It's tough enough to stay connected with your kids when you're working, so how can you feel close when you're away overnight on a business trip?
It's easy, even if your child is still in the two-word-sentence stage, says James Levine, coauthor of Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family. The key, he says: "Set up rituals so that your kids have a sense of consistency and order."
- Arrange in advance when you'll call, and try for roughly the same time every day. Give yourself a window -- say, after dinner but before your child's bedtime -- so that he'll know when to expect your call but you won't be tied to a time you might not be able to keep. Equally important, don't phone during an activity your child looks forward to all day. "If you call when your kids are watching a favorite show, they may not want to talk, and you'll be disappointed," says Levine, who is also the director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute, in New York City.
- Draw your child out with specific questions. Many kids don't know what to say on the phone. Have your spouse fill you in on the details of your child's science project at school that day, for instance, then ask him about it. "If you just ask, 'How was your day?' you'll probably hear, 'Okay,' and that will be the end of the conversation," says Levine.
- Communicate with pictures. Every day, fax your child a drawing of what you did that day, and have him do the same. (If you don't have a fax machine at home, send it to your spouse's workplace.) These will be a good starting point for phone conversations with older children. For younger kids, says Levine, a drawing creates a mental link: "It will tell them that you're there with them, even though you're not physically present."