Sunday, January 19, 2014

The T Word: Work Travel and The Working Mom

I still vividly recall the time many years ago, when I found out I was going to have to spend one week, that is "like" 7 days, in Australia for business, while my daughter was 6-months old and my son was 4 years old. The traffic of thoughts in my head was heavier than airport traffic the day before Thanksgiving: how fun, I have never been to Australia, my poor husband, I need to write a list on the fridge of what will happen each day, will I get to see a kangaroo,  I should bring back some Eucalyptus oil, better make a great presentation for the general session, I should buy extra diapers for baby before I go., maybe I should call one of the grandparents and see if they can come help, should I prepack all lunches or leave a note on what to pack. On, and on, and on.

Traveling for work presents unique challenges for the working mom, but also some pretty awesome opportunities. It can be dreaded or desired, and it is definitely worthy of its own letter in the working mom alphabet as the mighty T WORD!

So, allow me to break down the challenges and opportunities of the T WORD.

Challenge: Trust our Partners
Can we let go and completely trust our partners to handle the increased load? Earlier in my career, I worried about every little detail during my absences. But later I realized that hungry kids cry or ask for food, dirty kids stink badly, and hungry/under-walked dogs bounce off walls. In addition, the refrigerator looks empty when it is indeed empty, even to a person who can’t find anything in it. Basically, life comes with its own self-timed alert mechanisms, so we do not necessarily need to remind our partners of every little thing. I try to let go, temporarily lower the expectations during the absence, and ignore the mess when I get home. It will be a mess. Or not. But I expect a mess so I only have upside.

Challenge: Miss Out A Bit
Newsflash: No one is going to check my travel/work schedule before scheduling the pre-school Mother’s Day party at 12pm on a Friday the day before such event.  That one hurt a little. My kind husband reminded me that Mother’s day was on Sunday, not Friday, that it is meant to be family time, not school time, and that he will gladly show up to the event  (in drag! Thank you, husband). He wasn’t the only father in the room. But he was the only one wearing a blonde Rapunzel wig.  

Challenge: Out of Balance
Planes, airport food, chocolate, dehydration, less sunlight, less fresh air, chocolate, missed workouts, different time zones, chocolate….these are the things that throw me off-balance. Did I mention chocolate? Chocolate is my weakness at airports. It started as a little self-soothing technique that definitely got out of control. Now, I pack a lot of my "health nut" comfort foods with me and sometimes end up discussing with TSA the physical properties of hummus and whether it should be considered a liquid or a solid.  You know what your body needs to stay in balance…plan and take those things!

Opportunity: Undivided Attention to Work
The customers, sales representatives, or colleagues I may be visiting get my undivided attention. I find that travel often offers that opportunity to provide complete undivided attention to my work. The result is usually great work that will help advance my company and products, and my career.

Opportunity: A Social Life, If Only For One Night
Come close…let me tell you a secret: When you travel for business, you don’t have to put your kids to bed and then pass out exhausted at 9pm. No. You can actually be an adult for a night and have some social time with coworkers or friends that live in that city. What a concept!  So, go out!

Opportunity: Daddy/Partner Bonding with Children
Your baby daddy/partner is doing two things while you are away: 1) he/she is super bonding with your children and 2) he/she is realizing, during your absence, how much you do and how awesome you really are. This is pretty good stuff that happens, only, when you are not there.

Opportunity: More Sleep, If Only for One Night
When my youngest was about 2 years old (great kid, bad sleeper until age 3), I felt like telling my boss: “Let me get this straight: you, dear boss, would like me to go to Los Angeles for a business meeting, where I will get a full 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep and breakfast in my room, and the company wants to pay me for this?”  What a luxury! If you have non-sleepers at home, a few nights away might do wonders for your sleep bank.

Opportunity: Bring Them Along
Maybe there is a way for your family, or part of it, to come along with you for part of the trip? If so, I have found that the best arrangement is to have one adult other than you (partner, grandparent, aunt/uncle, cousin, babysitter) fully available to take care of kids, and to avoid too much overlap with the business portion of the trip. Perhaps, arrive earlier and spend a few non-work days enjoying the destination, and then send the family home when work begins. My son and mother have gotten to go to some very interesting places this way.  

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain
Opportunity: Time Alone
I have had some of my life’s bigger epiphanies on planes! Usually, I take out a piece of paper or a notebook and start writing what is good about my life and what needs to change. I write what I still want to do with my life. These are good times. Sometimes, the passenger next to me offers me a tissue, but I reassure him or her that these are tears of gratitude. 

Final word: BALANCE
I know that for me travel is to be sprinkled lightly.  At this point in my career and family life, I manage travel so that I can remain in balance with work and home responsibilities. Like everything else in life, travel should feed you, not drain you.