1584 Miles Away. Or a Million.

Flying out of town yesterday on a big, fancypants ad agency job felt somehow different than all the other flying I've been doing this year. I was not heading to a conference to speak about motherhood. I was not going to address a panel of marketers about removing "Dear Blogger" from their vocabulary. I was not meeting a group of mom friends on a (fully disclosed) junket to a pantyhose factory.

It was just a business meeting; the kind that reminds me my meeting wardrobe has sadly atrophied in the past two years of freelancing.

Somehow, leaving the kids under these circumstances hurts that much more.

Yes, I'm saying it. 

This is the great secret of women in business: You're not supposed to miss your kids. Or you're not supposed to admit it. Out loud. And when you do, quietly, secretly, to a coworker who has young children too, her head cocks to the side with a sympathetic smile-frown and she squeezes your arm, so relieved to be able to lower her voice and share her secret right back.

Then we put our armor back on, turn away from one another, and march back into battle.


Blogger Marinka said...

I'm sorry that it's so hard.
There are many secrets of motherhood, I think. Including the one that the NYT splashed on their front page last year, that moms on business trips enjoy the perks.

12/11/09, 8:03 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

Sometimes I miss my kids even when I drop them off at nursery school. Every mom needs a suit of armor; working moms need a lance and a shield as well.

(I bet you will stick kick butt at your meeting!)

12/11/09, 8:07 AM  
Blogger Forty Weeks said...

Two things - first: get ye to some holiday sales -- you need to look it to feel it (OMG, I am the love child of Richard Simons and Tim Gunn) - one or two pieces will do it - and add to your power and confidence. Now, the kid thing -- forget the armor or the hiding. Your children are part of who you are - and while you might need to play around a bit with the balance - you are really more you if you "bring" your motherhood into your work. Miss them, talk about them (a good story is a good story), be inspired by them. In short - be real - I actually think it adds to your value and your authenticity. For me this approach has not only worked it has really defined me. There is not a Forty Weeks meeting (internal or with clients) where kids don't come up. And while I am sure there are those who might want to bit my head off for this - it stand by it. I don't want anyone working for me to feel they've packed a part of themselves away. Nor do I want my clients to see us (nor should we see them) as childless, personal life-less drones. So today, my Chanukah gift to you: go shopping (happy to join you) and bring all of you, Mommy Goddess and all with you . Safe travels homeā€¦

12/11/09, 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Boston Mamas said...

YES. I felt that angst acutely during my postdoc; especially the days (which was most of them) when I was at the lab over at MIT -- uber male as you can imagine and no one particularly wanted to deal with my leaky boobs. Hugs, Christine

12/11/09, 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Kami said...

You know, it's a weird paradox. Working moms aren't supposed to miss their kids because we still need to prove we are as functional as businessmen on bussiness trips, but we're also nor supposed to miss 'em because of the self-imposed cool factor: Wahoo! A few days away from the kids! Kinda like the way it's not in to be the type of mom who simply lives to be a good mother. It's a complicated time for working moms. I say miss 'em loud. While being just a tad grateful for the perspective getting away from them can bring.

12/11/09, 8:32 AM  
Blogger just making my way said...

We're with you. Empathetic squeezes via internet work too, right?

12/11/09, 8:37 AM  
Blogger Boy Crazy said...

I love the way you tell it like it is. (it's why you're one of my favorites....shhh!)

If you're still gone, enjoy your trip and have a safe return.

12/11/09, 8:39 AM  
Blogger Tali said...

Thank you. A perfect post I can totally relate to. I love having a career I can be proud of, but nothing makes me happier or more proud than being a mom to my daughter. Nuff said.

12/11/09, 9:31 AM  
Blogger Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I had to leave my kids with my husband for a few hours yesterday while running around on business. And I still missed them. Sigh. It's a good sign, I think. I would worry more if I did not miss them.

12/11/09, 9:43 AM  
Blogger Amelia Sprout said...

We shouldn't have to hide it. However, I know exactly what you mean. I miss her every day I'm at work. I miss her even more on the days when I can't make it home for bedtime.

You are awesome.

12/11/09, 9:46 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

There are two vivid memories I have from my days working in an office: the first was seeing the joy between mother and daughter as they ran across the airport lobby to embrace each other after a three-day work trip.

The other was finding my "tough-as-nails", pregnant-with-her-third-child boss quietly weeping next to the copy machine.

Those moments when all the armor was dropped really marked themselves on my pre-children brain.

12/11/09, 9:51 AM  
Blogger Forty Weeks said...

OK - you are all brilliant, honest and beautifully maternal - and you all should come and work with me! Happy Friday!

12/11/09, 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Carley said...

It's this kind of transparency that allows moms to speak openly about the confusing, ambivalent parts of this rollercoaster ride that is motherhood. Sometimes the best medicine is simply to acknowledge the feelings and not judge yourself when they show up. Sometimes time away From kids can't come soon enough, and sometimes it feels positively icky. Thanks for sharing!

12/11/09, 9:55 AM  
Blogger Homevalley said...

Beautifully put, Liz... And it makes me wonder... I am a career-woman with my first child on the way, so with no experience at this - would have you it any other way? I don't intend to quit working, but I'd be curious to hear more about this from the working moms. Do you miss them so much that you would consider staying at home with them full-time, provided that was an option?

12/11/09, 11:47 AM  
Blogger Tabitha said...

If you need a little taste of home while in DFW, you could come hang out at my place- I have an 18-month old and toys all over the floor. And I can make a mean box of mac & cheese.

12/11/09, 12:35 PM  
Blogger Susan W said...

I had to work last night and didn't get to see my girl or put her down for nite nite - I completely understand! I think it is harder than most realize, and even more challenging when you work with lots of people without kids! Ugh. Hang in there.

12/11/09, 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny, my son is only 8 months, but when I'm away from him (for a few hours to a few days), I'm afraid to admit I'm relieved. Not happy so much, just thankful that someone else is taking care of him and I can turn the radio past volume 7 while listening to any kind of bass thumping, head drumming, music that I want!

Say that in a crowded room and you'll soon learn how preferred it is to opine about missing your children :-)

I guess the truth of it is this: most women feel guilty about something relating to their kids no matter what. I think this is the real "mothering instinct" that turns on when you get pregnant. That and the immense love for another being that surpasses anything you ever thought possible.

12/11/09, 12:45 PM  
Blogger Momma Hunt said...

I completely understand. Although I am not in business I feel guilty most days when I leave my child and go to school and get to be a mommy to other peopel's children all day long as a teacher. As a previous poster said sometimes there is going to be guilt with our children no matter what!

12/11/09, 12:59 PM  
Blogger My Kids' Mom said...

Dammed if we do and dammed if we don't. If we don't miss them and we indulge in the freedom to stay up late and sleep in late, etc. then we feel guilty for not missing them.

12/11/09, 1:58 PM  
Blogger Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My boss runs a farm. She's a mid-level manager who also has a working farm; she has 8 goats and something like 30 chickens, etc. etc. I'm lucky, then, I guess, because when I'm missing my kids she says "Me too!"

12/11/09, 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Melissa Chapman said...

Oh Liz I feel your heart in this post-- all of it. You just need to know that you are setting such a POWERFUL example for your daughters- and the lessons and confidence you're imbuing them as you take on these wonderful job opportunities are what will remain with them long after this trip is over and done with.

12/11/09, 5:00 PM  
Blogger ZenMom said...

I'm glad the secret is out. I miss my kids when I drop them off at school some days. Then again other days, I'm kickin' them out the door.

I think that sadness just comes with the mommy gene. Hope you had a great trip.

12/11/09, 5:02 PM  
Blogger momtrolfreak said...

Liz: beautiful, succinct thoughts that get right to the core of it all, the whole crazy conundrum of motherhood. I work with doctors and most are male, and can talk about their kids night and day, but if I were to go on for that long about my kid it would be frowned upon for sure. A man who does it is a doting father; a woman is "not meant for the workforce" somehow. But I've also heard female coworkers deride another female coworker secretly by saying "she NEVER talks about her kid." So you have to find this fine line between Cold, Unloving Fembot who never talks about her kid and June Cleaver, who can think of nothing else.
I do manage to enjoy business trips--being on a plane without a sippy cup? watching an entire movie uninterrupted on the plane? NAPPING? READING A BOOK? these things are AWESOME, plus there's so much less baggage--but still, I can only handle about 2 days before I start to get weepy on phone calls at night. My kid just sounds so. impossibly. tiny on the phone. So small, like he needs me and it's ridiculous to be away when he's so small. Even if all he says is "Hi Mommy." It kills me.

12/11/09, 5:03 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I know. I know. I'm that weird woman on the train or plane who makes goo-goo eyes at other peoples' kids, who announces to everyone and anyone that OH HEY I HAVE TWO KIDS AT HOME WANNA SEE PICTURES. And I don't even travel or leave them that much.

Although I have to say, the occasional night alone with room service is kinda sweet.

12/11/09, 5:39 PM  
Blogger J at www.jellyjules.com said...

And here I thought that you weren't supposed to admit when you DON'T miss your kids...

12/11/09, 7:34 PM  
Anonymous Jen Singer said...

As usual, well written and thoughtful, Liz.

Here's another secret nobody is allowed to say: Men miss their kids, too. I've noticed a subtle shift in fathers since I became a parent 12 years ago. They no longer seem to feel out of place on class trips or at the school bus stop, because they are no longer the proverbial zebra among horses.

True, the recession had its part in that. But the dad at our Cub Scouts' supermarket tour (free cookies!) yesterday was as at home wrangling the kids as the moms were. And I'll bet he misses his kids when he's away on business, too. Shhhh.

12/12/09, 9:30 AM  
Anonymous 6512 and growing said...

It's totally biological, it really is.

It's all that oxytocin, that love hormone.

12/12/09, 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share joint custody of my daughter with her father who has a s.a.h.m girlfriend. I work full-time (half time in the office and half time from home, so I am home on the days she is at my house). I can generally schedule most of my travel around days of the week when she is with them or their weekends, but when I do have to sacrifce our time together for a work related event the guilt is nothing short of soul crushing...occuring concurently with the absolute assurance blasts in my head that this is the trip that will forever cement my daughter's adoration and love for her stepmom and everything that being a s.a.h.m represents. Which I think is probably not the case, logically, but christ it is hard and scary and leaves me both distracted and feeling desperate (all good things to be when you are WORKING away from home on a weekend). I think the worst part is having to put up such a strong front about it. I work because I work, because that is what people do to pay the bills and make a life for themselves and their families. If I didn't "have" to work I probably still would because I think it is beneficial to me and I think it is valuable for my daughter to see both men and women who are professionally engaged and sucessful. Still, the guilt is soul crushing and translates quickly into 'travel gifts' and a lot more lax parenting than I would otherwise find acceptable. I often wonder if I would feel differently about all of this if I had full custody, if I was sacrificing part of the whole instead of part of a compromise. I think I would probably feel less like shit, but I would probably also work more so maybe its a wash.

12/12/09, 9:16 PM  
Blogger Amy@UWM said...

The real secret that only working moms can understand is that its not an either/or situation. It's never either you miss your kids or you don't. It's actually both. Whenever I go away on business, I'm always excited about the freedom, the big-girl feeling of being important enough that someone bought a plane ticket for me to go somewhere, the prospect of a dinner out and promise of a interruption-free full night of sleep. AND at the same time, I hate tearing myself away from my kids and saying goodbye. I hate hearing about their school day and saying good night to them over the phone and not getting to kiss their warm cheeks before bedtime. It's always both at the same time.

12/13/09, 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Meagan Francis said...

When I'm away from my kids I go back and forth between obsessing about being away from them (usually on the first day of the trip) and imagining all sorts of awful things happening to me and/or them while we're separated. Then in the middle of the trip I slip into that relaxed state of freedom-I feel so uninhibited, able to use the bathroom alone, able to eat whatever and however I want without having to fix anyone else's food first, able to go to bed without dealing with settling small people down first. During that time, I am almost (but not quite) ashamed to say, I barely think of the kids. They're just on hold somewhere, in my mind. Then I come to the last day or two of the trip and suddenly I'm so anxious to be home and hug them I can barely stand it.

I think all three reactions are normal, but I'm not sure most people have all three in one trip!

12/13/09, 2:46 PM  
Blogger Bedtiming said...

Amy@UWM said it right before I did -- it's BOTH that kills me (and other professional women with children that I know)-- you can miss them like CRAZY and almost at the same time feel fabulous about the "adult" time away. For me the ricocheting between these poles is so hard. And in my life, it's the ambivalence that can be so hard to talk about and also, it epends on WHO I'm speaking to. If it's my male, hugely competitive academic colleagues, I am less ga-ga about the missing and hype up the alone time more (yes, I'm THAT hypocritical-ish) and when I'm with grad students (always female) who ask me how the hell will they ever be able to balance academia with a family, I let it all hang out about how hard it is to miss them and how AWESOME skype video calls are for alleviating some of that separation stress (for all of us).

Thanks for the honest, every-so-relevant post. And give Skype a try, if you can. My boys LOVED it and so did I (the last business trip I was on I told them a story every night of the trip away and they literally had NO issues with my absence this time, which made ME feel so much better... and I also got to see their happy, engaged faces, know that they were perfectly fine, and feel connected in a way that a disembodied phone doesn't allow for 3.5 year olds).

12/13/09, 10:20 PM  
Anonymous Rita Arens said...

When I have to travel for work, I always bring one of my daughter's stuffed animals. They smell like her and then if I want to, I can just cuddle up and bawl all over it in the sanctity of the hotel room. I totally and completely feel your pain.

12/14/09, 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Katherine Stone said...

Whenever I'm away from my children and I see some other child their age it makes me want to grab them up and hold them in my lap and smooch on them. I become obsessed with everyone else's kids because I so miss my own. It's like I left a part of me at home. I'm all empowered and sh*t and I have my own accomplishments and my own friends ... and then I'm without my kids for 24 hours and I want to die. The power of motherhood.

12/14/09, 12:44 PM  
Blogger Jennifer McGuire said...

I thought missing my kids wouldn't be an issue by now. I have old kids - 9, 10, 14 and 15 - so you think you'd get used to it.

You don't. Sometimes it's harder now because they're less work than they used to be. I actually get to sleep like a normal person and stuff these days. They're fun and interesting and always surprising.

And they want to hang out with their friends now more than me. Which I don't resent. Really I don't. At all.

12/14/09, 2:39 PM  
Blogger Kari said...

So true

12/16/09, 3:17 AM  
Blogger Petit Elefant said...

At least some business suits come in steely Grey right? Oh those babies, they have us from the word go.

12/16/09, 11:28 PM  

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