There is no doubt that being a working mom comes with its own set of victories and struggles. My wife and I both work full-time, demanding jobs, and there are multiple schedules to juggle, pickups to coordinate, and kid activities to fit alongside our corporate responsibilities. The idea of work-life balance is great, but when the work you do supports the life that you live, it is more of a dance, and the steps and tempo need to change over time.
That is never more apparent in my life than when I am preparing for a business trip. When I first began traveling for work, my wife and I had one child, and the trips required planning but were manageable with minimal interruption to our home life. Fast forward almost six years later, a few more rungs on the corporate ladder, and four kids under the age of seven in our house, my time away requires just a bit more planning. Here are five tips that make my work travel less impactful for our household.
Pack clothes. Not for me, for the kids. The key to any work trip is preparing my wife with whatever I can before I go. If I am leaving for four days, I will make sure all the kids have clean pajamas easily accessible for nighttime, and I pack each kid with a full outfit (including socks and underwear) in a gallon Ziploc bag by day. Every bag is labeled with the child’s name and day and packed with whatever outfit is needed. Class T-shirt for field trip day on Thursday? No need to dig for it, it’s in the Thursday bag. This way, all my wife has to worry about is getting the kids dressed and where they need to be — because honestly, that’s more than enough to worry about.
Meal plan and prep. We typically meal plan anyway to stay on track health and budget wise, but this goes double for when I know I will be out of town. The meals need to be able to be prepped with minimal steps and easy to get to the table with four kids underfoot. We work together to plan the meal schedule around my wife’s work schedule, putting the more labor-intensive meals on days when she may be able to work from home to do some cooking before picking up the kids, and when she knows she will have her own full day of meetings (her work doesn’t slow down just because I’m not there!), we plan a Crock-Pot meal, or I cook something the weekend before I leave that can be easily frozen and defrosted. We try not to resort to frozen pizza and chicken nuggets, but we do keep them on hand because unexpected work emergencies may keep her in the office longer than expected, too — sometimes you just need to get food on the table and keep the meal train on the tracks!
Use paper plates and plastic cutlery. I know this is a tip that will push the environmentally conscious over the edge — I’m so sorry! Sometimes the name of the game is survival, which means we cut corners wherever possible so my wife isn’t working her fingers to the bone from the moment she wakes to the moment she catatonically drops into bed at night. Disposable options mean even the littlest kids can drop their plates into the garbage and move themselves onto the next phase of the nightly routine without there being a pile of dishes needing attention after everyone is in bed.
Leave a schedule on the inside of the front door. This helps serve as a reminder to my wife before she leaves in the mornings, but more importantly, it’s something for my kids to see from me every day before they head out to school or daycare. I try and write out each day, and anything that is important for the the kids that day, whether it is my daughter’s dance class, or the day pizza money is due. I also write little notes to the kids telling them I love them and to be good helpers and listeners for mama while I’m gone. My oldest helps count down the days until I’m home for the little ones, and it is the closest I can get to giving them a hug and a “have a great day” without being there.
Enlist help. Whenever possible, outsource assistance if possible. If you have the resources to hire a dog walker for the week through Wag or Rover, or a mother’s helper for the evening from Care.com or a babysitting service, or even a housecleaner to come and help straighten up to make your non-traveling spouse’s life just a little bit easier, it is money well spent. We also have the most wonderful tribe of friends who never hesitate to make sure my kiddos are where they need to be and that my wife has all the hands needed to keep our home running smoothly while I’m gone.
Being a two-parent working household is a challenge, but it is also wonderful for our family. I love that my kids get to see two hard-working, successful women in their lives who have found ways to make family and career a priority.