Getting over Business Trip Guilt

Do you have a job that requires you to travel? I do.

I used to love business travel. Seeing new cities, experiencing new places and sights. It seemed so glamorous, so exciting, so adventurous, and so important. Once I had my children, business travel became less attractive, mainly because of the guilt I’ve felt every time I leave them.

It took me several years, but I finally realized the guilt I felt over being away on business wasn’t as much about the kids as it was about the responsibilities I was passing on to my husband while I was away. When I’m away, he becomes a single parent. He has to get everyone up in the morning, and put them to bed at night, he’ has to get them fed and dressed, he had to drop them off and pick them up from school, and then get himself to work. The guilt was all consuming prior to and during each trip. My priorities of family and work clashed, and I couldn’t get them to equalize. The reality is my family is my number one priority and always will be. My job helps provide for my family and gives me an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. It also requires me to travel from time to time.  I thought by preparing as much as I could prior to going away, and fretting over the extra burden I was putting on him, I was somehow making up for my upcoming absence. The reality is, in a relationship, or more importantly a partnership, one person doesn’t bear more of the burden than the other, they share in the responsibility. Occasionally they will need to pick up the slack when the other is absent. What I didn’t realize was the stress I was feeling over my upcoming travel was affecting more than just me. It was impacting my husband too. Thankfully a third party helped enlighten me to think of the situation in a different way.

My husband is a very capable father, and when I’m away, he has an opportunity to have our sons all to himself. While I’m away, they could do different things, like going to a new restaurant or playing a fun activity, outside our normal routine. I need to take advantage of travel too. I get some needed alone time and have an opportunity to learn and connect with others, things that are very energizing for me.

I know we appreciate each other a little more upon my return. When I recently shared with my sons that I would be leaving for a trip I was surprised to hear how excited they were by the prospect of me leaving. “Oh, Mom, can you bring us back something?” my oldest son asked. “Yes,” chimed in my youngest, “will you bring us back something, please?” I had to smile. It reminded me of my own childhood when I anxiously awaiting my father returning from his business travels bringing something small, like a Hostess Fruit Pie or a pencil he picked up along the way.  It was more symbolic than anything, it reminded my sisters and I that he’d been thinking about us while he was away and we’d been thinking about him too.

I now understand guilt doesn’t help my husband or I when I travel. Travel creates an opportunity for us to appreciate what we have when we are together and apart. Its our chance to do something different and enjoy each other more when we reunite. Thankfully my travel is infrequent, or my guilt might be tested again. But even if that work requires more travel in the future, my husband and I will make decisions together on how to make it easier for each other to get through the situation. After all, it isn’t just one of our burdens to bear.

The Only Thing Constant is Change

My oldest son is getting ready to lose his first tooth. He can wiggle the tooth back and forth, and you can see the new tooth coming in behind it. I recently asked him if he would like for my husband or I to help him get his tooth out.  He immediately responded with a strong and slightly concerned, “No!” We all agreed we would let the tooth fall out when it was ready.

I made an incorrect assumption when I asked my son that question. Most of his classmates have already lost teeth so I figured he really wanted to lose his. But I think like any change we go through we have to adjust to it, get ourselves prepared for it, so we can handle what comes next once the change occurs.

A son’s first new tooth reminded me of when I first became a parent and how quickly my life changed once he arrived. While I had tried to get myself ready for parenthood through classes, books and talking with others, I knew it would take time to adjust to feeling like a parent.  There was excitement in preparing for my son to arrive, but also fear, I didn’t know what to expect really, and if someone had asked me a few days or weeks before my son if they could help him be born faster I would have reacted the same way my son reacted, “No!” because I needed and wanted that additional time to prepare myself.

I am glad my son reminded me of this with his tooth. He’ll be going through many changes in the coming years. I need to appreciate the changes I know are coming, and be prepared to help him navigate the changes we’re not expecting. It won’t be easy, it might even be a little scary, but I know we’ll get through it together one change at a time.

When Helping Isn’t Helping at All

I recently discovered that my youngest son has been manipulating me. Not just once or twice. This has been ongoing for quite some time. To provide you with a somewhat recent example, he has learned to manipulate my attempts to get him ready and out the door with his sweetest smiles, his best ‘I’m sorry’, sprinkled in with many ‘I love you-s’. Of course, my son doesn’t realize what he is doing is manipulation, nor does he understand what that word means. He does know that when he invokes these strategies they work!

I love my children very much and tell them when they exhibit an undesired behavior that while I might not like what they are doing I always love them. Yet here is my child over apologizing and saying, “I love you” upwards of ten times a day to delay having to do something or trying to get out of something altogether. I had to reevaluate what was really going on.

Being the baby in the family, I realized in some ways I have treated my youngest son like one. He can put on his own clothes, make his bed and clean up after himself. He’s been able to do this for a while, yet I still jump in to help him when he takes too long. I know if I just jump in I can get things done more quickly and we can be on our way. What wasn’t clear to me was the unintended message of “I don’t think you can do the task, therefore I’m going to help you,” I was sending him. Not a great confidence builder for my son.

I do have commitments that require my family to be out the door at a certain time each day. It takes all of us working as a family to make that happen. Each of us has tasks we each our responsible for, and all of us need to be done in a certain amount of time.

I invoked some strategies that I hadn’t used in a while and am helping my son move towards doing his share and feeling good about his contribution. Breaking free from the use of “sorry” and “I love you.” I now give him time limits for when things need to do done with reminders when we are nearing the end (e.g. he has 20 minutes to eat breakfast. I give him a five warning and another at two minutes if we still have a lot of food to go). A consequence is communicated up front if he is unable to meet his goal (e.g. you won’t have anything to eat until snack time at school if you don’t eat your breakfast now). It takes work, discipline and patience to implement this. It would be so much easier if I just did it myself, but in the long term, doing this the right way, holding my son accountable and giving him the framework to have success should yield better long term results around his own confidence, sense of accountability and ownership.

I won’t miss all the “sorrys” or “I love yous”.  I’ll treasure the new ones I get, because they’ll come without motivation behind them other than to express how he really feels. And while it will take practice on my part I believe there will be much satisfaction knowing I helped him more by not helping him.

How to Avoid the January Blues and the Resolution Cliff

Each New Year I start off in a blue kind-of-state.  The holidays are over, the decorations are down, and the magic of the season is quickly fading away. Top that off with the expectation that each of us are to come up with a resolution to keep during the New Year makes it all the more depressing.

The end of 2012 brought a lot of talk, stress and anxiety around the fiscal cliff and the importance of avoiding it. I offer up that we need to do the same with resolutions. Resolutions tend to involve a lot of talk, which can create stress and discomfort around changes desired in our own lives. Guilt is often the motivating factor. Add that to a difficult task (e.g. get a new job, lose 20 pounds in a month, give up sweets, etc.), and then beat yourself up, or throwing yourself over the “resolution cliff”, when you fail or are derailed early on, is something we should all be trying to avoid.

The New Year is a good time to reflect and think about what’s working in our lives and what isn’t, but I’d suggest we should be reflecting throughout the year, not just at the beginning. Resolutions that require change—job, weight, living situation, relationship, etc.—can be very stressful. Any change can be. Adding new stress to your life when you just got over all the stress that comes with the holidays doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

Instead of resolutions, my husband and I decided to talk about our hopes for the New Year, hopes for our children, hopes for our family, hopes for us as a couple, and hopes for ourselves.  These hopes will require action on our part to make happen, but because we want them to happen, we’re motivated.  Not out of guilt, but desire.

And that’s a much better place to start any New Year.

What are your hopes for 2013?