It has been almost four years since I have needed to schlep a breast pump with me on business trips. I can’t lie, it was difficult. Holding my breath that I could deplane quickly and find a restroom in order to pump before my boobs exploded, hoping the flight was on time and the layover was long enough, but dumping that liquid gold down the drain was heart-wrenching. That said, it was totally worth it, and since I did that through three kids, I kind of feel like a veteran working mom breastfeeding warrior.
I take anywhere from 3-7 business trips per year. They range from 2 to 6 days. I try to ease the burden on my husband by printing out a detailed daily schedule and making alternative arrangements for the kids when needed. I should probably consider canceling their music lessons, because that adds a layer of chaos to the daily shuffle, especially since the timing of their lessons was chosen for convenience with my typical workday schedule, not his.
We have had any number of surprises while I have been away on trips, from emergency room visits and lice attacks, to late start or cancelled school. All of these surprises require a back-up plan, for which I now know I have been grossly unprepared. I am pretty awesome at the advance planning part, but the surprises have provided rough lessons. Since you can’t really know exactly what it is the family will need, it is difficult to plan accordingly. But if I had to choose one thing to have ready, it would be back-up childcare. We don’t live near any family, so that is our first obstacle. However, we have great neighbors. It really does take a village. This year, our daycare closed unexpectedly because their building didn’t have access to water for two days. We were ready to pull our oldest out of school to babysit. I am sure he would have been more than happy to do that. Fortunately we didn’t have to go that far.
- Prep the kids for what will be different while you are gone. I typically make breakfasts and pack lunches every day, so I stock up on easy-to-make breakfasts, although hubs has been known to make his famous pancakes too. I also make sure the kids know that they will be eating school lunch while I am out + one additional day. Don’t forget to load their lunch accounts. Why do I add an additional day? Because I don’t know what will be in the fridge/pantry stock when I return.
- Write out a detailed schedule. If there are a lot of comings and goings with your family and kids, write it out so nothing/no one gets forgotten. We aren’t up to speed on a shared digital family calendar. We have a “command station” which helps with big picture planning and keeps us looking forward to special events and activities. I use a digital calendar for work (and do my best to keep it updated!), and I live by my hard copy calendar. I love it and it loves me and I will never give it up. Other people look at it and go into cardiac arrest or panic attacks, but it works for me and I have used one since 7th grade. So yes, I am the scheduling calendar master, therefore I need to try and make it easier for everyone when I am gone. I print out a detailed schedule and post it on the fridge.
- Get yourself to/from the airport. With early morning and late night flights, it is so much easier to call a cab, shuttle, or drive, park and fly by myself. There is no sense in creating more stress by waking littles up at the crack of dawn to have a grumpy curbside goodbye.
- Have a back-up childcare plan. And then, back up your back up plan. Caring for a sick family member is a legitimate use of your company sick time. I know, we all have important meetings and deadlines. Can you reschedule your meetings? Can you work from home? Can you bring your child to work? Can you work alternative hours? We all have work to do, and if you aren’t on a strict deadline, I promise, the work will still be there tomorrow. Is there early/late/additional childcare from your provider that you can utilize? Perhaps you have a family member or neighbor that can help out.
- Build in a buffer. I work a lot of nights and weekends, so if there aren’t hard deadlines or events, I feel comfortable creating a schedule that keeps me and my family connected. I fully understand this is a fortunate position to be in and not possible for everyone. When I can, I try to work a 1/2 day before I leave and work from home the day after I return. I have had flights delayed and not gotten in until the wee hours of the morning, and then had an early morning meeting. That does not feel good. If I can catch up from home, I can also spend a little bit of extra time with my family because I don’t have to commute or get dressed and ready. I might even be able to unpack and do some laundry. Honestly, this is my dream scenario and only happens about 20% of the time.
- Leave the guilt at home. I used to feel so much guilt while I was on business trips. Guilt that I left my babies, guilt that my husband was left alone with the kiddos, guilt that I actually have fun on my business trips, but I don’t feel that guilt anymore. First of all, I sleep really well in hotels. There is no dog to smell my face and wake me up in the middle of the night, no toddler with a knee in my back, and I only have to get myself ready in the morning. It’s a rare treat. On the road I can function relatively well on 5-6 hours of sleep. At home 7 hours never feels like enough. On trips, I watch shows and scout talent. I like associating with colleagues from around the country, and having a good time. I have the best job. If someone told 16 year old me that I’d get paid to go to New York City to see shows, I never would have believed them. It took several years, but I really do, mostly, leave the guilt at home, and you should too.