May 8, 2012
May 8, 2012
Before She Hits the Road (and leaves the kids behind)
By: Joy E. Stocke
I’ve been traveling for business for most of my life. When my daughter Sarah was born, I was reviewing hotels in Italy and was gone for weeks at a time.
I was thrilled to be a mom and when Sarah was very small, I brought her with me. But once the school years set in, I scaled back my travel schedule, except when I couldn’t.
By the time, I began research on what would become the memoir Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes Goddesses and Saints, Sarah’s schedule included a host of afterschool activities.
Over the years, I’ve commiserated with working moms in every field as well as stay-at-home moms who care for long-distant relatives or simply wish to take a solo getaway. How can we make are absence as painless as possible? Here are some practical tips gathered from moms who travel:
1) Accept that you will feel a measure of guilt.
Our children are a part of us, so why shouldn’t we feel a rip in our stomachs when we leave them behind?
We’ve all received the dreaded call from the school nurse with some variation on the following theme, “Your child just threw up on their spelling test. You need to come and get them.”
Which leads to the next point.
2) Have two back-up caregivers (maybe three) in the wings before you leave. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
When my husband and I were starting our lives as parents, we couldn’t afford an at-home caregiver; and both sets of grandparents were unavailable, so we enrolled our daughter Sarah in a daycare program.
When I traveled, my husband arranged his schedule to pick Sarah up. Because he has a demanding career, there were nights when at the last minute he had a meeting or dinner. Also, if there was an emergency, it was difficult for him to pick Sarah up during the day. So, we arranged for two neighbors with children in Sarah’s class to pick her. (THIS MEANS WE HAD TO FILL OUT A FORM FOR EACH NEIGHBOR AND THEY HAD TO SIGN THE FORM.)
Confession. Initially I was shy about asking for favors. Out of desperation, I finally asked my friends (including those without children) for help and they eagerly offered it.
A corollary: Remember, your friends may need your help one day, too.
3) Photocopy your contact information. (Yes, I know this may be old fashioned, but a folder organized with your papers, still works, especially for grandparents.) And/or, create or use a shared document program online.
I am a procrastinator when it comes to paperwork and my husband isn’t much better. But, I found that it saved a lot time in the long run to have all contact info in one place. (Plus, a spare set of car and house keys.) In my case, you can find this information in the top drawer of my front hall credenza.
There are also a number of apps for organizing your info as well, but I still be believe in hard copies.
Here is what I leave:
1) Phone numbers and email addresses of immediate family members.
2) Phone numbers and email addresses of back up contacts.
3) Health Care Information.
4) Any food allergies or food restrictions.
5) List of non-prescription medications your child is allowed to take.
4) Prepare your child for your departure. Include them in your plans.
No child, or spouse, or pet for that matter, wants us to leave the nest for an extended period of time. Many of us avoid the topic completely, stealthily planning our departures.
Either way, there will be tears when you leave. But once the kids are involved in your plans, they become part of the journey.
I began keeping a calendar marking my travel dates. I marked my schedule in magenta. My husband’s in yellow. And my daughter marked her schedule in aqua, her favorite color.
5) Create a sample menu for the week and involve the kids in the process.
If your kids help you with the menu, they become proactive in learning about nutrition and have an opportunity to learn how to prepare food as well.
Buy a kids’ cookbook and let them choose dishes.
6) Make sure you have your children’s favorite foods in the cupboard.
Knowing there are snacks in the cupboard is a great comfort to kids. My daughter and I would make cookie dough in advance, roll it into balls and have it ready in the freezer. With the caregiver’s help, she baked her afterschool snack.
7) The daily routine doesn’t change because Mom’s away.
My friend Christy says, "Training the kids to participate daily in household chores, like having them clean up the table every night after dinner makes things easier while you’re away. Even your youngest child should participate."
Hope, a mother of four agrees: “Well-defined schedules and a very open dialogue about expectations before I leave,” she says.
There will be transgressions. Instead of getting angry, have a conversation and debriefing when you get home.
8) Create a Mommy Spot where you leave a few of your child’s favorite things.
When Sarah was young, I had a comfy chair in my office. She could sit there anytime she wanted. On it, I put one of my shawls, our favorite books (she loved The Berenstain Bears) and small packets of peanut M&Ms, one for each day I was gone. (Health-conscious moms, they were organic peanut M&Ms.)
9) Establish regular communication times. (Insofar as that is possible.)
We’ve created a world where anyone can be reached at any time. This is particularly dangerous for moms missing their kids and kids missing their moms. If you set up established communication times, you will find that everyone’s stress level decreases.
If you are traveling overseas, you will contend with time differences. One solution is to leave a message on the house phone or kids’ cell phones each day with an update. They can listen to the message at an established time.
My daughter texted me at whim. We established that unless it was a true emergency, I would respond at the end of my workday.
10) Once you’re on the road, enjoy your adventure.
© 2013 Macaroni Kid, LLC