The other day I was listening to the radio on the drive back to the hotel and an AT&T commercial came on that talked about a businessman traveling the country. Thanks to “the power of AT&T’s 4G network” he was able to always be there, virtually, for all the events in his children’s lives; baseball games, recitals and such. While I’m a happy Sprint customer that wouldn’t touch AT&T with a ten foot pole, the commercial still resonated with me as maintaining a long distance relationship with my three children – currently 14, 11 & 10 – has been made much easier due to recent advances in technology.
No, technology is not the ultimate solution. However it has allowed me to nicely supplement the time we have on the weekends and weeks while I’m not traveling; enabling me to help my children with their homework, kiss them goodnight and generally just be there more. Not all the way there, but half-way there is better than not there at all in my opinion.
So if technology alone doesn’t quite cut it, what else is left? Well, it’s an important piece of the puzzle and based on my experience, here are a few things to be considered when you’re parenting from afar:
Technology Is Amazing | Take modern technology and wring every drop of usability you can get out of it. With email, IM, video conferencing and cell phones there is no excuse not to be in daily contact with your children. I try for multiple daily contacts myself, which is made easier when I can text them when they’re waking up for school as I’m 2 to 3 hours ahead of them. I’m told it puts a smile on their face and brightens their mood but I do it in the hopes of solidifying a bond that could all too easily be weakened without them knowing I think about them every day.
I get odd looks when people find out all of my children have iPhones but we’ve standardized on iOS devices for two very important reasons; FaceTime & Messages. These two technologies together allow me to almost always be available to my children, even when I’m on a plane (as long as it has WiFi at least).
FaceTime is Apple’s video chat service, built into all newer iOS devices, that we use on a daily basis to talk about our days, help with homework and just be able to see each other. I do believe that actually seeing each other is enough of a difference from a phone call to justify the added cost of iPhones for the whole family. An alternative and nearly ubiquitous technology is Skype but I’ve found the quality to be sub-par at times – especially over 3G connections – and the usability and integration just isn’t there compared to FaceTime.
Messages is essentially an SMS replacement service, with the exception that it functions over data instead of voice, which allows me to turn on my phone on WiFi equipped planes (you can turn on WiFi and leave airplane mode on), connect to GoGo and text with my children, learning about their day while I’m flying home to see them. It also lets me know when a message has been delivered and (optionally) when it has been read, which I’ve discovered is particularly handy with teens and tweens. ;)
Time On The Weekends | When you’re home, be there for your children. It’s as simple as that.
When you skip back and forth across time zones it is really, really easy to lose track of time and fall asleep at inappropriate times. When I’m traveling I just go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up whenever I have to. At home though, especially since I live on the west coast and most of my engagements are in the central and eastern time zones, I’m usually pretty tired as my body is convinced it’s hours later than it is. This is a common phenomenon and can easily be solved by going to bed earlier than your family. This is a trap in my opinion.
If you’re looking to maintain a relationship with your children, you’re not going to get there by going to bed before they do. You can sleep in your hotel as much as you want; when you’re home and have time to be with your children, be with your children. Sacrifice a little sleep and you’ll be able to hang out with them, play board games, shoot hoops, hold their hands on walks in the evening – whatever it is that you do with your children. You can’t do any of those things I just mentioned when you’re unconscious.
Your Spouse | I don’t see how my life could function as it is while being a single parent without bringing my children with me everywhere I go and enrolling them in Washington Virtual Academy. While I could always make this work it is about as far from ideal as one could possibly dream of.
Luckily, I have an amazing wife. She takes care of the children solo during the weeks I’m gone, makes sure they have birthday dinners and pats them on the back when they do a job well done. I could keep going but the list of things that can’t be done from thousands of miles away is endless. All she asks in return is some alone time on the weekends. Since I always look forward to activities involving my children, this might even be more of a treat for me than it is for her.
The downside of this is that it is easy for non-traveling spouses to feel unappreciated; they have all the responsibilities of being a single parent but none of the benefits. Let them know you care and make sure to thank them for the sacrifices they make during the time you’re gone.
Quit When You Need To | This is a last resort but I’ve done it twice so far.
Here’s the deal: Traveling takes a lot out of you, but it takes even more out of your family. If you can’t find the balance and make it work, then take the easy way out and get a local job that doesn’t require travel. You’re likely highly skilled and reasonably intelligent while working in an understaffed field. When you feel you’ve done enough for awhile – however long that is – start looking for a position local to your family.
You can always go back to being a road warrior later in your life, but there are some things that you can’t go back to once they’re gone.