The difficulty of being away from home comes with the job, but longhaul truckers experience additional stress, especially when it includes not being there for their children.
Terence Griffith and Murray Manuliak, who are long-time drivers at Bison Transport, experienced that first-hand and both say parenting on the road has been a road full of sacrifice.
“I’ve met a lot of children of truck drivers who just absolutely hate their father. And that scared me,” said Griffith .
At one point, he quit Bison for three years, one of which he spent as a stay-at-home dad because being away from his daughter was hard for him. His six-year-old stayed at home with teenage stepsisters, but due to the age gap she was lonely, he says.
“She was left alone. I remember I started talking to her about the Three Valley Gap [in B.C.], and I talked to her on the phone for two-and-a-half hours as I was driving, and she read me a story from one of her books. Basically, that phone call, when I got back from that trip [I put my] truck up for sale to stay home,” he recalls.
Planning and scheduling
When Griffith went back to Bison, after trying different jobs, he gained a deeper appreciation for the policies the fleet had in place. Around that time, Bison implemented ‘home notes’, which allowed a driver to book time off whenever needed.
He emphasizes the importance of a reliable schedule and efficient planning, saying that knowing his next destination in advance before the load is dropped off, saves a lot of wait time.
“I would only do this job longhaul with Bison,” he says. “I [once] walked out on a [job] interview where they promised lots of hours. And there was no schedule. And they promised a good pay.”
Manuliak, who has been with Bison since 2002, adds even though he got to take advantage of his employer’s efforts to help drivers’ homelives, he still missed a lot of weddings, anniversaries, and birthdays.
“You need to marry or have someone that’s very strong.”
Murray Manuliak, longhaul truck driver at Bison Transport
“Yes, we make good money. But there’s a lot of sacrifice.”
Such a lifestyle is hard without a strong backup.
The partner staying at home with the children takes on the role of a temporary single parent, bearing responsibilities such as handling household finances, managing chores, overseeing children’s homework, school-related notes, planning and preparing meals, and organizing play dates, says Juli Fyfe, a registered psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario.
“This is a very challenging lifestyle. Your spouse has to be on the same side as you are, [and] you need to marry or have someone that’s very strong,” Manuliak says.
Part of that strength is becoming the primary disciplinarians and the head of the household. This is why it might be hard for them to hand over the reins to their partner when they come back home – they are often afraid to interrupt the established routine.
Fyfe says the dynamic of reintegration of a traveling parent is a common challenge.
“If one partner has become the single parent, then having that other parent come home feels like they’re disrupting it. But the partner that’s just come home, they want to be involved, very much.”
Griffith, for example, shares that despite being tired from the road, he always looked forward to taking his daughter to competitive swimming practice. He also took that chance to help other parents drop off their kids.
“Because they spent so much time driving mine – if it wasn’t for the other parents, it would have been impossible for Betty to be in swimming,” he says of his daughter.
Meanwhile, other truckers can experience stress because of the pressure of not doing as good a job with children as their spouses do – their way of handling bedtime and bath time can be different, says Fyfe.
“It’s not really a good situation when after 36 hours of being home, you have your wife and the babysitter tell you to go to work because you’re disrupting the routine,” Manuliak recalls.
However, flexibility is crucial for both partners in adjusting to each other’s parenting styles and routines. This benefits children, too.
“Seeing how parents handle the same situation differently or how they handle challenges differently, helps kids become more flexible and better problem solvers,” says Fyfe.
However, both parents should still communicate openly and work together to find ways to function as a family. This can involve scheduling quality family time, where both parents participate in their children’s hobbies and activities ensuring a bond with kids.
“For example, it is [about] skating together rather than just drop-offs and pick-ups,” says Fyfe.
Going for a brisk walk or having a snowball fight with the family can also help drivers unwind between trips. And even though some drivers’ preferred way to rest is to watch TV, Manuliak says he had to learn to unwind on the road during his required rest time, because he needed – and wanted – to help his wife with chores, because “she’s got the tougher job” staying with three kids at home.
But there are ways to avoid household-associated worries through automating, delegating and outsourcing, Fyfe suggests.
For example, truckers and their partner can automate bill payments, ask another parent in the neighborhood to help with the kids’ hockey pickup and drop off, and outsource other chores by arranging meal deliveries and cleaning support.
Children can be helping, too, starting with simple tasks like sorting laundry at a young age and gradually increasing their involvement as they grow older.
Staying involved, but in the ‘right’ way
But Fyfe warns tasks have to be agreed upon with a second parent, whether this includes home or school assignments.
While some truckers ensure they are involved with their children’s lives by giving them assignments and tasks to achieve while they are on the road, it might not be fair to their spouses.
“It’s not OK to say, ‘Hey, I want you to score a B on your math test and now I step out.’ Now all of the homework and the studying is on the home parent, to ensure that child gets that B.”
Instead, she suggests truck drivers sit down with their partners before their next trips and discuss how the upcoming week would look like for both children and parents.
This way, the drivers would be able to call off the road and check in on their children’s assignments or help them over the phone.
Fyfe adds that strong communication skills are required not only for partners but also for divorced parents – planning and scheduling remain crucial.
Truckers’ employers can help with the planning aspect. Craig Faucette, chief programs officer at Trucking HR Canada, says the industry is already making efforts.
While Griffith says longhaul truckers could benefit from fair compensation for time they are stuck away from home, waiting for further instructions from the dispatch, saying it should be compensated similarly to a holiday, Faucette notes many fleets from Trucking HR Canada’s Top Fleet Employer program have implemented various strategies to address truckers’ homelives.
About 87% of fleets offer part-time work upon request, just less than 80% offer route and schedule selection for truckers, 42% offer load sharing, and more than half of them offer team driving and allow pets in their cab.
Fleets allow drivers to have family members in their cab for ride-alongs, too.
While Bison Transport offers many of those features, Manuliak says the latter helped his family understand his job better, and he wishes more employers would implement that.
His wife, children and grandchildren have all been out on the road with him.
“’And it’s awesome,” Manuliak says.
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