Can a Christian Dad work a travelling job?
Years ago, I probably would have said “No”. Parenting, and marriage for that matter, needs to take priority. It requires active participation. Just sending in a paycheck doesn’t get the job done. Through the years working as a consultant, I could point to many examples of families that failed under the strain of working apart.
Then, it happened to me! God has given me training and talent in a niche software that has few jobs in the area we live. My work-from-home job fell apart, and I was left with 2 weeks to find another job. A travel contract seemed the only option.
I spoke with many friends who had done some sort of travel successfully and got many good tips. I’d like to share what I learned in case there are others going through the same thing.
Asking the Right Questions
One of the encouraging things that Stephen Simpson said to me was “Just the fact that you are asking these questions” shows your heart is in the right place. Going into a new job like this with the attitude that “everything will be fine”, and “I can make more money this way” is very dangerous.
Furthermore, I am still learning, and I think I need to keep asking the questions. Circumstances change, and I need to keep evaluating the situation to make sure that I can still put my family first while traveling.
Be Creative When Engaging
The most obvious way to engage with the family is with a nightly phone call. But, even though a simple phone call may seem more effort than you have, adding some creativity can go a long way. For example, I enjoy photography somewhat, and my son really loves stuffed animals even at 10 years old. So, it just made sense to kidnap one of his stuffed animals. As I do my different things on my trip I have been taking pictures with the animal and posting it on Facebook with a description of the adventure the stuffed animal is doing. The kids (and frankly many Facebook friends) have enjoyed it so much, that I have kept it up for each trip with a different animal. It really brings the kids virtually with me and what I am doing each week.
One suggestion that I had was to bring the family along to see what I have been doing. We had the opportunity one week over the summer. My wife and kids came with me one week. They got to go on my routines during the week with work, and then on the weekends before and after we went on some major explores. The week turned out so amazing. The kids got to experience a different part of the country. In Florida, our Spring is very different from Wisconsin, and they got to see what true seasons look like. They got to see in person the things and people that I had been talking to them about the months prior.
One of the things that the kids seem to enjoy are the adventures that I take. Work is most important, so I can’t do anything big. But, I found some cool restaurants and some hiking trails to help with exercise. Those experiences give me something to share with family afterward and create an opportunity to engage. It gives the kids something to look forward to when we have our next talk.
One of the highlights of my childhood was when my parents decided to move to Japan for a three-year contract. They looked at it as an adventure and a chance to learn a new culture. Others that had come along for the same contract did not enjoy their time as much. I think the only difference was the attitude.
Fast forward to my traveling job, and Stephen Simpson reminded me that my attitude will rub off on my kids. Just as I enjoyed my parents endeavor, my kids view of my current endeavor greatly depends on my attitude. For me, this was a little harder because I felt guilty running off on my adventure without them. But, they were able to enjoy it through me enough that Clay mentioned at one point that he didn’t want me to change jobs because we wouldn’t have any more adventures.
One of the challenges that goes along with the attitude is persistence. It’s easy to start a new job off with a good attitude. You plan to call every night and make a large effort to stay in touch and engaged with the family. The big challenge is a year into the job to continue to put the same effort and attitude into it. You will have to go into it expecting to persist and work to maintain the same effort and attitude for the long haul.
Nowadays, technology can help us vastly with staying in touch. We have cell phones where we can stop and talk anywhere anytime. I think Clay would vote that a video call is a step above the regular phone call. We have found Duo works well for us.
One of the challenges with the phone call or video call is that both sides have to stay engaged in the conversation. I have trouble with the kids quickly getting bored and wandering away from the call where I couldn’t see them and they couldn’t hear me. To combat that, Jessica Ewald taught us about “High Low Buffalo”. Simply, each person shares a high from their day, a low from their day, and the “buffalo” is just a crazy fact or happening from the day. Just a little structure in the conversation helps us stay focused and engage with each other. I’ve learned for myself if I can add a question to that, it helps engage even more. So, if one of the kid’s low was that the kids at school were teasing him, I might ask what class they were in when he was getting teased. That both helps me understand better and helps him know that I was listening and care.
Another challenge with phone calls is the timezone or even just the busy schedule. We aren’t always available at the same time to talk. Jessica Ewald introduced me to the Marco Polo app. We can leave video messages for each other and listen and respond when we have time.
For me, remote work is a huge option. Not having any commute time to work balances out the not coming home at night at all. I’m learning that a good balance is two weeks remote and one week on site. It doesn’t hurt to ask especially once the remote value is proven. I would say to plan on site weeks for important parts of the project, but to get good prices on flights, you have to book a month in advance. Especially if the project has short iterations, it’s tough to know a month prior when the important weeks will be. So, what’s worked best so far for me is to just negotiate a regular schedule with the client.
I’ve learned to make the most of my weeks on site. It is very easy to sit at my desk in the office and message everyone. But, what’s the point of being on site if you never actually see anyone face to face. I think it is important to put effort into staying connected with work so that you are free to connect with family when it is family time.
Family is important. Putting effort into building and keep that relationship strong is invaluable. Hopefully, this post gives you some ideas that you can take away. If you have other ideas, please comment below!