For many dads, the challenging task of fathering is made even more difficult because we spend so much time traveling. If you’re like me, there are times when your job demands that you be in Chicago tomorrow, and out on the west coast by next Tuesday. There’s no getting around it.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to quit your job and find one that allows you to be at home more—though some of you may be away from home so much that you may want to think about it. You can be a good father even when you do have to be away for a few days.
For all dads, here’s a few suggestions on making your business trips easier on your kids.
The most important idea I can give you is to be sensitive to your children’s emotional bank accounts. This is great concept that helps me to visualize one of my challenges as a father. Your kids’ emotional disposition toward you is like a bank account. When you’re involved in their lives-available to meet their needs and connected with them emotionally—you’re making deposits. When work keeps you at the office late, when you’ve been taking a big project home at night, or when you have to leave town, those are withdrawals from your children’s accounts. If you know that a big withdrawal is coming up—say, a week-long business trip—then plan in advance to make plenty of deposits in the weeks and days leading up to it.
You can also make smaller deposits while you’re on the road. You can call home every day. Even if your kids don’t get to talk to you for very long, hearing your voice every day will be reassuring to them. If you must be gone for an extended time, you know how much your kids will treasure the letters and postcards they get from you.
Second, make your business trips as short as possible. Even if it means getting home at midnight. Let your kids know that you hate being away from them. Tell them how much you miss their hugs. Tell them how wonderful it is to walk in the door, drop your luggage, and yell, “Daddy’s Home!”
And here are four tips from another father who’s a frequent traveler, J. Warren Steen:
Be sure to tell your family where you’re going, but also discuss with them why you’re going. Your kids need to hear that you’ll be delivering groceries to a store in another state, or selling computers to help pay off the car and so the family can have a fun vacation. Help them get a sense of the purpose behind your work and your traveling.
Your kids may even enjoy following your trip on a map, or checking the daily weather forecast where you are.
Take care of household responsibilities before you leave. Fix that leaky faucet; mow the lawn; arrange for your kids’ rides to soccer practice. It’s better to leave feeling a sense of accomplishment than to know you have a whole list waiting for you when you get home. I know your wife, too, will feel more secure having those details taken care of.
Work with your wife to make sure your return is a happy one. Save the disciplinary matters, bills, newspapers and other family issues until later. You and your family should always look forward to your homecoming.
Finally, when you get home, talk first about your family’s activities, not your own. Have a relaxing dinner or family activity where you can catch up on book reports, basketball tryouts, drama rehearsal. Then, once you’re caught up on family goings-on, you might like to share something interesting about the places you visited.
Remember, handling the transitions of a business trip will be much smoother if you build strong communication habits with your kids each and every day. We need to always be adjusting and refining our skills as a father with the goal of better relationships with our children.
Happy trails, dad!