I have always loved traveling, and felt lucky to have a job that allowed me to travel across the globe. From London to Singapore and across Asia, to both coasts of the US. But traveling after becoming a mom didn’t feel so glamorous anymore. During the pandemic, the travel eased up when my little girl was one and when my son was born. But as life resumed to normal, work called me away, requiring multiple cross-country trips and even a European trip every now and again.
Leaving my four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son, and husband alone as I headed out for my first work trip post-COVID filled me with mom guilt. But I can’t lie – I also felt proud and strong as I embarked on my adventure and knew that I was doing my best for both my family, and myself.
One evening, before I embarked on a cross-country work trip, I sat with my daughter and explained that I’d be going on a work trip and wouldn’t be home for a few days. She looked at me with the saddest face. “Are you going on an airplane?” she asked, curiously. “Yes,” I said. “Without me?!,” she wailed.
My heart broke, and I felt guilty.
I gave her a big hug and promised her I’d bring back a prize for her from the work trip…if she was good for papa. That made her feel a lot better and she went back to happily eating her fruit. An hour or so later, though she should’ve been in bed, she was still up, using each and every sleep delay tactic she knew, knowing that I was leaving that evening and keen to get some extra moments with me.
My Uber arrived shortly after, and I gave her and my husband a hug and a kiss goodbye. My little guy was already sleeping, and was still too young to really understand what mama’s work trips meant. I sat in the Uber and felt so sick with mom guilt. I wanted to cry. I kept thinking about how sad my little girl was, and how the kids would react when I wasn’t at home in the morning. I knew they would be fine – they did great a couple of months prior, and that was the first trip after so long.
But I still sat there, feeling so guilty.
Once my husband messaged to say she’d fallen asleep, and as I got busy finding my way to the gate and boarding, I started to feel better. Every now and again, I’d see a mother with her child, or a family of four that were traveling together, and look at them lovingly. My heart would feel full, and empty at the same time, as I thought about my husband and kids. But I also took a deep breath and reminded myself to try and cherish this time I had to myself.
Upon my return, the kids were excited to see me, though the excitement only lasted about a minute…until the next episode of Chip & Potato started. They rushed over to me for their prizes and treats, gave me a hug and kiss, and then went back to watching their show.
They survived, they were fine, happy, and already forgetting what the last few days without mama was like.
I, in turn, had a great trip, got the time to feel like a true adult where I was able to give work my full attention, and thoroughly enjoyed a few days not worrying about cooking dinners, wrangling bodies for bath and bedtime, and tirelessly working through the mad rush to get ready for school in the mornings.
Most recently – as I embarked on another work trip, I felt mom guilt again.
I left on a Sunday and it was the first time my husband was going to be with the kids for a full weekend day. He’d been with them solo for a few hours on the weekend if I was out, or the hour (or few) in the morning and evening. This was the first time I hadn’t made sure the house was spotless and organized before I left.
This time, in the Uber, I was checking emails, responding to messages, and calling the work colleague (and friend) that I was traveling with. My husband sent me a message to say they were doing fine and how proud he was of how hard I worked, and the example I was setting for our kids. A few hours later, when I called to say I’d boarded the plane, I could hear the kids shouting in the background.
While I felt sad that he was having to deal with one of many tantrums to come, I also felt a sigh of relief that I wasn’t the one having to deal with it. And then along came the guilt for feeling that way.
The trip was the longest I’d been away, and the day I returned, we attended a party at my office which my kids had been most looking forward to “once mama returns.” My little girl was so excited to come to mama’s office, and I was excited to bring them both in and show off these little people I could call mine. They soon forgot I had been away, but once again, I’ll never forget the opportunity I had to focus on my career and build greater relationships.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do this, with the support of my husband, and the love and strength of my little girl and boy. The time to myself – to be able to focus on just one part of my life for a few days – was priceless, and I know it makes me a better, stronger, and much more patient mom, for which I am eternally grateful.
The next work trip is upon us, and while I’m already feeling guilty for being away again, I know this time away helps me be the best mom I can be, and I hope one day, my kids will be proud too.