Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Research Trips When Traveling with Your Family, Part I

I have now been on four research trips when traveling with a child:

1. International trip for 14 days with a 7 month old Q, my husband and my dad.

2. International trip for 7 days with a 15 months old Q and my dad.

3. Trip across the country for 7 days with a 19 months old Q and my dad.

4. International trip for 7 days with a 2.5 year old Q, my husband and my dad. I was also 6 months pregnant.

Why bring your family at all? Well, if you are like us, then your children are exceedingly attached to their mom, possibly breastfeeding forever, and your husband would have to take time off from work when you were away anyway, so why not make it a family trip. One of the two times my husband didn't come, we were also staying with my brother and sister-in-law, so it was a research/visiting family trip.

So what have I learned? If you can afford it, pay someone to be your childcare. (Broken record, much?) Secondly, make sure you have clear boundaries and guidelines about what is expected of those caring for your children and what you hope to accomplish by this trip. Third(ly), have realistic expectations. Let me explain:

It is lovely of your family to want to help and I am exceedingly lucky that I have this option. My father very much loves traveling with us, spending time with his granddaughters, and doing historical stuff. However, at all times I am aware of the fact that he is doing us a favor. (This is not his fault - he never spoke this way or indicated that he felt this way - I just felt guilty. Ah, Catholic guilt.) If he wants to check something out/see something, I feel badly saying "no." (Or I did, but I'll cover that in my post about attending conferences with your children.)  My husband has a habit of repeatedly asking when I'll be done for the day. I would always tell him the time that the archives closed, but, after the 4th or 5th questioning, my guilt would increase (possibly all in my head) and I would either leave to meet up at lunch or leave early. Now, I always saw everything I needed to see, but I felt stressed and rushed doing so. I did the same when my dad and I were solo in a foreign city in winter. I would leave early, because I felt bad that he was stuck in a hotel room all day with my toddler.

Q, 15 months, entertains herself in a hotel room while I archive it up

Beyond that, I have discovered that my family manages to get sick when traveling. During one trip, the night we arrived my daughter came down with a 103 fever and, as I found at the next day at an urgent care clinic, her first and only ever ear infection. Of course, this meant that I stayed home with her that day, because, sad baby. Her illness was nothing compared to the time we flew to Europe for me to give a paper and do some research. My husband, who had the sniffles on the flight over, declared himself freezing that night, bundled himself up, and, as I realized at 2am courtesy of our daughter's thermometer, which I never travel without as the one time I did it was a disaster, had a 105 degree temperature. Yes, 105. What adult gets a 105? Luckily, I had already given my paper (landed in the morning and gave the paper that afternoon) and his fever broke within a few hours as I gave him lots of advil and forced him to take off the many layers he was wearing, but it did cause some problems with attending the second day of the conference as well as the research I planned to carry out over the rest of the trip.

To return to what I have learned, here's how I think it would have gone better if I could have paid for childcare: I wouldn't have felt guilty about not leaving the archives until closing because I was paying the person to watch my children. I could have explained what I expected them to do with my child and gone about my business.

Of course, what graduate student or even non-graduate student can afford to fly a sitter with them all over the place as well as pay them for their services? Yeah, not too many. This problem brings me back to the need for definite boundaries/guidelines. It is only now, after 3+ years of having children, that I have learned to clearly communicate what I need my family to do if they very generously offer their time. I need them to assume that I will be at the archives all day. I need them to feed my daughters and make sure they nap. I need them to understand that this is a business trip and, just as they wouldn't pull someone out of a meeting, they can't pull me out of the archives. These are very important "meetings" to my career.

Finally, I need to manage my expectations and this concept is also 3+ years in the making. It will make me sound horrible, but I had a breakdown after my husband came down with his insanely high temperature. Well, after it broke and a couple of days had passed and he criticized my driving. Did I mention, I was also 6 months pregnant with Z. I realize that I can't afford multiple nannies like Brad and Angelina and that people, especially kids, get sick and need their moms, especially if their moms have been their primary care provider since birth. Suddenly being in daddy or grandpa's care, though lovely, is a rude awakening for little babies and even toddlers.

I need to accept that when traveling with my family I may not be able to attend every panel or dinner at a conference. I may need to leave the archive at lunchtime. I will need to figure out a way to pump at the archives, so as to have some bottles ready for my daughter the next day. I need to accept that while it may feel like one step forward, two steps back, everything I do is moving me closer to my goal of finishing my degree.

In another post, I will explain how I was able to put all of this knowledge together when, my Dad,  Z and I attended a conference when she was 9 weeks old. I am also working on a Part II to this post, which focuses on how to make your research trip with children goes as smoothly as possible from a practical point of view.

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