Being in the airline industry is, as everyone knows, not always easy. While most will immediately assume that I’m strictly referring to misbehaving passengers and flight delays, the bigger challenges revolve around the lifestyle the career brings us into, and the misconceptions that we face from others, particularly as parents.
The Challenges – And Benefits – Of Parenthood In The Airline Industry
When I had my son, I was at my job for seven years. I had been observing my colleagues and how they managed their schedules to suit their home lives, and it seemed to work just fine for all of them. So when I had him and returned to work, I was surprised to find that the biggest challenge I would face was the persistent questions and judgments imposed on me by people I’d come across on the job and in my son’s life, such as teachers and parents of his peers. I didn’t expect it at all. He’s eight years old now, and I still deal with it, but I don’t allow it to affect me anymore.
And I’m far from alone in experiencing this.
People tend to feel that women in the airline industry (because these questions and presumptions are, let’s face it, nearly never made of men) must be absentee parents, missing every milestone and important event in our children’s lives, choosing instead to drunkenly galavant around the world with our friends. While my son and I miss each other when I am away, I can be there most of the time he needs me. Instead of working a 9-5 job all day, feeding him dinner, putting him to bed and waiting for the weekend for a small window of downtime, I am able to adjust my work life to his. I can be there all day, every day sometimes, and concentrate my work schedule around when his life is busy as well. When he is off for the summer and winter, I am, too.
As far as my layovers go, I will never apologize for enjoying myself when work forces me to be away; if people see pictures of me drinking wine and laughing with my friends, it is because I can. I don’t have to sit in my hotel room and cry because I’m not there. Sitting forlornly on my hotel bed does not make me a better parent, and enjoying my time away doesn’t make me a worse one.
There is also this query that we women always face, even from our well-meaning coworkers: “So who is watching your child/children while you fly?” (Again, this is not a question I ever hear asked of fathers.)
Besides the fact that this question is a bit personal, most of our children do have fathers around, and those fathers are equally as capable of caring for our children as we are. And in the case that they’re not in the picture, we usually have parents or other people who help us out. But is this detrimental to our children’s well-being? Our kids don’t seem to think so. In fact, I know few parents whose families don’t help out regularly.
My son has also become my international travel buddy. He knows that my flying benefits allow us to travel places we could never otherwise dream of seeing, though even flying on a two-hour domestic flight is something he appreciates. He knows very few kids can spin a globe, close their eyes and point anywhere on a map to have his or her parent say, “Okay – let’s plan a trip!” But he can, and does, and that brings us incredibly close. The world is ours, as a pair, to explore. He likes Pokémon, so we are about to go to Tokyo. He loves animals, so we will soon be planning an African safari. Seeing the world through his eyes has changed me as a person and shown me who he is at his core. I think it’s taught him a lot about me, too.
I can pretty safely say we all do feel guilt for not being home every night and worry that, if our children need us in an emergency, we can’t always be at their side in a moment’s notice. However, I can also clear my schedule without necessarily using sick time to nurse him back to health when he’s sick. But the reality of it is that none of us can be perfect parents. We will all, like it or not, disappoint our children at some point. As long as we love and care for them, no matter how unconventional things look to others, they will thrive and love us back.
My son begs me to stay at times when I drop him off to school and he knows I’ve got to fly off again, and while it breaks my heart, I also know that it’s just the way things go. I’m a divorced parent and that’s how it is regardless. But no one ought to feel sorry for him or other children of airline crew. They’ve got it pretty good, even if it’s hard for others to understand. I might be on the outside of the mom clique in my son’s class, but it’s fine by me. I have the affection of the only person in the school that really matters to me.