My Take on the “Mommy Business Trip” Piece

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I know I’m rather late to respond to the ridiculous article “The Mommy Business Trip: Conferences Appeal to Women with a Guilt-Free, Child-Free Reason to Leave Home” that ran in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago and you’ve probably read countless articles featuring other opinions.  But I haven’t had a chance until now to respond.

Why? I was on a business trip.

So, I read the article with great interest at the start, but by the end of the article, I was mortified. Especially when I saw the graphic accompanying the article (see above).

The author, a female, a woman with a child, a woman who has obviously traveled for work as a journalist, seems to be discounting not only the work of moms who write for a living and attend conferences to further their careers by making connections and learning new skills, but she also seems to be discrediting any woman who travels for work and happens to be a mother.  She seems to be implying that women who leave home for work should be ashamed of themselves for having any fun. As though we should just feel guilty all the bloody time about leaving home to further our careers.

I used to love traveling for work, pre-kids.  I got to travel to exotic destinations for sales conferences.  We worked hard all day and when it came to the day’s end, my company spoiled us all – men and women alike – with fancy dinners.  We were also given a spa treatment during our week away from home.  It made me feel appreciated and I loved the opportunity to bond with my colleagues after full days of workshops and meetings. Then I had my first child and I wondered how I would travel without my children.

But I learned over the years that business trips and conferences are integral to my success as a business person.  I used to work for a company based in Chicago that flew me there every month for meetings and to get to know my team.  Those few days away were not easy logistically, as I didn’t have full-time childcare, and I had to plan my trip carefully so that everyone was covered while I was away but it was well worth the while.  Of course, I enjoyed getting a full night’s sleep in the hotel room, but I never saw getting away as a chance to get away from my family, as the article implies.

If  you haven’t read the article, this is how it starts:

Katherine Stone, a 43-year-old mother and wife from Atlanta, wants to leave her husband and children.

Just for a few days. On her trip, she will listen to panels addressing issues of concern to mothers, network with other bloggers, and stay in a hotel room that someone else will keep tidy. Ms. Stone, a former marketing director for Coca-Cola Co., now stays home to raise her two young children as she operates “Postpartum Progress,” a well-read blog about mental health and parenting. “I will eat junk out of the minibar,” she says. “I will not watch ‘SpongeBob.’ “

She and other mothers who work from home —bloggers, interior decorators, crafters and the like—rarely get to travel alone to escape the daily grind. Event planners, networking organizations, travel agents and consumer-goods marketers are targeting these women by sponsoring conferences and conventions. They have figured out a simple way to make them happy: Give them a reason to go on a business trip.

Insulting? Yes. First of all, I know Katherine Stone through the blogosphere and she is not the kind of person to say that she travels to get away from her kids.  She blogs about postpartum depression.  She has helped thousands of women through her words and community and she has started a non-profit to further her cause. She is committed and dignified and the last person this reporter should have spun the words of, because she surely did. I expected nothing less than her simple apology that she published on Babble when the story hit the virtual airwaves so everyone in her community would know the truth and that the reporter had taken sound bites out of her interview to make up a very different kind of story. She said:

This morning the story comes out. Instead of being about the importance of connection, it feels more to me that it’s about how we ladies “rarely get to escape the daily grind” and how we finally get control of the remote when we are lucky enough to be in a hotel room. Oh no.

And now I’m going to apologize. To everyone.

Later she wrote:

While the main portion of my apology is directed to my own husband, I also apologize to all the husbands and partners who this article infers are uninvolved but will now get their comeuppance when they have to take the kids to the bus stop for once.

“Parents who travel frequently take for granted the simple joy of not needing to set a good nutritional example.”

I apologize to all the women who feel minimized and condescended to by the piece, in particular the graphics that accompany it. I know we all don’t lay around in our hotel rooms on the ground gorging ourselves on crap. In fact I’ve racked my brain to think if I’ve ever laid on the floor of a hotel room for any reason, and I can’t come up with a single instance.

The article talked about how she sits in her hotel room, watching TV, raiding the minibar, thinking about the fact that she doesn’t have to make meals for her kids.

You know what I have to say about that? What man doesn’t take a break during his conference or meetings for the brief five minutes he has to take advantage of staying in a hotel? It’s sexist.

But the truth is that during Mom 2.0 or another blogging conference that I’ve attended, I have never sat around my hotel room thinking about the fact that my husband gets to travel more than me and that I should milk my time alone away from the family.  And no one does.

Mom 2.0 in particular is an amazing conference for women with small businesses that evolved from blogging.  It is 3 days of solid education and networking and after attending last year, I made decisions that changed the course of my career. There are parties at night, much like there were in my corporate days, but even during the parties, you are meeting people, getting business cards and moving your relationships forward.

About Mom 2.0, the article says:

Ms. Stone’s husband travels a lot for work. But next week, she gets her turn. She will meet up with her online friends at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where they will attend the three-day Mom 2.0 Summit, for $250 to $450, excluding hotel and airfare costs.

Ms. Stone and other Mom 2.0 attendees will sit in on seminars like “How to Keep Blogging After It’s All Been Blogged” and “Help! My 9 Year Old Wants to Be on Instagram!”

But they also will get decked out in ornate hats as they sip mint juleps at a Kentucky Derby party and will don capri pants for a 1950s-themed barbecue on a cliff overlooking the beach. Throughout the conference, they can stroll through the expo that will be set up to let event sponsors connect with attendees. Organizers hope the expo space has the feel of a French market: chalkboard signs, fruit and flower carts, cypress trees.

“I am a serious person and seriously take care of my kids,” Ms. Stone says. “A few times a year, I get to be silly.”

First of all, who doesn’t pay for a conference?  Am I supposed to feel guilty about paying for a conference that will further my skills? Second of all, the sessions are much more intelligent than “How to Keep Blogging After It’s All Been Blogged”. Oy vey. And again, the expo and parties are set up by significant brands who understand the value of bloggers and they are only meant to strengthen the conference’s benefits to attendees.

On my business trip this past weekend, I had a tremendous amount of work to do before I went.  Grocery shopping, lists for the sitter and my husband, plans that had to be coordinated and my time away was pretty intense.  There wasn’t much time to enjoy either of the two cities that I visited, as I wanted to get home to my responsibilities at the trip’s end. Now that I am home, I’ve had to jump back into my combined home/work life which takes a village….

But do I feel guilty for leaving my family for a few days to further my own skills and career?  I don’t.  I wish I didn’t when they were wee small, as well, because at the end of the day, everyone is fine when I get home.  And if I manage to have a bit of fun while I’m away, no one cares.

Did I have time to raid the minibar and take over the remote control? No. Is that even the point of anything about anything relating to my business trips? No, it shouldn’t be. I’d like the writer of this article to write an article about dads that take business trips and dissect what they do when given the chance to have fancy dinners, drink alcohol.  That would make for a rather excellent article.

As for moms, I would appreciate more balanced reporting that supports the women’s movement and the upward hill that we’ve been climbing since The Feminine Mystique was first written about women who want more to life than domesticity and childcare.  Let’s move forward, not backward.

I expect more from the traditional establishment of journalism than this.  And you should, too.

 

Comments

  1. I agree that article seemed about fifty years out of date, and even fifty years ago it would have been insulting. Now I’ll go back to my silly blog and my silly online job and leave the real reporting to the clever journalists at the WSJ! Not!

  2. erin margolin says:

    YES! Thank you!!!!!
    You said exactly what I’ve been thinking.

  3. elissapr says:

    Well said! And I don’t think you’re late to the party with this opinion…we need to keep the conversation going!