A few weeks back I was meeting with Anya Clowers at a coffee shop near my office. The registered nurse is the author “Jet With Kids,” and she travels around the country testing products, offering seminars and advice on how parents can keep their kids safe out on the road.
We had a lot to talk about and our meeting ran longer than planned. Her assistant wasn't at all happy about that. He let us know by barging into the cafe, rushing over to us — barely acknowledging me — and grabbing a cell phone off the table. He then began making important phone calls and checking his e-mail messages.
I didn't take offense. In fact, I could barely keep a straight face. Clowers' “assistant” is her 3-year-old son and he accompanies his mom and dad on two or three business trips a month. Clearly, he's been paying close attention to what it takes to get work done. “He often sits next to me at his desk and calls and e-mails his people,” Clowers told me. “He then turns to me and asks me to be quiet for a minute while he makes an important call.”
I've been thinking about Clowers and her assistant today (April 24th), as it's Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. Started by the Ms. Foundation for Women back in 1993 as a career day for young girls, the program is now on its own and has broadened its focus to include boys. The goals for the day have expanded as well: parents and mentors are asked to expose girls and boys to the choices they have in the workplace and to offer lessons about the “family-work balance.”
What if work involves travel?
If you travel a lot for your job, you may think that the goals and lessons of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day aren't for you. But Carolyn McKecuen says taking a child along on a business trip — today or any day — is a great way to teach lessons about work, the family-work balance and how to behave when out on the road.
McKecuen is the president of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day Foundation and says the lessons can begin when you head out the door. “You can show your child how to behave in busy traffic and how to be nice to a seatmate on a plane.” You can also point out the ways in which the people who work at the airport, on the airplane, at the rental car counter and the hotel are part of your work day. “Talk to them,” says McKecuen. “Ask questions and encourage your child to ask questions. It makes you and your child more aware of the fact that these people are working and working really hard for you.”
‘Call me, we'll do milk and cookies’
Clowers says, overall, it's important to remember “children will react best if they are prepared ahead of time for what they can expect and what is expected of them.” So, for example, if you'll need to have dinner with clients instead of with your child, make sure your child understands they'll be having supper with a babysitter, but that you'll be able to spend a different part of the day doing an activity together.
Erika Lenkert, author of “The Real Deal Guide to Pregnancy,” suggests creating “little business cards” for a child to hand out on the road and setting up a desk area, even in a hotel room, so your child can feel official. Family travel columnist Eileen Ogintz, creator of TakingtheKids.com, says “a business trip is not only a great way for kids to see mom or dad in an entirely different role,” it can also be “a great time to introduce kids to your passion — whether art museums, baseball, scuba diving, etc.”
When deciding if you should bring a child along on a business trip, Ogintz says it's important “to make sure your child is old enough to either accompany you or stay alone in the hotel while you work.” If they'll need to be watched by a babysitter, call ahead to your hotel's concierge to get the name of a reputable local babysitting service. Or, you could ask the folks you'll be meeting if they have a teenaged child with babysitting experience.
It's a good idea for parents to “make sure your child understands that you have to work first, just like they have to get their homework done before they can play,” says Ogintz, but she adds that part of the business trip “homework” might be researching books and the Internet for activities you can do together during free time.
Of course, why would a child want to join you on a business trip if it isn't fun? So while you may usually stay in no-nonsense business hotel, check around for one that may have supervised (educational) activities for kids, a library, a media room, a cool swimming pool, tennis courts or other activities that might not be available at home. For example, the Woodmark Hotel, Yacht Club & Spa in Kirkland, Washington has a “Raid the Pantry” program. Between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. each day, the hotel lays out a smorgasbord of comfort food and snack items. So if you and your “assistant” stay up late “working,” you'll have plenty of sustenance.
Beware of backfires
Taking a child on a business trip so he or she can see what you actually do when you're away can have downsides, too. But Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day Foundation's McKecuen says after seeing how stressful work-related travel can be, many children say they'll choose a profession that keeps them close to home.
Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the , a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.