Balancing Work Travel and Parenting

Working parents talk about how to balance working, traveling and being a parent.

It can feel hard enough to say goodbye to your child(ren) before you leave for work in the morning - knowing that you won't see them until dinnertime or on some nights, just in time for bedtime tuck in.  But what about when you know you won't see them for much longer because of a work trip?  Here working mothers share tips for making business travel & parenting a little easier.

This article includes two separate questions/ exchanges:

How to make it easier

How to handle work travel with a baby


How to make it easier


One working mother asks:

"Any advice on how to make work travel easier? I'm going to Asia for two weeks and already worried. I'm going to miss my baby so much. It's such a long time to be away from him. Luckily my fiancé is a stay at home dad and my mother is going to be helping him out. I feel like I'm going to miss out on so much and nervous about being away for that long.
My "plan" for when I returned to work was that I wasnt going to travel until after [my son] turned 1. i feel defeated and disappointed I didn't stick to that."




Make it fun for your little one:

"I travel extensively for my work.  I was fortunate enough to be supported to travel with my daughter in the first year of her life.  After that, I set up a system at home that I still use now that she is seven.  I write a little note or card to her for every day that i am gone.  I line them up for her to see before I leave.  She likes the ones that include a picture of the two of us on the front of the card (but i have gotten lazy on this aspect recently).  At the end of the note, I give her a clue to find a little present that I have hidden in the house.  The presents range from a pencil/note pad to a game or book.  As a result, she bounces out of bed every morrning to get the note and find the treasure.  According to my husband, it's a great way for her to start her day when I'm gone. Of course if you are traveling for a week or more, this set up can be rather time-consuming (and it sometimes affects how well i pack for myself!).  But it's been well worth it. Most important ... Take it easy on yourself.  Remember what a great role model you are.  My daughter is really proud of the work her Mom does and sees her "letting mom travel" as a way to help children all around the world."


Remember, everything is an adjustment:

"I wish I had something wise to say but my work doesn't involve travel. I can only say that I was so touched by your last sentence about feeling "defeated and disappointed". That broke my heart. We all have to balance so many things but they make us all (parents AND kids) stronger in the end.
I just got back from an AMAZING kid-free 5 days in Portugal and my kids were both happy and in their regular routines during my (our) absence. Of course, as I'm preparing to walk out the door to leave for the airport, my son is spiking a fever with a cough which spikes my anxiety and guilt, but he was well cared for and was ok overall. Honestly, I think the return has been hard b/c we were in such a relaxed state from the vacation and my son has been tough on us since we returned. I want to say he's 'punishing' us but I'm certain it's not intentional. Everything is an adjustment.
The last thing I'll add is that you should be prepared that the video chat may not work - it may make your child remember that you're gone and be sadder to see you when he can't get your hugs. It may be fine, but I wanted you to be prepared in case it's not what you had hoped.
Good luck and try to find one thing about the trip that you can enjoy (sleep?)."


Try video chatting, and "surrender" control:

"I know how you feel - during our son's first year, I had lots of international travel, and I can still remember the anxiety and fear pangs of that first trip as if it was yesterday. Many of my trips were also to Asia -- and the time difference actually worked in my favor for video chats with our son before his bedtime (my breakfast), every other day. (I don't know what you should expect from the Chinese govt regarding video chat ... but it's an idea)
After I got back home, I also remember feeling that it was actually a good thing that my trip was so far away -- if I'd have had a trip to Philadelphia instead, I probably would have been plotting a way to get home and check in throughout the sessions -- but being on the other side of the globe, I had to 'surrender' a bit and trust that if something was going on at home, everyone else in charge would have figured it out by the time I heard about it. I didn't expect to feel that way, but in the end it was a growing experience for me and for [your son] too! Good luck with your trip!"


Make photos, Skype, and FaceTime your friend:

"Tell your partner to send lots of photos and to show your son photos of you....and Skype or FaceTime!...the time difference makes it tricky (we do it all the time with the grandparents in India), but even if you can get a few minutes in here and there, it will give you your fix.  :)    I'll end with what I always end with:  Don't be hard on yourself!  We do what we have to do, and your son with be around loved ones, so you won't have to worry.  :)   But of course you will miss him!"


Make recordings to play:

"When my husband went to India for 3 weeks, I bought one of those Winnie the Pooh audio books that records your voice (so you read the book). Each night my daughter listened to it and well pretty much any time she was sad. At the end of those books you get a minute to record your own message. 4 years later when he travels, my daughter still listens to the Pooh book. Its actually hard for the kids to record over so it can last a good while. That was really priceless for us. Now that didn't really help HIM with missing her...but that helped her a lot."


Response from the original poster about replies to her question:

"Thank you all for your suggestions and reassuring words. It's definitely a growing experience and from what I've heard the first trip is always the worst. Lots of mental preparation ;) I love the idea of daily notes and gifts for when Jacks older. I had a feeling the video conference may be hard since I won't actually be there but we're willing to try it all. I'm hoping this trip goes well and that I'll be so busy with work it will fly by. Again, thank you ladies!!"


2) How to handle work travel with a baby


A new mom asks:

"I'm returning to work on Monday after 15 weeks of maternity leave. I extended my leave from 12 weeks to 15 weeks after my daughter began refusing to take a bottle and I couldn't enroll her in daycare. She's now (barely) taking it -- on this, her second day of daycare she just finally took one bottle in her sleep.
Mid-leave I informed my boss that I would not be able to travel to a conference in Denver in mid-November (3 nights away from home), and someone else was asked to go. I was not scheduled to travel again until March, which I felt was safe(ish), but I've just been asked to go to DC for two nights in early December.
I don't feel like my daughter will be ready -- although maybe it's me who isn't. I realize that at that point she will be more used to spending time away from her mother, which right now is very hard for her. Starting Monday I'll be working outside the home 3 days a week.
It isn't compulsive that I attend this meeting, and my boss is very understanding, but I'm starting to feel a mixture of anxiety and guilt that I'm refusing these. I suppose this is the burden of all working parents, but I feel like I need some help in evaluating both how to respond to these requests and whether or not it's actually ok for me to leave my baby (and when)!




Bring the baby with you!

"I was invited to speak at a conference in San Fransisco which happens 1st week in November and my company wanted me to attend. I thought about saying no, then I thought what the hell, I would go if my baby could come with! And so I requested that my baby travel with me and the cost of the nanny travel be covered as well. I was prepared to engage a local babysitter in SF if my plan didn't work but in fact it did and all three of us are going next week.
I have no travel results to report yet, but I know I can't be away from V for a single night at this point, so it was worth asking."
"I had a 4 night work trip when my son was 16 weeks old. My employer provided BackUp Care Advantage which allows you to book care when traveling for work. I had a local nanny (secured through the program) come to the hotel and stay with my son while I was at the conference.  She stayed in our room and took him for walks around the hotel complex. (My son was also having bottle issues and she helped us figure out the flow issue -- a whole different topic). I'd take a break and go back to the hotel to pump and check on them. This was a great solution for me -- I was able to keep a work event but also stay with my son."


Do what you FEEL is right:

"I think whether it's you or your daughter who's not ready to separate in a way is irrelevant. You absolutely have the right to say your unable to travel. There's really no way to tell for sure when it's ok to separate from your daughter, only time will tell when you can get a sense of her attachment style, which won't be for quite some time! In that case you do what feels best for you. Period. And if you're unsure, just decide not to go. That's what I'd do anyways..."


Be realistic about career implications:

"I think you have to be honest with yourself about a few factors:
1. How important is this job to you?
2. Do you really believe it will not impact your career?
3. Do you care if it does?
There is no right or wrong answer but there are tradeoffs. As long as you are honest with yourself about tradeoffs/career risk you should choose what is right for your family. But in many work situations thinking it won't impact your career may not be true - you have to be ok with that if it is the case at your company."


Factor in if you will be nursing:

"I think one big factor might be whether you're nursing and if so whether you have enough stored milk or otherwise whether this trip could wean your baby ahead of time (and I have no idea the answer to this question, obviously).  For me a 2-day trip without my child before I banked enough milk (I nursed/pumped for a year) could have been a problem, depending on the timing, but aside from the obvious of your perhaps being the food source, it's perhaps more about whether you have sufficient dependable care to be away and feel safe and comfortable.  If you have good childcare/supportive partner then it's more about whether you can handle the time away, I can't imagine the baby would be harmed by a short trip away."


Everyone is different:

"Everyone is different. I went back to work at 12 weeks, and did an overnight trip without my LO at 10 weeks.  She didn't even notice I was gone, though I missed her desperately.  I work a lot and travel a lot, so to me it was important that she get used to that as a normal part of life as soon as possible."


If you travel for work, make it normal early on:

"I went back to work after 16 weeks and head overseas the first time when she was 20 weeks. I travel a lot for work so I needed to make it a part of her new normal. I kept all trips under a week until she was a year old and then returned to business as usual. My longest trip now is two full weeks, coming home on the second weekend."


It's all about trade-offs:

"It's so difficult. Definitely the worst part in my experience. I too had to travel when I went back to work after 13 weeks. I was able to push the first trips till after 16-17 weeks and then did out-and-back the same day for the first couple of weeks. It was awful being on the first flight out and last flight back, but my daughter didn't do well with a bottle for the first six months and I wanted to make sure I was home to load off milk and nurse during the night.
I managed the best I could in those months and changed jobs when E was about 7 months old. Still travel but I am much more in control of my own schedule now.
As someone else mentioned it's all about trade-offs. And hopefully we will all be able to find the right balance, and the job that allows that balance."


The baby will be OK, and it gets easier:

"I have done a number of short trips since my second was about 6 months (she's 10 months now). My son is 3 1/2. Honestly, except for the hassle of pumping on the road, it is harder to leave my son than my baby. He misses me; I'm not sure she even realizes I'm gone! (And when I'm around, she can be quite attached. But if I'm out of the room/out of the house/out of eye sight, my husband says she's totally happy and does fine.)
I'll admit that the first trip with having to think about how to pump caused me anxiety. Now I've done it a bunch it is way easier, and I like knowing that I can travel if necessary without issue."


Find a win-win solution:

"I totally feel for you!  I find travel to be the hardest part of the working parent juggle and I try hard to avoid overnights.  That means a lot of the first flight out/last flight back routine that others have mentioned.  And that's only when I really must go--I've often asked one of my direct reports to cover a trip  that needed to be made, but didn't necessarily require me.  They see it as a stretch opportunity, my boss sees it as a positive for my team's professional development, and I get to stay here: win, win, win.
All that said, I'm much more OK with travel now than I was when I first went back after my oldest was born, but it's really because I've had time to establish the routines and build the caregiver network that you need to make it work."


Postpone until more ready:

"Is there any way you could postpone deciding about the trip until you're back for a couple of weeks?  By then, you'll feel more comfortable with your daycare and more confident about being away from your daughter during the day."


Reply from the original posters about what she decided to do:


Realizing how much of your pressure is self imposed:

"[Member X]'s message reminded me that I meant to write and thank everyone for their responses and advice on my original post. After a lot of soul searching I decided I was just not comfortable with traveling this early, and also that refusing would not jeopardize my position. My daughter still strongly fights the bottle while I'm at work, and is reverse cycling, up often every two hours at night. Despite this, my supply seems to be decreasing. Though she might get it together if I simply disappeared for three days, it's not something I want to put my family through right now.
Most women in my company take at least 12 mo leave -- I work for a British company -- and the company is required to hire a temporary cover in their place. In my case, the company actually *saved* by not providing paid leave. When I stepped back and considered this I realized that the pressure to travel was almost entirely self-imposed. I'll be traveling far earlier than the majority of my colleagues who are mothers. Instead of thinking rationally about it, I was putting pressure on myself to say yes, without recognizing that it's OK for my priorities to have shifted.
Thanks for everyone who wrote and said it was OK for this decision to be about me, as well as about my daughter. I realize I'm very lucky to be able to have the ability to choose at all. And best of luck Jill -- it sounds like your daughter is doing really well and hopefully you can lie back in the fluffy hotel bed and have someone else pick up for you for a few days!"This collection of tips is AMAZING!  I love this group - there is such an amazing wealth of knowledge and support here, and I am so grateful that you all took time out of your crazy working mom lives to lend your insights.  Seriously, thank you!


More on the pressure we put on ourselves:

"[OP], bravo to you for making the best decision for you and your family!  I had my own version of that inner struggle with my trip.  I felt like it was the "right thing to do" to go to SF for a whole week and make the travel worth the time by spending as many days as possible with my team there (my whole team is there, and I am here). But I didn't want to be away from C so long! So I was really struggling between doing what was "right" by work and what felt "right" for the family.  In the end, I decided to travel for the absolute bare minimum - literally flying in a few hours before my first mandatory meeting and flying out a few hours after my last one.  And no one batted an eyelash.  The pressure we put on ourselves is always way worse. :)
I feel SO much more prepared for my trip and how to handle pumping and transporting thanks to all of you.  I'm giving you all a big virtual hug!


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