Balancing a Big International Job and Little Kids

Perry & Kirsten

Guest blog by Perry Yeatman

As I sit here, on yet another United flight, waiting to leave for my current home town of Annapolis, Maryland, my thoughts wander, as they often do on planes, to my family. Throughout my career, people have asked me how I juggle big global jobs and a family. The simple answer is: it isn’t easy. It requires some sacrifices, and you have to really work at it. But for me, it’s been sooo worth it!  If you think this might be for you as well, here are a few tips I’ve found that really help.

Aside from picking the right spouse (a critical success factor for every working mom, but one that deserves its own blog — if not entire library section — so I’ll leave that for another time), I recommend nine things anyone with a big job (and especially a big, international job) can do to help improve work/life balance, especially with small and school aged children:

  1. Set the right expectations up front. Before I joined Kraft in 2005, I made it clear to my boss I wouldn’t “give up” my then two-year-old daughter by traveling two-to-three weeks every month as I had earlier in my career. So we agreed performance was what mattered and how much I traveled was up to me. Then I had the same honest, direct discussion with my team.
  2. Eliminate your daily commute. If you are going to have to travel for work, you need to minimize your daily commute so you can be home as much as possible every day that you are in town/in the country. One of the reasons we moved to the North Shore of Chicago was so that I could have a global job (150+ countries) and a 15-minute commute.
  3. Travel only when truly necessary. Since I’ve lived and worked up and down the East Coast and literally all over the world, there are few markets I don’t know something about first hand. Therefore, I don’t need to spend a lot of time on the road just getting a sense of what my company and my team are facing. I travel when I really need to, but I’m a huge fan of virtual meetings and my teams have been great about working that way too. (P.S.: I’m also a huge fan of getting in a lot of miles before having kids so that you can have a similar career advantage — not to mention all the fun of seeing the world!).
  4. Use your plane time. I used to love reading books or watching movies while flying. These days, plane time is almost exclusively for working or catching up on sleep so I’m ready to play/engage with the family when I walk through the door.
  5. Minimize jet lag. I don’t use an “over the counter” remedy to deal with jet lag anymore. I just avoid it or gut it out. For example, if I have a meeting in London, I will fly in that morning, work a full day, have an early dinner with the team and then head to the airport to catch the last flight back. Ditto with LA.  I may be tired but I never suffer jet lag since my body never really leaves local time. It also means that in my daughter’s eyes, going to London is no different than going to New York as I can be home for dinner on Monday night and back by bed time on Tuesday.
  6. Pack light. I can travel for three weeks in a carry-on bag. This is important. It saves hours each trip since I don’t have to arrive at the airport as early. I don’t have to wait in baggage claim lines. And I don’t
    have to debate each morning what I’m going to wear. Combined, this often means the difference between getting in a work out or making it home before lights out.
  7.  Join Global Access. Similar to my point above, if you live in the USA and travel overseas a lot, I have found TSA-pre and Global Access to be god sends in saving time and reducing hassles. My advice: sign up today!
  8. Stagger trips. Unlike some people who choose to hit the road and just keep going, I find children need frequent quality time so I try not to travel back to back. My rule of thumb is not to be gone for more than four days at a time and to try not to travel — at least overseas — on consecutive weeks.
  9. Make them part of the adventure. On short trips, even though she may not be traveling with me, I make sure to talk with my daughter about where I’m going and to show her pictures, etc., to get her involved in “mommy’s big adventure.” Much to the surprise of her day care providers then and 6th grade teachers now, she has quite an advanced world view. By three, she could readily identify the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and Moscow’s Red Square.  And she knew about a wide variety of subjects – from Buddhism to the Vikings.  At day care, she loved to tell people about where mommy had been. Then on the occasions when I’d have to be gone for more than a week, like when traveling to Asia Pacific, whenever possible, we all went together. My husband loves to travel and the kids (my daughter and my older stepson) have always been absolute travel troupers.  So as often as possible I’ve taken my family with me. From Australia to Abu Dhabi, my job has let me show my family the world (on my own dime of course).  And by bringing them along, it has ensured that I have been able to remain a central figure in their lives, not just someone who shows up on special occasions. Indeed, the whole family could be described as true global citizens — at ease with foreign languages, foreign cultures, foreign foods in a way that I never was before actually moving overseas. What a gift! These days, instead of telling her day care providers what mommy did, my daughter loves telling her teachers and classmates what she’s done. And with 3 passports, 4 continents and 20+ countries under her belt by age 11, she has a lot to share!

These are some of the things I do to make it work for myself and my family. Granted, having a big job and working globally is not for everyone, and it takes a really supportive spouse. But I’m living proof that if you want it you can combine a young family and a global career and you can reap big rewards — personally and professionally — by doing so.

Perry Yeatman is CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners and External Director at Mission Measurement. She co-authored the award-winning book, Get Ahead By Going Abroad, with Stacie Nevadomski Berdan. @perryyeatman

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