Co-owners of an eight-truck fleet, Mike and Jane Connors share the challenges and rewards of running a business together and maintaining a marriage.
Jane Connors is a jack – make that jane – of all trades: trucker’s wife, homemaker, former driver, writer and manager of the eight-truck fleet she runs alongside her husband.
She is one of thousands of spouses of over-the-road truckers who face a special set of challenges because of their husband’s – or wife’s – demanding and time-consuming job.
A trucker’s spouse or significant other has to handle a mixed bag of problems and worries the average spouse rarely has to confront all at once – the trucker’s safety and fidelity, missing him while he’s gone, raising children with half of the parenting team gone half the time, supporting his dreams while sometimes sacrificing her own, and going it alone on the home issues most couples handle together.
But for all they must overcome, spouses often form the cornerstone of a trucker’s career – something he can build on and lean on; someone who will encourage him, help with business decisions and paperwork and – most importantly – lighten his mental and emotional load.
Stand by your partner
For a relationship to survive the days or weeks of separation, truckers’ spouses must give strong emotional support. An eTrucker.com poll of 554 drivers found that 24 percent of drivers feel their spouse’s emotional support is what helps them most in their trucking career.
Connors, who lives with her husband of 16 years, Mike, in the little town of Suwanee, Fla., says driver-spouse relationships often survive better when the trucker’s wife is in a supporting role. “Their life revolves around their husband,” she says. “In an area like this, trucking is the best job a man can get. It makes sense for her to support him and be there when he needs it. That’s a hard thing for a lot of women to do.
“It sounds like the Stepford wives, but in some ways it is like that,” Connors says. “And at the same time you have to be this independent woman. I don’t think you’ll find a lot of truckers’ wives who are real submissive. That’s a skill I had to learn. It didn’t come easy to have to set myself aside for him.”
Sometimes that supporting role includes caring for children and running the home. In the eTrucker.com poll, 55 percent of drivers said their spouse most helped their career by managing the home life, so they had a thousand less things to worry about on the road.
“Women can be life savers,” says Celadon Transport driver Darnell Ambrose. He lives with his wife of 23 years, Joyce, in Killeen, Texas. “She runs everything because I can’t do it out here,” says Ambrose, a 15-year driving veteran who stays out on the road three and a half weeks at a time. “You name it, she does it. Pay all the bills, take care of the house, take care of the car problems, make all my appointments for me.”
Houston trucker Kenny Mayfield, leased to Cheetah Transport, says his wife of 12 years, Tracey, tends to their three children, ages 4, 11 and 16, while he is on the road five days at a time. She drives them to lessons and sporting events and handles their everyday problems. “My daughter plays the violin, and my son plays football,” Mayfield says. “[Tracey] quit her job. She does home tutoring, too.”
A trucker’s spouse at home often has to fill the place of two parents. Canadian trucker’s wife Kelly Livingstone, the mother of three young children, takes the time to walk them to school and volunteer at their schools, things her husband can’t do: he’s on the road three days at a time hauling mail. Earlier in his career he was out three weeks at a time.
Many people she meets ask how can she do it, and they criticize her husband for leaving her and the kids alone. “But it works for us,” she says. “I’m quite capable of being on my own. He misses the kids, but he’s happy when he’s home. My [2-year-old] son’s favorite line is ‘Dada at work in truck.’ He says it even when he’s home!”
Livingstone and her husband Randy made the decision together for him to start driving three years ago. “I told him whatever he wanted to do and whatever made him happy,” she says. “If he’s not happy, we’re not happy.
“He was born to be behind the wheel. He loves to drive, and I love to stay home with the kids, so it works out.”
Striking a balance
But it’s not all about giving; a trucker’s spouse must receive support, too. Loneliness is one of the hardships that’s a given when you marry an OTR trucker.
“I still cry every time he goes,” says Tess Doege, who stays home in Glendale, Ariz., while her husband Chris drives their 1999 Freightliner for Central Refrigerated. “I’m here by myself with three kids alone for three weeks a month. I get lonely, but I wouldn’t want him to quit. It’s in his blood. I have to let him do what he wants to do.”
But she doesn’t cry as much as she did when he first started driving in 2003; now her eyes well up and then she goes on with her day, she says. She joined an online forum for truckers’ wives and girlfriends at TruckZ.com so she could get support from others going through the same issues.
Keeping busy is the main thing that keeps the spouse at home sane, says Livingstone.
“I have my moments, but I’m very busy, and that helps me,” she says. “There’s no sense sitting around missing him. In the summertime I’m out in the yard a lot. In the winter I like to decorate. And my furniture is never in the same spot for more than a month.”
Filling your life with the hubbub of family and business can ward off loneliness, truckers’ spouses say, but it doesn’t leave much time for relaxing or fun.
“I refer to a trucker’s wife as a married single mom,” says Canadian trucker’s wife and mother of three Kay McFarlane, whose husband Scott is home one day a week. “Dr. Phil made a comment recently about studies that show a stay-at-home mom works the equivalent of two full-time jobs. I think a trucker’s wife works 10 full-time jobs. I have no time for me at all, and I become resentful that he comes home and complains. He gets one morning when he’s home to himself each trip, and I can’t even go out while he’s away with friends.”
McFarlane went back to work for six months just to “get out of the house.” Now she volunteers two evenings a month on a non-profit board.
But like all issues facing truckers’ spouses, nothing is ever simple. “You need your own interests, or you’ll go crazy,” Connors says. “But you can’t have your own separate life, or it’s hard to mesh when he gets home. You need your own life to survive, but do you shut that off like a tap when he gets home?”
It’s a delicate balance, Connors says. “Most truckers’ wives are really independent people,” she says. “Now I have to figure out how to do things because he’s not here.”
But the truckers need to feel needed, too. And they face loneliness out on the road, just like their spouses at home. “[My wife] gets to missing me sometimes, but it doesn’t affect our relationship,” says Ambrose. “She’s my right hand, and I do miss her out here. I’ve been out here 15 years, and sometimes I get screwed up and have her there to help me.”
The business end
Some truckers’ spouses, especially in the case of owner-operators, take their support to the next level – helping out on the business end.
For some it’s as simple as being the eyes and ears for their driver-spouse, looking up weather conditions and maps on the Internet or scouting out loads. For Livingstone, that’s how her website and message board for truckers’ wives, www.atruckerswife.com, began. “I had a bunch of bookmarks for my husband, and I’ve had websites before, so I thought I should put this stuff online for other truckers’ wives,” she says. “I know that we being at home on the computer do a lot of looking up for our husbands.”
Others take on the accounting and bookkeeping for their spouse’s trucking business. Still others take full charge of the business side to let their spouse concentrate on driving.
The Doeges own a one-truck business together. Tess handles the paperwork, bookkeeping and taxes, while Chris does the driving. “We’re both owner-operators, but I guess I run the show,” says Tess, 39. The Doeges married eight years ago. Chris, a former driver, was paralyzed from the waist down from a horse-riding accident in 1996, so he stayed home with their three children while Tess worked.
Then Chris, 37, miraculously learned to walk again. “While I was at work he was working on walking,” Tess says. “They said he’d never walk again. He was determined he was going to make it, mind over matter, and he did. All of a sudden it came back one day.”
Chris caught the trucking bug again, and the couple bought their first truck in 2003. Now Tess is a stay-at-home mom and spends three or four hours a week doing paperwork for the business. Chris dreams of one day expanding to a five-truck fleet. “He wants to have something to pass on to his kids,” Tess says.
Former team driver Connors set aside her writing goals to commit to her husband’s trucking business dream. “I work full time in the business,” she says. “We’re still a tiny trucking company, but we’re big for us. We’re huge for us.”
Most of their marriage they have been trucking. They started out together as owner-operators in 1991; after three and half years as his team driver, Connors decided to stay home and concentrate on the business end.
“It’s not something I planned on. I came to this kicking and screaming,” Connors says. “We were both reluctant truckers. We were going to drive for a few years, see the country.” Then they moved from California to their little town in Florida. They loved the area, but it had few jobs, so they stuck with trucking.
“Now we’re committed to being this size and growing the business,” Connors says. “I’m 100 percent. This is what I do all the time.”
For owner-operators and their spouses, the business end can take up even more of their “couple time.”
“Any small business absorbs all your energy,” Connors says. “Our office is now separate from the house, and that’s been tremendously helpful for our mental health. We’ve managed to draw a dividing line between us and the business. Trucking is a business that claims of lot of your energy and time.”
The key is to not let the business become your whole life, Connors says.
“It wraps around the fabric of your life, and sometimes I have to pull us up short,” she says. “That’s one of my jobs – to say, ‘Look, we’re not laughing anymore. We’ve got to lighten up or lose it.'”
One of the most difficult relationship tests between long-distance truckers and their spouses is trust. The pendulum swings both ways, with the spouse at home being just as susceptible to temptation – and accusation – as the trucker.
“If it weren’t for how much we care about each other and the trust we have for each other, we wouldn’t have made it,” says owner-operator’s wife Tess Doege. Her husband Chris was married twice before, and both marriages broke up because the women couldn’t handle his trucking life, Tess says.
Kelly Livingstone, who writes a monthly column in the Canadian trucking magazine Truck News and started a website and message board for truckers’ wives, www.atruckerswife.com, says cheating – or the fear of it – is a critical issue for many of the women who frequent her site. “That’s one of the big things because we’ve had two or three [women who visit the message board] split up in a year,” she says.
But, she says, the driver’s profession isn’t the problem; it’s the person or the relationship. Trust is something you either have or you don’t, regardless of the career. “I don’t have a problem trusting my husband because if I can trust him here, being on the road shouldn’t make a difference,” says Livingstone, who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a trucker’s wife or a lawyer’s wife or a meat packer’s wife.”
Trust becomes a greater issue if one half of the couple – trucker on the road or spouse at home – has a jealous streak. “I had a driver whose wife was convinced I was having an affair with her husband,” says former driver Jane Connors, who now owns an eight-truck fleet with her husband. “These guys don’t have time for that on the schedule we run them on. I may be na