Raising a family when Dad is a pilot...the hardest part of being a pilot wife

The eve of our son's 6th birthday, 11:30pm:  Steve and I had finally settled into bed.  Fuck.  Forgot to set out Ben's birthday gifts on the kitchen table.

Me: Oh shoot, can you do it? Because if Steve wasn't home, I would have HAD to be the one to get up and do it.  I figured that since he was home, he could have helped a gal out.
Steve: No.  You do it.
Me: I will offer you sex if you do it.
Steve. No.
Me: Really, I will be all set and ready when you get back.
Steve.  No. You do it.

And this is where I start to get pissy.

Me: Please, I am really tired.  Plus, I bought the gift.
Steve: Well, I bought the other gift.
Me: I went grocery shopping today.
Steve: And I clean up the dog poop in the yard.

And this is where I start to get really pissy.

Me: Please.  I really don't want to get out of bed.  Thinking the whole time that I always fucking do everything for the kids, and he can't do this little thing for me...
Steve: I really don't want to get out of bed either.

This is when I threw off the covers in a huff, and walked downstairs to the garage.  I was pissed...like, pissed enough that I thought slugging him in the face may have been appropriate before I left the bedroom.  I got the gifts out of the car, and headed back inside.  By this time, Steve was in the basement digging through the wrapping paper. 

We met at the kitchen table, two gifts were wrapped in silence, and we went to bed without saying a word.

Of course as this situation played out, I was thinking of how great this would be a lead-in for this blog....


I have said over and over again that raising children has been the hardest part of being married to a pilot.  Here I thought that being a pilot girlfriend was tough with him being gone so much.  Nope.  And then I thought that being a pilot wife was tough with him being gone so much.  Nope.

And then we had kids...and that is where the hardest part of being married to a pilot come to light. 

Why?  Because it seems like it is always mostly you doing the parenting.  You didn't sign up to being a solo-parent.  Yet, you feel like you are doing an awful lot of solo-parenting.  Yeah, yeah, you told yourself that you would be able to raise a family with a husband that was gone a lot.  But, until you actually do it you have NO idea how hard it is.   

I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I love my children dearly.  They were planned and wanted and I am blessed.  They are loved and cared for and safe and happy and healthy.  I love being a mother, and I can't think of my life any different.  I do my job as a mother without hesitation and I like to think that I am doing a pretty good job.  Don't take what I am about to say as whining, because it really isn't...it is simply an accurate description of my life as a pilot wife and mother...

Let's start with the fact about our arrangement: when Steve is gone the parenting is totally up to me. I am the one from morning to night, and sometimes during the night, to care for these little ones.  I HAVE to do it, period.  If I don't do it, then they are neglected.  That word is not in my vocabulary when it comes to the kids.

Let's dissect this into different aspect of our life:
** Mommy is sick and Daddy is away.  This, as a matter of fact, happened just this morning.  My head was hurting like crazy, and Steve was not going to be home until the next day.  In typical fashion, I don't like to take pills, even Advil.  Hell, even post-partum I didn't take any pain killers.  I usually think mind-over-matter.  But, not this morning!  I eyed Steve's leftover 800mg pills that he got from his shoulder injury (stupid heavy-ass flight bag!), but then thought I should be fine with a couple 200mg pills, so I took 400mg total.  About an hour later, the headache was still there, so I took another 400 mg.  The headache finally went away.  But you know what? Even if it didn't I would have still had to march on.  Ben needed his glasses adjusted, and we had plans to go to the library.  Just because I had a headache, didn't mean the kids needed to suffer too.

Us pilot wives that are raising children power through physical pain in order to care for the kids.  These are the times that you sometimes surprise yourself at how you can power through something.  Is it easy to care for the kids when you feel like shit?  No, not at all, but there is no other choice, so you have to do what you have to do. 

** The kids just started school.

When the kids start school you have lots of shit to do: supply list, forms left and right, orientations/open houses, clothes shopping, grocery shopping, online registering for lunches, ect. You get my drift, right?  And how much was Steve involved it in this year?  Not at all, really.  Ok, so he watched our youngest while Ben and I went school supply shopping, but that was about the extent of it.  No complaining, just stating.  This is a lot of work that needs done.  Paperwork, oh the paperwork!  Filling our names and addresses and phone numbers...I got this!  I will reserve what needs signed by Steve, and when he is available I will force a pen on him and make him sign it. 

To continue this topic, let's talk school work.  Who will be home for most homework assignments?  Me.  Who will be the on to help study for tests? Me.  Sure Steve can check-in every night, but it isn't the same. I am the one to get the kids ready in the morning, and the ones to bring them home.  I am on the one to balance evenings with school and activities and dinner and bath and bed.  See what I am getting at?  Don't take this as complaining, but rather I am simply laying out a typical week cycle.  See how this pilotwife/mom thing is kinda difficult. 

Steve has already missed school events, like performances and whatnot.  I am sure he will miss more.  These are the times when it is hard...sitting at a performance without Daddy around.  All the while people around you are thinking to themselves "her husband is constantly gone...seems like they must be having problems."  Wish I could wear a sign on my forehead that read "Happily Married. Husband is an airline pilot."

** My attachment to the kids.  This one goes half  and half...half is awesome, and the other half grates on you.  There is no question that the kids and I are bonded tightly.  Why? Because I am the constant in their life.  Every day when they wake up, I am here.  Every night, with few exceptions, I am there when they go to bed.  We are tightly wound together.  Do I love this?  Yes!  I love that we have little inside jokes and moments.  We are a trio, and work well as our trio.  We go and do all these things ourselves, and live this life with just the three of us.  We have these little jokes between us, and we know each other in and out. 

Do I sometimes absolutely hate being so attached to the kids?  Oh, you bet!  The third and final cry of "Mommy!" sometimes gets me so good that I bark back a "ask your father...he is standing right here!" 

Or how about these scenarios, where I pick one kid up and the other screams to be picked up too?! 

CC, pissed off since I wasn't holding her. 
So, what does a Mom do to make sure the picture turns out?

...hold both kids
at Niagara Falls, here again I picked up one kid and the other threw a fit
(like how the guy in the back is checking out our situation...busted!)

buff arms!

Does Steve think I am too attached to the kids?  Yes.  Does Steve think that I shouldn't pick both kids up and just let it be?  Yes.  Can I do that?  Nope.  I am a mother.  If I can manage, I do.  And that is the thing about pilot wives, we have to manage and make do.  If I can hold the kids to avoid the meltdown of the century, I do.

I do love being so attached to the kids, but sometimes it is difficult on me.

** Recommendations feel like insults, and insults hit you like a ton of bricks.  I am not sure if this is my personality, or rather a function of being a pilot wife, but I am adding this.  Just the other day Steve got a sense that Ben's reading ability dropped during the summer.  He came into the kitchen and stated, boldly, "You need to work with Ben and his reading" Bam!  Like how he directed that I was the one to work on the reading.   The insult recommendation hits me like a ton of bricks and I immediately get defensive.  I don't take criticism well, and when Steve offers his take on things (which he should...he is the father after all) I immediately get upset.  Because I am doing all the raising when Steve is gone, I feel like the child rearing, both when he is home and when he isn't home, is totally up to me.  I hold myself 100% accountable for the kids behavior, and if anyone says anything I take it personally.  As a chef owns the dish he just prepared, I own the kid's behavior. 

** The lonely can be so thick it actually hurts your heart.  (A Pilot Wife Kind of Lonely) At this point with the kids, now 4 and 6, my lonely isn't as thick now since they keep me so busy.  There are plenty of times where I crave the alone time since I need that peace and quiet

But, I totally remember those alone times when the kids were young.  3am with a crying newborn is awfully lonely when you know your husband is comfortably sleeping in a hotel room.  2pm on a Sunday afternoon is awfully lonely when your pilot isn't home, and your 4-month old baby seems more like a chore than a joy...Sunday's are for family and togetherness, not separation and a quiet afternoon. 

** And just the day-to-day activities can take its toll on you.  You get up and go through all the morning routine: dress, eat, off to school. Then you are off to work, which brings its own personal challenges at times.  And then it is home: homework, dinner, clean up.  You mix in chores: sweeping, cleaning, laundry.  Don't forget to add activities: PSR, gymnastics, swimming.  Finally it is bedtime: bath, pjs, books, goodnights (which take at least 10-15 minutes since the kids are still young). Around 8-8:30pm, you finally sit down, only to have to go back upstairs 5 times because there are monsters in the closet, and a bug flying around the room.  Finally, around 9p, the house is quiet, and glass of wine is poured

...all to be done again for the next 3 days....with no break from your husband.


So those where touches, here and there, of how this pilotwife/mom thing is hard when the pilot is gone.  Now, let's switch gears to when your dear pilot walks in through that door after a long-ass 4-day trip.  You are so glad to see him, as are the kids.  Now it is time for him to reengage with the family as a husband and father...

...and sometimes that transition isn't so easy.

Take the other night for example, when he just got off a 3-day trip.  He flew a trans-con, had a three hour sit, and then another flight blocked at 2 hours.  When he got home I knew he would be exhausted.  I had put the kids down about 30 minutes before he got home, and low and behold they were still awake when he walked up the stairs. 

I tried my best to keep out of their way because these are the moments where the kids want to connect with Steve.  But after about five minutes, I could quickly tell that Steve wasn't staying in the "green zone."  I made the point to step in...I knew Steve was tired and I knew he needed to unwind, not manage the kids, who should have been sleeping anyway.  His transition home wasn't so easy...

...and then the next morning, Steve dropped CC of at PreK.  Joanna, what do I have to bring with her? Joanna, does she have her bag? Joanna, what time does she need to be there? Joanna, does she have homework?  See what I am getting at?  I run the house during the school week, mostly.  And Steve comes in and has to learn this all, especially now that the school year has started and the kids and I are still figuring this all out. 

Does Steve skip a beat in our life?  You betcha.  This has to be hard on him, no question.  But, it is also hard on me.  When he comes in and out of our daily life, I have to transition.  Take a red-eye for example: I love seeing him when he gets home in the morning because I like seeing him before I leave for work.  But, I sure do hate that he interrupts our morning routine.  The kids and I have an order and process to get ready and in the mornings.  And as much as I love my husband, sometimes his presence (especially when he is off his normal routine) just fucks everything up. 

Now, let me discuss the whole control thing.  As I established, it is you raising the kids 100% when your pilot is gone...and now he is home.  One would think that it is time for you to give up that 100% and share it 50/50.  Nope, not so easy. 

I never realized how controlling I was until I had kids...or, is it that having kids without a husband around made me so controlling?  Either way, I am controlling.  I think that I am so controlling, because I feel like I have to.  If I wasn't in control, our house would be nuts.  I can't have that.  I need order, and with order comes a house that I am able to manage when Steve is away.

...but then Steve walks through that garage door and what? Me give up control?  Not so easy.  I run this house when Steve is gone, and it has become second nature to be the main caregiver for the kids.  When Steve chimes in what a suggestion this or a suggestion that, I sometimes have a very hard time to hear him out.  I run this house...don't get in my way.  I do like to think that I do listen to Steve and hear him out, but it takes effort. 

Having said all the above, I want to close with the point that although raising children when your pilot is gone is tough, it is also incredibly rewarding....and these rewarding moments are our momentum.  I know that I am vital to my children and their behavior.  When I get compliments on their behavior (Pilot wives making things user friendly) I glow and take it as a direct compliment on my hard work.  I also love the bond that the three of us have, and the little moments that we share.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  Just as Peace Corps has the tag line of "the toughest job you will ever love" I feel being a pilotwife/mother is the same - the toughest job you will ever love.


  1. Hi Joanna,

    Great post as always! I've heard similar stories from women whose husbands are on deployment in the military. It makes perfect sense: you ARE managing the household and when hubby comes home a sort of unintentional power struggle naturally ensues. I'm sure it must be very unsettling to say the least.

    I don't have kids of my own, so I can only imagine the stress you're under. I have 3 male cats that ALL want to be the "alpha male" 24/7 and are therefore constantly engaged in their own version of a feline jihad (accompanied by frequent pissing contests) so that's the extent of MY stress! Suffice it to say that I'll take my stress any day over yours. (As you may recall, one particular episode of this jihad was highlighted in the little power point file I sent to you a while back). Crazy kitties!

    I wish you and Steve the very best. You both seem like such wonderful people! Just keep the lines of communication wide open. That's the main reason my marriage failed: ZERO communication. I have the communications skills of a gnat, and he never wanted to discuss anything anyway so we were doomed from the start. (in case you're wondering he wasn't a pilot)

    Stay strong. You're doing a great job.

    All the best,


    1. Hi Sue. You know, the funny thing is that as extroverted as I am, and as introverted as Steve is, he is the one to push for proper communication more than me. When I get upset, I will close up and not want to talk, and Steve is the one that pushes. We work well together like that...and yes, I totally agree that it is SO imporant to have good communication!

      Thank you for your kind words :)

  2. Hi Joanna,

    Funny thing is that my sister is called Joana, but with only one "N". Anyway, I would like to tell you I have read your blog for the first time and I liked a lot. Will keep visiting oftentimes.

    Thank you for sharing such moments. I think you are a great example to many mums with pilot husbands.


    1. I bet your sister is a great gal, with a name like that ;-)

      Thank you for your kind words.

  3. HI Joanna,

    I came upon your blog a few weeks ago after a friend of my husbands posted a link from her Facebook page which also led me to your Facebook page. I love it! Your life is so much like mine and its so refreshing to read the feelings I have being a pilot wife and mother and know I'm not alone. This entry was perfect, I am going to send it to my husband so he knows I'm not crazy in the feelings I have raising the kids alone and having the transition when he gets home.

    Thanks for writing, always a pleasure :)


    1. Hi Jodi - thank you for your kind words. And no, you aren't crazy! :)

  4. Awesome story....... ah i like it.

  5. I'm behind on reading your blog, but could totally relate to this post- all of it. I am going to forward it to my husband to read. We're struggling with our marriage/family dynamic now with the baby and this is exactly what I feel.


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