Business travel and the family

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Six years ago when we had our first daughter, my husband Pete and I vowed that we would never let our work schedules take precedence over our family life. At the time we were doing a ton of travel, predominantly for Pete’s work. We would be gone for weeks at a time and set up temporary house in hotel after hotel. We rather naively thought that we could just keep up the same routine once we had children. It was in an idealistic and loving attempt not to split the family up for any extended lengths of time, and for the first few years we really stuck to that vow. We spent about a quarter of the year or more in New York. Our three year old Pia had taken more flights in those short years than I had in my first 20 years. She was well seasoned at flying, and had her favorite routines, travel outfits, well packed carry-on cases and special blankets to make her flights easier and hotel beds more like home.

Pia learned to walk in a hotel room in New York. We were there for over two weeks, so I went to one of the big toy stores and bought her a plastic walking toy. It was only a few short days later that she got the hang of it on her own. Pia was flexible, adaptable and easy. She left little room to question our “flexible” lifestyle. But as most parents with two children understand, with the birth of our second child Coco, everything changed. All of the “flexible” qualities that we had come to appreciate in Pia were totally different in “routine” craving Coco and it was a reality check.

heather

My work and travel obligations had ramped up, and with a three year old and an 8 week old we were back on the road as a family. Pete and I couldn’t juggle that trip or the many that followed it on our own, and had to enlist my ever generous mom to help. In order to make our hotel rooms more family friendly we would stock mini fridges with healthy snacks and breakfast foods from the local Whole Foods and stock up on inexpensive “busy work” for Pia like coloring supplies and puzzles. And as if it were even a question, the most important accessory by far was our double stroller. I walked them everywhere. First of all, because that’s what you do in New York, and second of all it soothed cranky toddlers and wailing infants. Oh, and it soothed my frayed nerves.

As Pia started full day pre-school and it became more and more clear that Coco was not going to adapt to the random schedule and ever-changing environment as Pia had, Pete and I had to reevaluate. We went back to the drawing board on what it meant for each of us to feel dedicated to the family, and how business travel fit into that.

The main focus of this new plan was that the children had a consistent schedule. But that meant big changes for Pete and I. We had become very spoiled, having the luxury of traveling as a family, and before that as a couple. It was a major adjustment to be “left behind”. There were periods of time when Pete was traveling so much that I really felt like a single mom.

But honestly, my belief that it was harder to be the parent who was holding down the fort was turned upside down two years ago. After years of work and scraping by professionally, I had simultaneously scored a book deal and a small part on a tv show. They were both shocking workloads, and even more overwhelming was the travel involved in the show. I did 6 episodes of the show, and it came down to taking 12 trips back and forth from New York over the course of a couple months. That is 24 separate flights. God help me, it was so brutal. I was flying almost every week, and then trying to write my book in between trips. But it wasn’t just the constant travel and the grueling hours – it was mostly so hard to be away from my family. I chose late night and early morning flights, anything to cut down the amount of time that I spent away. And in fairness, I learned those techniques from Pete, who truly never spends a night away he doesn’t have to, no matter how tired that makes him.

And then this last year, I had the challenge of my life: my book tour. It was simultaneously one of the greatest achievements and one of the greatest sacrifices I have made. I know that sounds dramatic, but I am kind of dramatic, and it was truly a high and a low served up together. With the launch of my book, I was on the road off and on for months. We worked as a family to cover the kids, even going so far as to have my dad babysitting for several days at a time (Trust me, that is reaching!). And between Pete and my parents, they really helped me to make sure that I didn’t have to go longer than a week without seeing them. Pia and Coco flew out to meet me twice during the process, and it was treasured time that made me feel normal and whole during a crazy time, even if for only a few days.

I am full of tactics for self preservation when I am on the road (calling my husband a couple times a day, calling my mom, begging our babysitter for frequent text pictures of the kids), but I have also devised a bunch of things to make my absence easier on the kids. We set up Face Time chats. I also call often. Well, most of the time. Occasionally if they are having a hard time with me being gone, then we switch tactics and keep them busy, sans phone calls. Sometimes with young children “out of sight, out of mind” is the route to go. I also leave notes for the kids to read before bed, and to tuck into their lunches. If Pete and I are both gone for more than a few days, then I buy a bunch of little cheapie things. I wrap them all up and they get to pick one of the “presents” each day that we are gone; it helps to distract them.

I am often reminded by close friends that it “takes a village” and how important it is that they have other close adults teaching them things that I can’t teach them. And in all honesty, I know that the experiences of the last few years have helped to shape my girls in many ways. And all of this travel has also helped to shape me and how I value my family, my time with my husband and children and my home life. No matter how much my husband and I both love our work, our family is our safe place, our most important, most connected place on earth and I try to keep that at the front of my mind always. Ultimately, it has created some self-imposed rules. For example, no longer being gone for more than 5 days at a time; it’s not good for them and it’s not good for me. I also recently turned down a really great job offer that would have had me clocking 27 trips in 6 months. I just couldn’t do it. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing, but I am trying to embrace the idea that saying no to some things are saying yes to other things. And I am trying to say yes to my family.