One aspect of working that can be profoundly impacted by having children is business travel. The issues around travel can be both philosophical and practical. When my children were very little I tried to limit my travel. But in the last few years my travel has increased and they seem to be none the worse for wear.
On the practical front, I’ve developed a few strategies for helping my family cope with travel.
Communicate, early and often: I put the dates of my travel on my husband’s calendar as soon as I’m aware of them. That way he can work to keep those weeks lighter if possible. If he can’t we can alert our caregiver or call in family reinforcements. The more notice everyone has, the easier it is to make adjustments (at work and at home).
Skip the “mommy guilt gift”: I’m not a fan of coming home laden with toys to assuage feelings of guilt for having been away. It just creates a negative association and reinforces the idea that work travel is somehow “bad.” Instead I’ve made a habit of coming home with T-shirts. I know it sounds a little cliché (“My mommy went on a business trip and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”) but I think of it as a positive way to make them a part of the trip. My kids have T-shirts from everywhere – San Francisco, Colorado, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, London. They grow so fast that they always need new ones anyway. Plus, T-shirts are generally easy to pick up in the airport as you are dashing out and easily fit into the carry-on.
Don’t stress if you can’t check in every day: I used to try and make a video call every day of my trip and I came to find that stressful, both for me and for my husband. Especially with time zones it can be difficult to coordinate — my travel is mostly west which means the optimal call time is smack in the middle of my “work day” on the road. Now I try for one or two check-ins over the course of a long trip. That’s generally enough for us to feel connected without creating a lot of extra stress for everyone. Another mom I know whose husband travels recommends scheduling the check-ins ahead of time, which is even better. I am not that coordinated, but I do text my husband to make sure it’s a good time for them to chat so I don’t inadvertently create chaos at home.
Have a strategy for reentry: I find the reentry process can be stressful for everyone, so I try to plan ahead a bit. I try not to be hitting the house in the middle of bedtime, for example, which will just rile everyone up and is even harder when you are tired from hours on a plane. I also try not to travel so that I’m coming in late on a Friday night, which can start the weekend off really badly. If I can’t avoid these kinds of scenarios I try to make plans with my husband to mitigate the stress.
By the way, it’s interesting to note that not only has my travel not hurt my family, it has had some real positive benefits. The first trip I ever took was when my daughter was a baby and happened to coincide with the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. My husband is a financial advisor and needed to call his clients in the evening. He put our daughter in her crib and shut the door — and I returned to a baby who could put herself to sleep. More recently my husband instituted a checklist system to help the kids get themselves ready for school and camp in the morning. We use it every morning now and it’s made the morning routine much smoother and I even have a few extra minutes to drink my tea!
If you travel for work regularly, what strategies have you developed to help make it manageable?