When I became pregnant, one of the first questions I received was “Are you going to continue working?” My answer to this question was always a clear and simple, “Yes.” I have known since a young age that a career was a priority for me. While it took me a while to land in the right field, I always knew that being a successful career woman was important to me.
My grandmother is my idol. She broke barriers and built a name for herself in a large telecommunications company at a time when women had few career options. My decision to stop pursuing a degree in education and switch to a liberal arts degree was an easy one. It was the same decision my grandmother made when she left nursing school to work her way through the business world. Five years later, I made a similar choice to start a job where I would begin traveling every so often. I did not think of how this would impact my life when I had a baby. Six months ago, a sweet little guy with ten sweet toes and ten sweet fingers joined the world and subsequently obstructed my freedom to travel for work.
As my travel dates loomed, my family dynamic changed. I didn’t see this change coming. In my grand plan to become a successful career woman, I didn’t think about the uncomfortable equation that is baby (with a special need) + job + travel (from a city with practically zero direct flights) + husband (with a full-time job).
This new normal for us makes me want to reconsider being a stay-at-home mom. I have an immense amount of respect for stay-at-home-moms and their workload. I guarantee SAHMs work harder than me. I have the privilege of enjoying my hour lunch break and simply using the bathroom as needed. That discrepancy alone makes my work easier. For me, the travel part of my job impacts me being even a part-time mom and makes my husband a full-time dad. My husband and I simultaneously roll our eyes at every stereotypical dumb dad joke, commercial, t.v. character, etc. My husband is insanely smart but has never desired to be a single parent to a child with a special need.
The travel tips for moms below are NOT to help the “not so smart” husbands; they are simply to support their spouses in their absence.
Do not change your style.
If you are a list-making, calendar-event-writing, outlook-inviting mom, step up your game and send those invites — and maybe a few extras. But if you are not that kind of mom, don’t fix what isn’t broken. If you change your approach, you will not be able to travel and feel confident in your preparations, as they are outside of your comfort zone. Unless your travel plans are “Okay, I’m leaving, bye!”, I don’t recommend changing your approach. If you love the mad dash the hour before you’re supposed to leave, take the day before you depart to do a full-day mad dash to get all those last-minute tasks completed. Personally, I’m a 50% prep, 50% run-around kind of mom. I will have lists for my child’s medications written out clearly, along with doctor appointments and all my son’s medical needs. But on the Sunday before I leave, I will be scrambling to pack my clothes and lay out my son’s clothes for the week.
Ensure your work is secondary.
As I entered the new world of traveling wife mom, I defended my need to travel. My husband expressed his concerns, and I stood tall to protect my career. I had disdain for every loaded question I received from a family member inquiring on if I intended to continue traveling for work. When my husband opened up and told me he was starting to feel resentment towards me, I stopped defending my job. I realized I was standing up for something that doesn’t love me back. My husband loves my career and supports my long-term goals, but he is also a human who loves his family unit and needs help caring for a 6 month old.
I highly recommend turning to your partner and asking “What do you need from me before I leave?” It is the question I ask my husband first and my boss second. You must feel very comfortable in your work-life balance to be able to do this. This is not a one-size-fits-all dynamic. But my marriage has always been about teamwork, and I believe the best teammate can step up to lead and step back to support as needed.
Keep your mom jobs.
If you are the grocery shopper, laundry handler, or dish cleaner, keep those jobs and knock them out before you leave. If you are the mail-getting, grass-cutting, meal-cooking mom, take care of those before you leave. I am the laundry-doing, grocery-shopping, medicine-managing mom. So, before I leave I run to Trader Joe’s, take care of all the laundry (sans folding because my husband is the pro-folder), and ensure my son’s medications are replenished. Now if the answer to the question I ask my husband regarding his needs is some added task(s) that I typically don’t do, I will get those done for my husband before I leave. I also love getting the mail, so I secretly hope my husband forgets to get the mail while I’m gone.
Talk about your family.
While you’re away from your family, don’t pretend like they don’t exist to serve whatever your business culture may be. Talk to your Uber driver or the hotel receptionist about your family if your co-workers aren’t having it. You deserve to bring your family into work just as your work unintentionally infiltrates your home life. Say “no” to unnecessary dinners if it means you can FaceTime your family before they go to bed. Of course if you are traveling internationally, this call may happen in the middle of the work day. I recommend trying to make this call, but be mindful of your professional obligations and keep the call time reasonable.
Give yourself a break.
I have beaten myself up repeatedly about my choice to keep traveling. I love my daily car rides with my son before I drop him off at daycare. I love snuggling both my guys before our son goes to bed. I enjoy watching my HBO shows with my husband and ordering an obscene amount of takeout from Taco Mama.
But I also love the feeling I get when I problem solve at work. I love helping my peers through a challenge. I love knowing my annual review will highlight my business acumen and desire to improve. It is worth noting that is okay to be conflicted and you will have a sleepless night or two over your decision to be a working mom. Have a conversation with your boss, spouse, co-workers and friends about your decision. Discuss how traveling impacts both sides of your life. I recommend asking for feedback on how to be a better employee and mom. If your job doesn’t appreciate it, well, I think you know what to do. And if your spouse isn’t willing to budge, seek a third party to help you through this conflict. These are tough conversations … emphasis on multiple conversations.
But you are NOT a problem. Your aspirations are NOT a problem. Your career is NOT a problem. Your title of mom is NOT a problem. We are complicated beings. And with our complexities comes confusion. Give yourself a break.
To my traveling working moms, keep on keeping on. Love on your babies, support your spouse in his efforts, and keep on succeeding. And to my traveling dads out there … this advice applies to you as well. And to the working single moms out there who also travel for work, I bow down.
Update: I wrote this before going on a couple of work trips and wanted to provide an additional tip! In the event you get food poisoning the day before you travel, forget all preparations and cry.