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High school senior and mom's job requires frequent travel

March 2013

Turns out I could use some help to solve a looming, worrisome problem. Here goes: I'm a single mom of two great kids, one in college, the other completing his junior year of high school. I'm the sole breadwinner with a big job. I've worked for a company for many years and a project I've been working on for a long time is finally coming to fruition. Next year it will require a tremendous amount of travel, as much as half-time. Changing jobs is not an option.

Here's the issue: how to insure that my high school senior is safe, and give him care and company, when I'm away at work? What do I do? I cannot be in two places at once, home for him and on the road earning a living for my two kids. My son absolutely does not want to go to boarding school, and I think boarding him somewhere would be very destabilizing (not to mention, cost a fortune when I'm saving/ spending on college). And I don't want to separate from him any earlier than need be.

That leaves, as I see it, two options: 1) Leave him home alone or 2) find a person to live here with him? If someone comes to live here, is it part-time just while I'm away? Or is it full-time? And who might fit the bill? An older student? A grad school student? A retiree? A grandparent-type? While it's not a dealbreaker, having someone live with us would displace my older son, who'd be giving up his room and would have no where to come home to during breaks. That would be tough on him. We have a small, lovely three-bedroom house in a great, desirable location near CAL and the care-taker would have the master bedroom which now belongs to my older kid, so it's a highly attractive setting. I wouldn't even have to charge rent, just ask this person to be home to prepare meals for my kid and be on hand should he need anything really important in my absence. My son is very mature, responsible, and will be 18 this summer. He can handle time on his own, which he does already, and has repeatedly demonstrated self-reliance and trust-worthiness. But most of the week? That seems like too much time home alone.

I have no family nearby to help out and again, I want to minimize the disruption to my son; I don't think it would work for him to spend part of the week living with, say, his one close friend. Another piece of much needed advice: Just how do I find the right person to stay with him, if that's what we decide? Where do I look? What kind of job description do I craft? I usually can figure these things out on my own, but this is above my pay grade. Clearly, I need to know that my son is safe, has food and company, and that I have systems in place that allow me to keep my big, necessary job all at the same time. Thank you for helping me problem-solve. Needing an action plan to replace worry and indecision


I can't speak much to your idea of a live-in person--I think it sounds like a good solution but don't have any personal experience with that kind of arrangement.

But as someone who has had to juggle multiple kids of different ages going to and from college, etc., I do suggest you consider moving around your sleeping arrangements if you do bring in a live-in. We have often had to do similar things as we have a blended family of bio half-sibs 17 years apart, and three foster sibs in between. The kid who is away (at school or at father's house) knows that the bed or room have to be available to those who need them. The kid who comes back from college knows she'll use the air mattress in the 5-year-old's room.

What about live-in in the master bedroom, older boy in your current bedroom, high schooler stays in his room? While your older one is away, you can sleep in his room. When he's home, you can have the couch or an air mattress in the living room.

Another option is not give the live-in the best room. You're offering a good deal of free room for some meal prep and supervision. That's a powerful offer in the Bay Area. So I don't think you have to give that person the best room. Give them your room and trade off with your older son when he's home.

Either of my suggestions means some accommodations such as storing some of your older son's things to make room for your clothes in his room. This should not be too much of a hardship. Your older boy is away at school and many kids have to realize that their parents can't hold their space forever.

Whatever you choose, I would try to present it to your sons as ''this is what's happening, we'll all work together to make it work well, sometimes we have to make sacrifices and work hard to move forward.'' Cheerful, optimistic, and non-apologetic. forever shuffling the 19 to 23 year olds


First of all, congratulations on the culmination of your hard work in a project that will be launching. This is a great opportunity for growth and a maturing relationship for you and your son.

In looking at your work demands as an *opportunity* for growth instead of a burden, you may be able to see both yourself and your son more objectively.

You said ''My son is very mature, responsible, and will be 18 this summer.'' Think about what this means.

Your son will be entering his senior year of high school. He is not a child. He will be a legal adult. It is time to be open with your work demands and ask for his suggestions for how you and he can make this work.

Your older son in college should also be involved. Since he already comes home on breaks, and he likely can text / talk to his brother anytime, he can easily be involved without any impact on his schedule.

You may find that both of your sons are ready to support you and have the youth and strength to make things work. They may have resources - friends, teachers, colleagues - who can assist with backup.

A ''very mature, responsible'' 18 year old is quite capable of getting his own meals, doing his own laundry and getting to school without your assistance. He can even make dinners for you when you're busy, or do your laundry as well. Let him do this for you.

Talk to his school counselor with him present as well. Seniors have more flexibility in schedules and deadlines.

You are used to going it alone. That is admirable. But you have two young men - not children, but men - who love you. Let them take on some of the burden to make this work. Good Luck


I think it would be wonderful to have a caring adult stay with your son while you travel. Whether or not it is full or part-time might depend on the person you find for the job. I don't think the age or gender matters too much - what is most important is that the person is caring, responsible and your son feels comfortable with the person. Could you start by reaching out to your friends and your son's friends to put out feelers? The perfect person could be right within your own community and you may not have to reach out further. It might even be a teacher in the school district or at Cal. What a perk to get free rent in Berkeley for the year! As for your older son giving up his space, I would think he could bunk in one of the other bedrooms when he is home from college. He should understand that this arrangement is necessary so that you can provide for them and pay for college. Last of all, make sure your son has some say in who stays with him, and there should be some sort of plan in case the person doesn't work out for some reason. anon
One of my best friends in high school had a live in adult who was in her late 20's because her mother was a single mom with a travel job. The gal who lived in was working independently but there from 5 on when the parent was away. This was a great arrangement for all parties. The live in had low cost of living. My friend had a responsible adult in the house that she felt comfortable with and the mom had peace of mind. My friend's life did not seem disrupted by her mother's travel at all. If you find the right person whose interests are on the responsible side and who your child will feel comfortable with I think this would be a great option. This arrangement will only be for two years or so so your other son's room will be available again shortly. Anne
first, congratulations on having two great boys. I completey understand your dilemma because I am somewhat in the same boat. I am also a single mom with a teenage son and travel quite a bit for work. My son's father lives 200 miles away so cannot help out when when I travel, unless it is during a vacation. My son is an extremely independent, responsible 17 year old who has traveled to Europe on his own, drives everywhere, yet the longest I have ever left him stay alone is 3 nights. He was fine, but I had a difficult time concentrating on my work knowing he was by himself (even though my neighbors were keeping an eye on him). On my big trips, I usually hire a babystitter, which gets quite expensive but I am buying my own piece of mind. I just found someone for my next trip, although my son is insisting that he is almost a legal adult and should be able to stay home by himself for 2 1/2 weeks but I refuse. I like your idea of having someone stay in your house - full time seems ideal so your son can build on relationship with this person. A student (i would go for a male) sounds perfect. Yes, you would be ''displacing'' your other son but he is in college, so your youngest son should take priority right now. I really think this is the best solution, you will be able to concentrate on your job, which is what you need. Having someone at home who will make sure your son is fed, safe, etc (what would you do in an emergency if you are not at home) is such a piece of mind that it is worth making some sacrifes (for you and your older son). Good Luck traveling mom
I'm sorry, but this may be the last year your child will be living with you, and you're going to miss half of it, voluntarily? I know this is the culmination of your major work project, but seriously, this is also the culmination of your major LIFE project, aka raising your son!! You say you're torn between work and son, but it sounds to me like you've already decided that the work project is more important. You will surely have other work projects in your life, but you can never recover this time with your son, that you seem ready to give away. I bet you anything that you will not lose your job if you work with your employer to reduce the travel time for this next year, when your son still needs you. But if you treat him as an obligation you can delegate to someone else, well... I wouldn't want to live with that regret. Another single wkg mom of 2
If you get a pleasant, responsible college student to live in with your son, it can be with the understanding that he or she goes home for summer and holidays. Or your older son can sleep in the living room or with his brother while he's visiting, if the school breaks aren't the same. Kids can survive the loss of their childhood room; it doesn't have to be a shrine.

You didn't mention whether your son could go live with another relative or family when you're away, whether as a paying guest or not. That may be disruptive, or it might be highly educational for your son. A big downside to that is the notorious danger of an empty house for teens to party in. Best of luck.


Well, I went way to college out of the country when I was 17. It was with my sister who was 18, and in the dorms, which really only gave us food. I was fine. It it was me, and he really is responsible, I would leave him her, and try to get someone to just check in on him. Don't really know where to find someone like that though! Mom
I would first try to find out if you could use more technology and do less traveling. For instance, Skype can be a good substitute for meeting people in person, and you can even have video conference calls pretty easily. And, speaking of video, I think anyone with a smart phone can do real time video now. So, for instance, someone could walk a site in some foreign country and show you what is going on and respond to your specific requests of what you need to see. Maybe technology would even be better because you could have a look more frequently.

If you still have to do a lot of traveling, I would look for help from his friends families if you are willing to pay them. Perhaps not his best friend, because that would put a lot of pressure on an important relationship, but on other friends. Maybe there is a family with the time, energy and resources to provide a home for him while you are gone.

I know you are worried, and I would be too. But plenty of kids are away at college by that age and manage to take care of themselves. He will probably do fine. Anon


Dear working Mom, I strongly recommend you make sure there is somebody in the house when you are away. My wonderful-clean-good friends-kids in a nice neighborhood started to throw parties at home when I started taking dance lessons at night. I had strict rules about no friends when I'm away, but nobody was there to enforce it and they knew my schedule. So they would have posts along the street to make sure my car was gone ! They were not just a few friends parties they were large parties with alcohol being the main guest. I found out about a couple of these because my neighbors had to call the police once, but I learned later that there had been many. And now I'm finding out that most parties they want to go to are unsupervised, meaning somebody's parents are away from home. And it's well understood that there will be alcohol there. It's a nightmare, but it's very likely that your teen in a house where there are no adults for a week! will be offering up the house... In terms of finding a person, I asked my wonderful house cleaner whom we all adore to come and stay with my teen girl when I had to travel. She complained because, like your kid she manages her schedule very well, but I said that's the way it will be. You maybe able to find a local friend or adult you trust who does not necessarily need a place to live but that can stay for the week/s you are out just for dinner and nighttime and get paid a set amount rather than hourly ... I would not recommend a college kid... Best of luck. Can't wait for teen years to be over! Anonymous Please
Find someone to stay in the house with your son. Senior year of high school has lots of deadlines and that is enough to deal with, without having to run the household. Also, even good kids do not have fully developed judgement at this age, and can end up running into problems, or having friends who visit and cause problems. anon

Business travel to India too hard on family?

Jan 2011

My company may be sending me to India for a couple of weeks to train new employees. The problem is that I have a 15 year old who has anxiety issues about being away from me. It has gotten better and there has been more independence and we have help from a therapist. However I am concerned that it might be too hard on the family for me to be away for a long time and so far away. My husband does not work fulltime and he has a good supportive relationship with her and my 10 year old. Do I let them try to handle my absence as a learning experience or tell my boss I can't go?


You don't mention your own interest in going on the trip or the importance to your professional life, so it's not clear what is in the balance. Also, ''anxiety issues'' express in a very wide range of behaviors, so that side is a little unclear as well. Perhaps you could talk this out with the therapist that you mention. Having traveled to India several times on business, I can say that it's an experience worth having ... but not if you are on the phone for an hour with your husband every evening worrying about problems and dramas at home. Wishing you well
One word: Skype. I cannot speak to the issues described in your post, but if you decide to go, take a laptop and stay in touch with your daughter/family via Skype video calling. It's free. In some ways Skype is better than a phone call because you can see each other. It has been a great way for for us to stay in touch when a family member has had to go away for an extended period of time. BTW, when I had to leave my family recently, I left two weeks' worth of home-cooked meals in the freezer, a binder with info on the kids' schedules for my husband, and Skyped or sent email every day. The end result is that, when I returned, they said they did not miss me at all ... and, if I need to travel again, just make sure I leave pre-cooked meals in the fridge HTH. MF

Care for a teen when mom travels for work

Sept 2010

I am a divorced mom of a 13-year-old son. I share custody 50/50 with his Dad, who is sometimes difficult to deal with. My job demands that I travel occasionally (4X this year). My ex-husband works part-time and has also either not worked (while we were married) or worked part-time (now, grudgingly). So I pay him 20% of my income in child support and spousal support. This year my trips for work will take me away for fourteen days of my usual custodial days in total. I asked my ex if he could cover those days, and he responded that he thought he should be paid for that, even though he ''always loves to take our son for as much as possible'' and objects to my asking someone else to care for our son. I have offered to reciprocate by taking our son at other times when I am at home, but my ex doesn't need to travel for his low-level clerical position and doesn't plan to go anywhere during the time he would usually have my son. I am afraid that, despite the fact that I need to travel for the job that in effect puts a roof over my ex-husband's head, he might be able to argue that he has more than 50% of custody for our son. My questions: Am I being a jerk? Should I pay my ex for taking our son the extra 14 days? My son's Dad's costs would include a little for extra food (my son doesn't eat much) and possible city car share rental (my ex chose to go without a car in order to continue working part-time). Or leave my son with a fellow mom and friend who would be glad to take him for no charge? What do single moms/dads do, who do not have shared custody with someone? What do divorced parents do? looking for wisdom


You are not even slightly close to being a ''jerk'', in my opinion. Although I don't think I have a good solution, I thought I would write in to support you, if nothing else. It sounds like you can't win with this guy. (At least you don't live with him anymore and don't have to deal with this crazy making behavior all the time.) If you do give him some expense money while you're away, do you trust him to take good care of your teen? If so, maybe you could offer a little money...perhaps not giving in to his total demand. Another question that comes to mind is, where does your son want to be when you're out of town? In any case, it sounds to me like you're a caring and hard working mom, and although the situation with your ex sounds really hard, it's best not to let him forge your world view and cause you to feel like a ''jerk''. Good luck. anon
You are not being unreasonable; he is. My advice to you is to have your son stay with your ex when you are traveling and pay the expenses. Yes, it's completely unfair and your ex is taking advantage of the situation, but to do otherwise wouldn't be worth the trouble. If your son stays with a friend, the ex will object and might turn it into a much bigger deal than it is. It doesn't seem that you can force the ex to trade days with you, although that seems like a solution that most people would agree to. With his pettiness, he's trying to bring you down to his level, but don't let him. Just tell him that you think he is being unreasonable by not working it out with you, but if he insists on being compensated to spend time with his son, you will pay him.

Take heart in the fact that you have a good job, you're a good mom, and in a few years your son will be 18 and you won't have to deal with your ex in this way any more! Good luck to you. Take the high road


I was a divorced single Mom of children (and teens) for 10 years AND I had an ex who was not particularly cooperative (I'll never forget he paid $3 for PTA on his custody days once and deducted it from his child support. . . . ) I think it is really important to keep your lives separate. Sounds like you communicate with him regarding your son. (like you said he didn't want you to leave your son with someone else while you are gone etc.) I think while he can tell you his opinion, you can do whatever you want when you travel for work. When it's your turn to have your son, he can't really tell you what to do. I used to trade dates with my ex all the time (my kids went to my parents in So. Ca. for parts of the summer). I think your ex is being unreasonable by not letting you trade dates with him (e.g. have him take your son for the time you are traveling and then you take the equivalent number of days when you are in town). I don't think you should pay him extra. If he is not willing to trade dates, then leave your son with your friend. That's what I would do. BTW, can your son go to grandparents? That's always a good option. Another suggestion is to work out your custody dates around your work schedule so that this would not even happen. Good luck. burk
I've been through joint custody with a jerk. This one's maturity level is obvious. Your ex cannot be trusted not to use it against you or to be gracious or helpful. So even if it costs a little more, I'd leave him out of it. Trade with other moms or even pay your friend something. Don't go over his 50% at all. -my 2 cents
Ugh, your ex sounds like a jerk. I shared custody of teenagers with a jerk. Aren't we glad to be free of the jerks! But they just keep on making problems. When I pressed my ex to stick to his agreement to help with college, he reneged: ''if they want to go to college, they can do what I did, and take out a loan. I'm not paying tuition.'' OK, so anyway. Normally I would say that you should find out what your son wants to do while you're out of town, and do that, even if it costs you. Just bite the bullet - you'll probably have to do it again anyway. But, if you are at all worried that your ex will claim he had your son for more than 50% as a result, don't do it. And he does sound like the type to do that. I would leave my son with a friend first. Or better, with one of his friends. Or even better, a mom and son trip with maybe a college student at the other end to entertain him? I took my kids with me to conferences and work meetings a couple of times. They got a little bored, and I had to curtail my socializing a bit, but overall it was a positive experience. all done with custody now - yay!
after reading the first round of responses which seemingly mostly came from women... more free advice, but from a guy

i was married to an inflexible spouse who made a huge fuss if i needed to travel for work, and i gave the former spouse 100% of her income upon divorce, though she was Phi Beta Kappa grad. I was paying her about 45% of my income until my kids decided to move into my home and i ended up with 99% custody.

your post had overtones of bitterness and mean-spirited ness (''his low-level clerical position''. now PLEASE, take a deep breath... this is really hard stuff and you can be as bitter as you want... but really, 14 days of 20% of your income... we are not talking about a lot of money. Also, so he doesn't have a car... maybe he wants to save the planet... though he does sound like a lazy dude... lets stick to the issue at hand: YOUR SON and his care is the most important thing here... not the 4% of your 20% of your annual salary... (if you make $100k per year, you pay him 20%, or $20K... another 14 days sounds like $770...) so, as a guy, it's not worth fretting over a few hunderd dollars. It is worth fretting over your anger and frustration. Try some yoga!

Thought #2: I really disliked paying spousal and child support to a jerk... another but: as my lawyer used to say: ''you married her...''. BTW, i really liked my lawyer... AND my kids' mom flaked on her commitment to paying for college... so don't count on that.

In parting, leave the personal judgment of his lifestyle aside... you won't figure it out, that's why you are divorced! So, do the right thing and promote the father/son relationship (unless there is abuse or drinking at dad's house) ... you can set the example for being gracious, giving and generous.

and remember... deep breath, you are divorced and you cannot force anyone to do anything. big O.


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