Donald Trump has opened up in a new interview about how life on the campaign trail is affecting his family.
In a conversation with People published on Wednesday, the candidate explained that his wife Melania and 9-year-old son Barron have felt the greatest impact while dad is off trying to win voters. “My husband is traveling all the time,” Melania told People. “Barron needs somebody as a parent, so I am with him all the time.“
The time away from family is one of the hardest parts for Donald, too, he said. “I just don’t have the time that I would love to spend with my children and my wife,” he told People. “I see less of my grandchildren than I might like. But they get how important this is.”
Donald has five children — ranging in age from 9 to 37 — and seven grandkids, with one more on the way.
Constant travel and less family time is an occupational hazard for any political candidate, especially during a presidential run. Earlier this year, President Obama spoke of how difficult it was to balance work and family during his 2008 campaign. “Our lives were thrown completely out of balance during a presidential campaign that kept me on the road almost constantly — leaving Michelle to carry an even heavier load for longer stretches of time,” he wrote in an essay for More magazine.
Of course, it’s not just politicians who are working almost constantly, leaving the other parent with the bulk of the child-rearing and housework. Military service people, truckers and medical residents, to name a few, are all careers that require long stretches of time away from the family, and that can have a serious impact on everyone at home. “Having been a medical resident, with a husband who was a medical resident right after I finished my own residency, I’ve been the parent working 120 hour weeks while my husband was at home with the kids, and I’ve been the parent at home while my husband was working,” family physician and parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s harder to be the parent at home.”
But it’s the children who bear the bulk of the burden. “Every family’s situation is unique, but there are some common stressors to having a mother or father who has to parent from afar,” Gilboa says. “It can make a child feel like he has to do something tremendous to get attention — and that can be something tremendously good or tremendously bad. It also makes kids question where they fall in their traveling parent’s priorities.”
For parents who find themselves in this situation, Gilboa says empathy is vital. “Don’t tell your child how to feel, instead accept how they feel,” she says. “As parents, we want to mitigate our own guilt by telling our kids not to be upset, that it’s not a big deal, but that’s disrespectful to our children. We can’t guide their feelings, but we can and should guide their behavior.”
Parents should encourage their children toward problem-solving, and allow them some autonomy in coming up with solutions. “Explain that yes, this is the circumstance you are in — your parent is on a campaign bus, or a military base, or a truck. But then ask the child what would help,” she says. “A phone date at bedtime for a story? A call while they are getting ready for school? Is texting the best way to keep in touch? Is social media? Ask your child what works best for them.”
It’s important to remember that in most cases, a child doesn’t have a say when a parent takes on a job that requires time away. “There’s a saying in the military, ‘one person volunteers, but the entire family serves,’ and that’s true in any circumstance like this,” Gilboa says. “A spouse maybe knows what they are getting into when their partner decides to run for office, but a child didn’t get a vote. Having their autonomy taken away can be frustrating for a child, so any way you can give that back shows them that what they think matters.”
For most families, the busiest moments come in waves — the campaign trail has an end date, a medical residency only lasts so long — so in most cases, busy parents can communicate that to children, and take advantage of the calmer times. “We don’t get balance over the course of the day, we get it over the course of a season,” Gilboa says. “Be intentional in that when the wave ebbs, get in front of your kid’s face, put your forehead against theirs, your nose to theirs, and say ‘The busy time is over for now, and I’m so glad that we can be together.’”
Of course, if Trump is elected, his busy wave will last at least four years. “Being president is maybe the busiest and hardest job in the world, as it should be,” Gilboa says. “If he is elected president, he will need different strategies to connect, and it’s best to get buy in from the whole family. You have to get them to understand why you’re all doing what you’re doing.”
Trump told People that he’s doing just that, trying to explain to Barron why it’s important for their family to be in the White House — even if the young boy isn’t totally sure about the move. “It’s a little scary for Barron,” Trump said. “He thinks he is going to be taken away from friends. But I tell him if this happens, Daddy will help people, and can help children like him, and that makes him happy.”
Helping a child to comprehend the reason behind the separation can make all the difference, Gilboa says. “When a kid is separated from a parent but has that understanding, it can build their resilience and their worldview,” she says. “We are showing them the values that we hope they will have as adults.”
Photos: Corbis Images