Most of us survived, more or less, the first week or two of back-to-school chaos. Our kids hopefully have all the backpacks, textbooks, and sharpened pencils they need. We’re all coping with those nasty alarm clocks that have the gall to buzz while it’s still dark out.
Now onto phase two: mastering our own absence when our kids are in school.
Leaving your kids behind during the school year is a challenge few parenting books or back-to-school tips tackle. But to me, how to parent effectively from the road is a critical part of the parenting gig. For divorced parents, or those who work long shifts as teachers, nurses, or police officers, it’s a daily challenge.
How can we be there for our kids, when we are not there physically?
Back when I first starting working in an office job after college, a business trip meant a parent disappeared from the family. He or she became incommunicado, holed up essentially unreachable at a far-flung hotel, or high in the skies on a plane without access to a phone. In many ways, business trips gave parents a sweet secret break from the rigors of daily parenthood. But it sure was hard on those left behind.
When I became a parent myself, business trips or emergency visits to sick relatives meant lugging my massive breast pump through airport security, and then crying while pumping in random hotel rooms and even a few disgusting public bathrooms. Yuck.
Today, technology that makes that breast pump seem archaic means we can be accessible to our children 24/7 no matter where we travel. Our handy cell phones, iPads, computers and the various apps mean we can stay connected even to toddlers, from just about anywhere.
This round-the-clock access is mostly good news for parents and kids – although the guilty pleasures of a night alone with room service have diminished. Mom no longer disappears into the business trip ether. My kids have gained a greater understanding of what my work entails and how much I enjoy it – and how much I love being their mom, no matter where I am.
Here’s my latest short list of helpful tools for parenting from afar:
- Facetime, Google Hangouts and Skype – There is no substitute for seeing a kid’s body language after a long day at school. Also helpful when they want to show you how gross the dinner Dad made is.
- The iPhone camera – No sure what I did before screen shots. Great for snapping a visual of a tricky math problem or that paragraph that won’t make sense. Also useful to compare my sushi dinner to their leftovers (great motivation for their futures…work hard now and one day you can eat sushi in hotel restaurants too!).
- A good set of headphones – For long, complex discussions with kids about books that should never be assigned before college, like Farenheit 54 and Homer’s Odyssey; plus you often need your hands free to do scratchpad calculations no matter what level math they are studying.
- Your cell phone calculator (listed under Tools) and Internet access to Google, Dictionary and Thesaurus.
- A sense of humor – for when the man in the $1,000 business suit in the seat next to you gives you a nasty look as you very loudly enunciate colors in Spanish: A-ZUL, A-MA-RILLO, NEGRO…or when you start sweating because you have spent a frustrating half hour trying to remember exponents or Latin declensions while also finalizing tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation.
I’ve never felt quite so crazily proud of myself, as a mom combining work and family, as I have during those wacky road trip moments when I maintained an emotional landline with my children and doled out homework whiz assistance.
I have fielded cell phone calls about a puking child from the school nurse seconds before giving a client presentation. I have taught division in more airports than I can recall. I have issued invitations to 50-kid pool parties from 3,000 miles away to calm a child’s social hysteria.
My favorite business trip memories are when my kids call me at 3.30pm, their time of course, to ask me if I’m almost at school to pick them up. I love saying, “I’d really like to, but I’m 400 miles away at XYZ. Remember?”
A special joy blooms when I’m taken for granted by my kids, when I get proof that I am the one person they assume will always there for them. I am, in fact, always there for them. With today’s too-often-cursed technology and social media, plus a zen sense of humor, even when I am not physically there, I can be Mom and road warrior at once. Like most of the best moments of motherhood, no one is watching, and no one high-fives me afterwards. I don’t get a promotion or a raise. But the sense of triumph is all too real.