Dear Mr. Dad: I just started a new sales job which keeps me away from home a lot. How can I help my family, especially the children, cope better so that they don’t resent my being away?
A: In the debate between quality time and quantity time, there’s no clear winner. In an ideal world, everyone would get plenty of both. But most of us don’t live in an ideal world, which means we have to make the best of whatever situation we’re in.
I’ve spoken with many, many parents who are in the same boat as you. What’s interesting is how many of them feel that their time away from home actually helps them be better parents because they cherish the family time they do have, and make sure that when they’re home they’re truly there 100 percent. However, since this is all very new to you, here are some tips to get you started:
- Plan your travel so you can be home on weekends and holidays.
- Keep a detailed calendar. Get your children’s school schedule as soon as possible and enter as many dates as you can—concerts, sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, and so on. Don’t forget birthdays, anniversaries, and other important family activities. Then take all of these events into consideration when planning your travel.
- Keep the guilt to a minimum. You probably won’t be able to be there for every single one, but with any luck you’ll make the majority. Your family needs to understand how hard it is for you to miss important events, and that need to appreciate that you’re working as hard as you are to benefit the whole family.
- Call frequently. Try to check in with the family during times when you would otherwise have been together, such as dinner time or first thing in the morning before the kids head out for school. If the schedule works out, you may be able to help your children with their homework or read them bedtime stories by phone.
- Tell the kids when and where you’re going. Keeping the children in the dark about your travel plans is definitely not a good idea. The earlier you start telling them about it, the more open they will be towards travel (and the less resentment is likely to build up).
- Get them involved. If you’re going to be somewhere more than a day or two, ask the kids to help you plan an itinerary. If they’re old enough, can probably use the Internet to find good restaurants, music clubs, points of interests, city tours, museums, and so on. They may also be able to come up with a short wish list of small things they’d like you to bring back. This is a great way for find out and find out what In fact, if you are planning to go overseas on a longish trip, tell the kids to look up the Internet and help draw up an itinerary for you and if they are old enough they can also make a small wish list of gifts they would like to get from there. This is a great way to teach them about new places.
- Be reachable in case of emergency. Whether they use it or not, sometimes just having a number—whether it’s a hotel switchboard or your cell—can make the people you leave at home feel more secure.
- Don’t go overboard with the presents. It’s tempting to want to make up for lost time by bringing home expensive gifts. But what the kids and your spouse really want to know is that you were thinking about them while you were gone. And remember, you don’t have to bring home presents from every trip.