Before you have kids, taking business trips is no big deal.
When you leave, you don’t have to worry about people missing you. Maybe your wife is a little bummed, but she can handle it.
You can hop on a plane and hardly think about home at all.
But after children enter the picture, business travel becomes a bit more complicated. Now you’ve got little humans who love you, will cling to your leg as you walk out the door, and don’t really understand why you have to leave. They miss you when you go. And you miss them, too.
So what can you do to be a better dad while still fulfilling professional obligations?
Below we provide suggestions on how to handle business trips in ways that can promote more bonding with your kids, help you stay connected to your family while you’re away, and allow you to return home smoothly.
Tell your kids about the trip just a couple days ahead of time. Psychologists recommend not telling young children that you’re leaving too far in advance because it might make them needlessly anxious. There’s a chance they might stew on it all week and get themselves worked up about it. For older kids, you can tell them in whatever timeframe you want.
Explain how long you’ll be gone in terms they can understand. If your toddler is three years old and still doesn’t have a grasp of the days of the week, telling her you’ll be back Friday won’t compute. Instead, say something like: “I’ll be home in three sleeps.”
Research your destination with your kiddos. Use your upcoming business trip as a chance to spend quality time with your kids and teach them something new. Get on the computer and research about your destination: show them where it is on a map; see how far it is from your home; find out what the weather is like there; pinpoint famous landmarks.
Let your children help you pack. Another way to connect with your kids before you leave is to let them help you pack. You can ask them things like “What do I need to bring to Denver?” “How many pairs of socks do I need?” Let them put things in your bag, and use it as an opportunity to teach them how to pack a suitcase properly.
Leave some notes around the house. Before you leave, jot a few short notes and put them around the house so your kids can find them while you’re gone. You can put them in their lunch bags or under their pillows. (Mom might encourage them to leave notes for you in your suitcase/briefcase in return.)
While You’re On the Road
Video chat once a day at a set time. Thanks to technology, staying connected with your kids while you’re on the road has never been easier. Because it’s so easy, many traveling dads might be tempted to check in frequently. Resist the urge to do so. Frequent phone calls or video chats might be a disruption to the regular family schedule back home. Instead, establish a single set check-in time with your wife to do a family video pow-wow. A good time can be right before the kids start winding down for bed; there’s not much going on, and it’s not so close to their turning in that you risk getting them amped up right before it’s lights out.
What do you talk about when you’re on the video call?
Instead of asking them the generic “How was your day?” ask your kids specific questions like:
- “What did you eat for lunch?”
- “What was the funniest thing that happened to you today?”
- “What was your favorite part of today?”
- “What was something nice that someone did for you today?”
- “What did you do after school?”
If your kids are older and doing homework, ask them about it and if they need any help. Maybe you can work on a tough word problem together via Skype.
Consider maintaining family bedtime routines. Some families with young kiddos will maintain family bedtime routines even when Dad’s away. He’ll video conference himself in to read a story, sing a song, or say prayers before his kids go to sleep.
Personally, I find doing those sorts of things via the digital ether a little weird and awkward; I think that just as we don’t attempt to give each other hugs via Skype, life’s more intimate moments should be saved for times of face-to-face intimacy. But if it floats your family’s boat, go for it!
Document your travel with text message pics. While you should aim to do just one video chat a day with your kiddos, don’t hesitate to check in more regularly via text messaging. Send your wife pics of your trip to show your kids. My son, Gus, is obsessed with airplanes, so if I ever need to fly for a business trip, I’ll send Kate pictures of the plane I’m on to show him what it looks like. He’s also into hotel rooms, so I’ll send a picture of my accommodations as soon as I arrive.
Some families have a tradition where Dad brings his child’s stuffed animal with him on his trip and takes pictures of it in different places while he’s on the road. This could be a fun way to stay connected with your younger kiddos.
Mail them a postcard. If you’re going to be gone more than a few days, consider mailing your kids a postcard. Kids love getting snail mail. They love it even more when it’s from their amazing dad who’s jet setting for business.
Bring home a cheap gift. Giving your young kids a cheap gift can be a fun business travel tradition. I still remember the pair of flight wings my dad got me from one of his business trips — the fact that they’re ubiquitous and free didn’t dampen my enthusiasm one whit! There’s no need to go overboard with this stuff. Something small and inexpensive will do: pins, patches, and snow globes make great return home gifts. Some little kids might even get super excited about pens, notepads, and tiny bars of soap from the hotel at which you stayed.
Respect the family rhythm. If you’re gone a lot or for extended periods of time, your family has likely established a rhythm that doesn’t involve you. Respect the rhythm. Don’t expect them to stop everything just because you’re home. As soon as you return, sync yourself to the established routine. Take kids to baseball practices, go run errands, do your family chores. Make your re-entry into the family as seamless and frictionless as possible.
Reestablish contact with kids individually. While you should do your best to integrate yourself back into the overall family routine, look for opportunities to reestablish contact with each kiddo one-on-one. This could be as easy as taking them with you on an errand and catching up with them while in the car. If they’re younger, play with them. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just be with them.