I don’t travel often, but it is always internationally, and so requires extra travel time and extra recovery time. A four-day conference can easily stretch to a seven-day absence. My husband used to do most of our family’s travel (click here for tips on surviving while dad travels), but now that our two oldest children are at boarding school across three international borders, we both travel much more frequently.
This means leaving one spouse home with our youngest child and since I am the spouse with the more flexible job (writer versus university professor), I do the bulk of travel to visit the twins. Add this to travel for visiting family in the United States, work-related trips for our development projects, and conferences for on-going training, and I find myself on an airplane 5-6 times a year (or 10-12 if you’re counting return journeys).
This New York Times article has tips for mothers and interesting comments as people react to the perceived incompetence of husbands inherent in some of the tips. The website The Working Mom Travels also has tips and ideas and check out Traveling Mom for a community of women working, writing, and traveling.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years of traveling as a mother.
*image credit Matthew Olivolo via Flickr
Freeze Meals(?) 1 of 11
Some mothers do this. I never do this. I did once and came home to find the meals still in the freezer. My husband is both a good cook and has the phone number of Allo Pizza memorized. Also fresh bread is brought to every neighborhood multiple times a day. I trust him, I trust my kids. If they are hungry, they will eat.
Stock the Fridge(?) 2 of 11
Some mothers do this. I don't. Partly because in Djibouti there are produce stands on nearly every street, partly because I don't know what they plan to eat while I'm gone and don't want to return to spoiled food.
Communicate 3 of 11
Talk to the kids about the trip. Both before going, while gone, and upon returning. I tell the kids where I'm going, why, what I'll do while there. We talk about the country, find it on the map. Talk about what they'll do while I'm gone. Use Skype, email, or call.
Ask Advice 4 of 11
Get the kids involved by asking advice. What should I wear for this meeting? Will you pray I won't be nervous about meeting this person? Should I sign up for the 5K race while I'm in town? These kinds of questions provide great fodder for conversations upon returning and help the kids feel involved and connected while I'm away.
Leave a List 5 of 11
Write up the kids' schedules and needs. I do this, not because my husband needs to be told what to do but because when I'm home I'm the one who drives them to activities and manages school snacks and homework. He simply needs a reminder of the dates and times and addresses.
*image credit Stacy via Flickr
Adjust Expectations 6 of 11
Don't stress about how much piano will get practiced and don't ask about how many video games were played. Maybe more piano, maybe less video games (though in our family it is the opposite). Either way, you aren't there, let it go.
Put the Kids to Work 7 of 11
Teach the kids to cook, fold clothes, prepare their school snacks. Unless they are very young, they need to learn these skills anyway. Now is a good chance to experiment, to learn responsibility, to feel proud of their contributions.
Don’t Be Bossy 8 of 11
You are gone, you are not in charge. Don't try to be. Check in, ask about their day, share yours, but don't direct or be bossy. Dad is also a parent and he is a smart, capable man. That's (partly) why you married him.
*image credit Jun Seita via Flickr
Let Them Bond 9 of 11
This is good bonding time for dad and the kids, let them do it their way. Even if it means pizza for breakfast and cereal for dinner. Or wearing the same clothes a few days in a row. For us it means soccer games and BB gun practice and tickle mania, as well as cereal for dinner.
No Guilt 10 of 11
Don't feel guilty. So you are parasailing in Malaysia. This trip is part of your job or part of your friendships or part of your need to breathe. Enjoy and come home ready to engage.
Plan for the Return 11 of 11
After a few failed-returns in which one of us gets upset, we have learned that usually the parent left home has more immediate needs that should be addressed. Jet lag (though brutal), shmet lag. I know this, from being the spouse left behind with children. Often the one left behind is more exhausted, on the deeper level of loneliness. We've learned to be clear about these things and to rearrange our expectations.