The Parent's Guide to Business Travel
Practical Advice and Wisdom for When You Have to Be Away
Part One - What, How and Other Thoughts
Chapter One - Introduction
The Realities of Separation
You're in a distant city when you call home to say goodnight. Maybe you get the jabbering sounds of your ten month old who doesn't form recognizable words yet, or the plaintive question of your two year old who asks, "But why can't you be here to tuck me in?", or perhaps it's the neutral, "Uh huh, I'm okay, " of your nine year old who wants to return to a favorite television show.
From the laptop-wielding road warrior to the individual who knows he or she can't move up that next rung of the professional ladder without being required to perform some travel in the job, business related travel is a part of the working landscape. Electronic mail and reliable, high speed video teleconferencing may reduce some of the need, but according to statistics maintained by the Travel Industry Association, business travel has increased by fourteen percent since 1994 and is projected to continue to rise.1 Despite the drop in travel after the September 2001 tragedy, approximately one-fifth of all working adults will take an overnight business trip at least once a year and there is a reason that the number of extended stay hotels such as Homewood Suites, Residence Inns, AmeriSuties, and others are expanding and thriving in the lodging industry.
Global connectivity, high definition video teleconferencing, and E-commerce are becoming more mainstream, but someone has to make the original deals with face-to-face negotiation, information sharing, and so forth. Although the 1990s economic boom that stumbled or stagnated in certain business sectors has slowed down many a company's expense accounts, travel continues to be key to a wide swath of successful careers.
So what's the big deal? There have been parents who are business travelers for years, right? Absolutely, yet just as with the shift in other aspects of our social structure, the business traveler profile is changing and more importantly, the profile of the family left at home has changed. The average business traveler is still a married male, although the number of women travelers is steadily increasing, as is the number of single parents. The rise of dual-income parents and the "commuter marriages" that cut across several professional fields can sometimes result in both parents being on the road at the same time.
I spent seven years as a single parent and then remarried another Army officer. The innocuous sounding administrative label for the personnel records is "dual-service couple", but to my son it was a guarantee of more separations since his stepfather and I were both deployable until I retired at the end of twenty-two years. Dustin learned early on to cope with the idea of an absent parent, though the six months that my husband and I served in the Gulf War were without a doubt the most unsettling for him. While separations for military families do tend to be on the far end of the bell curve, the dynamics of having to be away is similar no matter what the profession.
I've written this book to explore those dynamics and offer some helpful hints on how to cope with the demands of your travel requirements and parental obligations to your children. It is divided by age groups since how you explain an absence to a toddler is quite different from what you tell an adolescent and the rules you set when it's time to be away from the teenagers will be different still. I've also included personal anecdotes from parents and young adults with their perspectives on the subject. I hope to provide insight and practical application for the parent or parents who must balance what can sometimes be guilt-laced, conflicting needs. While this book is not a social commentary, certain emotional reactions are a part of the package of family separation. Discussing those emotions is not something that should be avoided.
And in the vein of what this book is not, I want to very clearly state that I am neither a psychiatrist nor licensed counselor, although I have used several references written by individuals who are. I am an ordinary parent who, quite frankly, did not embark on parenthood with any thought of how to handle time away from my family before I was faced with making necessary arrangements. For those who have the time and desire to delve deeper into the psychological and sociological aspects of developmental stages from infancy to adulthood, family relationships, or parenting skills, the references listed in the bibliography are excellent resources.
One of the references is Dr. John Gray's (the Mars/Venus guy) book, Children Are From Heaven, where he acknowledges the rise in writings about parenting. "Because of the invention of Western psychology, we are now much more aware of the profound influence childhood has on our success later in life. …..Although we now accept this insight as common knowledge, fifty years ago it was not common. ….With this increased knowledge of the importance of childhood, parents today feel much greater pressure and responsibility to find the best way to parent their children."2
The thought in the above passage is one of the reasons I included a chapter that touches on the question of whether or not you should travel and be apart from your family. I placed it later in the book because if you're reading this, then I presume you already do, or expect to, travel. Whether or not, and how, your travel impacts your family are issues that you probably think about and discuss with relatives, friends, or co-workers. The potential impact of travel is a subject of constant debate as well as numerous studies and I would be remiss if I ignored the question completely.
A Word About Separation Anxiety
Not to begin on a negative note, but a quick look at separation anxiety is fundamental to dealing with the many of the issues that arise when a parent travels. It is a reaction that begins in infancy before we have to capacity to understand what it is. The effects of separation anxiety can continue well into the teenage years despite the fact that most teenagers would curl their lips in that disdainful way if asked whether they missed their parents. And let's get real about once we achieve adulthood - the millions of dollars in personal long distance telephone calls every year are not merely to help out the telecommunications companies' financial status.
The early cries of the baby who is picked up by someone he or she doesn't know, the worry experienced that first time you leave your child with a sitter, and the unsettled feeling you may have when you wake up in yet another hotel room away from home are all rooted in anxiety separation. It is a normal human response that varies in intensity and manifestation depending upon the individual. Age makes a difference, as does the manner in which it is handled. Recognition and management of that anxiety (for the child as well as the adult) is key for the parent who spends time away and I trust you'll find a few useful tips in Part One.
On the Other Hand…
Looking forward to some time on the road is not out of the ordinary. The romantic getaway or the dream trip when your boss asks you to go to the meeting in Paris (or wherever strikes you as terrific) and you don't hesitate for a moment does not mean that you don't love your children. And it may also happen that the kids have a lot going on in their lives at any particular moment and maybe get to over-indulge in fast food treats while you're gone and it seems like they aren't concerned if you're not around. Those are the times that pretty much take care of themselves.
The purpose of this book is to discuss all those other times; particularly for the new parent or when your children enter new stages and what worked well in the past suddenly seems ineffective.
A Military Flavor
There are many professions that require frequent travel; the airline industry, the trucking business, the business of travel itself, certainly any company that reaches beyond its home territory to another region, or outside our borders, and then there is the Department of Defense. Civilian employees and contractors associated with the Department of Defense may also be required to travel, yet for the military members, it is a given from the moment an individual takes the oath of service, especially for anyone who spends more than one tour of service. Much of what I have written does focus on military families since that is my personal background and the area where I have the most access to information.
Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom are obvious examples of how quickly military personnel can go from routine operations to far-flung deployments. More than sixty thousand Reserve Component personnel (Reserve Component includes Reserves and National Guard from all branches of service) have been called to active duty to augment and support the active service members. Even before the War on Terrorism was declared there were U.S. military personnel serving in unaccompanied areas such as the Balkans, designated parts of South Korea, the Middle East, and regular six-month sea duty for Navy ship personnel. In addition to the tours of duty where families are not permitted, many service personnel choose not to take a family on an overseas assignment due to school, medical, or spouse employment considerations. As of September 2001, there were almost one quarter of a million service personnel assigned to more than one hundred and forty countries or territories and afloat.3 (That number does not include the forces deployed and/or mobilized in response to the War on Terrorism.)
The Commercial Civilian Sectors
"I think when you are in the military, you go into it knowing that it can take you away from your family, but when you accept a job that is in South Florida, you don't expect to be working in Denver," Maria Bailey, Co-founder of Bluesuitmom wrote in an email.
Ms. Bailey's words were a great reminder to me (as were several conversations with my sister, who has a hefty Frequent Flier balance) that a military focus was fine as long as I didn't get overly service-oriented.
How the Book is Structured - Parts One and Two
This book is divided into two parts to try and make it an easy-to-read guide for busy people. Part One contains chapters one through eleven and the checklists. It is basically the How-To portion. If you're in a hurry and just want some good ideas, you can pinpoint the age group you're looking for and focus on that piece or you can flip over to the checklist you need. Part Two contains reference material with background information and extracts of pertinent studies or reports. It is heavily weighted toward resources that can be explored to provide the next layer or two down into the complexities of parenting.
I decided to include extracts from some of the studies that the U.S. military has conducted and programs that have been subsequently developed because there has been a concerted effort since the late 1970s to assist military families, both Active Duty and Reserve Component, in coping with frequent or extended separations. The person who is new to the military often does not realize all the resources that are available to provide support and/or information and perhaps this book can serve as an introduction to those programs.
The individual who is not associated with the military, but who also faces the same fundamental issues surrounding frequent and/or prolonged work-related separations might be able to adapt some of the programs on a smaller scale. If nothing else, it can be interesting to know that this topic has generated a significant level of research.
Along those same lines, military designed sites or organizations listings in Support Organizations and Helpful Sites in Part Two are certainly accessible to anyone on-line and you should be able to get some good ideas from them. Additionally, there are several unofficial, linked sites that contain beneficial information or chat rooms for non-military families. Bluesuitmom, the sites of The National Long Distance Relationship Building Institute, and Parents Without Partners are organizations that provide information and support without going through a military site.
High Tech Helps
I am not a gadget-person and it took me far longer to enter the computer age than I care to admit. I know there will be others like me who have limited ability or access to many of the electronic and communications devices that I discuss in chapter seven. My intent in this book is to provide ideas that are not tied to technology, but electronic means can, and do, make life easier in many ways. The constant search for newer, better, more advanced systems cause prices to drop and allow these items and associated services to become more affordable to a broader market. The primary reason the market has grown is because people are responding to increased communications/connectivity tools and services for family as well as business application.
Stories From Around
As I mentioned earlier, a group of different people submitted comments and related experiences either through my web site (charliehudson.net) or mailed in letters. Most of the submissions were from women and older teenagers/young adults and there was an interesting mix of careers. While I did not get as many responses as I hoped when I began this project, the type of responses that I received were rich with description and feeling. I was able to use all the submissions, although several people requested that I use their comments, but not identify them by name or location and others provided no personal information. I wove many of the stories into the various chapters, yet there were others that extended across multiple age groups or expressed overall emotion and/or philosophy about the impact of traveling. These are the segments that make up chapter ten and if you haven't found a part of yourself that you recognize in chapters one through nine, the odds are there will be something here that causes you to nod your head and think, "Yeah, that's familiar."
Come along then, and let's get started.
Copyright © 2001-2017, Charlie Hudson. All rights reserved.