Is it even possible to hold down and succeed in a job requiring travel as a single parent? Well I do it… so I’m thinking ‘yes’ despite the perception of many people, with or without children.
It takes a great support structure, including:
- mainly family and friends, relatives or otherwise, prepared to step in and help,
- a rigorous logistics plan,
- and, most importantly, a flexible, well-prepared, secure in the knowledge they are loved, small child.
Alex Jones was on Radio 2 the other day talking about her book, ‘Winging It, Parenting in the Middle of Life’ (ISBN 978-1911600015) and I realised that this is a relatively untapped conversation. A friend also suggested it as a potential and lesser discussed topic.
Travel is an inevitable part of many senior roles, and therefore required, and yet is still perceived as inadvisable, for mums especially, to do the level of travel expected. Of course it’s a choice. Of course it has a price. Equally, being prepared to travel enables working mums to reach their full potential in many workplaces and for single parents is often a necessity to make ends meet. I wonder whether the choice to travel or not is one of the roots of the gender pay gap…
The reality is that kids are resilient. Parents can leave their kids with trusted carers. It is possible, just hard.
Preparation is essential. I don’t mean travel plans. I mean mental preparation for the child. Giving age appropriate notice of travel (not much when they’re young, increasing as the child gets older), details of timescales, care and logistics information for them to maintain their routine, and a picture of where your going and why, helps.
However it’s actually hard, not because of the logistics, but because I miss my daughter when I’m away. I trust the person she is with. I know that she is likely having fun, equally I somewhat enjoy the freedom of the responsibility (this is also a mummy taboo…). Despite this, there is a longing to be back together which is a difficult feeling for both. A sort of elastic cord which pulls you, resulting in a kind of relief when you are together again – and lasting approximately 6 minutes before the inevitable bickering begins! I’ve found the physical distance makes little difference, London or Australia, it feels the same.
In my experience, a week is a maximum in terms of duration absent, after that it’s just a strain for both parent and child. A working week is okay. A weekend not so much. The second week, agony.
Until the child is three-ish years old it is easier as they have little concept of time. The main hurdle is when they realise a suitcase means you’re going away. The actual absence is relatively easy.
After four, they know how long you’ve been gone and count the days. They are generally happy to see you when you come back, but there is often a tantrum/reaction period by the child after that – up to a full day with my daughter! They kinda punish you…
From seven, the child understands it’s a work thing, they adjust and adapt, though to be honest there is always some price. Gifts, especially conference freebies, work well. I’ve found they semi-compensate but is not the same as physical presence, obviously. Time spent together on returning is also precious. Do something simple together when you get back and normal is re-established pretty quickly.
I’ll let you know what happens at ten! I’m hoping WhatsApp and Skype will help more as we move to a more emotional rather than practical support phase. Who knows? It’s all winging it as a parent!
It would be great to hear the experience of everyone else. Hoping I can learn…
Will get back to publishing topics now. Safe travels!