Dear Dr. Graham:
I’m writing this from yet another hotel room. My work requires me to be on the road a lot. While that didn’t bother me or my spouse in the past, we now have three young children. I worry a bit that the kids have gotten used to me being gone. I want to make sure we don’t lose touch while I’m away.
I know your work also requires travel. I’m wondering if you have any ideas on how I can stay connected with my kids while I’m away.
Road Warrior Parent
Dear Road Warrior,
You’re right on both counts. My work does require some travel, and I have developed some fun ways for my girls to feel connected with me – and for me to feel connected with them – when I am out of town. While everyone has a different situation, perhaps some of the following ideas will inspire you and your family to come up with a few fun traditions that keep you feeling connected.
Pictures: Each time I travel I get my girls to pick a stuffed animal (or two . . . or three) for me to take along. Then I send them a picture of the stuffed animal(s) doing things with me – “typing” on my computer, sitting on the hotel bed, etc. Each day the girls can barely wait to get home from school to see pictures of what their “friends” — and their mom — did that day. (The picture above is of Buff the wolf and Avery, one of our favorite tech gurus, helping Dr. Julie McDonald and me get ready for a presentation in Atlanta.)
Notes: I usually leave a note for my girls to discover at breakfast. You could leave a note in a designated space, or you could make it a sort of hide-and-seek game.
Calendar: Young kids might have fun with a kitchen calendar and colored markers. Before you leave you could help them circle the day you’re leaving and the day you’re coming back. While you’re away they’ll have fun marking off each day until your return.
Stories: My girls and I have enjoyed reading a book together on the nights I’m away. If you’re in compatible time zones, you might take a children’s read-aloud book with you to read together over Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. Older children might look forward to hearing the next segment of a chapter book that you read aloud each night you’re away.
Video games: My girls now have a Nintendo Switch. I plan to buy a second one so we can play together while I’m traveling. Parents of older children or teens could also connect through multi-player mobile game apps.
Small treats: My girls enjoy the sample-sized hotel toiletries I bring home. Another child might be delighted with a bag of airline pretzels. The key is to keep it simple, to avoid creating expectations that you’re going to bring a big gift every time you come home. You don’t want them to look forward to you being gone!
Traveling for work and being away from family will always be tough, but I hope that creating some rituals and finding ways to stay connected will make it at least a little bit more bearable. Travel safely!
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