How a singer balances travel and family

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by Shaun

Shaun Groves writes about the ups and downs of fatherhood and how he manages to stay sane in spite of (or maybe because of?) being a dad. Shaun is a dad of four and travels the world singing and speaking on behalf of Compassion International. He is also his household’s reigning Candyland champion.

It’s the question I’m asked most on the road. When women find out I’ve got a family back at home they wonder…

“How do you do it?”

Behind the question are legitimate concerns about a father not being there for his kids’ soccer games, a wife worn out from raising four children alone, a marriage losing heat from too many days and nights spent miles apart.

I’ve made my living as a singer and public speaker for twelve years now. These days I’m in 80 cities annually. And while you’re not likely to be soft rocking across America for a living anytime soon, someone in your house may be a bit of a traveler too – if not year round then for a season now and then.

How do we do it? How do we keep our families together – and thriving – when mom or dad are on the road?

My wife and I didn’t do it well at all in the beginning.

I signed a record deal the day my oldest was born. And I boarded a tour bus for the first time six months later. I was the opening act on a 60 city tour that spanned three months. Few days off. No money to fly home when I had the rare opportunity either.

When the tour finally ended, over an appetizer on date night, my bride said, “I don’t want a divorce…”

(That’s one way to get a guy’s attention!)

“…but I understand now why so many artist’s wives get one.”

That night Becky and I but some rules in place. They’ve kept us married, liking each other, and sane…most days.

Decide together

I don’t make any travel decisions alone. This is our life, not just mine.

Block dates

Becky and I sit down with the calendar and block important dates. Birthdays, school programs, parent teacher conferences…these days get marked on the calendar as off-limits.

Dating my wife

Every week Becky and I go on a date. It may be as simple as sitting in the minivan talking for a couple hours or as extravagant as a long dinner, a movie and an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast. The important thing is that it happens every week.

Never alone

I travel with an assistant. In the music business he’s called a road manager. Having him along gives my wife peace of mind – that I’ll have fewer opportunities to do anything (or be accused of doing anything) that could jeopardize our marriage, that I’ll get where I’m going safely, and that I’ll eat. (Seriously. I forget to eat. They actually let people who forget to eat raise children. Can you believe it?)

Preparing the kids

My kids are never surprised when I leave. We mark my travel days on their calendars. I remind them a few days in advance about when I’ll be heading out. And then again the day before.

Set limits

Unless I’m going overseas, I’m not away from home for more than ten days each month. Our target six to eight. And I’m not gone for more than four nights in a row. Usually it’s two. And the number of days I’m gone is the number of days I must be home before I can leave again. So, if I’m gone for four days I must be home for four days before I can travel once more.

Be missed

I want my wife’s life to be harder when I’m away. That sounds terrible doesn’t it? But let me explain. If my wife’s life is easier when I’m gone, then I’m not doing my part when I’m home. I have to be very intentional about serving my family – starting with Becky – when I’m off the road or else I’m not her partner but just another kid for her to take care. And she’ll wish I was gone more!

Daddy day

Every Wednesday is Daddy Day. I cook all the meals, teach the kids, take them to volunteer at the food pantry down the street, oversee an art project or twelve – spend the whole day with them. It’s my favorite day. They call it “Daddy Day.” Becky calls it her day off. She can have lunch with a friend, catch up on her to-do list, or just sit with a large sweet tea and a magazine for hours. It’s her day to spend however she wants or needs to. And sometimes she needs and gets more than one of these in a week.

Live simply

We sold our dream house, canceled our cable, started a garden and made dozens of other changes in our life years ago – partly – so that life would be cheaper. The greatest benefit of living simply? Freedom. If I need to cancel a gig to meet my family’s needs, I can sure do that. It’s only happened twice in twelve years but it’s peace of mind to know we have the financial flexibility to put family first and work second and still pay the bills.

Your line of work may be much different from mine but I hope something in this list was still helpful to you and yours. Maybe it’ll just get the balance conversation started in your house.

Got a rule or trick that’s helped your family find balance? I’m all ears. I’ll be reading every comment from a tour bus. Heading out for a couple days. Be home soon.

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Comments

  1. As a musician myself (I don’t tour, but many folks I know do), I have to applaud you for your commitment to your family. I have seen so many of my friends destroy their relationships by not taking the needs of their partner into account. The fact that your wife gets input into how many days you are on the road is very unique, as I’m sure you know. Many people would not be willing to give up the money and exposure that comes from a gig, ANY gig, and the fact that you give your wife a voice is awesome. Bravo. I know that yes, there IS a period for a musician where you have to be the hustler and be hyping and selling yourself, and you have to take ANY gig that you get offered, and you make many of your contacts by being the person who can step in when someone else can’t. But eventually that part has to take a backseat if you want to have a successful marriage.

    Some friends and I were discussing just the other day whether it’s better for musicians to be married to OTHER musicians (because they understand the lifestyle better, even though they would never see each other because of schedule craziness), or to NON-musicians (who are probably more stable schedule-wise, even if they may get annoyed because you work every night and don’t get weekends off). I still haven’t figured out the answer – I’m glad you have :)

    • Surely, ONE parent just has to be home. When my husband has had to travel a lot for work at various times, I cannot believe the difference in our family’s well-being. I think it was the worst when our kids were adolescents — particularly the boys needed Dad’s presence in frequent, copious doses.

  2. I am often curious about how families with a travelling spouse make it work. It sounds like you guys have a great system. Even though my husband and I don’t travel much for work, the “Be Missed” concept has served us well.

  3. I love the “be missed” concept. I have wondered about how traveling artists handle family life!

  4. my husband got into ultra-running this past year, which means looooong blocks of days where he wants to go off and run around in the mountains for 30-some miles. (crazy. but i digress). i am happy to “let” him do that because he comes home more than ready to jump in, take the kids out, give me the rest of the day off– whatever. he gets the stress relief of all of that exercise and i know that he’ll be even more ready to be a great dad and husband when he gets home.
    if he came home and wanted to lie on the couch all day, we’d have to reconsider all of this.

  5. You have made so many great points- and they apply even to folks working a more traditional schedule. That weekly date and giving the stay-at-home parent a free day during the week are critical!

    I’m a musician as well, and it took us quite a bit of adjustment when we became parents to get a good system in place where everyone’s needs were being met despite my work hours. Now that I just teach in my home studio with very occasional performances life is so much easier on all of us. Those lessons we learned while I was performing more frequently have carried forward with us and now that we both work non-traditional schedules it’s been such a blessing to have that experience to fall back on.

  6. My husband travels a ton for work but has a more traditional Monday-Friday schedule. He can sometimes be gone weekends but even when he’s done traveling he’s unable to make up time lost at home because he still reports to the office M-F. While I love your rules, I can hear him saying, “When do I get ‘my’ day off?” Do you ever take a day for yourself in all of this? I worry about the pressure and stress my husband is already under and it is so hard to balance it all!

  7. My husband travels quite a bit for his work but it is usually more like 3-5 day blocks once or twice a month. Before we had kids I was the one doing all the traveling, so I know what his life away from him is like. We don’t have a lot of hard and fast rules. We try to do a date night once a month…that may not be enough but it’s something. He is a homebody and I am not so I get one night a week to go do something social on my own. And he has no problem with me hiring a sitter to take a night off while he’s out of town. I’m glad y’all are so intentional about things.

  8. This doesn’t relate to my life in any way, but I love the cooperation and teamwork you demonstrate. I think these are great points to make family life work well.

  9. This is so awesome! My husband is a singer and musician (he used to sing on the worship team at Oasis Church in L.A.), and it is so interesting to get a sneak peak into married life with a touring musician. When my daughter was born, we took a turn, and decided to say goodbye to the rockstar life and move to Kauai to really slow down. But after 3 years living so unplugged, we are back in the city and trying to find a balance that leaves time for building relationships and serves God while still pursing are artistic passions. You summed that lifestyle up nicely. I especially love the Daddy Day and Dating Your Wife. Those are at the peak of our weekly lives too. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Were a military family so we know all about traveling and Daddy being away from home! We may not have any say in when he leaves or for how long but, like you, we try to keep a positive attitude! I live the wife Wednesday idea! I might have to try and convince hubby of that one :).

  11. Shaun, thanks for the great post. My husband travels extensively for work, at the close of this year he will have been gone for part or all of 31 weeks. Because he is not idependent, his ability to manipulate his schedule is not quite the same as yours but he does block off all the important dates and doesn’t compromise unless it is a family decision and/or if we can go with and make a family trip out of it. Skype helps. We also send along a little handmade item we call Lulu the Emu – she has a pocket for love notes and chocolate so he knows we miss him. In return, Lulu gets to have her picture taken in lots of cool places that he sends back to us. The “daddy day” is a great concept. I know he and the kids need that time together…but often it’s hard for me to leave when he’s home because although I’m ready for a break, I want to be with him too!

    • I love the Lulu the Emu idea! I think our family needs to find something similar, especially as our toddler gets older : D Thanks for sharing!

      • When my hubby did long haul trucking for a few months to get by, he would take three pics every day and email them to me along with a greeting and a description, if needed. I made it part of my four year old’s bed time routine. Before stories, we looked over his pictures and sometimes sent a note back. The pictures were also random ranging from a big mountain to what he had for dinner but it helped my daughter feel connected to her dad, even when they were apart.

  12. The day after I came home from the hospital with our youngest (now 12) my husband left on the first of three tour dates with Promise Keepers that month. He was a lead singer on the worship team at the time. We moved once while he was in Japan. We knew then, that if this was how it was going to be, I just needed to be strong …which then we(I) would wrestle with when he would come home. I hear it’s like this for military wives too. When he tours it is different and there is adjusting that must take place, but communication is key for us. These are really good pointers, thanks for sharing them.

  13. Great article – I think it applies to so many of us (between work travel, odd hours, etc.). One thing that we work hard to do is not compare who has it “harder”. This is difficult because on any given day with both have it rough but that kind of comparison does nobody any favors. I think just being upfront and asking for help or time off when you need it goes a long way.

    • Completely agree with the struggle not to try and “top” the other person. It’s so unloving, but so tempting when we’ve both had a hard day!

  14. Hmm, my hubby works way north, and is home 1 week out of 5 or 6 or 7. It is hard, esp now that it seems more normal for him to be gone than home. We even slip and call his place up north his home.

    This post is timely…just last night there was tension and I said, “I know you’ve tried to connect, so have I. I think we’re just missing, like missing the ball when it’s tossed to you.”

    Your list is good. Some of the things we do, have done. He makes sure to take each of our daughters out for something they enjoy, a book to read on a hike, a trip for frozen yogurt. But we really fall into the “todo list” lunch. ack.

    • I hear ya Michelle! My husband is gone for work much more than he’s home (touring musician probably at least 30-40 weeks/year). It’s sorta nice hearing about someone else who gets that (someone who’s not a military spouse…that’s apples and oranges for many reasons, one being that military spouses often have a community of spouses around them in the same situation, whereas it’s just me).

      • Melinda…you know I’ve often thought about how different it is for the military spouses (I grew up a military kid with my dad taking many unaccompanied tours) and chastized myself for struggling!

        People understand the military separations, they don’t usually get why our family doesn’t move around with my hubby…his jobs last 9 months to 1 year most times. I just keep remembering to be thankful for the work and for my husbands sacrifice for our family. He misses so much of our kids lives.

  15. Good to read. Lots of us are trying to juggle multiple needs and demands, even if we or our spouses don’t travel a lot. I usually take 3-4 mornings a month to write in a coffee shop, which is not quite like being off, since I’m working. But it is uninterrupted time where kids don’t need me, combined with sugar and caffeine. :) I usually come back refreshed.

  16. This is an awesome post…I think it’s pretty relatable to all of our lives. It definitely takes a lot of work and thought to achieve that delicate balance. I’m still working at it as I’m sure we all are. The biggest thing is finding ways to let the kids know we are here and haven’t forgotten them, and that they are the most important things in our lives.

  17. I like the “be missed” part. My husband is such a good husband and father that we definitely miss him when he travels!

  18. My husband has a typical 5 day per week job, but with the twist of emergency travel thrown in. We typically have less than 24 hours notice and he could be gone for 1-2 weeks at a time. That’s definitely hard on both of us, but we feel like the work he does is important and that’s key for us! We also block out important dates and only adjust them by mutual agreement.

    It always disturbs me a little bit that almost everyone with a marriage I admire recommends having date night once per week. I feel like this is so unattainable! We have no family in the area and don’t know any local highschool/college types who we’d trust to babysit (our church seems to have a lack of this age group!). We used to trade with another couple (who moved) but even getting 1 date/month of this system was a challenge. Anyone else who doesn’t have inlaws/parents nearby struggle with this too?

    Great post addressing the challenges of having a traveling spouse. Very practical : )

  19. This title caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about starting a blog on this topic–not traveling, but being an artist and living a balanced life. I am a singer too, and have a 2 1/2 year old son. I thought I’d be on the road by the time he was this age, but parenthood has changed a lot of my plans!

    I like the section “be missed” especially. My husband was working a lot when our baby was little and often did seem like just another kid to take care of when he was home. Not the way to sustain a relationship! (Things have changed, fortunately!)

  20. My husband is a youth pastor, substitute bus driver and volunteer soccer coach. In other words, he’s gone a lot of evenings. Our rule is that he can’t be gone more than 4 nights a week. And he is a sub and volunteer for a reason- he can say no. So even though he gets razzed for it, he calls me to check our schedule before he takes any bus trips or commits to any away games.

  21. oh my gosh. I love your rules, I wish my husband would adopt them! he is tied up a lot for his job (ministry) and we don’t do hardly any of that, or at least we don’t do it well (sometimes we talk about it, but that’s not the same as doing it).

    He was gone a lot this summer/fall and something shifted, something new came up that hasn’t before– it was what you’re saying about “be missed.” not good!

    Thanks (again) for a timely post!

    • PS– a question: what do you do when you find these rules slipping a bit? who/what holds you accountable? curious, as “follow-through” is always a struggle for us.

  22. PS– question: what do you do when you find yourself letting “the rules” slip? who holds you accountable for keeping up with these things? curious, as “follow-through” has always been a struggle for us.

  23. This is such a great post, you have so much understanding of the problem… “single-parenting” when you aren’t single is no fun at all, and often completely overlooked. It is a very real problem though, with little support – not only for moms whose husbands travel a lot but for many moms whose partners have to go to work before the kids are up and gets home after they are in bed. It can be relentless and I think you have a fabulous response… I hope many moms get to read this post can be encouraged by it!!!

  24. This is going to sound weird but I’m so glad I’m not the only one (especially the only one with a body of a microphone stand) who forgets to eat!

    Katie

  25. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who forgets to eat. I am a wife of a traveling husband. We try to video chat once a day while he’s away (mostly for our kiddos) and we try to talk daily on the phone, although sometimes that isn’t possible when he’s working opposite coast and is extremely busy. I absolutely LOVE the ideas of Daddy Days. I also have a wall map that I show my kiddos where Dada is that day and a fun fact about the city. It’s a great way to learn about the country or in other people’s travels, the world!

  26. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your life and the wisdom God has given you. This was so refreshing and such an encouragement at this time in my life. My husband and I have been touring full-time for 10 years now with our ministry -we are illusionists. Three years ago I became a mom. We didn’t slow down as we toured with our new baby. It was challenging and then we had our second son… and things changed a bit. My husband now does some shows on his own while I stay home with our two little men. We are in constant conversation about our “limit”. How did you find your “limit”? We have busy seasons and struggle how much time we should spend on the road. There are days I wonder how I’m going to do this. But we love what we do and feel so called to it. Thanks for sharing your rules you adapted to your family – I think this will help balance life. Blessings to you and your family!
    Teesha

  27. avatar
    Anonymous says:

    Timely post for me as my husband is gone right now. I’ve fought bitterness this week as I struggled with our kids. My husband cut our vacation short by a day and a half so that he could say “yes” to a work trip, we rushed home and he left bright and early the next morning. He is in a place without cell service, so I’ve only heard from him once or twice and for less than five minutes. I miss him. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, either. We definitely need to implement some of these rules…I’m just not sure how to tell him. He gets very defensive when I tell him how hard these kind of trips are for me and our especially our kids.

  28. Great post and perspective to hear from a dad that travels. We live very simply, as well.. however, as a military family. This helps to balance the erratic nature of husband’s traveling schedule (and really, that extends to his ‘home’ schedule, as well.. because we are subject to the flight schedule, he may have duty weekend, or have to work nights). We fly by the seat of our pants and live day to day. He’s not in a position were he can set his hours, with being deployed over 8 times in 17 years, along with countless missions, training operations, and other absences that may still be lengthy but not defined as a ‘deployment’. We do have an additional layer to this, and that is the transition that has to be made between his living a very drastically different life for the majority of the year and then falling back into the mix. I’ve served as an Ombudsman (volunteer for families) and have found that even in the strongest of family units, this can take a significant amount of time to fall back in step. The fact that we’ve been doing this for nearly 2 decades certainly does not make us immune. And then, by the time we all feel adjusted, they are usually training again to prepare for another lengthy absence. So.. I definitely agree that attitude, patience, both family and the spouse leaving having uplifting people to be around (and with your example of road manager, that is important whereas for husband that may be a bunk mate that has the same convictions, family oriented lifestyle..) And implementing all of those little ways of staying connected and reconnecting – there’s so many components that help to make it work successfully! With that, also.. living a more simplified life that prioritizes the quality time spent together, is such a huge help. We maintain a modest rental in town during the work/school week. Whenever we are off, we’re down at the family homestead where the relatives live, in our 465 sqft cabin. That is our time to just take a deep breath and just enjoy one another. However, when we’re in town.. we still keep to a very low key schedule (in comparision to other families around us). The kids keep to school related, after school activities, we attend church. Otherwise, it’s free play time to do what the 4 of us want. Thanks again for sharing your story! Sidenote: As a military spouse, I can say it’s important when husband returns home after a lengthy absence, that we both evaluate what our needs are from one another. We’ve found over 20 years together, that those have changed so much. And there are times when life has been more stressful during the time that we could not be together, where one may also need more encouragement, focus than the other. I really recommend the book, ‘His Needs, Her Needs’, it’s one that we’ve had most of our marriage and is good to review every year or so.

  29. We’re a military family too, so we can relate to long, frequent absenses. I love the idea of “being missed.” So many times I find myself saying it’s easier when my husband is gone because of how unpredicatable his schedule can be. Right now, we get together every week for lunch, and he’ll occassionally take a day off from work while the kids are at school. It saves us the money of a sitter, and the kids still get to spend time with him in the evenings:)

  30. As a wife, I really appreciated the points you made here. We just recently made the decision to go back to school and finally get the degree in violin performance on the way to becoming a professional violinist. I say we because we made the decision together and it really affects both of us. Clear communication and making decisions together are what we’ve found to be key.
    That, and an evening/morning time away from home for me.

    Thanks for being honest and sharing the realness of your job.

  31. Thank you for reminding us that we do have a choice when it comes to work. We are small business owners and many times we take on work at the expense of holidays, birthday days and other special occasions. It is a balancing act but we must never forget to add ‘us’ to the equation.

  32. You challenge me to no end. Not hyper-spiritual but just practical wisdom. It’s like you really believe this Gospel thing or something. Thanks for sharing this. I have some work to do.

  33. I’ll be honest, at first this post was frustrating to me, with several of the tips being rather unattainable (my husband is a touring drummer 35+ weeks a year who is almost completely beholden to his band in terms of scheduling).

    But, I really appreciate the reminder of the importance of maintaining “life simplicity” where you can, and all the tips of how to engage kids with away-from-home parents. We plan to start a family one day, but one of my biggest concerns has been the fact that we are just barely able to scrape together a happy life with just our little dog between us — i.e. healthily and happily raising a human child when you’re basically a single parent sounds so unattainable. (I know lots of people do it, but not many actually go into single-parenthood intentionally!)

  34. I love this post, and I’m learning that planning family time is just as important as making a monthly budget. If you don’t plan your time, you wonder where it all went. My husband is a band director, so he spends many nights and weekends away at different times. I like the boundaries you and your wife have placed, and I think some of these things will apply to our family as well.

  35. I know exactly how you feel, no family, babysitters etc… We have decided to adjust our date night expectations. Once a week, after the kids go to bed, we stay up and have a date night. Date night might be popcorn and a board game, taking turns rubbing feet and shoulders, or trying a new recipe together. If one kid gets up and interupts, we tell them mommy and daddy are on a date and they know this is important so it’s rarely a problem.

  36. No money to fly home when I had the rare opportunity either.

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