As technology advances and our global economy changes, working parents are finding new freedoms. The number of parents who are able to work from home has increased in recent years, but with that freedom comes a trade-off. While a larger percentage of working parents may not be required to go to the office every day, the number of working parents who have to travel for business–requiring a stay of at least one day and one night away from home–has also increased.
Just look around this site. In order to provide the coverage that we do to our readers, GeekDad and GeekMom contributors travel to bring you news, photos, and video from conventions, trade shows, and events all around the globe. Sometimes those are family-friendly events, and we endeavor to bring you the honest reactions from our own kiddos. Sometimes we are forced to leave the kids behind for any number of reasons, a reality shared by our readers who travel to conferences, meetings, and business trips all the time.
Leaving one’s children behind can be tough on the whole family. Kids can be restless and emotional about the disruption from “normal.” Parents can be plagued by guilt at leaving the kids (and sometimes the spouse or partner) behind to deal with the disruption at home. Though business travel might be unavoidable, there are a few tips and suggestions that can make the experience more tolerable for all involved.
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to someone who is no stranger work travel. Be it for fan conventions or filming, actor, director, podcast host, and father Jason Mewes–“Jay” to Kevin Smith’s “Silent Bob”–spends a lot of time on the road for work. “I would say at least half of the weekends in a year,” Mewes said. “I’m usually gone, like, Thursday night ’til Sunday night. This year, I would say I’ve probably been away half of those.” With two-year-old daughter, Logan, at home, those weekends away can be rough. Below are four tips from Jason and from family counselors on how to manage a work-life balance when you’re called to travel.
Maintain Established Routines
One way to ease the disruption that families can feel when a parent has to travel for work is to attempt to maintain set routines as much as possible. Do you read a book to your child every night before bed? Tell the kids goodbye before they head to school? If so, try to keep to the same routine, as much as you travel schedule allows. Things like Facetime, Skype, and Google Hangouts make excellent video conversation tools, but even something as simple as recording yourself reading your child’s favorite book and having it played at bedtime can help settle a younger child.
Don’t think that using technology to maintain a sense of normality is just for the children at home. It can be just as important for the traveling parent’s peace of mind. Jason is partial to Nest Indoor and Outdoor Security Cameras to help him feel connected to his loved ones when he is away from home. “I check in on her (Logan) all the time. We have cameras throughout the house. It definitely makes me feel a lot safer, just in general with security.”
“You know, I get an alert if someone’s at the front gate, and it makes me feel better to be able to check it and see what’s going on. But also, just watching her play or sleep, and being able to check in on her throughout the night. I can see, ‘Oh, she went to bed on time,’ where before I’d have to call the wife and find out what time she went to bed. But with the Nest cameras, it’s awesome because I can rewind the camera and see that she went to bed at eight o’clock. Or, Jordan’s not answering my call and I’m stressing, I’ll look at the cameras and see that she’s giving the baby a bath and that’s why she doesn’t have her phone on her. It’s super, super helpful.”
Let Go and Handle Your Business (and Have Some Fun)
There comes a time when every parent who travels for work has to set aside their thoughts and concerns about those at home and perform whatever duty required them to travel in the first place. Perhaps it’s attending training, giving a presentation, pitching a prospective client, or covering panel at a convention. Regardless of the specific “what” you have to do, give yourself permission as a parent to give the task your full attention. You’re not doing those at home any favors if you’re not at your best for whatever work you have to do.
Many professionals encourage going one step further. Don’t just allow yourself to be your best during the scheduled work hours. Take whatever free time you might have in your travel itinerary and experience the city and culture where you are staying. Even if you routinely travel to the same area, find something new and different to do with your time and explore what the city has to offer. Don’t spend your down time cooped up in your hotel room counting down the minutes until you are back home. Have a story to tell and an experience to share when you return.
At the same time, know your limits. Having a family might change the dynamic and the opportunities you want to take advantage of. “Before, I would say there were definitely times I would adjust,” said Mewes. “For example, this weekend (September 29 to October 1) we’re going to be going to Florida. Kevin and I have two ‘Jay and Bob Get Old‘s and I’m doing a comic book convention. Then Kevin goes to New Jersey and New York for the New York Comic Con. I haven’t been to New York Comic Con in at least three years, and I really dig it. It’s almost as big as San Diego. Very big, very cool. Not to mention, I always enjoy hanging with Kevin. So, definitely the difference is this weekend I would love to go with Kevin from Florida and fly to New Jersey, see my family, go to New York, hang with Kevin, see the comic con… But now with the kid, man, it’s like I’m changing flights and if there’s an earlier flight home on Sunday and I can get out I do, and I pass up opportunities like that.”
Have a Solid Support Structure (at Home and at Work)
Having physical, mental, and emotional support for the spouse or partner at home with the kids can not only help the parent with the kid(s) and keep the disruptions from “normal” to a minimum, but it can also help with any feelings of frustration or resentment the spouse or partner might feel about being left home with the kid(s).
“Luckily, my wife’s mom and Jordan’s godmother live close. They both live only 45 minutes to an hour away and they’ll come when I leave town and spend the weekend with the wife and help out with the baby. It’s been really great. I feel super lucky and blessed that her family is around and can help out.” For those who do not have family nearby, creating a support structure with friends and neighbors can help alleviate the burden of parenting while one’s spouse or partner is away on business.
Professionals also tend to agree that having a support structure for the traveling parent is essential as well. Having friends and coworkers who understand what you are doing, know what it is to be a parent who has to leave their family behind in order to take care of business, and what it feels like to be gone for any length of time can create a positive and supportive environment. Jason credits his support structure for helping him deal with being on the road.
“You know, Kevin and Jordan work together. Jordan runs Kevin’s company SmodCo. It’s good because Kevin and Jordan and me spend a lot of time working together, so it is like a big family. She understands that he and I are both leaving our kids.”
Return to Family
Experts agree that the return to wholeness can be both an exciting time but also produce its own anxieties. Professionals tend to agree that the occasional gift from the trip is fine, when done sparingly, but the emphasis needs to be on the return to wholeness and not on “What did you bring me?” While the returning parent gets the bulk of the attention and affection from the kid(s) and has a tendency to focus their time on the kid(s), it is important that the parent who stayed behind receives appreciation, attention, and affection as well. Simple statements like “It looks like mom/dad did a great job” or “It sure sounds like you and mommy/daddy had a good time together while I was gone” and gestures like spending time together–either at home or going out–without the kid(s) in the days after a trip will help reinforce that even though you’re not always physically together, that you’re on the same team and appreciate what the other does in the best interest of the family.
For Jason, part of what he enjoys is spending time sharing his fandoms with Logan in ways he hasn’t always expected. That includes things like the DC SuperHero Girls, the Star Wars “Forces of Destiny” line, and LEGO sets… lots of LEGO sets. “She’s super into LEGOs. I’ve always been into LEGOs, but more so in the past year. I’ve been obsessed with them. My kid’s super into Moana, and they have the Moana LEGOs and they have the DC SuperHero Girls school in LEGO form. They probably have ten different sets in the SuperHero Girls and Logan has all of those and I’ll sit and build them with her. So I’ll sit and play with those with here, and then separately she’ll go and play with the Duplo ones–the bigger ones–I bought her on her own. We’ll sit and build with LEGOs for hours.”