How should I handle job requirements that weren't provided previously?
November 5, 2018 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I just transferred to a new job within a new federal agency, in which the job application said "occasional" travel, but that "occasional" has changed to "substantial" in my eyes. I am so anxious about these requirements and that I will not be able to meet them, that I'm having a hard time focusing on learning my new job. How should I handle this both personally and professionally?

I had been working with a federal agency that required minimal travel (training maybe one to two weeks a year), the rest was local. I had been there for 15 years, and although the job was great, the people were great, and I still had advancement, I wasn't learning any new skills and I felt that I was ready and needed something new for myself. I am 35 years old, with a 3 year old daughter (single parenting, full custody). I have my parents who help with day care, as her father is not much in the picture.

When I interviewed, I did bring this above fact up (lightly, and only in saying my travel schedule wasn't very forgiving but that I would be okay with occasional travel- meaning 2-4 weeks out of the year spread out). The application states "occasional" which is the lowest of travel above the "no travel required." I am still federal, but more on the military side of things. Turns out, they just received a lot of funding for travel so they have ramped up their traveling.

It appears as if the traveling would be about 3-5 days at a time and either once a month, or once every couple months. To me, this is "substantial" travel, and my supervisor mentioned that specific word. I have voiced my concern in that I want to be a good employee, and I am excited for the opportunities, but I'm met with the "it will be okay...we will work with you," but nothing else. And I still here that it could be once a month travel.

Now, if I didn't have a daughter, and my circumstances were different...I would love it. They have the opportunity to travel to many states (and countries) that I have not been to, as my travel has been limited, and meet some pretty impressive people. But, I am paralyzed with fear. I didn't expect this, nor do I think I have the ability to leave my daughter for 3-5 days a week every month. A small part of me is excited for the opportunity to travel, but I rarely travel even personally, that I am terrified that I will not be able to meet these requirements and that I made a terrible decision to leave a job where I knew that I wouldn't have to travel from my daughter.

She is three, and as she gets older my absence is known to her, and she misses me (she says). Because I am the sole provider for her, I feel it is my responsibility as her mom and support figure to always be there for her. I don't know how personally and emotionally I will be able to handle being away from her as I have a hard enough time as it is when I leave her with my parents to get a day or night out on my own.

In addition, my friends and family are so important to me, so is my career, but of more importance is trying to build a consistent loving environment for my daughter and I sometimes feel that I don't even have enough time with her as it is. I work the standard m-f 8 hour days so she is either being raised by preschool or my parents, and then thinking about giving up additional time with her makes me nauseous, I start to think that I wont even be raising her, that I will lose so much time with her. At the same time, I have nowhere else to go at this point, and my career was hitting a brick wall in that I wasn't satisfied. I could have stayed, continued making money, but I would have turned into a supervisor only, and I wasn't ready for that yet. Now, I feel selfish in trying to do something different because now I'm faced with the possibility of being away from her even more. Which will also limit my time and connection with friends and family relationships.

I am feeling so overwhelmed that I made a terrible choice, I'm scared that I am going to let me daughter down, that she is going to miss me, that my parental role is going to diminish and that I will feel so overwhelmed in trying to keep up other aspects of my personal life together while I try to work on my career.

I'm also thinking maybe this is fear based. Travel for work scares me and I've always shy-d away from it- because I hate the thought of being away from her. I don't want to miss out on anything, and I feel terrible giving my family more responsibility in helping me. My one regret in life was that I didn't get to travel, but now is not the time because I have a greater responsibility than myself. I've never shared time with her father, we have never and probably will never have a 50/50 schedule, he only sees her for a few hours per week (court ordered, as he has not been the best co-parent, father or person). With time, that could change, but, I have never had her away from me. If I had a 50/50 co-parent I could work it out where I would be traveling while she was in his care, or have help, but I have had her under my care fully for three years. I read some people say, travel isn't conducive for a single parent, I have other say it's okay, give it a year see how you feel... but, I have lost weight, sleep, and am just an anxious ball of worry over this and I don't want it to affect my work and learning ability here. Has anyone had to travel as a single parent? Should I just throw it in and go back to my old job in a couple months where I would be safe but probably not challenged?
posted by MamaBee223 to Human Relations (14 answers total)
I fear that you're getting worked up for something that hasn't happens yet. I'd believe them when they say that they're going to work it out for you.

When the time comes and they say, 'MamaBee, we'd like you to go to Dallas for a few days' or they start planning out travel, say no.
Tell them you are a single parent and you took on this job with expectations for little travel.

I'm worried about your anxiety about this.
posted by k8t at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

2-4 weeks out of the year spread out
3-5 days at a time and either once a month, or once every couple months

The new travel schedule, if on the lower end of the spectrum, could easily fall within the parameters you expected. One 3-day trip every other month = 18 days (3.6 workweeks) per year. It's not clear to me that the new travel schedule is actually going to be more arduous than what you expected. Also, as k8t says, nothing has actually happened yet.

That said, I totally get where you anxiety is coming from, and I too would want to get out in front of this. I think you've done the right thing by voicing your concerns; now, you need to see what happens. In your shoes, I would take the first couple of these travel assignments, even if they were at the higher end of the spectrum (5-day trips on a monthly basis). When you get to ~2 total weeks of travel days, email your supervisor to say that you've really enjoyed your travel assignments, but that because of reasons you've mentioned previously, you can only do 4 total weeks of travel per year. Frame it as, "I can do two more of these 5-day trips this year, but after that I'm afraid I'll need to back off from travel until next year so I can focus on my home obligations."

Good luck! And don't feel ashamed about being a little worried about this. It's a normal thing to worry about.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:55 AM on November 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

Would it be possible to get your travel duties spelled out in writing? That would certainly ease at least some of your anxiety, and it would give you a much better handle on what will be expected of you. It's not out of line to go to your boss and say something like, "I will need to arrange care for my daughter while I travel for work, so I would like to get a better idea of what will be expected of me, and I'd like it in writing. Not to make it inviolable, but just to give me the best idea of how I need to arrange things. As we discussed previously, it's really only possible for me to travel 4 weeks in total in a given year. I'd like to make sure we're both getting the best schedule out of my travel."
posted by cooker girl at 8:58 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I work the standard m-f 8 hour days so she is either being raised by preschool or my parents, and then thinking about giving up additional time with her makes me nauseous, I start to think that I wont even be raising her, that I will lose so much time with her.

My kids are now 13 and 7 and I want to reassure you that absolutely, my husband and I are raising them even though they have been in daycare, school, and afterschool programs and my mother-in-law provides some help. Every other adult in their life has been an addition to their world, not a subtraction to our family.

Now that your daughter is 3 there's also FaceTime and other ways to chat with her.

You could do the math on the hours (I did, and with 2/7 days on the weekend plus things at daycare like naps and stuff, I found I was spending about 1/2 of my kids' waking hours with them, a little less the times I traveled but that was often on weekends so I was missing more at-home hours than you would traveling during the week) but I think a lot of the anxiety you're feeling is because of strange, strange societal phrases like "daycare is raising my child."

Daycare is definitely influential, but kids know who their parents are.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:59 AM on November 5, 2018 [22 favorites]

To your bigger question, your child needs a mama that is doing okay - making money, having a good career. Missing out on things is inevitable but it does get better.
This new job sounds like a good step for you career wise. Congrats!
posted by k8t at 9:00 AM on November 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

Could you negotiate bringing her with you on some trips and finding a babysitter or daycare center in the location?
posted by beyond_pink at 9:05 AM on November 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Your daughter will only get better at understanding you being away, and 3-5 days once a month will not harm her.

I do 50-50 custody with my ex and sometimes I get caught up on how I am not there half the time, so I try not to schedule things for our time together but it's good for both of us to have different experiences. I remind myself he's in good hands when I have to travel and our relationship is solid. I always bring him something back from where I've been, his dad was just away for a week and it was fine, he is happy to see his dad but not upset, he's the same when I go away (he is 7 but we've been doing this since he was 3). Maybe you can think of some traditions you can create with her to make the travel something you can feel better about. You can make a special book with pictures of you that she reads, or get a special lovey or something to help her when you're apart. You can clear your schedule and take a day off to just be with her if possible when you get back. With my son we do less contact when I'm away as that seems to suit him better, he would just talk to me like "hey mom, come get me now please!" when we would talk and that was worse if I was far away. It may be harder for the first couple of years as I find that developmentally kids get a clingier as they get ready for kindergarten but that doesn't mean you can't take this opportunity.

If your parents are willing to support you on this I think you need to keep in mind how much she will adapt as she gets older and how much your framing of your travel will affect her. Of course she will miss you, but if she understands it's something you do for your work, and that you always come back, and she gets the nice traditions/things you make a part of the deal (like special time with her grandparents or a babysitter she loves) she will accept it.
posted by lafemma at 9:13 AM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would suggest trying to stand your ground on keeping travel to a minimum. Let them know why - single caretaker of young child - but don't give them details, like that you have family to take her overnight for free (if indeed it is free). That just invites your supervisor to think there's no problem adjusting the expectations they changed on you.

If you have to look for a new job, know that there will likely be other opportunities for travel in the future, when you are ready for them.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:14 AM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I work the standard m-f 8 hour days so she is either being raised by preschool or my parents

Just wanted to second another commenter who said this is guilt, rather than accuracy, talking. I went to school and daycare and babysitters throughout my childhood but by no means do I feel like those institutions "raised" me. I couldn't name a single daycare provider or babysitter for you now, and only a handful of school teachers. You are still the most important figure in your kiddo's life, trust.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:31 AM on November 5, 2018 [12 favorites]

I don't have the kid-of-a-single-mom experience, but my mother was in the Air Force, traveled extensively for weeks at a time, and even served a few multi-month tours in the Middle East during the first Gulf War. In the meantime, my dad (who worked full time), my grandparents, and a short-term nanny took on care for my brother and me. My parents are my beloved parents. They absolutely raised me. I benefited greatly from the care and love and influence of other caretakers, and in no way did I ever feel, or do I feel now, that my mother was not 100% devoted to us, or not there for us, or anything like that. We missed her, of course, but not in a crying-ourselves-to-sleep-every-night way. It was just... normal. The consistency of daycare/preschool and the involvement of your parents will help this feel normal for her, so even though I'm sure she *prefers* that you're around, she'll be entirely capable of managing when you're not. And that's *ok*.

And now, I feel so grateful for that, because I've traveled extensively during my career and now that I have kids, even though that's obviously scaled way back, I feel lucky that I can still take a work trip for a few days here or there and know that I'm not ruining my kids. And let's be clear, I've had those guilty moments - like a couple months ago when my 10 month old son had to be admitted to the hospital while I was gone, and I wasn't able to get a flight back for 12 hours. I freaked the fuck out. I get it. But I'm still going on another trip tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it, and I know my kids will be totally fine without me, and that I'll come home relatively refreshed and excited to spend time with them. In many ways, I feel it makes me a better mom to have these 'breaks'.

It's totally valid to just not want to travel for work, and totally valid to set clear limits with your boss. But if there is a part of you that *does* want this level of travel, and you're only backing away from it because of your worry about your relationship with your daughter, please accept this daughter-of-a-frequent-traveler-mother, occasionally-traveling-mother-of-a-daughter anecdata that this won't make or break your relationship.
posted by olinerd at 11:08 AM on November 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

My dad has worked regional sales jobs my entire life, and so I spent much of my childhood with him gone 3-4 days at a time, sometimes multiple trips per month. I missed him while he was gone, but also absolutely don't feel like it has affected my ability to have a close relationship with him or that he missed out on my life in ways that I have any substantial regret about. This will absolutely not have any kind of terrible effect on your daughter's life and you will still be her mom, always.
posted by augustimagination at 3:05 PM on November 5, 2018

I just wanted to add a BTDT on behalf of my sister. She's a single mother by choice, no father in the picture at all in terms of childcare. She travels maybe every other month for 3 days. It's a lovely treat for my mom to have her granddaughter spend the night for a few nights, and the fact that she's in full-time daycare makes it manageable. I've even come in from out of town to help once when my mom was busy. My niece loves her "teachers" at daycare, loves grandma, and absolutely adores her mom, my sister. She's very well-adjusted, smart, happy, and delighted with her life and her family.

It sounds like you are building this up in your mind into something harmful. Your feelings are completely valid, and everyone is different, but I just want you to know that there are loving, dedicated, wonderful parents who do this and ... it's fine.
posted by tk_zk at 4:30 PM on November 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm not a parent, but I am the child of a single mom who did some traveling for work when I was small. Mostly these were short trips; a few were 1-2 weeks and I stayed with my grandparents or other close family.

I have nothing but good memories and experiences! My mom always brought back a small, inexpensive trinket so that was fun and I got to hear about the people she met and the things she saw. I really think it gave me a positive opinion of her (she was an adventurer in my mind even if adult me realizes most of these trips were pretty un-exotic) and it was good to have "woman travels alone to do business" as a role model.

I think if you share your experiences with your daughter (postcards or face time or going out for ice cream after you return and showing her pictures) this could be a really positive thing. (and hey, a few nights a month with other family was a treat too!)
posted by pointystick at 5:04 PM on November 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree with others that you may be worrying prematurely, but your union rep may also be a person to reach out to for advice/help on the job duties changing.
posted by lazuli at 6:47 PM on November 5, 2018

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