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?

 

Home Away from Home

How do you stay connected when you are separated from your child because of travel?

Many of us travel for our jobs. My husband and I have worked hard to minimize our travel schedule, but there continues to be times when we need to be away. Being away from a few days is relatively easy for our kids to handle. It becomes more difficult when one of us is gone for longer periods of time.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it stinks!

Applications like Skype and FaceTime have made it easier to communicate and ‘see’ each other, but can be somewhat disappointing when you don’t have very interesting information to share: nothing particularly exciting or unique happened during the day and everyone is fine, or have limited time to talk.  When discussing this issue with some friends one, whose spouse also travels quite a bit, shared that when she or her husband travel they found that sharing pictures or making video messages went a long way with the kids. I thought it was a great idea, so our family decided to give it a try. Instead of sending a standard “Hi, Dad. How are you? We love and miss you” message, we decided to get creative. We’ve come up with various silly ways to stay connected when one of us is away. We sing songs to each other, put on short skits or Lego-inspired plays…the kids have lots of good ideas. It’s all about what they think will be fun or interesting to do. It’s been fun to make the videos, and helped us all feel more connected even though we are miles apart.

What’s helped you feel most connected to your child or spouse when you’re away on travel?

Spring Chicken

What are your favorite Easter traditions?

I love everything about Easter: the time of year, the colors and blooms; Easter Egg hunts; family time and all that goes with the holiday. What’s funny is that Easter really did spring (or should I say sneak?) up on me this year. With a work schedule that has been abnormally busy, plus traveling, plus working through a bad cold, I noticed I almost let Easter get away from me. Half the joy, in my opinion, is the planning and getting ready for the day.

I may no longer be a Spring chicken, but I feel like a kid at heart. And while I won’t actually hunt the eggs myself on Easter, I sure will enjoy hiding them and watching the kids find them. It’s joy and happiness that comes from being together–I don’t think that gets old at any age.

How are you taping into your inner-child this Easter season? What helps keep you a Spring chicken?

The News on Stay-at-Home Moms (and Dads)

It’s in the news again….this time the media is stating more women are staying at home to raise their children. If this really news? Sounds like someone is trying to start a debate, doesn’t it? Does it really matter if more women are staying home or going back to work? I think each woman’s (and man’s) decision is made for their own unique reasons and lumping parents into working or stay-at-home categories (and all the stereotypes that go with them) is a dangerous precedent. Aren’t we all trying to be the best parents we can be? My guess is, if we peeled back this observation, we’d find more parents are staying home — whether it’s the mom or the dad.

Every caring parent grapples with how to best raise their child, how to nuture them, and teach them. When it comes to deciding if a parent will stay at home or go back to work there is no easy decision, and in my experince, a whole lot of second guessing. When I speak to parenting groups, I talk about the phenomena of second guessing that occurs when you became a parent. It can feel like you’re getting your PhD whether you realize it or not. I was indoctrinated into second guessing just about everything within weeks of becoming a parent. Once I realized second guessing was becoming second nature, I started to push back against it. I found that when I was unsure, research, a discussion with my spouse, and sometimes others (when appropriate) helped me make decisions I felt good about. I also realized I had the opportunity to evaluate and course-correct when/if needed. It was liberating.

Only you know how to best raise your child. Staying at home versus going back to work is a personal decision. One isn’t better than the other.

If there is news in any of this, it’s that we, as parents, are constantly seeking to do what’s best for our child regardless of whether we stay home or not. That sounds like good news to me.

What do you parenting decisions have you struggled to make? How are combating second guessing?

Go Ahead Make My Day

Many of us are familiar with the Clint Eastwood character Dirty Harry who used the famous tagline, “Go ahead, make my day.” I was reminded of this phrase during a particularly tough week at work.  But not in the way you might think.

The work week started like many others, with a steady stream of work pouring in. I knew the week would be different, when the pouring didn’t stop. By mid-week, I knew there was still quite a mountain to climb before I could reach the end of the work week. It was not a good feeling.

I could have gotten overwhelmed or difficult to be around as my workload increased, but I knew that wouldn’t help me get to my goal of completion. Instead, I started seeking out “good moments” during the day. I found that when I allowed myself to notice them, and really take them in, it made what could have been a bad day, more than bearable, it actually turned it into a good day. These “good moments” were, in fact, making my day.

Finding the good moments weren’t particularly difficult, once I paid particular attention to finding them. The good moments came in various forms: sharing a joy with my kids, or us laughing together; my spouse and I connecting over something other than work or the kids; noticing fall colors; and having dinner with a friend. These good moments helped redefine what could have been a bad week to a pretty darn good one.

As a working parent, a terrible work week can sometimes spill over in your family life. I’m glad I sought the good moments to help defend against it happening in mine. When a bad work week starts to form, I’ve got my go-to phrase now: “Go ahead, make my day.” With good moments, of course.

How do you combat a tough work week? Where do find your good moments?

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?

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.