As the event wore on, my smile became more stiff, I prayed I wouldn’t yawn in the middle of Mr. and Mrs. Important telling me about their kids going to sleep-away camp last summer, and well, all I could really think of was my boobs. They were approaching watermelon proportions and I’m pretty sure I now know what a tick feels like just before it bursts.
I was just back from maternity leave, and 2700 miles from my infant. In order to be away as little as possible I had packed an unspeakable amount into a 28-hour trip. Off the plane, straight to some important meetings, then sit down with a disgruntled staff member before being shuttled off to a fundraising event for the evening. Of course, since I’d been away from work for three months, there was also some requisite connecting with colleagues after the event. I also decided to stay with dear friends instead of a hotel, so I could get even more time connecting out of the trip. You know, make every second count. That night, as I sat on their brand new red sofa in their guest room, exhausted beyond comprehension, I felt a warmth wash over me. No, really…I must have dozed off for about five minutes while attached to a medieval-looking contraption sucking liquid gold from my body and oh, the relief. Except, in my delirious state, I failed to screw the bottles on to the pump and now sat bathed in my own breast milk that had determined that it’s final resting place would be the beautiful linen sofa and not plumping up my baby’s chubby buns. The stain looked like North America would on a map if you had just taken mushrooms. And I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Sleep deprivation has a way of getting psychedelic, but usually more like a bad trip than one you are eager to keep repeating.
Much of what we learned was either through trial and error or by confiding our inadequacies to veteran moms who opened their magic capes like wings and drew us in to share their secrets.
My daughter is 9.5 now. Stacey’s are 10 and 8. We’ve learned a lot over the years about how to be moms who travel for work. We estimate we have collectively spent 2 years away from our kids in the name of our jobs. Like the time she and I hopped on a plane together to Boston hours after the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. We were there to provide crisis support to our staff who had not only been running in the race, but had been at the finish line when the blasts occurred. There was a moment when the whole city went on lockdown that the two of us looked at each other and kind of cracked. “What the fuck are we doing here?! We knowingly left our children to be in the middle of a terrorist situation? We must be the worst mothers of all time.” Glancing out our hotel window were about 50 camouflage-clad men with very big guns. We were instructed not to leave the building.
Much of what we learned was either through trial and error or by confiding our inadequacies to veteran moms who opened their magic capes like wings and drew us in to share their secrets. While we can’t make your baby sleep through the night, or kiss your kid when they fall off the monkey bars and break their arm while you are at a client meeting, Stacey and I can share some wisdom that might help you feel more sane. We’ve recruited the voices of some awesome moms here to let you into their magic capes.
guilt with opportunity. Let’s be
real…getting away from your kids, not having house chores, being able to
eat whatever you want (not the leftovers from their plates), and no threat
of being woken up in the middle of the night for any reason that requires
you to dash around in your underwear, is a very sweet opportunity. It is
also an opportunity for you to restore a bit and bring more of your best
self to work. How effective was Jessica as an ambassador for her
organization when she was running on below empty? No great opportunities
arose from her time on that first trip, and quite possibly some were flubbed.
In her quest to make every second count, she likely made very few of them
count. And guess what, her daughter is thriving and feels love even though
she was gone a couple days. Space out your schedule just a bit more so
that you can be more rested and more effective. You’ll likely find that
your kids become more independent and helpful when you step away.
but also let go. There are some home
routines that bring comfort to everyone. For some it is around the meals
they eat, for others it is around the rituals of bedtime, for others it
may be around morning time habits that make that precious hour before work
and school run as smooth as possible. Whatever it is for your family,
invest some time creating some consistency, perhaps prepping some meals
for when you are away, or putting special touches in the night routine
that make the kid(s) feel comfortable, or perhaps even organizing the
outfits and lunches for the morning routine. Pick what matters most to you
and your family to bring ease and comfort, but then let the rest go. It is
important that there is consistency, but it is also just as important that
the other adult(s) and kid(s) create their own routines, and independence.
For Stacey’s family, when she puts her attention toward making sure mornings
run smooth (laying out clothes for the week, and stocking up on quick
breakfasts and lunches) she can relax knowing the kids are getting through
the rough mornings. And when she is away her husband and kids love that
they go out to eat at night to some of their “treat” spots, including
their favorite ice cream shop–it feels like a fun adventure for them.
out the non-negotiables…and don’t negotiate. Sarah Healy, single mom of two and corporate trainer
and consultant, says that she learned this one the hard way after deciding
to make it home from a work trip to celebrate her daughter’s 5th birthday
a day late, thinking that her daughter wouldn’t really mind the switch. 6
years later, her daughter still brings it up. Stacey missed her children’s
holiday recital one year, and has never made that mistake again. Figure
out what things are absolutely critical (hint, it is not as much as you
are telling yourself) and ease up on the rest. You don’t have to be
super-involved in every aspect of everything to still be a stellar parent.
You may be getting pressure to join the PTA, to come to planning meetings
for the school fundraiser, or feel that you have to go to every birthday
party your kids get invited to. But, what matters most is that your children
feel they are getting quality time with you (not frazzled, distracted
time), so for each “yes” you say, ask yourself if it is adding to your
relationship with your children. Jessica finds most children’s birthday
parties to be torture. But when her daughter really wants to go that
jumpy-house hell, Jessica takes it as an opportunity to get some free-time
by sending her daughter with a friend, and offering to host a playdate
another time to give the other parent some time of their own.
travel rituals. When Jessica’s
daughter was young, the bedtime ritual involved Jessica singing a couple
special songs each night. Crouched in a stall in a fancy hotel bathroom
just off the ballroom, Jessica would sing “Twinkle Twinkle” and “You Are
My Sunshine” over the top of flushing toilets. Sue Slater, who usually
travels away from her three girls (daughter aged 5, and twin girls aged 3)
at least once a week for her consulting work, says “FaceTime is a
lifesaver.” But, she has also had to learn when it triggers sadness in her
kids, which is usually when it is too close to bedtime. So she calls
earlier. “Usually after a long workshop is over and everyone is rushing to
pee, I rush to call my kids.” Stacey creates a fun calendar for her kids
to know exactly when she will be away and then each night they count down
the “sleeps” they are apart. She sends them fun pictures of all the cities
she travels to and shows them where they are on a map. Other favorite
rituals include: leaving a letter in a special spot when you go or leaving
a small note for each day you will be gone.
a home team. Recruit the players, and
back-up players who will be on deck while you are away. For some this is a
spouse or family member, others it is a nanny, others it is friends, or
day-care centers and after-school programs. For many of us, it is a
combination. The point here is to have a backup plan so that in the
inevitable case that Plan A takes a tumble, you can easily engage Plan B
without getting too frazzled when you are supposed to be on point for
work. When Sarah Healy went to Africa for 3 weeks, she enlisted a small
group of friends her daughters felt loved and safe with to check in with
them regularly and to be on-call for them. It was a lovely way to widen
the network and family for them.
home life easier. Being a
working mom who travels means it is essential to make strategic choices
about what really matters to you. Give yourself permission to simplify and
delegate. Jessica knows one mom who has two hampers in each kid’s room: one
for dirty laundry and one for clean. She doesn’t bother with folding or
putting away the clothes after they are pulled from the dryer. There are a
million little things we do everyday, and most of them really don’t matter
if we take time to question them. This includes letting go of the idea
that house will run exactly how you want it to while you are away. When
you walk back into the house and there is a mess, let go of the
complaining. Spend a very mindful day questioning everything you do.
Recruit the kids to take ownership (they are often capable before you
think they are–just ask Maria Montessori– and very proud to help). Spend
a little extra for the convenience and sanity of take-out, pre-made meals,
or a housecleaner–the time and headache it saves you will be worth
exponentially more than the pinch of the extra cost.
- Leverage loneliness. Living out of a suitcase in sterile hotel rooms
can leave you feeling hollow and lonely. “Nighttimes are the hardest times
for me,” says Sue Slater. “Big cities can also feel very lonely to me. So
I bring something fun to focus on during these times like planning for my
daughter’s birthday party.” Stacey prefers to stay in Airbnb because it
brings her comfort to be a cozy home, rather than a hotel. She then uses her
time to unwind in ways that aren’t always easy when at home, taking a
glass of tea or wine and reading a favorite book.
the rhythms that give you energy and focus and honor them while you are
traveling. Everything in life is
about how we manage our energy. Many of us are in the practice of giving
more, doing more and lose sight of how we actually care for
ourselves. Perhaps the most important thing we can do as professionals and
as parents is get really skilled at finding the practices that bring forward
our most vibrant energy, clear mind, and help us get into “flow
state”. Flow state is when you get into your zone, leveraging your
strengths and time seems escape. Travel is a great time to get into your
flow state, your attention can be focused and concentrated, because some
of the natural things that pull at you when you are home are not as front
and center. It may seem too simple, but most times the practices that
bring forward a flow state are the ones in which we are taking care of
ourselves. Be in touch with the daily routines that bring forward your
productiveness, your sleep cycles and and the strategies that reduce
stress. Then structure your time away to ensure you are honoring those
practices while on the road. Stacey has heard too many parents recap their
rationale for taking red-eyes. They don’t want to miss being away from
their children. So they take a red-eye where sleep is broken and on either
end of that red-eye is responsibility either to our job or our families.
This is a set-up for fatigue, burnout, exhaustion and sickness. Manage
your energy before, during and after your travel to bring forward your
most vibrant self. Make sure you are sleeping, eating well, and practicing
the stress reducing behaviors that bring you joy.
In her quest to make every second count, she likely made very few of them count.
With the right practices in place, traveling for work doesn’t have to leave you a guilt-ridden and exhausted parent. You can find a rhythm and system that supports your family, your job, and yourself. Thank you to the trail-blazing, ingenious moms that came before us and shared their secrets on how to make it work!
This article was co-written by Jessica Vibberts and Stacey Thompson, moms with serious airline mileage accounts thanks to their jobs. You can learn more about both of them at www.fullpotentialventures.com