Business trips when you have a toddler at home
January 18, 2012 8:05 AM   Subscribe

How do you make business travel as painless as possible when you have a toddler at home?

I am the mother of a 2-year-old, and I have to do a fair amount of business travel in the coming months. I will be gone anywhere from 3 to 10 days at a time, roughly every six weeks or so. What kinds of things have you done / avoided doing to make this as painless as possible? Or, if you had a parent who was away on business, what kinds of things do you remember that made the pain of separation better?

Details: He is in full-time daycare, so his daily routine will not change drastically when I'm away. My husband routinely does (at least!) half the childcare. He is not a particularly anxious child, BUT lately he tends to cry that he wants his mommy if he's tired/hungry/sick/cranky. He often cries for me at night, and I often sleep with him part of the night.
posted by agent99 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have 3 kids (2 out of 3 are just a little older than toddler now), and go through the same thing, though I'm a man, my wife and I both travel for work several times a year. All three kids got used to it pretty quickly. It's really pretty easy for them, they're kids, adjusting to change is easy for kids, they don't know any different. It's never really easy for either one of us. Being away is hard, and being at home alone, with all three kids, is hard. Once you've done it a few times all three of you will know what it takes. Kids that age have no concept of time, he'll be fine. Make sure you and your husband support each other, say thanks, and appreciate what you're doing for each other during these times. I'd like to say it gets easier, but I'm not sure that's true? I think we all just get better at coping and have better strategies to make it through those times.
posted by Blake at 8:24 AM on January 18, 2012

bardophileJr is a bit older than your child, but my husband has been gone six days a week for almost a year now. So not quite the same situation, but similar in significant ways.

Maintaining the same routine as much as possible is a good thing.

Another useful thing is to establish certain specific things that are part of the "Mom is away" routine. Some of these things could involve you, others could specifically be about providing distraction.

A regular time for phone calls and Skype. I don't know how verbal your 2-yr old is, but video chat is infinitely better than phone calls for my husband and child.

You may want to record some bedtime stories/lullabies.

Something that smells like you might be a good night-time soother. I have a niece who always slept with her mother's scarf.

Unfortunately, I have to tell you, it still *is* hard. Things can mitigate the difficulty, but it doesn't go away.
posted by bardophile at 8:25 AM on January 18, 2012

It's really pretty easy for them, they're kids, adjusting to change is easy for kids, they don't know any different.

People keep telling me this. It has not been true for us. Some kids do not like change, and they do not adjust easily to it. You know your own child, so I'll let you decide whether it applies in your situation or not.
posted by bardophile at 8:28 AM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I go away on business, I leave my husband a series of notes to slip into our son's lunch. They have little drawings of where I am (for example, in SF I left pictures of a cable car, the Golden Gate bridge, and a ship) and a countdown of days until Mama gets home. Reportedly, this makes a big difference to my son (4.5 y. o.).
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:31 AM on January 18, 2012

Things that have worked for us with a travelling mom:

Elimiate as much as possible bedtime routines that only one parent does (or can do). It should be equally simple for dad to put the kid to bed as it is mom. This may mean stoppping the co-sleeping.

Nighttime activities, playgroups, whichever. It is often those long nights after a long day that are the worst.

Consider a babysitter for at least one of the nights you are gone.

If possible, do the 3 day trip before the 10 day, just so you can get any problems sorted more easily.

Honestly, kids that age don't have much of a concept of time, so you might actually be more anxious than your child.
posted by madajb at 8:33 AM on January 18, 2012

Video chat every night. (Schedule a time if possible so this becomes part of the routine when you are gone.)
Take pictures of yourself and send them to your husband to show him. (These let him know you are thinking of him and shows him what you are doing. They also give him something to ask you about or mention when talking on the video. Yeah, a five minute conversation about your crappy hotel lunch might sound boring now, but when you're on the trip . . .)
Ask him if you can take one of his stuffed animals to keep you company. (Include the stuffed animals in the photos of you. Besides being a reference point in the picture, it might make him feel better about you, being with something from which he derives comfort.)

All of these helped my kiddo.
posted by Seamus at 8:41 AM on January 18, 2012

My mother was in the military and traveled frequently when we were very young. Before she left she'd give me and my brother each a little baggie full of junior marshmallows, one for each day she'd be gone, and we'd eat one each morning to count down to when she'd be back home. If it was a multi-week trip she'd usually leave little notes or crafty things for Dad to slip into our lunches or as a treat when we got home from school.

She also always brought us totally awesome souvenirs, so that can be an incentive for a kid to be excited that their parent is traveling.

Honestly I can never remember a time that I was upset that my mom was traveling. I missed her, sure, especially when she was on a multi-month deployment during the first Gulf War, but I never threw a tantrum about her leaving or refused to do anything because it was simply part of life.

And it did help that Dad was just as much a parent as Mom was. Dad could still French braid my hair before I went to bed like Mom did, and help us pick out our clothes for the morning, and read to us, and take us to our friends' houses. Yes, Mom and Dad are different people, but they were both equally capable of keeping us in our routines -- and it was the routine that was important to me, I think, less so than a preference for the presence of one parent or another at any given time.
posted by olinerd at 8:41 AM on January 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

And yes, a countdown to return was essential for my kid. Just a discussion of it every day.
We never tried to make it into a sobby, "Oh, dear god, I miss you SOOOOOOO much kind of thing." even if that was what we were feeling.
posted by Seamus at 8:42 AM on January 18, 2012

Can you set up Skype or video chat so that he has a chance to talk with you and see your face every day?
posted by decathecting at 2:06 PM on January 18, 2012

When my sweetie used to travel a lot for work, he made little calendars for the kids with pictures of their activities, and pictures of the telephone with times when he would call, and a picture of him smiling on the day when he would be returning. My youngest is now almost eight, and when my husband has to travel (now seldom), our son still requests a calendar.
posted by Malla at 5:52 PM on January 18, 2012

Countdowns while you're gone and souvenirs when you return, yep. And bardophile touched on the thing that worked the most wonders for us: Dad would plan wacky activities and make it clear that these things were special for When Mom Travels. Things like "tonight we eat dinner with our hands behind our backs."

I can't remember some of the others but your husband may be able to come up with some. The key is to be very silly. Business travel was really hard until he hit on this - then the kids started asking me with great anticipation when I would be making my next trip. Dealing with them wanting me to go away soon was not quite as hard as dealing with them NOT wanting me to go away.
posted by evilmomlady at 5:32 AM on January 20, 2012

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