The 12-Hour Commute Was A Life Sentence

Looking back at it, it was pure madness.

Four years ago I moved over to St Petersburg in Russia with my family. I spoke fluent Russian and had worked in Russia before. Ok, so far, so good. My kids at the time were 2 and 4 and we wanted to give them the experience of living in St Petersburg, living near my parents-in-law. Ok, young kids, they’d cope, no big deal. However….

….I was tempted over to Russia by a promise.

I was offered a role at the global recruiter Antal. Great company, a Managing Director whom I knew personally, decent prospects. However, the job was initially in Moscow – 650km away. I was tempted by an elusive promise of maybe opening an office in St Petersburg. This was a pipe-dream, the market was nowhere near mature enough, but I was sucked in by the dream, and I sucked my family in as well. Huge error of judgement on my part.

So, picture the scene, Daddy initially working from Monday to Thursday in Moscow, leaving on the (sleeper) night train at midnight on Sunday, arriving in Moscow at 10am in the morning and going straight into the office (I took the Soviet style night train as it maximized my days spent with my family). Back to a small Moscow flat for three days and then back on the Thursday sleeper to arrive early on Friday morning.

I know that there are lots of people who have jobs where they see their families less than this, but for me this was unbearable, for our family it proved a real strain.

Luckily my parents-in-law were more than happy to help out, so the kids were spoilt rotten, but it was still a huge wrench to have to leave them every week. Onto that train…. just the thought of it makes me physically sick. I would always book the top bunk in a “coupé” carriage which slept four people. I would sit with my laptop and write poetry, my only escape from the ever-increasing distance.

I did what I needed to do, and the kids seemed ok with it. Hairline cracks were starting to appear in every aspect of my life, but I kept going. I managed to change to Sunday to Wednesday, which made things easier, but I was then at the point where even a day away would have been too much.

This is part of the story where I normally say that I changed something, where I say that there was a happy ending. Well, unfortunately, there wasn’t….

I kept up this commute for longer than I should have done. The moment that I realized a St Petersburg office was not going to happen should have been my epiphany. It wasn’t. My marriage was suffering, and my daughter was no longer the Daddy’s girl that she once was. My son had a closer relationship with his grandfather than he did with me….

I did change things for the better eventually, but not as early as I should have.

So, in the age of work / life flexibility and telecommuting, try to spend as much time with your family and loved ones as you can. Don’t feel that your commute should be a life sentence. Negotiate as hard as you can on your working arrangements. Do all that you can to organize things so that you can be there for those you love.

Don’t miss too many bedtimes. Don’t miss your child’s first tooth falling out. Don’t miss the first time your child rode a bike.

Those moments won’t come again.

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