Recently I was having coffee with a woman we’ll call Jane. I didn’t know Jane and was meeting her out of a sense of professional courtesy. She was looking for a job and a former colleague asked if I would meet and help her make some connections.
Over the course of our conversation Jane asked me why, as a single mom, I choose to have a job that includes a considerable amount of travel (which for me is 2-4 times each month). Initially, I dismissed the question with an “it is what it is” kind of comment. That wasn’t the first time I’d been asked the question and I usually choose a similar non-answer because the honest answer can change depending on the day.
To set the context, I love my job. I work as a strategy consultant. Given the nature of a services business, I have clients all over the country and my work frequently requires me to travel to them. It keeps me sharp because I have to bring my A-game every day since after all, we’re paid to show up and be the smart problem solvers. Not to mention, it allows me to provide a pretty good life for my kids so when duty calls I go.
What has since occurred to me, as I stare out the window of my US airways flight on my way home from another multi-day business trip, is that Jane was genuinely worried about what her being “on the road” would mean for her daughter. It also made me think that if she was worried about it then there have to be other moms with the same thoughts and concerns and while I don’t claim to have all the answers, I can offer a perspective – food for thought if nothing else. So here goes:
It’s not easy and requires an obscene amount of planning.
Let’s just get the obvious out of the way; there is nothing easy or comforting about frequently leaving your children for days at a time. I also can’t think of a way to change this, single mom or not. My typical business trip prep includes making multiple dinners ahead of time, writing dozens of lists (lunch menus by child, after school activities, reminders for school etc.) laying out outfits for days, arranging rides to and from activities, notifying teachers of the change in routine, and rescheduling anything else on the calendar that is affected by my sudden absence. There is a giant plan that I put into motion the evening before I leave and I board my plane with fingers crossed hoping it stays on track.
It is, however, achievable when you have support you can count on.
Husband, partner, extended family, nanny whoever it is – find that person that you can count on to be there at a moments notice. My nanny has been a lifesaver. You have to have somebody that allows you to rest easy knowing they will step in when your connecting flight just doesn’t show up.
It’s an opportunity to show your kids what hard work and dedication looks like.
One of my proudest moments came recently was when my daughter’s teacher commented on what a dedicated student she is and how she always puts in the extra effort and sees things through to the end. Knowing what my schedule is like this teacher also told me he believed it’s in part because of the role model that she has at home. I’ll take the compliment.
It teaches responsibility and independence.
Even at the young ages of 12 and 8 my kids seem to “know” that everybody needs to pull their own weight (within reason of course). My daughter helps my son with homework and me with making lunches and my son picks up toys and shoes and anything else that is lying about and reminds everyone that we have to keep things clean (“because it gives us more time to play”.)
It’s good for you – as a professional and as a woman.
I think it’s easy to get swallowed up in the “mom” role. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a privilege and it’s THE most important role I have. However, when I get a couple of days away to really focus on my work and enjoy the freedom of being able to have a 9pm drink in a hotel bar rather than do homework and shuffle kids to and from the shower it makes me feel like I hit the reset button. We are so much more than mom and I think it’s important to allow ourselves to feel that sometimes.
So, if you’re a new mom considering going back to work, a mom evaluating whether or not you should take on more responsibility at your job or a mom that is feeling guilty for being away or focusing on other things – my advice to you is “ Go for it!” and please don’t only focus on your fears but think about the upside too because it’s there, I think it’s just a little better at hiding sometimes.