Today we’re hearing from our third “traveling mom,” Julie Morris. Julie has been very successful in her career, and she’s a fantastic mom to her two adorable boys. Julie’s job has high travel demands, and her years on the road have taught her valuable lessons that she shares below.
Tell us a little about you and your family (ages, what you do, etc).
My husband and I have been married for 13 years and have two beautiful boys. Our 7 year old is in 2nd grade – he is the funniest kid in the class, and loves playing with his friends. Our 5 year old is in Junior Kindergarten – he is so excited to learn to read and gives the best hugs in the world.
My husband and I both work, so finding balance is often difficult. Balance for our family, for each other and for our careers is like spinning plates in the air. Kirk works for the USDA and I am VP of Brand Research and Strategy for Scripps Networks.
I understand your job includes some travel. How often do you travel, and how long is your average trip? What is the longest you’ve been away from your kids?
Last year, I assumed a larger position in the company, responsible for research for six cable networks. This meant doubling my workload, my team, and my travel. In 2017, I averaged travel about every two weeks. Typically, I am gone most of one week – typically missing 4 mornings and 4 bedtimes.
I have been gone for a full 8 days before. It was when a last-minute work trip backed up to my 20 year high school reunion. It was a really long time and having both of us away for a portion of it made it even harder. I attempt not to do anything like that, but like I said balance is important. My husband and I both believe that doing things for ourselves can make us better parents.
What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?
In our house, I am responsible for laundry and groceries (I do more, but those are very delineated). So I always make sure that every stitch of clothing, sheets, etc are clean before I leave. I also stock the kitchen and sometimes do an online order of groceries for my husband to pick up.
Typically my goal is to cause the least amount of disruption to my kids’ and my husband’s schedules. Obviously, it’s not 100% possible, but I plan for what I can.
Another rule we have in our house is that there is no judgement for what it takes to survive a week alone with the kids. I don’t gripe about Chick-Fil-A being a major source of nutrition or the iPads being in overdrive while I’m gone. As long as everyone is happy, safe, and gets to school, I’m happy.
What about once you are out of town? Is there anything that you try to do from afar to help your kids and spouse?
I’m a backup scenario planner. I am lucky enough to have a “tribe” of people that are more than willing to jump in to help. So I’ll create back up plans if it looks like pick ups could be tight or sports practices will overlap, etc.
My one suggestion for this back up scenario is to make sure and not overstep your spouse. I was away during a snowstorm once and school was being cancelled and I stepped in and made plans from afar. My husband had already made alternative plans and my stepping in just caused confusion and frustration.
It goes without saying that FaceTime is an absolute must in my life. My kids enjoy “traveling” with me. They want to see the hotel room, Times Square, the skyscrapers, etc. Because this is fun for them, they have less anxiety about me being gone.
Do you ever find it difficult to get into work mode and out of mom mode? Any tips for utilizing your time well and learning to compartmentalize?
The Mom guilt is real, as all Moms know! Leaving my kids in tears on the way to airport is hard and it still sometimes happens even with frequent travel.
I think you have to be the best you can be wherever you are at the moment. When I’m home, I attempt to be home – be present with my kids. The same is true at work – everyday and on trips. I’m not 100% successful, but it is something I work toward.
I’m lucky enough to work at a place that has my kids’ birthdays, school holidays, and other milestones on the working calendar. They know that I can’t be at everything and appreciate that sometimes I just have to say no.
As much as possible, I try to let the guilt go and feel confident that my husband and I have made good decisions for our family.
Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly?
When my youngest son was a baby, he was a really tough baby. Having spent an extended time on maternity leave, he and I were in a groove together. My husband did not have as much practice in comforting him as I did.
Mistakes were made on both ends. I went on a business trip right after I was back at work after maternity leave, which likely was too much schedule change at one time. Secondly, my husband called me multiple times every day with the baby screaming in the background saying he didn’t know what to do. This basically just left both us arguing and in tears, with no solution to any problem.
We now try to make sure that trips are timed appropriately if at all possible. And my husband tries to avoid calling with problems that I cannot fix from 900 miles away. Obviously, if he has questions that I can answer – call as often as needed. But if it’s something that will just cause an argument or make me feel guilty with no solution, he does not call (though we address later).
Do you have any advice for parents in general, but especially moms, who find themselves balancing a demanding job and parenting? Any words of wisdom?
Give yourself grace. It’s a simple directive, yet oh so hard to do. I’m going to miss things at home, my kids have a different relationship with me. We are close, but they often choose Dad over Mom because he is ALWAYS there. It does hurt, but it is what they need and it is NOT the fault of my husband. I fully believe that I was not built to be a stay-at-home mom. I am a better mother because I walk out of the house each day and successfully do a job that I love. Again, it’s about being wherever you are at the moment. I’m great at my job and I hope that I’m a great Mom, I work hard at both.
I also have a group of working moms surrounding me, whose shoulder I can cry on when the guilt is overwhelming. I’m not sure what I would do without this kind of support – I found my group at daycare, but I know there are groups for professional mothers in many cities. I also enjoy my adult time away from home – I used to just go back to the hotel and FaceTime the kids and feel guilty about being away. I now make sure that I meet friends and have good dinners, and make the best of the time away from my family.
Finally, your partner has to be in lockstep with you on this front. My husband and I talked a lot about my position before I took it. We ultimately decided it was the best decision for our family for me to take the job, even with the travel. We work hard at making sure that we are being supportive of each other, even when the idea of another business trip makes us both groan.