Life as a Towboaters Wife

Life with your husband gone six months out of the year and how it affects the family.

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I have been a tow-boaters wife for 27 years and its a way of life that takes time to get used to.  We have raised four kids in rural Kentucky and at times we both wonder what we are doing.  My husband of 27 years became a pilot soon after we got married and has worked almost every shift that a towboat company works-2 weeks on,2 off- 3 weeks on,2 off- 30 and 30 and now 28 and 28.  Over the years we have discussed the pros and cons of our lifestyle and with the better pay involved, decided this is the best way for him to support our family.

First and foremost my husband DOES NOT WORK ON A BARGE!!! He drives a TOWBOAT, he pushes barges, and does it well.  Normally he pushes around 15 barges up and down the Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi and the Cumberland rivers.  The boats  generally have 6-8 workers (deckhands, mates , and a cook) and a pilot, who works the back watch and the captain who works the front watch. They work in six hour shifts, fitting in meals, leisure and telephone time in between.

Life is different when your spouse is on the boat.  First of all- you are basically on your own- you have to be the mother and father to the children and all the household chores and problems fall on your shoulders.  My husband has always been great about being there for me on the phone and helping me in any way he can and he tries to do as many chores around the house before he leaves for the boat.  Of course the kids realize dad is gone and he can’t punish as easily from the boat like he can when he is home. so kids have a tendency to push you more and try to get by with more.  Also as a wife(spouse), unless your children are small, you don’t feel the need to fix the meals at certain times like you do when your significant other is at home. 

It is a hard life, one shared by spouses of truckers and other professions that one has to travel  from home.  People ask me all the time how do we do it, but if this is what you are used to, you don’t think about it as much.  I have always told people that i feel like my husband is with our family more than most fathers who come home every night because when he is home he is there day and night for 28 days straight.  Parents who work at a “normal” job normally work 8-9 hours, commute 1 hour each way and maybe make it home around 6 p.m… you get to eat a meal with your family, then its time for bath and bed and homework if the child has to go to a sitter or daycare.  So quality time is greatly reduced and the weekends are took up with running, shopping and church if you attend.  Oh and by the way, free time is a no no for a couple who works the ‘normal’ job. 

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  1. As a wife of a towboater for 15 yrs we have 4 kids, 14,12,8 and 4… No one can understand it except for those who live it in “real time”.

    Thanks for your blog,
    Gretchen

  2. i am there with you i don’t have much time in he has been on the river for 2 years and looking to move up. some days i hate it so much i feel so alone. I try to explane things to people but they don’t understand it i just wish i had someone to talk to some days…

  3. I know exactly what u mean. My husband and I have been married for 3 years. He has been out on the river for a little over 3 years. Noone knows what I go through but other towboat wives

  4. I made a twitter account that people could just simply express their stories of being a tow boat wife. The page is http://www.twitter.com/towboat_wifeyy or you could simply search towboat wifey probz you could also hashtag #TowboatWifeProbz

  5. I am looking for the towboaters prayer. My father-in-law has been a towboater since 1977 and my husband and brother-in-law followed his footsteps. He is dyign from canc and we have a few weeks at most left with him. We would really like to include this in his service but no one can remember it at this time. My BIL thinks its something like…”no bridges, no locks, No pick-ups, no drops…..” that is basically all he can think of. Any help??? You can email me at sjmorlang@gmail.com or reply here and I will look. Bless everyone for their help and what they go thru as a towboaters wife. I understand.

  6. I am a proud towboaters wife! My husband is a chief engineer. The vessel doesn’t move without an engineer, he keeps it running and all maintance. I’m so PROUD of him. This man is my best friend of 25 years, I miss him, his family misses him, his jobs shows us nothing but selfless love for us all

  7. My husband has been working on the river for almost 5yrs an it gets aggravating at times
    I love him and respect him so much for what he does. Its hard for me and his kids but than I think he leaves everything behind for us for 2wks. But its so nice when he comes home, our relationship stays stronger cuz we miss one another so much. I love my towboatin husband.

  8. I have been married to the river for 7 years. My hubby is a tanker man in the steerin program we have two kids. I am proud of him and lOve him dearly but I really need to talk to sOmeone who has been there done that wit there river rat man.

  9. The dh and I have been married for 7 years and he has been on the boats for almost 10. I’ve never met another towboaters wife so nobody really understands how lonely it can be. It is pretty cool to see others in the same situation (not in a negative way… Just to know that i’m not alone).

  10. My husband is currently on his second hitch and i’m at home of course trying to get adjusted ……we both feel that this is the job that makes the most sense for our family an we have a strong relationshipthe only difficult thing thus far is trying to handle everything on my own and deal with the kids missing their daddy…..

  11. I recently married a towboater in June 2012, so this is all so new to me. He is my best friend and we spend every waking moment together the 28 days he is home. I just miss him so much it hurts sometimes when he’s gone. Reading this blog and the comments have helped a lot. I don’t personally know any towboater’s wives so it’s nice to hear other women’s thoughts and feelings. Is there a facebook page dedicated to this? I don’t have a twitter acount.

  12. I think you guys should develope a club or group for towboaters wives locally in your area. Name it the Towboaters Wives club. Especially where the kids can meet other kids that have dads that share the same job. I have recently started talking with a young man who is a towboater and he recently expressed to me that he has a hard time trying to find a strong woman to stick with him and his job. Frankly Ive always been under my soon to be ex husband and still felt lonely where as I doing things different this go round and would like to try to be with a good man with this type of life style. Hopefully I would have the chance to experience or maybe even marry it. But until then I want you guys to know that You are very strong women to me.

  13. Also I would like to add…. I think all that time strengthens the relationship.

  14. time apart sorry typo

  15. All the time apart sorry typo.

  16. I am a PROUD towboaters wife. My husband & I have been married 17 yrs. & have two great kids. He has worked very HARD to get to where he is at. He got his Captain license at the age 22 & now he is senior Captain for the past 2 1/2 years. He works 28 & 14. This life is not for everyone. Your husband must be able trust his wife, because you take care of everything. I had to give birth to our childern while he was on the boat listening on the phone & have had many surgeries with out him. But this the life we chosen & I would not change it. We love & miss him when he is gone & we are also VERY PROUD OF HIM!!!

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