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Last week I went to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to launch our app. Before I left, my kids wished me a good trip with beautiful drawings they’ve made and didn’t forget to mention that they love me and want me back. At the airport I posted the drawings on Facebook and a friend’s cynical comment quickly arrived: “Travel again? Shouldn’t you be spending more quality time with your kids?”
My startup, O’Daddy, is all about helping parents spend more quality time with their kids and yet I travel a lot. Does it make sense? Are quality time and being away simply contradictory? Do I drink my own Kool-Aid? I actually deal with this question a lot. My work has always required me to travel. I’ve worked for enterprises and startups whose business is international. I’ve managed teams across the ocean. I also frequented too many conferences in my fields of interest around the world. Travel has become a part of life for me and that hasn’t changed over the last 8 years since I became a daddy.
For today’s global cosmopolitans, departing occasionally from your hometown and your kids for business travel is necessary in order to do your job properly and to keep your professional edge. It’s also fun. There, I said it. It’s fun to see the world, to meet new people, and to break from the routine. And yes, it’s also fun to sleep through the night without waking up to feed your baby or after getting kicked by your toddler who evidently crept into your bed at some point in time. I’m not sure whether these parts of parenthood even qualify as quality time.
Anyway, I found out that my travels actually create meaningful quality time with my kids. It turns out that my trips and time away are quite memorable for my kids, and I don’t mean the fact that they’re missing me home. My wife probably misses me more, having to juggle her work and 3 kids all alone while I’m away. Of course she won’t admit it. Back on topic, here are 6 ways to turn your business travel into quality time with your kids.
Planning And Exploring
“You know, next week I’m going abroad to Barcelona.” Kids need to know before you leave them. My psychologist sister-in-law says they need to know not too early in advance and not too soon before you leave (or god forbid after you’ve left). But after the initial keening (“Oh Daddy! Do you have to? Can I come too? When would you be back?”), comes an opportunity for quality time. “Where is Barcelona? It’s in Spain, or actually Catalunya. Do you know the difference? Here it is on the globe. You know how many people live in Spain and how its flag looks like? Let’s open Wikipedia and see. No, it’s not my first time there — let’s browse pictures from my previous trip there. Barcelona is indeed beautiful — there’s also a video of the Magic Fountain that I want you to see on YouTube.” The more I share with my kids before the trip, the more they get excited about me actually going.
Picking And Packing
Not everybody loves packing, especially for other people. But kids, and maybe particularly girls caring for their daddy, love the challenge. What does daddy need in Barcelona? How’s the weather looking? Let’s think of all body parts and see that we got them covered — shoes and socks, pants, underwear, shirts and sweaters, scarf. Toothbrush too! Check. Now let’s play Suitcase Tetris to see how we fit all this stuff into that small trolley.
Business travel is necessary in order to do your job properly and to keep your professional edge. It’s also fun. There, I said it.
My kids are super excited about airplanes. They’re excited that I am on a plane, on the call that ends with the stewardess ordering me to turn off all electronic devices. They’re excited by pictures of the plane (it’s big!) and of cities from the sky (it’s small!). They’re amazed by videos of the plane flying above the clouds. Most exciting is when I call them while flying on the few flights that offer wifi connectivity. How can it be? It’s a bit of magic for me too.
I love the daily calls with my kids when I’m away. I usually wait for them more than my kids do. They sometimes need to be convinced to come talk with dad, but once they do, these calls are usually pure quality time. We talk about their day and mine. Travel offers opportunities to engage in things that are more exciting to share with your kids than another day at the office. At other times I enjoy catching up on a drama at the kindergarten that I’ve missed on and now have to hear all about it in details. We make faces at each other, a lot. Different time zones and weather conditions make for great conversations — ”Wow daddy, how come the sun still shines there? It’s totally dark here.” Sharing the stuff people eat where you visit — whether it’s frog legs in China, Hagelslag in Amsterdam, or Crema Catalana in Barcelona — also makes for a favorite topic around dinner time. My kids remember our talks when I’m away very vividly and remind me of what we talked about long after I’m back.
Many parents promise their kids gifts when they return. Gifts are a common compensation for being away and feeling bad about it. My sister-in-law, the psychologist, says it’s not good and she usually knows what she’s talking about. I tend to agree but I don’t like coming back empty-handed either. Sometimes I tell my kids that this time I’m not bringing them any presents, just so I can over-deliver on their lack of expectations. I try to give them gifts that specifically show where I’ve been. So rather than buying another Elsa doll that my daughter would forget about in a week, I bring something that has to do with the city or the conference I went to, like a Panda hat from the Great Wall of China, a puzzle from the Gaudi museum, or even a cool pen that projects light (yes, conference giveaways are fantastic as souvenirs and even save you the shopping).
The more frequently I travel, the less likely it is for my family to come pick me up from the airport. Buy when they do, it’s one of my favorite joys in the world. My kids love it too. The atmosphere at the arrivals hall with the big dashboard listing exciting places and announcing landings is electrifying. Then the automatic doors open wide and people appear. Ah, they’re from another flight. Some of them are reuniting with their families, increasing my kids’ anticipation for daddy to finally come out. And then I do, and they see me, and run towards me, and hug me really tight, and sometimes cry, and it’s okay. Because I’m back. Because I’m home.
There’s no question about it — being home and with my kids in person is far better when it comes to spending quality time together. But at the same time, I don’t feel a need to apologize to my kids for being away occasionally. It’s something that I need to do, it’s something that makes me happy, and every such travel creates a lot of memorable moments for my kids and me, which definitely account for quality time.
Oded Israeli is a dad, entrepreneur, and co-founder of O’Daddy, an app that helps parents spend more quality time with their kids and fights mobile addiction.