Traveling moms have one regular companion: guilt. When my children were younger and I frequently was a traveling mom, guilt was my constant companion. It would join me a day or two before departure, stay by my side during the journey, and finally say goodbye as I walked through the door. Of course, guilt being a reliable acquaintance was always on stand-by, ready to go the next time duty called.
I thought I had the perfect way to alleviate the guilt. I bought Beanie Babies for my kids at every airport, thinking a stuffed animal would make up for our time apart. There was the penguin I purchased in Pittsburgh during the blizzard; the crow from Kentucky I bought while attending a seminar; and the moose from Minnesota that traveled with me throughout the Twin Cities.
As my children got older the gifts got bigger. There was the hobby horse from Arizona that barely fit on the jet, and the two giant monkeys I stuffed into my suitcase with the help of a Ritz Carlton bellman.
Years later, I realized that purchasing all those Beanie Babies was more about me giving into my guilt than bringing home something my kids really wanted. Although the forty or so Beanie Babies have provided hours of fun and entertainment, my children draw no connection between these collectables and mom’s time away.
Managing Traveling Mom Guilt
As working moms, we’re naturally gifted at feeling guilty. When we’re away from our children we wish they were with us; when they’re with us, we crave time alone. We never let ourselves win. But the real issue is that we spend too much energy focusing on the guilt, and forget to take advantage of our time away for meditation, a quiet dinner, or a workout at the hotel gym.
By managing guilt we can gain back control over our lives – and a healthier, more positive attitude about our work AND our parenting skills.
“If you feel guilty, don’t simply try to banish it – listen to it,” advises Ellen Galinsky in the booklet, “Navigating Work and Family: Hands-on Advice for Working Parents,” published by The Families and Work Institute based in New York City.
Here are the suggestions she provides to help cope with guilt:
Figure out what is making you feel guilty. According to Galinsky, “Guilt arises when there is a disconnect between what is happening and what we expect – a clash between our expectations and reality.” TMOM TIP: Figure out the root cause of your guilt. Are you missing out on important events? Are your kids falling apart when you’re gone? Are other people’s comments putting you on edge?
Ask yourself if your expectation is realistic or not. Galinsky suggests either changing your expectations to be more realistic or changing yourself to live up to your expectation. TMOM TIP: Talk directly with your family, spouse, and trusted colleagues about what’s making you feel guilty. Change what needs to be changed; if it’s not broken, let go.
Make changes so that your expectations align more closely with reality. TMOM TIP: When you feel guilty on the road, take a deep breath and stick to established routines. If you usually call home in the morning and at night, don’t make sporadic calls midday because you’re feeling homesick. You may feel better but the unexpected call may cause worry at home.
Don’t give into guilt – manage it. “Guilt only becomes problematic when we give into it,” explains Galinsky. Case in point: my Beanie Babies. TMOM TIP: Skip the chronic souvenir shopping. Put aside the money for something the family can look forward to when you return, like a special activity or Chinese take-out your first night back.