(The Humanitarian Social Network)
Back in the 90s when I was just getting into the humanitarian sector (based out of DC due to an unwilling-to-move partner...) I would jump at every chance to deploy/travel with my organization. There was a stretch of a few years there where 3-5 week trips with less than 3-5 weeks between them were the norm...and I loved it! Yes, there were the usual complaints about long flights and delays (until I discovered the powers of a tylenol PM washed down with a G&T) and all that, but for someone based in Beltway-land it was great to be away. Fast forward...a marriage and two kids later, travel has pretty much been pushed to the back burner....well, to be honest, more like pushed off the stove entirely and living with the dried spaghetti sauce splatters down on the floor. I know that some families really make it work, either with an au pair or family close by or by staggering trips with one's partner.
Anyone have some advice on getting it all to work out, and managing the kid dynamics (I have two under 5), the home situation in a dual-career family, and still being able to get the work done that needs to happen on a trip on not go insane?
Any tried and true tips to pass on, or experiences to share?
besides the tried-and-true Tylenol PM washed down with Gin & Tonic (very, very bad for your liver, by the way...) I *try* to live by the following (some days easier said than done):
1) Accept that this is a chapter, a season of life - not the end of the story. A much older aid worker friend with whom I did a fair amount of drinking on the Haiti earthquake response, basically told me: hang in there; get your kids through high school; there will always be good aid jobs for people with your skill and experience. You'll get your life back one day.
2) Max out at about 1/3 travel. Less than that and you start to lose it professionally. More than that and you start to lose it on the home front. Everyone I know in a comparable situation can verify the 1/3 rule.
3) Take my wife on one international trip per year. Spend the money. Use the frequent flyer miles. Cash in favors with family/friends to babysit for two weeks. It's worth it on multiple levels.
As a wife of a traveling humanitarian worker with two kids under 4, I would say it is possible but it needs serious limits and serious supports. For us the support exists in the form of moving to Cambodia - so my partner can travel and I have some paid help five days a week to keep the house, kids and my sanity in order. I am studying full time - so it also allows me some time everyday during which I am not the mum on duty. The limits for us are pretty much no more than two weeks away at a time (if he needs to do a three week trip we try and coincide with fun stuff like visiting relatives) and to try and keep travel to no more than 25% of any year. We don't all go together - too expensive, not fun camping out in various hotel rooms with a toddler and baby, and too disruptive on routines. We maintain communication via skype and we make sure that upon returning from trips (esp. where jetlag is a factor) that my partner grabs at least one extra day off before heading back to work. Hope this helps. It is possible - we just play hard ball when negotiating contracts about travel %s and we don't agree to every trip - as once you get known for doing this it is hard to stop.
Good for you for making it work! Good tips all around.