Whether you are traveling for a business trip or you’re a parent in the military, work travel can present unique parenting challenges. Perspective and preparation goes a long way towards contributing to a good experience for everyone involved.
A key component for making travel work well is your personal conviction that the travel is worth it. It’s also important to consider the potential benefits for your children and family. Learning to be more independent while finding new ways to care for one another and collaborate can be good for families.
Preparing Your Family
First, make sure everyone knows when work travel is happening. Create a calendar and review it with your family. Prepare ahead of time, such as having the diaper bag packed, school papers signed and in backpacks, and so forth. Get your children involved. This can help them feel involved and learn new responsibilities.
Create real, quality time before a trip. Having your undivided attention for a period of time is more important than having your unfocused attention all the time. Make time to make memories and share special moments; a walk, a story, a trip to the library.
Talk about your work travel prior to leaving. Don’t avoid the topic of a business trip or sneak out just because you know your leaving may cause tears. Allowing your child to share his or her feelings, even if it’s difficult, is important.
Support for feelings. Helping children prepare for, think through, and be ready to cope with difficult feelings is a worthwhile and helps them grow. “I see that you are feeling sad about my work trip” proves highly beneficial. This holds true for non-verbal children too. Consistently talking about what’s happening in a reassuring and comforting tone contributes to your child’s relationship with trust as well as communication development. If they become upset teach your child to take five deep breaths, draw or write.
Have a parenting plan. It’s important that the parent who will be traveling and the parent or caregiver at home are on the same page. The caregiver at home should avoid using the traveling parent as a “bad guy” i.e. “Wait until your mom gets home” or “I’m calling your father and he will not like to hear this”. Likewise, the parent who travels should contribute to more challenging parenting duties and not simply focus on fun. Nor should they undo parenting decisions that have been made while he or she was away.
Staying Connected During Work Travel
Reading to your child every night over the phone or video chat can help you stay connected. You may want to record yourself reading a book if that works better for everyone’s schedules.
Share photos of special moments throughout the day. Swap sunsets or funny faces. Bring a stuffed animal and take photos around your travel destination.
FaceTime or Skype
Use video phone calls to connect face-to-face during the trip. Some families play games together while traveling.
Leave a note or picture to tuck under his or her pillow to read at night. You may want to write notes for lunchboxes or draw a morning greeting for each day.
Getting your children to open up about their day can be challenging, especially over the phone. Ask open-ended questions which require more than “yes” or “no” answers is helpful, such as: “What was the best part of your day?”
Buy postcards from your different travel destinations and help your child collect them in a scrapbook. Send them or bring them home.
Gifts or Souvenirs
Too often expectations around gift buying can get out of control, set clear expectations with your family. One family I know collected unique or fun travel mugs for the family to share. It became a tradition they looked forward to, and a way to transition home with humor.
Show & Tell
Decorate a special box together and have your child keep special items in it to share with you when you return. Depending on your child’s age this may include school papers, drawings, things they find on a nature walk, or photos.
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