Travelling for work takes on a whole new meaning when you become a parent. After all, you’re actually travelling away from the most demanding and important job in your life, raising kids, and that throws up a lorry load of mixed emotions.
I work for myself, often at home, often amid the anarchy and destruction of three young children – one eight year old and twin four year olds – so the opportunity to get away and pretend to be a functioning adult is like finding a water fountain in the desert. If it includes an overnight stay in a hotel, then I really am living the parenting dream – peace, quiet and room service, where do I sign up? This kind of quality downtime doesn’t come around very often.
On the other hand, I know my wife will be single-handedly fighting all sorts of child-rearing fires at home, while I’m luxuriating in the tranquil paradise that is my hotel room. And if you think that sounds like hyperbole, trust me, it isn’t. When you have young twins, spending a night alone in a high security prison would count as a bit of a treat.
Just take a look at some of the things I’ll be able to enjoy (non-parents, you have no idea): an entire bed that won’t, by morning, be populated by several children who needed the toilet at 3am or had a nightmare about a malevolent tooth fairy that glues incisors back in (true story – the nightmare not the tooth fairy); a bath I’ll be able to lie in without impaling myself on a pirate ship, a regiment of tanks (perfectly reasonable bath toys in my house) or a singing mermaid whose battery has run down so much her voice is now a deep, slow baritone. And a TV that doesn’t immediately need to be switched to an episode of Paw Patrol or else.
I could go on, and I will: a phone that I can use to call people who will bring me food and drink, then, best of all, come back and clear away the mess. And a complimentary packet of biscuits I won’t have to share.
On a practical level, if I’m working the next day, having meetings or giving a talk, it’s great to know I’ll have had a restful night beforehand. Having said that I will, without fail, wake up at 6am because my early rising offspring have hardwired it into my DNA.
But, as I mentioned, all this kicking back and relaxing comes with a hefty side serving of guilt. I’ll be enjoying all of the above at some of the most stressful moments of the day for my wife, namely: getting everyone fed, bathed and into bed in the evening and getting them all up, ready for school or nursery and out of the door in the morning. Add a bad night’s sleep into the mix and the Dalai Lama would be hard pushed to maintain his serenity after shouting ‘put your shoes on’ for the 28 time and finding that STILL nobody has moved.
So how do I strike a balance that works, most of the time, for everyone? I get help, as much as I can muster, and my wife does the same for me when she goes away. We’re lucky our grandparents live nearby and are happy, willing at least, to lend a hand – to have a child or two for the night or do the school run, so no one has to arrive at the gates in pyjamas with a wild look in their eye and a slice of toast in their hair.
Once I know the childcare burden is being shared a little, that someone else is filling my shoes, it makes it much easier to let myself go and enjoy not being there – by ‘let myself go’ I mean ordering a burger and chips to eat in bed while bingeing a show on Netflix. A show I’ll barely take any notice of because I’ll be too busy messaging my wife or the grandparents to find out how the kids are.
That’s the thing, you can’t switch off being a parent no matter how far away you travel. And the freedom that comes with travelling on your own, whether it’s for business or pleasure, just makes you pine for the chaos you couldn’t wait to get away from.
But it’s never a bad idea to be reminded how fortunate you are and how much you miss home and everybody in it. If that happens to involve lounging around in a dressing gown and watching telly, who am I to turn it down?