On the Road Again

Do you travel for work?  How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

My travel schedule has incurred an uptick in recent years. There are parts of it that I like — meeting new people, seeing new places–and things I don’t–the long hours, being in the unfamiliar and mostly being away from my family.  Staying connected via technology has become easier, but staying really connected to what is going on at home while I’m away has not. Trying to sneak in a quick call home during a dinner break or trying to FaceTime after returning to my room after a long day often feels rushed, where I’m only getting the highlights of the day. While we all want to talk to one another, it can also feel like we’re trying to get to what happens after the call finishes: finishing work or relaxing for me; TV or homework for the kids; relaxing or cleaning up for my husband.

When I travel it isn’t easy for my husband or kids. When my husband travels it isn’t easy for my kids or me. When the daily composition of the family changes, even for a few days, interactions differ and that can be the hardest to adjust to. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s much a easier transition now that the kids are older, but there is still a noticeable impact. Almost a void we all try to fill when one of us is away.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a long period of time where I didn’t have to travel, but that is changing. I’m trying to gear myself back up for travel mode and mentally prepare my family for it. I know they will be fine, but I still struggle with how to maintain our strong connections while I’m away.  I don’t have any good answers, but I’m going to keep working at it, and welcome insights from others who’ve discovered ways to do this while they are away.

How do you stay connected with your child and spouse while you’re away?

 

Cup of Life

My oldest son raced through the door one day after school, threw his backpack on the floor, and turned to me and said, “Don’t forget to come watch me dance tomorrow at the assembly.” What dance? What assembly? What are you talking about? I thought. He hadn’t mentioned anything about learning a dance or about an assembly until that afternoon. I quickly emailed some of the classroom parents to see what they might know. Sure enough a note quickly came back confirming my son, along with his class, would be doing a dance during the afternoon assembly the following day.

Oh no, I thought, what am I going to do? I’ve got a job. I’ve got commitments. I’ve got meetings! I tried to let my son gently know that I would try my best to be at his assembly the next day, but I had commitments that I had made, and responsibilities I needed to keep. He looked at me as seriously as I’ve ever seen him look and say, “Mom, I know you’ll make it.” I knew the assembly meant a lot to him, and even though I wish I’d had more warning, I knew I’d have to give it my best shot. After a couple of deep breaths, I logged onto my computer and saw that I had a window of time that coincided with when the assembly would be and would be able to attend after all. What a relief!

I arrived at his school and watched as his class came in. He met my eyes and got the biggest smile on his face. He signaled a “thumbs up” and I gave him one in return. It turned out not only was his class performing, but all the classes in his school were performing, it was quite a treat. Each class danced to a different song and style of music. Their routines allowed members of each class to show their individual dance style. My son’s class danced to Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life.” The song’s chorus concludes with Ale Ale Ale, a with music and cheering at sporting events, like ole. It’s a celebratory phrase commonly associated with music and sporting events. I thought the phrase was perfect for my son and his class’s performance.

It was rewarding to see these kids who danced without inhibition. They all wanted to do a good job, you could see the concentration on their faces, but you could also see the joy, and fun they were having. Each class cheered the other on. It was quite a display of support and encouragement.

As my son’s class danced so energetically to their song, I thought, this is what life is all about—working together, playing together, enjoying each other without worrying about being judged, or made fun of–it truly captured what life, or the cup of life, is and should be.

Ale ale ale

Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?

And the Winner is…

My oldest son recently entered a drawing contest that was being held at my husband’s office. He drew a picture depicting what he thought my husband and his co-workers did each day. Last week we found out our son had been awarded the 1st place prize for his submission.  When my husband told our son the good news, our son showed a mixture of surprise and disbelief (I won?), and then the biggest smile came across his face. Cheers and hugs followed. We were very proud and excited he was acknowledged for his work.

Seeing my son’s reaction to winning the contest reminded me of the Oscars, and watching the winner take the stage to accept their statue exhibiting surprise and glee. The Oscars will be held later today and many of us will be eagerly watching to see who wins one of these prestigious awards. It’s easy to get taken in by the Oscars, the clothes, the jewelry, the glitter and celebrity. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

I think about the commitment, sacrifice and choices each actor has made to be nominated. Prior to having children, I would have told you I could dedicate myself and make any sacrifices needed for my career. After having children I could not say the same. I think regardless of the sacrifice and dedication we have for a job, be it a professional job, being a parent, volunteering, etc., we ultimately desire recognition for our work. We crave being told we’re doing a good job. It makes us feel good, it reinforces all the hard work we’ve done, and also helps inspire us to go on (Keep up the good work!).

While I wish I had the talent for acting that the nominees have, I realize that I don’t, and my chances of going to the Oscars are very low. I do, however, see parallels between the actors and me. We both have worked hard, and both hope to be recognized for our work.

In lieu of an Oscar, I’ll take a hug or an “I love you” from my kids as a job well done. As a parent, it’s all the recognition I need.

What makes you feel like you’ve won?

What’s Luck Got to Do with It? One Woman Trying to Have it All.

It’s an age-old question: can women have it all? How do you juggle all of your various roles—being a wife, mother, working woman—and take care of yourself? Is it even possible? I know I want it all and I know what that means for me. I want to have a fulfilling job that allows me to work hard, but not work 24/7 and I want to spend quality time with my children and my spouse on a daily basis while still finding time to take care of myself along the way. I think what I want is possible, but it takes a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck and a  willingness to set boundaries.

First: the hard work.  I don’t know that I appreciated how hard it is to be a woman until I got married. As a woman working outside the home, the difficulty only increased once I had children.  Working full-time, keeping up the house, cooking, taking care of the children, maintaining a loving relationship with my husband, making time for friends and squeezing in time for me adds up to a pretty full plate. It became clear to me early on that the biggest question I would need to answer was what am I willing to sacrifice? There certainly wasn’t an easy answer.  After I took my first job in management many years ago, I worked insane hours; my blood pressure shot through the roof and my adrenaline was always going because I felt like my hair was on fire—not very healthy. I knew even at the time that it was a bad situation but I didn’t know how to change it. My husband and I were only dating then and there were no children in the picture yet, so this was as good a time as any to learn from this experience.  After a year of that hectic lifestyle, I was able to move into a less stressful position, which gave me time to reflect and I decided that I needed to get some clarity on what I was willing to sacrifice for work. I determined that I would work my hardest (as I’ve always done) when I was at work, and do my best not to bring it home. This wasn’t an easy task, but with practice I find I’ve gotten the hang of compartmentalizing . Does that mean I don’t want to do a good job or that I don’t get nervous on occasion, say before an important presentation to a high level executive? No, but I’ve worked to make the necessary adjustments to my work life. In my twenties I really enjoyed traveling for work—it was an adventure and made me feel important. The luster of travel has long since worn off, which happens for most of us once we’ve been doing it for a while. I don’t mind traveling when I believe my presence is really necessary, but make it a point not to travel for travel’s sake. I’d rather spend time with my husband and kids.

Second: a little bit of luck.

Luck is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1. noun:

a : a force that brings good fortune or adversity

b : the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual

2. verb: favoring chance; also : success

 

Lucky is defined as: happening by chance

I’ve never understood why luck and success are seen by some as synonymous. I know a lot of successful people who have gotten where they are because of hard work, and their willingness to learn from others, take advantage of opportunities, and take risks. This doesn’t seem very happenstance to me but certainly a little luck goes a long way in making it all come together. For instance, if you’re lucky enough to want to work in a profession that allows you to have a lot flexibility, that will likely make balancing work and family life a lot easier than if you are say, an emergency room doctor. Of course, most of our work lives are somewhere on the spectrum.

Which leads us to my final point about boundaries. A girlfriend and I were talking about work recently and I was sharing with her how hard I’ve been trying to maintain my boundaries by not working after normal business hours unless it’s necessary, making sure I’m taking time to be fully present with my husband and children, and trying to make time to take care of myself. She was very encouraging and mentioned a book she had recently read called Weird by Craig Groeschel. The book tells the reader to break from the norm of being overworked, stressed and exhausted and create boundaries to live a more fulfilling life. After briefly telling me about the book she said, “What you’re doing is weird, and that’s a good thing.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever been wanted to be called weird before, but I’ll take it, because I do want it all and don’t care how I get it—luck, hard work or both.  My family is worth it and so am I.