5 Big Picture Strategies for Making Business Travel (and Other Challenges) Easier on Working Parents and Their Families

Peace at Home September 28, 2023 | Ruth Freeman

  • Do you experience that sinking feeling when you need to travel for work? 
  • Struggle with guilt and think you’re a bad parent?
  • Find yourself in emotional struggles with your kids before or after being away?

Since the pandemic, business travel has become a much bigger challenge for families. Parents and children are coping with stressful thoughts and feelings resulting from prolonged fear and loss. You’re also spending more time under the same roof on a daily basis. So separating for work travel is more challenging. 

Indulging kids in gifts and promises before a trip isn’t the solution. Nor is playing the victim and telling your family you really don’t want to go, but “the boss” is making you. Here are some big ideas that will improve family life in important ways and make business travel easier for everyone:

  • Kids see the world through their parents’ faces. It’s important to communicate your authentic reactions (within reason) about being apart, but overall the message needs to be this is a challenge and our family is up to it. Be clear with kids about how travel affects your career success and what that means to you and what that may mean to them. Keep in mind that brief separations can build resilience and independence. Be sure to thank your kids and their caregiver when you get back for their help in making the trip work for everyone. 
  • Get on the same page with your kids’ other caregiver. Will they be at home with their other parent? A grandparent, family friend or childcare provider? Whatever is the case, working toward that person seeing your travel as necessary and positive for the family is more important than you might think. If your child’s caregiver thinks negatively about your travel, whether they express it or not, kids tend to pick up messages from the grownups around them. Getting on the same page with a partner may be especially challenging. Start by acknowledging what you appreciate about your partner’s strengths, spend some time talking about your values around work and family, and find the places where you agree. When you notice the differences in your perspectives, really – really – really listen to their values and what’s important to them. Talk together about how you can support those values and what action steps you both can take to support each other other’s priorities. Moving a little closer one step at a time can help. 
  • Accept the fact that your job is not to make your children happy. Instead, teach and model emotional intelligence. The first step in this list of strategies – reflecting children’s emotions – is the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is not only essential to good mental health but an asset in business success as well. Most parents would love to find that magic bullet to make our children happy all the time. But it’s an unrealistic, exhausting and impossible task that tends to sap parents’ energy with unfortunate consequences for kids. 

The real gift you can pass on to your child is your own ease with all kinds of emotions in yourself and them. The first step in helping your child cope with difficult emotions is to find a strategy to calm your own brain when they are upset and listen with an open heart and mind. Just strive to take in what they are feeling and the nature of their difficulty. Listen to understand what they are experiencing from their point of view. Reflect back what you hear – “Sounds like you are pretty angry (really sad, kind of worried, etc.) that I have to be away again this week.” Children feeling seen strengthens your connection and their ability to accept and work through their own emotions. You might also get ready for a less than ideal welcome home sometimes since kids (and even the adult who took care of everything in your absence) may feel angry and ignore you or pick a fight to process those uncomfortable emotions. Get comfortable with powerlessness, which is what you will feel at times about not being able to fix everything for your kids. Keep in mind that your calm attention, curiosity and acceptance go a long way to helping them to find solutions. 

  • Coach problem solving skills (see more here). Helping your child become a problem solver is another important part of strengthening emotional intelligence. There are a lot of good reasons for this, not the least of which is that teens who perceive that they can solve problems tend to be safer and more competent during adolescence. Unfortunately many parents think that suggesting solutions to their children teaches them to solve problems. It is quite the opposite. Giving kids solutions (which they often won’t accept as you know) mostly cues them that you are a smart problem solver and they are not. 

The first step in coaching this skill is to listen and reflect children’s emotions as described above. The next step is to make sure you understand the problem according to the child and check to see if you got it right. “So it sounds like one thing you hate about me being away is that I’m not here to put you to bed.” This is reflected in a tentative tone so your child feels free to correct your understanding. Once your child indicates that you got it, you can go on to invite them to brainstorm solutions (preferably without your suggestions). After your child has listed all the solutions they can imagine (without any comments from you about those ideas), you can ask them to think about what might be the outcome for each idea and which one they want to try. You can make a plan about when you’ll follow up and discuss how their plan went. Inviting kids to find solutions will not help ease the impact of your travel, but improve their overall emotional intelligence and effectiveness in the world. 

  • Practice daily routines of connection and joy. We are in the midst of a pediatric mental health crisis. Rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm are soaring and at the same time working parents report significant burnout. This combination is creating a perfect storm with which you may be coping everyday. One of the most powerful ways to protect your child’s mental health is your day to day relationship with them. 

To the best of your ability build in 20 minutes of one-on-one time with your child daily (ideally in addition to their bedtime routine which we hope is a time of sweet but brief connection aimed at getting to sleep). This one-on-one connection works best when it happens at the same time everyday but if it can only be a few times each week, make sure it is as regular and predictable for your child as possible. Avoid technology and interruptions. Do something together that you both enjoy and take delight in your child. Put aside your teaching agenda or any way that you seek to improve your child, and just say positive things about your time together. Have fun, be silly, smile and just enjoy. Children are biologically built to seek connection with their caregivers. In fact, they can’t really develop without it. Filling up your child’s attention bank on a regular basis will build their resilience to cope when you’re apart and tends to improve day-to-day cooperation as well. 

Attached are brief handouts for working parents on the important skills of reflective listening and coaching problem-solving:

We also love the list of practical strategies offered by our trusted colleagues at Bright Horizons: “Tips for Working Parents Who Travel for Business.” 

For more parenting support, join us for an Upcoming Live Workshop, browse our Libraries of Quick Video Solutions and check out our podcasts and other resources.  Questions? Email us at Solutions@Peaceathomeparenting.com or learn more about our Corporate, School and NonProfit programs.

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