6 Tips for Parents Who Travel for Work

an airplane in the orange-ish sky

When you have children, traveling for business can be a real burden. Regardless of where you stand along the work-life balance equation, keeping your obligations to your career, your family, and yourself is extremely challenging. When you have small children, this is even harder. So what do you do when travelling for work is starting to negatively impact your family life? Here’s how to cope.

Share the details

Don’t avoid the topic of work travel with your children just because you know it might cause anxiety. Tell your family when you’re leaving, where you’re going, what you’ll be doing, and when you’re returning. Even better - plot these dates on a shared family calendar like Picniic where everyone can see. Let your kids know who will be looking after them and who will be there to help take care of them. The more questions you can answer, the better.Put your trip into context. Younger kids may not understand what August 15th means, so in our household, we explain return dates to my son in terms of number of “sleeps.” For example, if my trip or my wife’s is 3 days, we tell him that I—or my wife—will be back “after 3 sleeps.” Help your children understand where you’ll be by showing them photos or pointing to the location on a map or globe. My family has a map with a large pin that marks home. When explaining my travel destination, I’ll put a smaller pin on that city. This way, my son can have an idea of where I will be traveling to or how far, and even make connections if it’s a city we’ve travelled to before.

Schedule family time before the trip

Dedicating undivided attention to your family for a set period of time is better than giving them unfocused attention all the time. In other words, if you’re short on quantity, focus on quality.If I’m not careful, I can find myself running around the night before I leave picking up dry cleaning, grabbing toiletries at the drug store, and all the other errands that pile up so easily. When I’m not able to give my full attention to my son before I go, he can tell. The guilt I feel about those poorly spent last hours makes for long plane rides, so my wife and I have developed habits that help us avoid that. If you start a list a few weeks before you go of all the small things you need to do before you go, it will be easier to check them off. Even better, share your lists with your partner using a platform like Picniic so both of you can chip in on ticking off those little tasks. Block off family time on your calendar and commit to being fully present during it. Before a work trip—and especially if it’s a longer trip—my family likes to plan a fun activity for the weekend. It’s a great opportunity deepen our family connection and also leave on a positive note. Plus, getting outside and active with your family will make you feel more relaxed on your trip as well!

Maintain routines

With a parent missing from home, it’s important to keep everything else as close to normal as possible to minimize additional stress. Regardless of who will be looking after the kids, it’s a good idea to provide detailed instructions on bedtimes, dietary preferences, after-school schedules, and other necessary info to minimize disruptions to your child’s routine.Your absence, though temporary, is a big change to your child’s day-to-day life. Help them adjust faster by keeping everything else constant

Check in

During your trip, try to touch base with your child and caregiver every day. Daily chats will allow your child to hear your voice and gives everyone time to share their day and discuss any concerns.My wife and I always try to Facetime with the kids everyday, with the exception of when it’s too close to bedtime. During those days, we prefer to leave them to their nighttime routines and allow them to settle down. Even then, it’s important to be in constant communication with your spouse or caregiver. If the travelling parent and the parent at home are on the same page about how to handle communication, it will make everyone’s experience smoother.

Let go

Keep in mind too that sometimes kids get upset when they miss you, especially little ones. This is natural and part of growing up. If you’re worried that a call might bring a bout of tears from your child, check in with your partner first. Touching base with them to see whether it’s a good idea to chat will make all of your lives, including your kid’s, a little bit easier. Hopefully tears are just a phase that will pass, but being cognizant that a phone call can be upsetting is a way to save some heartache for everyone. And if a phone call home goes sideways, don’t beat yourself up about it. It can be easy to dwell in guilt when you’re away from home, but it can’t be helped. It goes the other way too! Sometimes my son is way more interested in watching PJ Masks than Facetiming with me. Now, admittedly, that stings a bit. But ultimately I’m much happier knowing that my son is relaxed and happy than getting a full chat with him each night that gets him worked up about missing me. Don’t let your ego get in the way of what’s really important

Plan your arrival

If you’re anything like me, you’re absolutely exhausted when you get home. After a busy week of travel and meetings, I really need some time to kick off my shoes and relax before I can take on anything more. My wife and I have developed a routine where we will always try to take the kids out when the other is returning home. That way we’re always able to take a quiet, restorative shower, sit back, and maybe even sneak in a nap before it’s back to our busy family routine. By taking care of this up front, I feel great knowing that I’m properly able to show my family just how excited I am to see them again. It’s also very, maybe even more, difficult to be the parent that stays home. It’s tough work managing a household solo, and your partner may have had a tough couple of days. Try to be considerate of this when you return. The more you can pitch in, the better everyone will feel about work trips.What works, and what doesn’t work, will be different for every family. My wife and I have struck on a formula that works for us, but that didn’t happen right away. The first few trips I took after becoming a father were challenging for all of us. But, we made sure to take a note of what worked for us and tried to replicate these little things for the next trip. If you stick with it, you’ll be able to find a rhythm of your own and soon work trips will be a breeze!