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What One Mom Learned About Being a Working Dad

Photograph by Getty Images

I rarely travel for work. I'm a writer after all, so it's uncommon for me to schedule work trips. In fact, my days are spent clicking away on my computer from the comfort of an elastic waistband. I don't need to travel to an office, much less to another city. And though I work while my kids are at school, at night and on the weekends, working all the time affords me the luxury of controlling my own schedule. I get to be with the kids after school and I get to schedule around their performances or events at school. It's the best of both worlds and I feel incredibly grateful to get to work and be with my kids.

But this past week I had to travel to Arizona for a work conference, which had me leaving on a Wednesday and returning on Saturday. The trip had been planned for months. So when I looked at my son's school calendar to see that I'd be gone during the school event he had worked toward all year, I was heartbroken. I knew my husband would be there and my son would probably be fine with that. I just didn't know if I would be fine with that. I had never missed a school event before. And I hated that I had to make a choice.

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I considered canceling my trip until my husband advised me against that. "This is your work," he said. "If you didn't work for yourself, you'd never cancel a business trip. These are the choices working parents have to make. It isn't always easy, but this is your career and you need to go to that conference." He was right, but I knew he was really saying something else. He was really saying that no man would cancel his work trip because of an event at his kid's school. He'd hoped his child would understand, but he'd never consider not doing what he needed to do for his work even if that meant missing his child's performance or presentation at school.

I'd always assumed it was easy for (my husband) to go to work or to get on a plane. Sometimes I even envied him.

As the morning of my son's event arrived, I sat distracted in my conference sessions. I kept looking at my clock calculating the time my son's performance was about to start. What did he wear? Was he nervous? How did he do? I wondered if he noticed I wasn't there—or if he even cared. I hoped he did well and hoped he didn't mind my absence, knowing full well that it was me who minded my absence.

Sitting there, half listening to the presentation I was in Arizona to hear, I realized the torn feeling I had about missing my son's event is exactly how my husband must feel every time he travels (often for weeks at a time). Sure, I knew he missed being home with the kids. But I never realized just how torn he, and every working parent, felt.

I'd always assumed it was easy for him to go to work or to get on a plane. Sometimes I even envied him. Working in an office meant someone else got to hear the kids fight and got to negotiate TV privileges and homework. To me, my husband's work trips were always exhausting, but nothing a little room service and not having to wake up with the kids couldn't repair.

Now I know to never look at my husband's work day or travel as some sort of break. No working parent gets the easy way out. Every day is fraught with inner conflicts and a sense of letting every single person down, no matter how hard you try.

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The good news is my son had a great performance and my husband sent relatively real-time photos of what was happening at school. As for me I hope I don't have to miss another school event, but chances are I will if I'm going to be successful on my own path. It'll never get easier, but at least I know I'm in good company. I'm just another working parent, trying to do the right thing.

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