26 Mar Traveling Light
Feel bad when you leave your kids for a business trip? Use these strategies to stay connected and alleviate the guilt.
When Martina Lauchengco Jones tells her two daughters that she’s leaving on a business trip, she gets these typical responses.
“Don’t go!” pleads Taryn, age five.
“Aww…,” from a disappointed Anya, age nine.
The girls are sad when their mom leaves, but “always just fine when I’m gone,” says Jones, a partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, a company in Sunnyvale, California, that advises start-up technology companies. Jones travels once or twice a month during a six- or seven-month period each year to meet with clients across the country, which takes her away from her husband and two girls for several days at a time.
Working moms like Jones have always faced the stress of juggling family and their professional lives. Throw business travel into the equation, and the balancing act becomes even more delicate. But with some planning, a supportive partner or network of friends and family, and the proper mindset, it is possible to “have it all,” say many traveling moms. As you plan your next out-of-town business meeting, consider these tips before you leave the family behind.
Prepare the kids
Moms of young children agree that telling your kids several days in advance of your trip is better than giving longer notice. “I generally don’t tell them until pretty close to my trip, so that they don’t worry about me being gone before I’m gone,” says Jones.
Susan Stoga, the owner of a marketing and communications firm in Schaumburg, Illinois, tells her kids—Matthew, thirteen, and Carey, eight—whom she’s meeting on her trips and about the projects she’s working on so that they better understand what she does. She might even e-mail a picture of herself with her client for her kids to see.
It’s okay—and even a good thing—to tell your kids that you enjoy your profession and that travel is part of your job duties. Kelly Davies, vice president of operations for the East Region of CBIZ Medical Management Professionals in Knoxville, Tennessee, talks unapologetically about her job to her fourteen-year-old son, Tyler. She tells him that even though she doesn’t like being away from him, she loves her job. “I would never want him to think that I’m choosing to do something that I hated,” she says, because that would give the impression that she prefers a job that she dislikes over being at home.
Develop a strong support network
It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child. Build a solid team of caregivers—your spouse or partner, nearby relatives, neighbors, a babysitter—who can pick up the slack while you’re away. Stoga, who travels every month, trades school drop-off and pick-up duties with other working moms in the neighborhood.
Nikki Lewis Simon, a partner at law firm Greenberg Traurig’s Miami office, has a full-time nanny who helps with the child-care duties for her four children—ages four, seven, fourteen, and fifteen—until her husband gets home from work around 6 p.m. “Don’t try to go it alone if you don’t have to, and understand that things won’t necessarily be perfect in your absence,” says Simon.
Moms agree that you can’t prepare for every contingency, but they do try to plan ahead in order to lessen the impact of their absence. Lawyer Heidi Mayon makes sure there’s a supply of diapers on hand for her two-year-old daughter. Stoga stocks her freezer with easy-to-make meals, such as tortellini and frozen vegetables. Jones fills the refrigerator and informs her husband of its contents so that he can plan meals appropriately. Simon makes sure to sign outstanding school forms and permission slips prior to her trip.
Use technology to stay connected
Technology—videoconferencing, e-mail, and texting—has been a huge help in keeping moms and their kids connected. Stoga exchanges text messages with her eight- and thirteen-year-old children and checks their homework online. Simon posts her four kids’ activities on a shared Outlook calendar so that her husband knows where the kids need to be and when. Jones uses Apple’s FaceTime to talk to her girls every evening before they go to bed.
Let it all go
Once you’ve built your circle of trusted caregivers, you need to take a step back and let them do their jobs. Don’t try to micromanage every detail. Dad might do things differently, but that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.
“Let your partner feel empowered to step up and make life happen for the family,” Jones says. “He will appreciate what you do and also improve his relationship with your kids.”
Now that you are confident the kids are being well cared for, try to make the most of your time away. Mayon, an attorney for law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitt-
man LLP in San Francisco, travels three to six times a year and allows herself to enjoy some “me time” when on a business trip. She calls friends, watches TV, or catches up on work.
“I remind myself frequently that my daughter is safe and happy at home without me and that the lesson I am teaching her by pursuing a career I worked extremely hard for and also really enjoy is more important than a few days away,” she says.
Spend quality time with the family when you are at home
When not on the road, Jones tries to come home early most afternoons to take Taryn to swim and gymnastics classes, coach Anya’s soccer team, and attend the girls’ piano lessons. She reserves Friday afternoons for hanging out with her daughters. Jones leaves mundane tasks like grocery shopping to the babysitter so that she can focus on her daughters. Simon schedules “family night” once a week, when the kids get to eat whatever they want—breakfast for dinner, pizza, Chinese food. They are allowed to stay up a little later on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sundays the family attends church together. Mayon leaves her office at 4:30 p.m. to get home, then spends time with her daughter until bedtime.
If you have more than one child, try to spend individual time with each child, says Ellen Grant, a licensed social worker based in Grand Island, New York. Let your child pick what he or she wants to do. “Remember, time is more important than a gift, especially one that’s quickly bought at the airport gift shop,” Grant says.
When Jones returned home from a recent business trip to Washington, DC, she found a note from her daughter Anya taped to the wall.
I missed you soooo ssoo sssooo sooo ssoooo much. In Writer’s Workshop I’m on my 3rd narrative. I’m almost done with “The Lost Hero.” And I love you.
She also found evidence that the girls had friends over for sleepovers—a sink full of dirty dishes. And she concluded that everything went just fine while she was away. DW
Sherri Eng is a frequent contributor to DW.