“Who’s with the kids?”

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The email came one lazy afternoon, distracting me from an article I had been trying to wrap my head around for hours. It was an invitation, to somewhere beautiful, warm, and overseas and though the deadline to respond was a week away, I responded immediately without hesitation that, yes, I would very much like to be there.

For the most part, this is how it has been. I accept invitations to travel, then inform my husband afterwards, and take on the full responsibility of making sure all three of my boys are cared for in my absence.

Because my travel is sporadic, and unexpected, and because I work mostly from home, it makes no sense for us to have a nanny. Thus, with every trip, I reach out to the sitters I had before or start the process of interviewing new ones. We have no family nearby; we have no friends we can rely on for anything more than providing their names as emergency contact. So this is the routine, every single time.

My husband has mastered the art of the stoic face and I, the art of not bragging about the trip I am about to experience (I usually wait till I get back). We have accepted the reality that our traveling together will happen less than 50 percent of the time: he works, he has limited vacation time, and he’s not invited.

But this time was different. This time he reacted. Because, this time, without even realizing, I was leaving to somewhere awesome on his 40th birthday.

A birthday I had celebrated months earlier, and which he made sure to honor as the special life occasion it had been. Yet, I had not only overlooked it, I also completely disregarded him and in the process managed to hurt one of my biggest supporters.

Often times I hear fellow single travel bloggers lament the difficulty in finding love while on the road, in managing to give the time that they would need to not only meet someone, but actually be somewhere long enough to get to know them. “It’s so hard” they lament, “to choose between my career/passion and committing to a relationship in my life.”

And it is hard. I do it every day. As a travel writer who has worked so very hard to stay relevant, informed, and visible I compete with others who haven’t made the life choices I have made, who can freely pick up and go, live in a hut or sleep on a couch for months at a time, focusing solely on working because they have no one else to worry about or take into consideration.

I have to work hard to make sure that I am not dismissed because I have kids, or a husband (otherwise known as ‘limitations’ in the professional world) and I have to prove that I can do it, be there, deliver just as well as the next person with less dependents and more time.

As a woman, frequently on the road, the conversation about my family and kids always makes them wonder, often out loud, “Who’s with the kids?”

Who? Who is doing my job, while I’m here sipping on a mojito, overlooking the Caribbean sea, from the balcony of the 5-star luxury resort I was invited to review? Who is with the kids, and how does my husband feel about the fact that I am on a 10-day cruise along the Mediterranean by myself? Curious minds want to know how it is that I am holding it all together, and if I am doing so successfully, my face often scanned for any signs of unhappiness or a troubled home. I’m sure in their minds, they imagine my kids left behind like this:

Missing my husband’s 40th birthday while on a press trip was the one time, in the almost 5 years as a travel writer, that it almost all fell apart. He was angry and hurt, and I was angry and defensive. It would take several months for us to talk about it without hostility, but it would be a wake up call for me about what my role would need to be if I loved him, our marriage, and our children enough to try to keep it together.

I have been on many trips since then, a lot of them without him by my side, and it is clear that we made it over the bump.

We are worth it, even more than a few missed trips.

“You are very lucky,” a female TV reporter once told me. “When I was starting my career, my producer told me I would have to choose between my personal life and my career. I didn’t have the option to have it all like you do now.”

But, “having it all” doesn’t just happen. It’s a balancing act, heavy on luck, because there are so many other women who don’t have the support from their families as I do or the choice to turn away opportunities that might conflict with the priorities I have given my kids and my husband. I am a really good writer. I am passionate about travel. And I have to believe that it will shine through, no matter what choices I’ve made for my personal life.

Saying no, even with the freedom, comes at a professional risk sometimes, just as it has for working women before me, and many others today.

Would it be easier if I hadn’t chosen a life of marriage and kids? Would I be happier if my biggest problem was finding a date before my next trip? I don’t know. Looking at the life I have, the incredible man in my life, whom I love and who loves me like crazy in turn, the beautiful children we created together – I just can’t imagine happiness being possible without them.

I think that we often see the grass as greener on the other side. We often see our reality as a bigger burden than it really is from the outside. To me travel writing; the opportunity to do so, did not happen in a vacuum. It happened because my husband pushed me, and my children inspire me every day. I enjoy it because I know that after every trip I have a loving home to return to, though I love the trips even more when they are with me.

No matter how well I do this, how easy I make it look, people will always wonder, through it all, who’s with the kids. The answer is they are home, where they are being loved and cared for by the one person I love more than any trip I could ever take to anywhere in the world and without whom so much of my joy wouldn’t be possible.

Addendum April 4, 2013:

A lot of people have approached me on the issue of “mommy guilt” and have even asked how I got over not missing my kids when I travel. The answer is I didn’t. I didn’t travel as much or as far when my kids were babies. They are older now and though they still need me, they are better able to communicate and understand what I do for a living. Professional women and most of society tend to make women feel bad for feeling “guilty” about leaving their child or for choosing their children over a job or a project. Except those emotions come about because you are a mother. They are the sign of your bond with your children.

5 days is about the time when I really want to be with my kids. I can be on an 8- or 10-day trip, and I guarantee you that by day 5, I am yearning for them. I don’t feel bad about it at all. It’s not “guilt” and I am not ashamed of this. I am a mother and I am proud of that. It doesn’t mean I lack ambition, it means I love my children.

Finding the balance between this and pursuing your individual passions is key. Stop feeling bad for missing your children, or for the time that it takes to find the right balance. And never let ANYONE make you feel ashamed for loving your family and wanting to be with them. EVER. Success isn’t about making it DESPITE your family, it’s about making it WITH and BECAUSE of your family.


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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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19 Responses to “Who’s with the kids?”

  1. Kat says:

    I hear you. This is the hardest thing about this job and I think you're doing an amazing job!

  2. Carol Cain says:

    @Kat: Thanks so much, Kat! xo

  3. Jan MacKenzie says:

    You are awesome, Carol. And, simply blessed. I'm so happy you could share this with us. I learned a lot. Thank you.

  4. This could not have popped in my inbox at a better time. I'm starting to face these decisions more and more as my writing career picks back up and hubby is faced with limited vacation time. Often I take the kids with me and leave him home. There is a guilt, but not put on by him. And sometimes during those trips I console myself with the fact that he is sleeping a solid 9 hours while I am up several times a night with 2 jet lagged kids under age 4 😉 But seriously. Thank you for sharing your feelings and balancing act. It lifted me up today when I was feeling like I was drowning a bit.

  5. Carol Cain says:

    @Keryn @ walking on travels: Oh Keryn, my hero! It's such an incredible thing we go through in order to pursue our dreams, both personally and professionally, and for us professionally is also personal, so it just becomes even more of a passion. Soon the kids will start school and it'll be something new to learn, but you will do great. Chin up, my friend, just follow those dreams! xoxox

  6. Carol Cain says:

    @Jan MacKenzie: Thank you so much Jan!

  7. Monique says:

    Add to my mix I'm not generating a lot of income, so I feel guilty about leaving and go out of my way to make sure my girls are taken care of in terms of school, after-school activities and even babysitters booked if I'm gone on my husband's basketball night. I've tried to arrange travel for long weekends – Friday to Monday – and have them in afterschool care on those days, but on my most recent trip my youngest got sick and hubs had to stay home one day. He didn't say anything but I felt so guilty. I know I'm rambling but I am so feeling this post right now. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Marissa says:

    What an honest and inspiring piece, Carol. I'm glad to have met you and been introduced to your blog! Look forward to hearing more about your traveling adventures. 🙂 – Marissa

  9. Carol Cain says:

    @Monique: Ah, the guilt. The guilt is a killer. My advice Monique (and what I did to squash it) is talk to your husband about how you feel. Address the guilt issue with him, even though he is not the cause of it. I knew that my husband was supportive of my career, but making him aware of the fact that I was going through these emotions led to him saying the words I needed to hear before each trip "We'll be fine." "Have fun." or whatever. It also took a lot of "stress" off my shoulder. Remember, these aren't just OUR kids. Our husbands have an equally invested interest in our children's well being. They also want to make sure the kids are ok and cared for. Tell yourself this, when you start feeling guilty, "THIS IS NOT ALL ON YOU." and know that what you do is not only fulfilling your ambitions, but also provides your family (or can) with experiences and opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise. xoxo

  10. Carol Cain says:

    @Marissa: Thank you so much, Marissa!

  11. Amy Bizzarri says:

    Hi Carol! We met at the Wyndham Mom's Nite Out event in San Fran.

    Great post!

    I battle with this all the time. I pass up a lot of trips because of it. And yet, as you say, I want to stay relevant/build my career. I am lucky to have my parents helping out A LOT but still… the guilt does creep in. I remind myself that yes – I am providing so many opportunities for my family because of my freelance work, and I do appreciate my family more when I have a bit of *me* time on the road, but the guilt is always there :/

  12. Carol Cain says:

    @Amy Bizzarri: Hi Amy! Thanks for connecting with me here. Yes, think about what your career is offering your family. Guilt is your worse enemy and your biggest road block. I wish you all the luck and continued success in your goals as a travel writer!

  13. Quiana says:

    I really appreciate you pulling back the curtain to talk about how your marriage and family life intertwine with your business. It's something I'm struggling with now as commitments are piling up for me and I'm having to be more careful at balancing everything. Like you, I'm isolated in NYC so it's such a production to get childcare/household arrangements in order when I leave. Thankfully it's been working out for the past 3 big trips I've taken, some work-related, but I still get nervous every time when I accept first then figure out details later.

  14. Carol Cain says:

    @Quiana: Thanks Quiana. All I can say is that it gets easier, maybe not any less annoying, but definitely easier!

  15. Carol,
    Wow, this was a timely article for me. Over the last year I have turned down many opportunities to travel for my business. I have not accepted opportunities to grown my business because like you we don’t have childcare and so each time I have to juggle to make it all work. I feel guilty and terrible when I leave and my husband has to start work late and leave work early and makes me feel bad. Because of this my revenue has decreased for my business and so has the additional opportunities and networking. As a blogger traveling leads to more opportunities and networking. It is a balance of deciding what I can do to grow my business and how I can still be a good mom and wife. I was just telling my husband that I feel like my business is suffering because I’m turning stuff down to be home all the time. He had no reaction. It isn't something most men would do for their business or career or at least not in my house! I love my husband but it is hard sometimes for him to understand what I do and what I’m turning down for my career. This piece was helpful for me to read, thanks Carol!

    My recent post Simple Bedroom Organization Tips

    • caincarol says:

      Sommer, I can almost FEEL in my heart what you are going through. I have been there. I am not sure how old your children are, but this too shall pass. Trust me. Networking is important, especially if you are looking to grow your brand, but you don't need to travel far to find valuable networking opportunities. Search for local events, or meet ups. If you don't have a networking group in your community, build one! Work on building your online presence and yes, network online. Join online groups and work on your content. There are ways to still develop your brand even if you can't travel as much. And nothing is over night. I have been doing this for almost 5 years! Also, really sit down with your husband and share your feelings in a more concentrated conversation. Let him know you want to know he supports you (more than you already do), tell him how much this means to you, and share your struggles with him. Men sometimes need that more in depth conversation. Don't get discouraged, stay motivated and it will come!

  16. Thanks Carol! My kids are 6 and 9 and this is my 6th year and just this year I have started to turn stuff down and be very choosy but not because I don’t want to go but because when I travel it seems like I suffer at home. I cannot seem to find that “sweet” spot. I still travel every 6-8 weeks for business and attend 2-3 conferences a year but the number of things I turn down seems to have impacted my opportunity for growth with an ever growing competitive industry – if that makes any sense. Being an entrepreneur and mom is certainly interesting! =)
    My recent post Simple Bedroom Organization Tips

    • caincarol says:

      The fun thing about parenting is that just when you find that sweet spot, they grow and change and mixed it all up again! LOL!

  17. Nnennaya says:

    Your articles (especially personal ones on ur career and family life balance) always inspires me. Thanks for sharing and giving us your personal experiences. They go along way to helping people, especially women, to handle their passion for their work and family. Keep the fire burning, Carol!

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