Whether you’re jetting off to an annual conference or regularly visiting an interstate office, work trips can be a challenging business if you’re a parent.
You might worry that working away will disrupt your child’s routine, upset their emotions, put serious strain on your partner or make it nigh on impossible to organise child care, but worry not.
With some forward-planning and quality communication, it is possible to make business trips work for everyone. Here are some ways to ensure that your child’s practical and emotional needs are met during the night, or week, you’re away.
How to prepare your family for a work trip
Although some work trips come up out of nowhere, usually you’ll have plenty of time to get things in order before you go. To get the family ready for your departure, Bright Horizons recommends that you:
- Put your travel dates in the calendar, make sure everyone knows when the trip is happening and plan as much as you can ahead of time.
Start by organising child care for the dates you’ll be away. Your partner might be able to work from home or work flexible hours on the days you’re away, you could book a casual nanny or babysitter, or perhaps your child’s grandparents can provide care. Sometimes a mix of different child care options works well, so speak with your partner and others to find the best solution.
When it comes to daily routines and special events, make sure your partner or child carer knows what’s happening when you’re away. It might help to write up a daily roster or calendar of your child’s events (e.g. with drop-off times, foods they like for lunch or the date of that dress-up day at kindy). Also, do what you can to ease your child carer’s load when you’re away (e.g. you might freeze some dinners or pre-pack your child’s ballet bag).
- Discuss your work travel with your child before you go, explaining who’ll be looking after them and letting your child share their feelings.
It’s important that you don’t just ‘disappear’ into the world of work, and also that your child is comfortable with the person who’ll be looking after them. If you’re hiring a care-giver, introduce them to your child ahead of time and think about using someone you’ve hired before.
If your little one is too young to talk, it’s still important to discuss your trip in a reassuring tone and make them feel secure and loved.
Bright Horizons also recommends that you help your child develop emotional intelligence so they can prepare for, think through and cope with you being away (e.g. this could mean teaching your child to take deep breaths if they’re feeling upset).
- Formulate a parenting plan, so that you’re ‘on the same page’ as your partner or care-giver.
For example, if your parents are providing grandparent care, it’s important to have an open discussion about things like food, discipline, sleep etc. And if your partner is doing everything while you’re away, assure them that you won’t ‘undo’ any parenting decisions they make in your absence. Give them your full support and promise to take on the more challenging parenting duties, and not just the fun ones, when you’re back.
- Spend ‘focused time’ with your child before you go.
Even if you’re frantically preparing for your business trip, set aside some quality time with your child. Give them your undivided attention as you do something together, like reading The Kissing Hand or making a ‘Show and Tell’ box for them to fill up while you’re away and share when you’re back.
If there’s something your child loves to do, like feeding the ducks or making play dough monsters, then remember to tell your child’s carer about the activities they really enjoy.
How to stay connected when you’re on the work trip
Once you’re on the business trip, it’s important to keep in touch with your child, your partner and your child’s carer. This enables you to stay emotionally connected and be on call to solve any practical issues.
Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp and good old-fashioned email are easy ways to check in with everyone, and to communicate with your child in a meaningful way you can:
- Read to them each night by phone or video chat. If the time zones are out of whack, then you could pre-record your voice reading a story and have your child carer play the recording at bedtime.
- Share fun photos. You might take a favourite toy to different places you visit and send your child photos of its travels.
- Leave notes or pictures for them to find. For example, you could ask your child’s carer to put a new note in their lunchbox each day or hide a ‘Mummy heart’ under their pillow.
What child care can look like when you work away
To give you a sense of how different families balance work trips with family life, here are three scenarios:
- Sydney-based Claire works out of the Melbourne office every Monday and Tuesday.
This is a regular arrangement, so Claire drops her children at care early on Monday, then catches her flight. A part-time nanny picks the children up from day care and school, and looks after them until Claire’s partner, Jack gets home. Jack starts late and finishes late on Tuesdays so that he can do drop-offs. Their nanny looks after the children until Claire gets home on Tuesday night.
- Steve attends a sales conference twice a year in America and his wife, Minh also has overseas commitments.
Steve knows the weeks he will be away and Minh is careful to plan her business trips at different times. When she is busy with work, Minh relies on long day care and outside of school hours care to look after her children. Occasionally, she has to work Saturdays when Steve is away and books her usual babysitter to care for them.
- Carmen is a single mum who travels for work, sometimes for up to a week at a time.
Her parents provide grandparent care and move into the house whenever she is away. To give them a break, Carmen sometimes asks her friend Isabella to look after her daughter. When she is back home, Carmen will look after Isabella’s children in return.
There are different ways to make work trips do-able for your family, and before you go anywhere, Bright Horizons suggests that you:
- Think about why it’s important to travel for your job
- Commit to the work
- Believe that the benefits of travelling outweigh the costs
Feeling that your work travel is ‘worth it’ can help to reduce guilt or stress, and the experts say it’s equally important that the person looking after your child shares these convictions (whether that’s your partner, parent or a paid carer).
Together, you can balance work travel and child care – and deal with any bumps along the road. Good luck!
References and further reading