“Who’s with the kids?”
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.
“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.