How to support a small business while taking a trip to Disney World!

Even though the Disney parks are currently closed due to corona virus, I wanted to share a little Disney-related information. I know there are LOTS of families who have had to cancel Disney vacations, and I first want to say how sad that makes me. I know that Disney vacations (like any trips) are things you save for and look forward to for a really long time. Even though these sacrifices are totally necessary and worth it for the health of our world, that doesn’t mean cancelled plans aren’t a little devastating. ⁣

Today’s tip is to use a Disney Vacation Planner if you are staying on property. If you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, using a Disney Planner costs you NO additional money. In fact, they’ll often find you a savings that you wouldn’t have known about. Many of these Disney Planners are moms making money to support their families, and all of them are small businesses. One thing this crisis is teaching us is the importance of supporting small businesses whenever we can! Using a Disney planner is a way to support a person without spending any extra money! Talk about a win win!⁣

We’ve had great luck using Audra Owens – Travel Agent, A Time to Treasure Travel as our Disney planner. Planners can help you decide which resort is right for you and well as securing your dining reservations and fast passes. Planners can be as involved or as removed as you want in your trip plans, but I can attest to the fact that a good one can snag reservations that you likely wouldn’t get otherwise! ⁣

Plus, not only does using a planner support them, but if something goes awry with your trip, your planner will be there to work through the issues. Phone waits times with Disney can be super long, and your planner can make those calls for you. ⁣

If you’re going on a Disney Vacation anytime soon, consider supporting a small business and using the services of a Disney planner to make your trip extra magical!

First Haircut at Walt Disney World

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Could there be a more magical place to get a first haircut than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom? I certainly don’t think so, and it’s remarkably easy and affordable to do!

Harmony Barber Shop at the end of Main Street (away from the castle) offers adult and kids’ haircuts, as well as a first haircut package. The kids’ cuts are around $18, and the first cut package is only $25 and includes the cut, a certificate, and Mickey ears that say “My First Haircut.”

We had my youngest son’s first haircut at Harmony Barber Shop and had a great experience! The stylists were kind and great with kids, and they had toys for the kids to play with if they were having trouble sitting still. We got some adorable photos, and my son still loves playing with his special ears!

Reservations can be made online at Walt Disney World’s website 180 days in advance of your visit. Note that the shop is quite small, they do not shampoo hair, and gratuity is not included in prices listed on the website.

Pirates League at Walt Disney World

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Our family was so sad to learn that Pirates League at Walt Disney World is closing! They will permanently shut down on July 27th, so you’ve still got a few months to sneak in a pirate adventure, and we highly recommend you do.

Pirates League is located in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and offers pirate and mermaid makeovers to kids aged three and up. It’s definitely a family favorite for our kids and we’ll miss it when it’s gone!

Why do we love Pirates League? Here’s the scoop:

  • While much of Magic Kingdom features princesses, Pirates League is perfect for little boys! A pirate hideaway, face paint, and a sword are pretty much a boy’s dream! But don’t worry–girls can also be transformed into pirates, or they can opt for a mermaid makeover.
  • The experience is so immersive! From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you feel like you’re really with pirates. All the cast members stay in character so well and make the kids feel truly special.
  • For an affordable price, you get an experience and souvenirs. The kids leave with a bandana, eye patch, earring, necklace and sword. (Mermaids get a hairclip, necklace and sash).
  • During the makeover, your kids get a bit of much-needed rest. Disney World involves lots of walking, so sitting in a nice cool space can give kids the little boost they need to get through the rest of the day. We like to reserve an afternoon makeover as a bit of a break.

If you’re heading to Walt Disney World before July 27, 2020, make reservations for Pirates League now. You can make them online, and they can be cancelled if your plans change. If you have multiple kids and are having trouble grabbing a reservation, try making one reservation at a time.

Let me know if you catch this fun experience before it ends!

10 Reasons to Get to Disney World for Rope Drop!

10 Reasons Not to Miss Rope Drop at Disney World

When you’re on vacation you might dream of sleeping in, but if you’re at Walt Disney World don’t do it! Getting to the park by rope drop (i.e. the time the park opens) is crucial in having your best possible Disney day!

When we go for several days we might not make rope drop everyday, but we try especially hard to arrive early on Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios days.

Here are the 10 reasons our family tries our best to arrive for rope drop:

  1. You’re at Disney World, so there’s no reason to drag around in your room! Get up and get going!
  2. Kids are in their best moods in the morning! No one is hungry or tired yet, and good attitudes equal good memories.
  3. The lines are so much shorter first thing in the morning! You can hit up a sought after attraction or several less crowded ones before most people even get in the gate.
  4. By the time the crowds start to arrive, we’re ready for our first snack break of the day–perfect timing!
  5. Arriving early allows us to leave for an afternoon break without feeling like we’re missing too much.
  6. The morning temperatures can’t be beat! Florida can be HOT in the afternoon, but mornings on Main Street are almost always pleasant.
  7. Arriving early gives you an excuse to try some of the delicious breakfast options Walt Disney World parks have to offer…hello Gaston’s cinnamon roll!
  8. Seeing the parks with fewer people around is magical! The morning is your best chance to get a castle pic with fewer people in the background.
  9. Arriving for rope drop at Magic Kingdom means you get to see the stage show that only happens when the park opens!
  10. Your kids are not going to be asleep anyway! Sure they’re tired from the day before, but if you think they’ll sleep in when Big Thunder Mountain is waiting you’re crazy. Use that morning energy to your advantage!

While rest is important, arriving at rope drop can truly get your day started in the best way. Try balancing early days with later wake-up times to find the formula that works best for your family to ensure your most magical vacation yet!

Opryland Soundwaves Party Room

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We finally had the chance to check out Soundwaves (the indoor/outdoor water park) at Gaylord Opryland Nashville, and we had an absolute blast! Because it was winter we only experienced the indoor portion,  but there was more than enough to keep us entertained for the day. We loved the five slides (42 inches got you on 3 of them with an adult), the two lazy rivers, the lily pads, the wave rider, and just playing together in the pool! There was a large little kid area with a padded splash pad and a play structure, which felt safe for our 20-month-old but also was fun for our older kids to hang in for a bit. As a parent, I loved that the park felt super clean and offered towels and comfy life jackets.

There are two ways to get access to Soundwaves: 1) spend the night at the hotel and purchase a Soundwaves package or 2) rent a party room. I think staying the night and going to the park two days in a row would be awesome, but with seven people in our family we needed to book two rooms, which felt a bit expensive. Instead, we opted to rent a party room for our family, which was perfect for locals!

Here are some tidbits that we loved about the party room, as well as some tips we learned:

  • We booked the room from 10-1, but on the day we visited the park didn’t open until 11. We opted to play for an hour then come back and eat the pizza that came with our room rental, but if we did it again, we would eat before going to play. It’s not super easy to go back and forth from the room to the park (do-able, just not ideal) as you have to exit the park with your bands and go downstairs to your room.
  • The party room came with pizza and sodas, and it was honestly really good! The fact that the room included one of our meals for the day made the room an even better value for us.
  • The party room can be booked for as few as 6 people, so just one or two families can easily use this option. Since we weren’t spending the night, we didn’t have to worry about things like a dog-sitter.
  • The party room was very clean and had a TV with cable, so if you wanted to watch a ballgame you totally could!
  • We loved that our wrist bands gave us access to the park all day, not just during the party room hours.
  • The party room came with free parking, which also added to the overall value!
  • If you do book a party room, don’t forget to bring some cash to tip your room host.

We loved our day at Soundwaves Nashville and can’t wait to go back when the outdoor area is open! I would highly recommend it for both out-of-town visitors and local families looking for a stay-cation.

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Guide to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for Very Young Kids

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We recently attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for the second year in a row, and while we loved it the first time around, this year was truly incredible! What was the difference? Planning! Like so many things at Disney World, a little planning can go a long way towards making the most of your time at the parks.

Having been to both the Christmas party and Halloween party at Walt Disney World, our family has decided that the Halloween party is our favorite. From the smoky feel in Frontierland to the characters in their own Halloween costumes, we love all that this party has to offer!

We took all five of our kids, ages 8, 8, 6, 4 and 1. Having been the year before, we tried a few new things that worked really well. Below I’m sharing what worked for us as a big family with little kids. I hope some of these tips help you have a a wonderful visit to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP)!

  • Consider skipping the park and having a resort/hotel day the day you are attending the party. While older kids can power through, young kids can really only enjoy so many hours of go, go, going. Last year we went to Epcot, took a break, then went to the Halloween party, which was fine, but I much preferred going only to the party. Our kids were fresh, rested, and ready to rock! Your party ticket allows you to enter Magic Kingdom at 4:00, so you will still have a good bit of the day to enjoy rides and characters. Plus, saving one day of park admission will go a little ways toward covering the cost of your party tickets!
  • Take advantage of the 4:00-7:00 window! The party doesn’t officially begin until 7:00, but they start asking non-party guests to leave Magic Kingdom at 6:00. For two years now, we’ve found the lines for rides start to really shorten around 5:00. Even major attractions like Big Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train tend to have far less than average wait times right as the park is transitioning to MNSSHP.
  • Make a plan! Review the party brochure before you visit and decide what your family priorities are. Is there a character that your kids REALLY want to meet? Is there a ride overlay that you just have to do? Your time at the party won’t allow you to do everything, so think through what’s most important before you go. For us, we knew we really wanted to meet Stitch, so we jumped into his line around 6:30. I grabbed hot dogs and we ate dinner while we waited (which worked out really well). Stitch started greeting people around 6:50, and by 7:05 we had accomplished one of our big goals for the night!
  • Also make a plan for which stage shows you want to see. Last year we skipped the villains stage show, but this year it was a must-do. Before we even entered the park, we knew the times of the show, parade, and fireworks, so we worked the rest of our evening around those set times.
  • Get your castle picture early! While you may love the idea of a night castle picture, remember that the Main Street area gets very crowded before parades. I recommend getting a family picture in costume around 5 or 6. The lighting is great, and no one has started stripping off pieces of their costume yet! You can always stop for a picture as you exit as well, but nothing beats a shot when the kids are awake and excited! Also, don’t be afraid to ask the photo pass person to take an individual shot of each of your kids. We have shots of each of them in their costumes in front of the castle, and they are true treasures!
  • Dress up! I know that dressing up is not some people’s thing, but I promise that almost all other families will be in costume, so NO ONE will be looking at you. In fact, you might feel more out of place without a costume! Even if you’re not a dress-up fan, your child will love the memory of wearing a family costume to Disney World.
  • Don’t worry about hitting all the trick-or-treat stations! There is SO MUCH CANDY at this party, and you can really collect plenty by hitting up 3 stations. Remind your child that you’ll trick-or-treat again at home, but that you can’t do rides and characters later.
  • Consider watching the parade somewhere other than Main Street. While Main Street is amazing, the Halloween parade has a different feel, and we really enjoyed watching it in Frontierland. My husband walked over to the route about 30 minutes before it started (while we viewed the stage show) and was able to score us front row seats! I don’t feel like we missed out at all by watching it there, and we were actually able to duck through the tunnel that connects Frontierland to Adventureland as soon as the parade ended and be the second family in line to meet Jafar!
  • Don’t push your kids too far. One of my number one Disney tips for families with very young kids is to know your own limits. You know all those kids you see throwing tantrums in the park? They’ve been pushed way beyond their limits! They’re tired and over it. While I understand the desire to get your money’s worth, know when it’s time to call it a night. For us, last year that meant leaving as soon as the first parade was over. This year we watched the fireworks from the top of Main Street, then we headed straight for the exits. Leaving before anyone lost it was definitely worth missing some of the attractions that we would have enjoyed.
  • Finally, on a very specific note, since we weren’t going into the park this year before the party, we booked a 2:00 late lunch at Chef Mickey’s. This was the best decision ever! It gave us character time (it’s our all-time favorite character meal), and it also allowed us to park and walk to the party. When it was time to go, we walked the short 10 minutes back to the Contemporary rather than dealing with the transportation center. This strategy would work for any party (as long as you could get a reservation), and was well worth the money for us.

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Kid-Friendly Indianapolis

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This summer we had the opportunity to visit Indianapolis for a few days, and I was quickly reminded of just how family friendly and fun this city is! We lived an hour north of Indy years ago, so we’re somewhat familiar with what the city has to offer, but going with older kids was a whole new experience.

With great family attractions and wonderful public spaces, Indianapolis is the perfect destination for a short get-away or long weekend. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Indianapolis:

Conner Prairie: With historical villages, a giant tree house, trails, indoor play spaces, seasonal events, and even a hot air balloon, Conner Prairie is a must do with elementary-aged kids! My kids loved pretending to purchase nails in the general store and learning from the historical actors.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis: This is truly one of the best children’s museums you will ever visit! The museum offers hours of fun with both its permanent and visiting exhibits, as well as a huge outdoor area featuring different sports for kids to try, like football, baseball, and hockey. My kids particularly loved the sports fields! One great thing about the museum is that it has a food court, which allows you to eat lunch without loading back into your car and spend the entire day exploring this gem.

Indianapolis Zoo: Indy has a state of the art zoo, including unique animal experiences, a few rides, and even a dolphin show! Don’t miss the butterfly area outside the gates.

Canal and White River State Park: Plopped right next to downtown Indy is a really cool canal with a 3-mile loop around it that you can walk…or you can rent a surrey bike! We took our entire family of 7 around the loop on a bike, and it was hard work but a super fun memory. Along the canal, you can find popsicles and ice cream, as well as paddle boat rentals, and there’s a great park on the shore with really interesting play equipment (Colts Canal Playspace). The canal is an excellent place to spend an evening with kids!

Monument Circle: Monument Circle, along with the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, is a great place to explore. We like to stay downtown, eat dinner, then head to the monument during the gorgeous evening hours. South Bend Chocolate is located right on the circle, and it has a huge variety of sweets and ice cream with outdoor sidewalk seating.

There’s tons more to do in Indianapolis, and every time we’ve visited we have found the city to be clean, welcoming, and very family-friendly. If you’ve visited and have additional recommendations, let us know below!

Disneyland Paris- Tips from a Disney World Lover

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Our family loves all things Disney, and though Disney World will always be our “home park,” we were thrilled to visit Disneyland Paris this spring! I read everything I could find before our trip. Based on most articles, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed by Disneyland Paris, but friends, I was completely charmed.

First, the basics. Disneyland Paris has two parks–Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. Disneyland is very similar to Magic Kingdom, and Walt Disney Studios is most comparable to Hollywood Studios. The gates to both parks are very close to each other (maybe a two minute walk), and outside the gates is Disney Village, which has retail and restaurants. If you are staying at a Disney property other than Disneyland Hotel, you’ll walk through Disney Village to get to the parks.

Much of what I read online recommended no more than 1-2 days at Disneyland Paris. Because our trip was in the off-season, Disneyland was offering a great deal on rooms and tickets, so we decided to stay 4 nights. We had five day park tickets and used every single day of our tickets, never once getting bored! I honestly don’t think two days would have been enough for us, at least not with young kids (all ages 7 and under). Yes, we were in Europe, and yes, there are lots of historical things to see…but we were also on family vacation and found our days at Disneyland full of joy and fun!

Below are some of our thoughts and impressions, what we loved, what we didn’t love, and what you need to know if you are planning your own trip.

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Know before you go:

  • As with any Disney experience, do your research BEFORE you leave home. Know the Fastpass system, the most popular rides, and any reservations you might need beforehand (hotel, dining, etc.).
  • When we visited (March 2019), Disneyland Paris was still using a one-at-a-time paper fastpass system, but they were also beginning to experiment with a pay-for-fast-passes system. Check online for the current status before your trip.
  • If you’re a Disney World or Disneyland California regular, realize that some things may be familiar but not quite the same. For example, we often utilize the Photo Pass system in Florida, but after researching Disneyland Paris’s Photo Pass, we determined that it was not economical for us, as they only offer photos at a limited number of character meet-and-greets.
  • Much of what I found online made me think that the park would be super low-key, with very few lines and very little waiting. We definitely did not find that to be true. We found the lines comparable to what you would see at Disney World, with some substantial wait times at popular attractions.

What we loved:

  • Everything! No really, we loved it. I cannot recommend Disneyland Paris highly enough!
  • We really enjoyed seeing characters that we don’t normally see in Florida. Minnie in a princess dress, Goofy in a beret, plus Spiderman and Captain America were huge hits for our kids!
  • Hearing the shows/characters speak French was really a treat. Most stage shows were done in a mix of French and English–you didn’t know exactly what was being said at all times, but you could always follow along.
  • We loved experiencing new rides! Some big hits were the parachute drop in Toy Story Land, Ratatouille, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, Snow White (Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains), Pinocchio (Les Voyages de Pinnochio), Crush’s Coaster, and the RC Racer.
  • Possibly even more fun than new rides was comparing the rides that exist in both Disneyland Paris and Disney World and noting the usually subtle differences. Things like an extra drop in Pirates of the Caribbean, an extra scene in Peter Pan, and a totally different feel in Small World were so fun! Oh–and Big Thunder Mountain, which is a family favorite, boards on the mainland but then goes underground to an island, which was very surprising!
  • The theming in Disneyland Park is very impressive. As you move from land to land, you are completely immersed in new decor and vegetation.
  • We stayed at a Disneyland property (Newport Bay), and we were glad we did! Being able to walk to the park (about 10 minutes) and getting to enter an hour early were super helpful.
  • The Disneyland Paris parade was EXCELLENT! It was short, but the floats were large and impressive. The fireworks were also a big hit. We found it easier to find a good viewing spot for the fireworks show, and because they didn’t use the ones that go really high, the show was a bit quieter for the kids.

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What we didn’t love:

  • Our biggest disappointment was character dining. In Florida we love character meals, so we immediately reserved dinner at Cafe Mickey. Although the kids loved meeting the characters, the food itself was very underwhelming (some was even bad), and the price was extraordinarily high. We were glad to experience it but wouldn’t necessarily recommend a character meal, especially if you are trying to stick to a budget.
  • We also found the park dining to be lacking. The quick-service meals we had were pretty bad, but we did have better luck with food from the carts in the parks. The best food we found was a croque monsieur food cart, a crepe cart, and a waffle with nutella on top!
  • While we enjoyed our hotel, we were surprised to find that it offered no casual dining or snacks. We had to walk over to Disney Village (about 8-10 minutes) and go through security to get anything other than sit-down restaurant food.
  • Walt Disney Studios closed early in the off-season (5 pm), which pushed everyone to the same park for the last few hours of the day. This closure felt a bit too early, even in March.

Some tips we learned:

  • While the park food was expensive and underwhelming, we did find a perfect breakfast spot–McDonald’s. There is a McDonald’s in Disney Village, and it has a bakery inside with fresh croissants, pain au chocolats, other pastries and even macaroons! For just a few Euros, our whole family could pick up a fresh pastry to start the day!
  • Another food trick we learned was to take advantage of the small convenience store in the train station. There is a train station located directly beside Disney Village, and the convenience store inside has great snack options.

As with any Disney trip, your experience at Disneyland Paris depends largely on your own attitude. Things will go wrong, you will wait in line, you will overpay for something, and your child will have a meltdown, but…..you’ll also get to hear your kids giddily describe Hyperspace Mountain. You’ll see their eyes light up when Darth Vader asks them who their trainer is. You’ll notice them smile the first time they hear Mickey speaking French. You’ll have a video of them exploring the dragon’s cave under the castle that you watch on repeat. And you’ll make memories that can’t be replaced.

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The Traveling Mom- Part Four: Rachel Hubbard

For our last installation (for now) in our traveling mom series, we’re hearing from Rachel Hubbard, a busy, successful mom of four. With four kids ranging from six-years-old to just one, Rachel is great at balancing work and family, and she was gracious enough to share some insight with us below.

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Tell us a little about you and your family (ages, what you do, etc).
Hello, I’m Rachel! I am married to my favorite person and we have four little kiddos – three girls (6, 5, and 3) and one boy (1).  I am in technology sales covering our key strategic accounts, which means large demanding companies!
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?
I recently switched to a role that allows me to travel a bit less (although I’m typing this from a plane to Miami), but prior to January I was traveling about ever other week for the past few years. The longest I have been away from kids is a week, but that is a rarity. I really try to limit my trips to two days and one night away.
What are some things you do before you travel to keep your household running smoothly? Any tips for other parents who need to travel?
Since my husband and I both work in pretty demanding jobs, planning is crucial to keeping our household going. I *try* to make sure we are stocked on groceries, the meals are planned, the clothes are clean, and the house is somewhat orderly before I leave on a trip. We also make a point to talk about anything upcoming that we need to be aware of so we can prep for things like snack days, gymnastics events, friends over, 100 days of school events, etc. Also, we live and die by our family google calendar. It is truly the brains of our operation.
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 try to facetime every night so I can stay connected. If there is something that is coming up, I typically try to text my husband and remind him the morning of or night before, but if we’ve planned properly it’s pretty smooth sailing.
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? 
I don’t know a mom that doesn’t suffer from mommy guilt on some level! Of course, I struggle with being away sometimes. But in terms of getting out of work mode and into mom mode, I don’t struggle with that too much. I view it as these are just two facets of who I am as a whole. I love being a mom more than anything, but also firmly believe that working makes me a better mother, wife, and person.
I do set some rules for me, but they are less about work related activities and more about distractions in general. For example, I minimize the amount of email and phone interaction from the time the kids get home until after bedtime. My bosses, clients, and co-workers know that if they email me during this time that I will not respond until after the kids are in bed. That is my time with them. And I am a big believer in quality over quantity. I get a limited amount of hours with my kids each day so that time is critical that I am completely focused on them.
I do share some high level details about my job with my kids. They know my boss’s name and I’ll tell them if I have a big meeting or am working on a big project. I think it’s so importantly for kids to understand that parents feel the same emotions as they do. I tell my kids when I’m nervous about a big meeting, frustrated about something that I didn’t get right, or excited for a big win. I think open communication with kids (on their level of course) encourages open communication and sharing of their emotions.
Plus, the feminist in me loves my girls seeing their mom have a career.  I am still shocked how many meetings I am in where I am the only woman at my level – and very often the only mom. I love showing my girls that you can be both a mom and have a career.
Have you ever had a total traveling parent fail? Anything that didn’t work or that went really poorly? 
Of course! I’ve forgotten permission slips, snacks, special outfits, etc. I think my biggest parenting fail was my initial attitude that my kids would just be dying to tell me all the details of their day. In reality, their attention span for facetiming with me at the end of their busy day is about 35 seconds. A few years ago, I would leave every conversation a little disappointed. What I realized is that I have to set realistic expectations and now I’m happy if I just get to see their little faces. I’ll ask them to tell me one thing that happened that day. It’s hilarious. Some days that leads to full conversations and other times they say, “I ate lunch today”.
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 a break. I think as parents, especially moms and wives, we are so hard on ourselves. We want to be everything for everyone, especially our children.  But that is not reality and, I believe, not a healthy standard to set. Relax. Your house is going to be a wreck and laundry will pile up. Sometimes you need to pull an audible and give you kids PB&J for dinner.  You have lots of balls in the air and inevitably sometimes something will drop. Just pick it up and move on.
Ask for help. In that same vein, ask for help. I learned this the hard way. I can’t possibly keep everything going and there are certain things that I can outsource – house cleaning, groceries, etc. Once I realized this, I felt my anxiety level instantly come down. I also have a great network for friends, family, and sitters that I call on frequently for help. Amazon prime everything. 
 
Team work makes the dream work. Having a supportive husband has been one of my biggest blessings. Work as a team with your husband and trust him to parent the kids while you are away. He’s been doing this just as long as you have!
Take care of yourself. My pediatrician has a sign in her office that says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. This is SO true. Take some time for yourself. It can be something big like a girls trip or something as small as a 20 minute walk by yourself. Take time to recharge.
Do what you love. I love my work, and I think that is crucial to balancing being a working, traveling mom. My philosophy is that if I am going to spend 40+ hours a week away from my kids, it’s going to be for something I enjoy. Find something that makes you happy and that will spill over to your family.
Happy travels!

The Traveling Mom- Part Three: Julie Morris

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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.