The emotional, and wired, logistics of traveling mothers
Technology can help moms on the road find peace of mind.
The New York Times
Amy Kossoff Smith, the founder of a parenting website, has a ritual when she has to go on the road. She leaves a printed itinerary of all the carpools, sports practices and games, baby-sitter hours and anything else her husband might need.
Michele L. Jackson, an attorney in Indiana who travels for her international adoption work, said she leaves files back home for each of her children with information on their activities and their medical records. She said she also texts instructions from the road, adding that she is "sure to include some sweetness" for her husband in the note "so he doesn't feel like an employee."
Peace of mind for working mothers who have to travel comes in all sorts of forms. And while working fathers who go away on business may use some of the same tactics, the mothers are often the ones laying out their children's skating outfits and freezing extra dinners before they leave town.
Smith, whose website is called MomTini Lounge, said children thrive on routine and structure, "so moms who travel try to minimize the disruption at home." She said she jettisons any unnecessary commitments like play dates to streamline the family schedule as much as possible while she is away.
Single parents can find travel even more challenging because they have to hand over the care of their children to a baby-sitter, friend or relative. This is especially tough, Smith said, if those caregivers are not as familiar with the family's routines. "Juggling these things might be second nature to mom, but for the person who doesn't do it all the time, it can feel overwhelming," she said. She recommended making a list or sharing an electronic calendar.
Some working mothers said they also have doctor, emergency, school and neighbor contact lists. Others said they set up grocery delivery services and order drugstore supplies online.
Technology helps, too, once parents are on the road. Smith suggested that parents follow their children's lead in deciding whether to text, email or go to Facebook. "If the kids communicate via text, then working parents do, too," she said. "And every PC and smartphone is now a video conference device."
Phaedra Cucina, the author of the children's picture book "My Mommy's on a Business Trip" (DolceVita Woman, 2008), said mothers can show their young children their hotel room using Skype. "It's comforting for a young child to see mommy in her hotel room waving and making silly faces," Cucina said. Older children might prefer sharing the city sights with their mother via an iPhone pointed out the window of a taxi.
But while traveling parents may be tempted by the technology to check in often, Smith said they should not try to run their households from the road. "It's time to focus on business, not making sure your son's homework is done," she said. "It can be a nice break for everyone."
Smith also said that parents should manage their family's expectations before they head out on a business trip. "Things may not run as smoothly," she said. She said she advises parents to include children as part of a team, to get things done while a parent is on the road. "Sometimes parents come home from a trip and discover their children do know how to load a dishwasher or clean their own clothes," she said.
Laura Kastner, a psychologist, speaker and co-author of books on family issues in Seattle, said a family's ability to function well with a traveling mother is also linked to its members' attitudes. "When Mom loves her work, Dad is happy to contribute and feels appreciated, and the kids can adapt well to changes in routines, all should go smoothly," she said. Parents who treat business travel as just another facet of life that needs to be managed "usually do just fine," according to Kastner.
Problems arise, Kastner said, when parents feel ambivalent or resentful. "If Mom talks about feeling guilty, or Dad starts sniping about the extra load he is carrying, it can set off some bad dynamics," she said, adding that she advises parents to approach travel with "resourcefulness and optimism."
Some families prepare a calendar showing when the mother will be away, display a map at home or take the children to the airport to say goodbye. "These little touches make younger children feel a part of what's going on," Cucina said, and give the traveling mothers the chance to reassure the children that they will "be back home soon," Cucina said. Fathers, of course, are welcome to do the same.