My partner often travels for work. And when he does, I ungraciously morph from a calm co-parent to a high-strung single dad.
I know just how difficult juggling work and children for a few days alone can be (shout-out to solo parents who do this every day without a single complaint), so when I watched this season of Australian Survivor: Champions vs Contenders, I couldn’t help but wonder: how the hell are the loved ones handling everything at home by themselves?
To find out, I spoke with Simon Black. Blacky, a former Aussie rules football player with the Brisbane Lions, placed 7th on the show this past season. His impressive run saw him beat out 18 contestants. But that remarkable feat kept him away from his wife and three kids for 42 gruelling days.
“My wife [Catherine] and I have been fans of the game for quite some time,” Simon told me over the phone yesterday. “Last year, when the show aired, it was actually my wife that turned to me and asked if it were something I would consider doing. I instantly said yes!”
Then, a year later, he got a phone call. One that would, unbeknownst to him, kick off a Survivor journey that would not just change his life but his families too.
“Initially, my wife was excited and supportive,” he remembers. “It wasn’t until it got a bit closer to me leaving to film the show that the reality sunk in.”
The reality that his wife would need to take on solo parenting for up to 50 days.
The solo parent
Simon didn’t tell his three children about his participation on the show. His daughter, Evie, was just shy of two so wouldn’t have understood. And while his two sons, Lucas (5) and Lachlan (7), we’re big fans of the show, they really couldn’t be trusted to keep the news a secret at school.
“We just told them I was going on an overseas trip and they were none the wiser,” he joked.
When asked how he helped in putting a plan together that would make day-to-day life manageable for his wife, Simon responded like a true gentleman.
“Catherine loves mothering and is wonderful at it. We set up a babysitting schedule that would allow her to have breaks, but she ended up cancelling most of them and tackling it all on her own.
“What my wife did extremely well was that she prioritised time for herself. She went to bed each night at 8pm and carved out time to see her friends and to exercise.”
The lesson …
For most of us who will never get the chance to compete on a show like Survivor, there are still lessons to be learned from Simon’s experience and perspective. He obviously was aware of what important life moments he would miss while competing on the show, so he spent time making gifts and creating videos.
“It was Mother’s Day while I was gone, so I purchased gifts for my wife and wrote her a couple of cards. I also made little videos for my kids, so Catherine could play them while I was away.”
Simon felt that it was his obligation to take the time to plan those small, special moments. And he feels it should be the same for parenting travelling for business or pleasure.
“Listen, it’s difficult. Being away from your family makes you appreciate your life back home. It’s really profound and helps you see the bigger picture in life.”
For Simon, the transition back in the ‘real world’ hasn’t been easy. But he’s focused on spending more quality time with his kids and being more patient day-to-day.
Reminding you what’s important
For the rest of us, especially those first-time parents who are desperate for a break, 50 days away from your family may sound like a dream.
Simon Black’s experience on Survivor is proof that taking time for yourself is beneficial (while reminding you how important time with your loved ones is), it means that someone else will be forced to take on more responsibility.
“You really can’t ignore the impact that your decision to leave will have on others,” he says.
I got off my call with Simon and hugged my kids extra tight that night. I’ll use his experience to be more grateful for the time I have with my family and the role my partner plays in helping to raise our two children.
And who knows, maybe I’ll even apply for the next season of Survivor.