When your spouse is a ‘super commuter’
“It’s the perfect job, BUT….”
This is how the conversation starts when a working couple is faced with a big decision – whether or not a spouse should take a job in another city and become a ‘super commuter.’ A super commute is defined as commuting 90 minutes or more to work.
You might think this is an uncommon proposition, but it is a growing trend. Megan Bearce, LMFT, author of the book Super Commuter Couples: Staying Together When A Job Keeps You Apart, estimates that there were 3.42 million full-time workers in this situation in 2012.
How about right here in Gainesville? You may have heard about a family where a parent works in Jacksonville or Orlando, or conversely you may have a colleague whose family lives in another city. What are the challenges for working couples with children in this situation? Are there any benefits? I set out to find some local super-commuting parents to see how they manage this unusual lifestyle.
Jim Frey lives in Gainesville and is a partner at Studio9 Architecture in Jacksonville. He began super-commuting in July of 2012 when project work turned into a full-time role and then, ultimately a partnership. His wife Julie is the Director of Information and Communication Technology at the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning. They are parents to two girls, ages 9 and 14. Jim’s commute is 72 miles which can take up to an hour and forty-five minutes.
When Jim received the offer, a move to Jacksonville wasn’t in the cards since Julie’s career was well established in Gainesville and the girls were settled in their schools and their neighborhood.
“It came down to a quality of life issue,” Julie said. “We felt our family’s quality of life was better served in Gainesville.”
For Jim, the hardest part is the time away from the family. “When I work late, I’m home after the kids go to bed. When I need to go into the office on a weekend, because of the drive, it’s not just a couple hours, it’s a full-day commitment.”
He focuses on the time they are together as a family. “It’s the small things in each day,” he says. He gets quality time simply reading a book with the kids at bedtime, attending their school events and extracurricular activities, and even running errands around town together.
“I appreciate the times when all four of us are home for dinner,” he says.
Technology helps out, too. Jim telecommutes one day per week using Splashtop. They also use an app called Avocado for coordinating calendars.
While the kids just consider this set-up to be a part of their normal life, Julie says it comes down to staying organized and coordinating calendars. “Planning is the key to making everything work.”
Jim probably passes Daniel Ray on the road each day. Ray is also a super-commuter traveling one and a half hours each day from Orange Park to Gainesville for his position at Info Tech, Inc. as a senior software developer. He and his wife Ellyn, who works for CSX Technology, are parents to two children, ages 9 and 11. Ray has been super-commuting since October of 2014.
Similar to the Freys, the Rays did not relocate because they love their community and schools. There are challenges for everyone, though. The most difficult part for Daniel is the amount of time used for the drive, while Ellyn notes that shuttling kids to practices and events can be hard on her. “The kids have adjusted well,” she said. “They understand the situation and we have made concessions so that it rarely affects them.
There are positives, too. Daniel notes that his drive is not stop-and-go traffic, so it can be a nice way to decompress at the end of the day. Ellyn adds, “There are times when we are able to telecommute for work when there are things that have to be handled at home.”
The Rays, like the Freys, also maximize family time by playing games together, going to the movies and doing crafts.
Are you considering super-commuting? The Freys would offer this advice: “Have a plan but be flexible. Work together and be understanding of the other spouse’s position. Build a support network.”
The Rays recommend weighing the pros and cons before making a decision. “Both parties need to understand how their roles will change when the super-commute is added to their daily life,” Ellyn said.
While some experts say that the recession fueled the super-commuting trend, thanks to mortgages becoming scarce and relocation packages drying up, others say that an increase in super-commuting is more likely due to advances in technology. Either way, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Once super-commuters are settled into their routines, there would need to be a compelling reason, such as “the perfect job,” to make another change.
Super-commuters working in Gainesville: 1,092
Percentage of Gainesville workforce: 1.9%
Super-commuters working in Jacksonville: 4,464
Percentage of Jacksonville workforce: 1.3%
Super-commuters working in Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford: 7,602
Percentage of Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford workforce: 1.4%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006-2010 5-year American Community Survey
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