It’s tough enough being on the road for business, much less having a family at home to take care of. The guilt we lay on ourselves can often fill up another suitcase, so it’s especially heart-breaking when our kids lay on the guilt, as well.
My daughter was famous for this. At any time – and usually when I was at my most tired state of body and mind – I could hear, “It’s because you’re never home!” These words literally felt like a stab to my heart. Even though my kids are now in their 20’s, I still remember these days like they were yesterday.
I have always wished that there had been two of me, one to stay at home with the family and one to be traveling. Since cloning of people wasn’t an option, I packed my bag and off I went. I love my kids, love my work, love the travel and love the income that has been able to provide well for us. I just don’t love the pang of feeling my own self-inflicted guilt or hearing the “because you’re never home” words.
I did several things that helped keep the connection with all of us. So much more can be done with the technology available today. Here are a few ideas if you find yourself in this gut-wrenching situation:
- Bring your kids along if and when you can. Bring your spouse, nanny or other caregiver to be with them while you’re working. Or ask your hotel’s concierge for assistance in bringing in a trustworthy, proven, recommended child care provider to be with them at the hotel.
I would bring along the kids’ nanny, arrange for room service to be brought in at lunch time and then spend the evening with them, keeping the working hours as limited as possible. This works well when the kids were on a school break and are old enough to keep themselves occupied with games and movies.
One of my kids’ first stays was at a Holiday Inn in Minneapolis. For months after that, every time they’d see a Holiday Inn sign, they’d yell “Minneapolis!” no matter what city we were in.
Hotels with kitchens or kitchenettes are great because you can bring in a few of their favorite food items and keep things in the refrigerator. A favorite hotel when bringing along the kids is the Residence Inn and similar type of property.
- Try to work your schedule to be home on their important days – birthdays, first day of school, etc. Also read up on 3 Simple Ways to Take the Pain Out of Business Travel – for Traveling Moms.
- Set up Skype-time in the evenings to talk about their day, go over homework, plan the next day and just talk. Give each child their own time with you on the phone, even set up different calls for each one (kids love a special call just for them).
- Have one-on-one time with each child when you are home. Take them out to breakfast or lunch or go shopping. Again, they love private time with mom. This is also the time when any issues brewing with your child hopefully come out so you can address them when you’re having a relaxed time together.
- Go over your schedule with them as to the actual hours that you’ll really not be available to them while you’re away. For example, if you weren’t traveling, you’d see them at breakfast and dinner and a few hours in the evenings. The rest of the time, they’d be in school and you’d be at an office. For each day away, this might add up to maybe 4-5 hours that you’re not with your family (realistically even less if your kids are anything like mine and love to hide away in their bedrooms).
Replace this with a call in the morning before school, and a longer Skype session in the evening. Yes, you have a deficit of a dozen hours or so for the days you’ll be away, but that’s a much easier amount of time to bear than saying it was an entire four days that you’re weren’t around.
- Talk with your children’s teachers and agree on a communication method. Some schools offer online access to homework assignments and upcoming projects, which is great whether you’re on the road or not. Otherwise, arrange for emails or phone calls on a regular basis. Even though your kids may not like you communicating with their teachers, it is a great way to keep on top of schoolwork and helps squash your child’s excuse that they didn’t get a project done because mom wasn’t around to remind them of it.
- Come up with alternatives to some of your business trips. Teleconferences, working at home when your project or tasks will allow it, and brainstorming alternative ways to be efficient with the travel while getting your work accomplished are all ideas that usually can reduce the travel a bit.
For example, I was implementing inventory control systems for years. I found that most companies really struggled with managing their inventory counts once the implementation had been completed.
Instead of me traveling back and forth to these companies for further work, I created a business model for assisting companies remotely, a few hours each week per company. This was less overwhelming to them, we could really focus on constant improvements, and it allowed me to work from home more often.
If you’re not sure if your boss will go with the idea of less travel, read the The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. There are tons of great ideas on how to approach more remote work with your employer.
There’s no way to remove all of the guilt we moms inflict upon ourselves as we stare out the plane window flying away from home or sitting in our hotel room at night after a long day of business meetings. Hopefully these ideas will plant some seeds on ways that you and your kids can stay more connected even when miles physically separate you.
And if you want to know how my kids turned out, even with a mom who traveled much of their lives – well, they’re wonderful adults now, independent, hard-working, well-traveled, and a true joy to be with. And my daughter, who could really throw the heart-wrenching daggers when she was a teenager, now considers me her best friend.
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