Dear Dr. Graham:

Your newsletter about connecting with kids while traveling was interesting, but my question is more about what happens when I get back home. The minute I walk in the door my spouse wants to catch me up on all the challenges that have occurred while I was gone and to hand everything back over to me. I get that, because what he has been doing in my absence is hard. But to be honest, there are times I’m so exhausted that I have to fight the urge to turn around and walk back out the door.

The thing is, the same thing happens the minute I return to the office. Those I manage are waiting with problems I need to solve. But my own work has piled up, too. I have to travel at least 10 days a month. Is there any way to better manage this?

Empty on Reentry

Dear Empty,

My recommendation is that you craft realistic reentry plans for both home and work. Such plans should take others, including your spouse, into account. Here are some tips that might help:

1.     Talk with your spouse about what sort of communication helps you both feel connected while you’re away. Before my husband and I had kids, we tried to call each other every day. But then we realized we were having the same exact conversation (“What did you have for dinner?”), which didn’t help us feel connected; so, we started talking only every other day. Talk about what makes each of you feel connected (Calls? Texts? A written note left somewhere?). A sense of connection while on the road might relieve some of the pressure to reconnect the moment you get home.
2.     Make intentional efforts to show your spouse that you understand his role is hard, and that you are looking for ways to help. For instance, if you’re attending a conference that closes with a non-essential event, you might say, “I think I can cut out this meeting and take a flight that gets home earlier. Would that help you?” Then listen and act accordingly. Let your partner know that you’re trying to help when you can.
3.     Establish a reentry routine at home. It might be that you need 30 minutes to change clothes and get re-centered before taking on the home role. Or, maybe you simply need to unpack your suitcase. Talk through some practical ideas that will work for both of you.
4.     Establish a reentry routine at work. You might regularly reserve your first two hours back at the office to do whatever is nagging at you, or to simply clear your briefcase, your desk, and your mind. Or, if you often have a line of people waiting outside your office after you’ve been out of town, you may want to work from home for the first two hours of your initial day back. Then you’ll likely feel better prepared to start solving others’ problems. (Note: if you always have a line of people waiting for you upon your return, you may want to evaluate your delegation style and your team’s skills. If you’ve trained and empowered your team correctly, they should be able to manage most issues in your absence.)
5.     Practice self-care while away. When traveling, it can be enticing to go out with coworkers every night, or to simply stay up late in your hotel room to watch a movie. But if you’re choosing to do things that are going to leave you worn out when you get home, that’s not fair to you, your family or your coworkers. Remember, the choices you make when you’re on the road are not just about you. How you care for yourself will play a part in how well you manage your reentry.

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