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Moms Do It All

by Jim Park

Behind every successful man, there's a very surprised woman, or so the saying goes. In this business, every successful man at the wheel probably owes a great deal of that success to his very hard working and equally dedicated spouse.

Chauffeur, baker, personal trainer, teacher, doctor, nurse, correctional officer, grounds keeper, mediator, singer and confidant. She's chief cook and bottle washer, lawnmower fixer and the only one in the house strong enough to lug the overloaded trash can to the bottom of the driveway. In a family that has chosen to do without a man around the house for much of the time, "Mom" becomes a pretty tall job description. Don't take offence guys, but if you think you work hard for your pay, you've probably never spent a week in her shoes.

It's pretty much a given that the stay-at-home Mom is the one who keeps the family on the rails. Sandy Giesbrecht jokes that the hours are long and the pay is terrible, but she gets free room and board in the deal. "Seriously though, what more could I ask for? I'm raising my kids, my way," she says, with more pride than in all the polished chrome at any truck show.

She lives in Oakbank, Man., with Ron, her husband of 17 years, three sons: Ronald, 16; Neil, 15; Brent, 9; and daughter Jolene, 11. Ron is a company driver with Air Liquide in Winnipeg, and he's usually away from the family five days a week.

Sandy describes life in the Giesbrecht home as a series of seven different lives lived side by side, colliding occasionally, but more often than not complimenting the others. "The kids have their lives, I have my life, I have my life with them and my life with Ron," she says. And when Ron comes home on the weekend, all the orbits change a little.

Established Routines

With four active kids, Ron's re-appearance on Friday tends to throw a wrench into the works. But nobody seems to mind that much. The chores get done throughout the week so that come Saturday, the family has time to spend together. That's when Sandy feels a little left out of the loop.

"It's my house to run during the week, but its Ron's on the weekend," she says. "He's a great Dad, and he's wonderful with the kids, and frankly, I enjoy the break."

One of Ron's hobbies is cooking, Sandy says, which provides her with one big break from the usual routine. Come Saturday night, the kitchen's his.

When her kids were younger, they were easier to manage because they had mostly the same needs, at roughly the same time. But as they grow older, they're becoming more independent and in many ways more difficult to manage. She now spends less time looking after the kids on a daily basis, but they're not old enough yet to be left alone. At the same time, she's beginning to feel the need for more outside contact with the adult world to fill that void.

That isn't so surprising, considering the quantity of time required to raise four kids. It's not unique either.

Cheryl Jean is nearing age 40. With two grown sons who've already left home, Michele and André, plus two adolescent daughters, Amanda and Sonia, still living at home, Cheryl also felt the need to fill the growing void in her days at home alone.

Her husband Daniel started trucking six years ago at the age of 37. The family was pretty well established and the routine of life in Robertville, N.B., was proceeding according to plan when Daniel was injured on the job. He couldn't return to his trade as a mechanic, so he learned to drive and eventually became an owner-operator and hired on with Highland Transport.

He's away from home from Monday to Saturday and their two teenage girls require a minimum of maintenance, which leaves Cheryl with plenty of time to devote to the newest member of the Jean family - an eight-year old foster-child named Tyler.

Tyler comes from a broken home with a history of drug abuse, and today requires an extraordinary level of love and affection, as well as a stern hand. "With Daniel away, and the girls still at home, my plans are on hold for the moment, so I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to offer a helping hand to this little guy who really needs it," says Cheryl.

Adjusting to the trucking lifestyle was more difficult for Cheryl than Daniel. "We fought a lot at first," she admits. "I didn't like having to stay home and take care of the kids, pay the bills and clean the house all by myself." She says she would frequently remind Daniel, when he called home, how much of a sacrifice she was making in order to accommodate his new career.

Then one day, Cheryl spoke to Daniel's team-driving partner and he told her how the phone calls affected Daniel. "He told me that after I'd call, Daniel would sit for hours and not say a word," said Cheryl. "I never really thought about it, but I must have put a lot of extra pressure on him. Now, we never discuss the serious issues over the phone, only when he's home." And even then, Cheryl adds, she lets him get in and get settled before getting serious. "That gives him time to adjust."

At 43, Daniel hadn't exactly planned to have an eight-year old around the house either, but Cheryl says the two of them get along quite well, and Tyler is learning to respect Daniel's authority, even though he's seldom around.

Who Makes Rules?

Discipline is always an issue in any family, but in the trucking family, "wait 'til your father gets home," just doesn't work. Cheryl and Sandy both have their own way of doling out the punishment, as do Daniel and Ron. But neither couple can completely agree on who is in charge when Dad is home.

"Ron tends to be a little harder on the kids than I might be," Sandy says. "And that makes it awkward for me when the kids give me that, 'Hey Mom, what's this all about,' look. But it's all part of dealing with the part-time parent thing."

Ironically, as their families mature, both women are becoming less reliant on their men for the physical man-about-the-house duties. But Sandy says she's feeling increasingly dependent on Ron as an anchor and a source of stability.

"I don't need Ron the way I once did, because I've learned to do myself most of what I thought I'd always need him for," she says. "Because I've become a strong person, sometimes I think he feels like he's just there for the money. I sometimes wonder if he knows just how much I - we - appreciate everything he does.

"On one level, Ron's hard work and sacrifice have made it possible for me to stay home and raise these four fantastic kids. It wouldn't have been the same if we'd both had jobs. I know more than he does how much he's given up in order to provide this lifestyle and I could never begin to describe how proud I am of all he's done for us."

After a statement like that one, it might be hard to believe, but Sandy says she often feels guilty about enjoying the spoils of Ron's sacrifice. "I often feel guilty about not having a job and contributing to the family income, and I feel a bit guilty that Ron hasn't been able to share more of our family's love," Sandy says. "I've been truly fortunate to have him to provide for us, and the kids certainly aren't any worse for having me around all the time. I guess these days you just have to set your priorities: and our priority has been the proper raising of the family."

The Jeans share many of the same values and challenges as the Geisbrechts. As do many other trucking families. Sandy and Cheryl both say that their friends and neighbors are very supportive, and helpful when necessary. But they both wish the companies their husbands work for would extend a little more in the way of opportunities to involve the family in what they do for a living. "We want him involved in our lives, but there's almost no way for us to be a part of his," Sandy laments.

Both Cheryl and Sandy firmly believe the best days of their relationships with their husbands are yet to come. Once the important work is done, they both feel the time they'll be able to spend together will be all the sweeter.

"Sure, I wish I had been able to spend more time together or earn a little more money to contribute to the family, but I don't regret anything we've done," says Sandy adamantly. "Our kids are living proof of that."

Being the 'grownup-in-command' keeps her intimately involved with the lives of her kids, and Giesbrecht says she wouldn't trade that for anything the working world has to offer.

We'd bet there's a bunch of women who agree wholeheartedly.

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