Me, the kiddos, and the puppies taking a walk in the woods.
It’s a bit after noon on Mother’s Day, and I’m on a flight to Vermont for a few days of work. All last week I was in New Jersey, and I was home for less than 36 hours between these two trips. Not ideal. Not for anyone. And my family let me know it.
And we’re all okay.
Inevitably when I travel, someone asks me how I “do it” as a working mom. The answer is sometimes, not well. But over the past 12 years, I’ve found some key principles of being a working and traveling mom that seems to work for my family. It’s not perfect. It’s ever changing, but I offer them below in case they are helpful to others.
Own it. It’s hard. Sometimes it sucks. No one at my house (including me) is happy about these two back to back trips, but I know I’m making the best decisions I can while navigating an engaging, intense, inspiring family and work life. It’s not a matter of importance. They’re both important. And when you have more than one important thing in your life, things don’t always line up perfectly. That’s the truth, and you just gotta figure things out from there.
Make it Count. I made a decision last year that I wasn’t willing to travel if the work I was doing didn’t have equity as a key aspect of the project. Simply put, there is a lot of good work out there, but just because work is worthwhile and exciting doesn’t mean I should do it. So right now, I’m operating by the simple principle that I will only leave my kiddos if the work involves trying to create and strive for equity as a central tenet of the work. I want my kids to know that the work I’m leaving them for is meaningful. That matters to me.
Black Out Dates. There are dates on our family calendar when I absolutely will not travel. For example, the first three weeks of school every year, the kids are busy with events, orientations, ice cream socials, and just adjusting to school, so I choose not to travel then. No excuses. No amount of exciting work changes that. This one took me a while to figure out. I missed some key stuff early on. But you know what? We all survived, and no one (except me) remembers that I missed 3rd grade Meet the Teacher Night.
Non-Negotiables. I have a few non-negotiables related to my work travel life. When my kiddos were small, for example, I made the decision that I wouldn’t travel without them for the first year. That meant, schlepping my mom and my partner across the country a few times a year so that they could watch the baby while I worked. But that also meant that I was able to continue nursing as I pursued meaningful work, and my colleagues got to see me as a whole person who sometimes had her boobs out during a meeting. Um, I mean, they got to see me as a mom who was deeply committed to her family and her work, and they got to meet my kids. And my kids are awesome, so it was a win-win.
Don’t Be Gone Too Long. I try not to have any extended period of travel (more than 7 days) more than one time a year. Being gone longer than that is super hard on my family, so we’ve agreed that it can’t happen often. That means I’ve turned down some pretty cool work in some outstanding places - Bali, anyone? - but I figure there is only a really small window when the kids will live with us and those cool places will be there once they’ve moved out. I can, and will, do that kind of work later.
Trust Your Partner. Look, Scott does not do things like I do. And, actually, that’s great. Our deal is that I will come home to kids that are alive, fed, and reasonably clean. Whatever else happens beyond that is gravy. I trust him to do what he needs to do for our little people, even if it’s not how I would do it. The three of them get into their own rhythm when I’m gone, and it’s really awesome to actually share parenting with your partner.
Explain Yourself. This is great. My kids are older now (12 and 7) so I can actually explain to them how I make my decisions around travel. I can tell them that I’m doing a particular work trip because of client needs or funding cycles or any other number of things, and they can understand it. I talk with them about how I make my decisions, especially when it means I’m missing one of their events.
Don’t Come Home Too Tired. If I’m not careful, my work travel can be exhausting. I can come home totally wrung out and no good to anyone. So. I make an effort to eat well, sleep well, and exercise when I travel. And I do my best to avoid killing myself in marathon days while I’m gone. That way, I come home ready to dive back into family stuff. Because, for real, they don’t care what I did when I’m gone. When I’m home, they want me home. And I think that’s fair.
So, these are some of the things I’ve worked out for myself. It’s not perfect, but I think we’re in a good place. And, of course, it’s flexible and I change it up when I need to. One of the most helpful principles I carry with me is that there are seventy six right ways to do something. This is our right way right now.
I’d love to hear what other busy parents do.
This blog is a place where I share what I'm doing out in the world, reflect on what I'm learning, and also capture some of my random thoughts. I'd love these blogs to start new conversations. Please join me in the comments or send me an email about what these posts bring up