Sunday, December 2, 2007

Keeping in touch with the kids: tips for fathers working away

(This is the text of my That's Men for You column, published in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 27th November 2007):

Advice from

You’ll see them at the airports every day: the business travellers, all suited up, tapping away on their laptops or talking into their mobile phones. But they’re more than business travellers. Many are parents, fathers and mothers whose work means they spend more time in airports, planes and hotels than they do in their own homes.

It is doubtful if there are very many of them who particularly enjoy this aspect of their work. That’s especially so if they have children waiting for them back home.

Still, not everybody has the luxury of giving up a job that pays the mortgage in order to spend more time with the family and, indeed, not everybody wants to.

Keeping in touch
There’s a marvellous website called which has advice for fathers in this situation. It also has advice for other kinds of fathers – divorced fathers, non-cohabiting fathers, adoptive fathers and so on.

The tips on are as applicable to mothers who travel a lot on business as to fathers. Here’s a selection:

– Call the kids every day. Might seem obvious but if you don’t plan for it, the call might not get made until after the children are asleep. Even if you’re not travelling, you can always make a habit of calling the kids – or at least texting them – if your work runs into the evening.

– Tell the kids they’re welcome to call or text you any time they like on your mobile phone. If you’re not available, they can go to your voicemail. Expensive? Sure, but is it the most expensive thing you’re going to be doing this week?

– If you have small kids, leave handwritten notes for them before you go. Hide them where they can easily be found so the kids can hunt for them. This wouldn’t work with teenagers unless you attached money to the notes, which I do NOT recommend.

– Plan your business trips to be as short as they can reasonably be, to maximise your time with your family. I realise that in many workplaces there are macho idiots – male and female – who will sneer at this idea but you don’t have to give into this nonsense unless the macho idiot is a boss who might threaten your job in retaliation.

– If you’re away for a long time you might record a message to them on your digital recorder or on that souped-up mobile you conned the company into buying for you. Transfer the message to your laptop and email the recording to them.

– When you get home, talk about family matters before you talk about your trip. That way you’re emphasising that the family is where your priorities, and your heart, lie.

– Whether or not you travel a lot, ask yourself if you really have to spend all this time at work or if you’re putting in long hours because you want to? If you suspect you might be putting in more hours than you need to – after all, work can be more fun and exciting than being at home – then consider the concept of “emotional work.” This term refers to the effort people make to maintain relationships, especially their emotional side. It’s work in the sense that it often involves giving attention to people at times which you don’t really want to give them attention. But the concept can help you to plan to be at school events and so on which might otherwise never make it onto the to-do list.

– Consider delaying projects or seeking more family-friendly deadlines to give you more time with your kids. Of course, you don’t have to say this is what you’re up to – as a warrior in the corporate jungle I’m sure you are well able to come up with a line of bull to explain why you might want to push out deadlines.

Maybe not all of these suggestions are your cup of tea but pick one or two you could implement, try them out, and see what difference they make.

The website, as its name implies, is at and if you’re a parent of either gender, it’s worth your time.

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