFlbThe Trade-offs

Crystal Lake resident Ron Eberle has worked as a national account executive for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois for 20 years.

The 46-year-old makes at least 12 overnight trips annually, as well as daily trips throughout the area. He and his wife have three children: 22- and 16-year-old daughters, and a 13-year-old son.

“I wouldn’t say that [traveling] has been a hard strain on the family, but you’re obviously going to miss some milestones,” Eberle said. “The kids understand why dad goes away.”

One of the ways to help the children understand is first to communicate the need for travel and then why they have to do it, Sikora said.

“You don’t want to confuse them about why mommy or daddy goes away,” he said. “They also need to know that they will be becoming back. The idea is to limit anxiety at all costs.”

Helping them understand has become easier for Eberle and his family as technology has evolved.

They constantly use text messaging and Facebook when he is on the road, and his job doesn’t require any traveling on the weekends.

“Technology has really softened the blow,” Eberle said. “And come Friday, the weekend is for family.”

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