After Hours

Keeping those home fires burning

Most trainers do more than their share of business traveling. When you have a family, traveling creates an extra burden. Bruce Maples describes how you can balance work and family even when you're spending time on the road.

I’m writing this week’s column in a room at an extended-stay motel in Redmond. I’m up here at Microsoft for two weeks doing some training on the new courses that go with the 70-100 exam. Going on such a long trip got me thinking about traveling and home life.

Traveling is a fact of life for many trainers. If you’re an independent trainer, it’s just part of the job. You have to go where the work is. But even if you work for a training company, you may still have to travel at least once in a while. For both employee and independent trainers, sometimes the travel happens without much notice.

In the face of this travel burden, how do you keep your family happy? “Travel weariness” is the number one reason people give for getting out of training, so it’s obviously a problem. Here are some tips on keeping the home fires burning.

Doing the obvious
Like many things in family life, dealing with travel often involves simply taking a moment to think it through from the other person’s viewpoint. Often, though, we are blind when it comes to those closest to us, so here are a few thoughts to get you started.
  1. Communicate before you leave. While your schedule may be front-of-mind for you, it can all run together for your family. All they know is Mommy’s gone again. As soon as you know your travel plans, share them with your family. If you travel regularly, put up a calendar in a prominent place and note dates, places, and contact information on it. If you have small children, put some pictures of where you are going on the calendar, and discuss the trip with them.
  2. Communicate while you’re gone. I try to call as soon as I get in, no matter what time it is, simply to let the family know I arrived safely. Then I call at least every other day so I can keep up with daily events and happenings. Remember, what seems mundane to you may be very important to your spouse or child. Obviously, if you have paid attention before you left, you can do a better job of asking about life while you’re gone. How did the meeting go? How did the test go? Did you win your soccer game?
  3. Communicate when you come home. Sure, you’ll be exhausted, and probably all you want will be some sleep. First, though, you’ve got to re-establish connections, and this means listening and engaging, especially if you have younger children. Children often don’t need very long to get close again; spend that time up front and you’ll all be happier.

Lighten that heavy load. Be aware of your spouse’s needs and load. I love to travel, but I hate leaving my wife to handle all the family details alone. We do a lot of tag-team work (I’ll take them, you pick them up), and when I’m gone she is suddenly a single parent. So, when I know I’m going to be gone, I try to lighten the load as much as I can before I leave. Last Sunday, for example, I did most of the laundry before I left, and made sure the bills were paid through the time I’d be gone. While those particular chores may not fit your situation, the point is the same: Think through the time that you’re going to be gone, and do what you can to make it easier for your spouse. Arrange child care or child transportation. Fix some meals in advance and store them. And by the way, don’t think of only the things you want to do; do the things that your spouse wants and needs.

Another tip: Be prepared and willing to pick up the load when you return. Sure, you’re tired, but your spouse has had the kids and the house load while you’ve been gone, and he or she wants a break. The smart traveler plans to give them that break soon after returning.

It’s all in the accounting
There’s one other concept that I think is actually the most important. Put simply, be sure your emotional bank accounts can cover the travel withdrawal. Those of you who have read Steven Covey are nodding your heads right now. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the emotional bank account, let me explain.

In every relationship, there is a “bank account” of emotional feelings on both sides. When you do something that the other person perceives as loving, caring, or thoughtful, it counts as a deposit in your emotional bank account with that person. When you do something the other person perceives as thoughtless or unloving, it counts as a withdrawal. If the account get overdrawn, the relationship deteriorates. If the account gets withdrawn far enough, it may be closed.

It’s a simple concept, but it communicates an important truth. Whether your family relationships can handle the strain of travel is largely dependent on the balance in your emotional bank accounts. It’s not the travel alone that ruins your family relationships. It’s what you do before and after.
What are some of your challenges in balancing your traveling requirements and your family life? We’d like to hear your challenging stories and suggestions. Please post your comments at the bottom of this page. If you have any suggestions for future article topics, please send us a note .
Illustrating the point
Let me close with an illustration. It came from a book aimed at pastors, but the principle remains the same. Substitute “business” for “church” and it might describe many business folks today.

Seems a certain pastor was married to his church instead of his family. He was gone almost every night, either visiting or participating in committee meetings and church activities. Whenever there was a conflict between a family activity and a church activity, the church won.

Finally, the pastor’s wife put her foot down. They were going to take a much-needed vacation, and that was final. Vacation day came and everything was loaded into the car when the phone rang. It was the church secretary with some bad news. The chairman of the deacon’s board had died suddenly. The pastor knew he needed to go be with the deacon’s family, but what about his own family?

The point of the illustration is not what he finally decided to do. The point is that if he had been taking care of his emotional bank accounts with each of his family members, he could have made a withdrawal to go be with the deacon’s family without long-term consequences. As it is, he is between a rock and a hard place, and he knows it.

The time may come when you get a call, and it’s that training opportunity you’ve been waiting for. If you have kept your emotional balances high with all your family, you’ll be able to say yes to the training and the travel and know that your family will understand. Having that knowledge in your back pocket can certainly make that travel easier to bear.

Bruce Maples is a trainer, writer, and consultant living in Louisville, Kentucky. His emotional bank account is not overdrawn.

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