By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
A couple of years ago at a Family Firm Institute annual meeting, a woman approached me and asked about how I manage to attend these meetings and still have time for my family. She noticed that my children and husband were staying with me at the hotel and would frequently meet with me during breaks throughout the conference. She also wondered if there were others at the conference who may benefit by arrangements for their children and families. Since I had had several people question me about this, I assured her that there were many conference attendees who would be interested in a conference that allowed for family participation of some kind. Being a woman may make it easier for me to consider how to balance family and professional needs. Not that men don&rsquot value their families, but there is no precedent for a man to bring the baby to the board room. On the other hand, it is becoming more common for women executives to have a play pen in their offices and to take breaks from work for baby. And more and more large corporations have child-care on site, so working parents can visit their children for lunch.
I remember taking my younger daughter Phoebe to a conference in Raleigh North Carolina when she was just three months old. She slept on the long plane ride to Chicago, then explored with wide eyed interest the Chicago airport as I whisked her and I to the next plane to Raleigh. At the conference itself, I mixed batches of formula in my hotel room (I brought along a mini-hot pot to boil water) and asked hotel staff to chill bottles in the staff refrigerator. Even though my environmental consciousness required that I use cloth diapers, for the duration I acquiesced and used disposables.
As I wheeled Phoebe (in her umbrella stroller, which easily totes on the airplane) to various conference meetings, I got quite a few inquisitive looks … and smiles. Everyone wanted to talk to the baby. And I got several offers to baby-sit, so that I could attend a meeting without interruptions.
My husband and I are committed to raising children who have a sense of belonging to a family with parents who are professionals. The children see our work as part of who we are … and they are part of it too. I seldom attend a conference anymore without taking one or both children and my husband along. This last trip to L.A. was no exception. This time, Mom stayed at the hotel in downtown L.A. for three days, while Dad and the girls visited Grandma and Grandpa in Orange county. Following the conference, the family picked me up to visit my uncle and cousin who live near Burbank. So close to Hollywood, we made a side trip to the famed Universal Studios. We all rode the Jurassic Park ride and the girls have T-shirts stating “I survived Jurassic Park.” Before leaving town, we made one last trip south to say good-bye to the grandparents and slip in a trip to Disneyland. Needless to say we were tired when we got home eight days later, but we were nourished, professionally and personally.
Within just a few short years, since I first took baby Phoebe with me to Raleigh, hotels and resorts have started catering to business travelers who wish to bring their children with them. While Mom and Dad are at their business meetings, or downloading their e-mail from the office back home, the children are able to participate in events sponsored and supervised by hotel staff. This certainly makes it easier than in the days when there was no one to help with the children. Sometimes, I would just have to skip a meeting because baby came first.
However, there is another potential problem. Workaholics may never learn how to leave work, if even the entertainment industry (i.e. hotels) encourages you to work instead of play. Combining work and play as I have described above is one alternative, but another is to plan vacations without work in mind at all. Oh, I know, pure vacations aren&rsquot write offs, but they may do more good than reduced taxes. In our family, we plan at least one two week vacation a year that has nothing to do with work. And we usually have two to three long weekends that are purely family fun too.
These considerations are especially relevant to family firms, of course. As a family who also happens to be in business together, you have the sophisticated task of integrating the needs of family and the needs of business. If your spouse and your children feel a part of your work, they are in a better position to help with business growth, even if only as interested stakeholders. And if you are willing to take time from your busy schedule to play with your children and family, even at a business conference or trade show, you are sending a very important message. That is, no matter how important the business, no matter how you wish the business to succeed, what&rsquos the point if you cannot share your successes with the ones you love?