The Piercing Pain of the Traveling Working Mom

How painful is it for you to leave your kids? How painful is it for you to leave your kids? For several years I didn't travel. My now 6- and 10-year-olds had grown used to mommy being with them all the time. My husband, on the other hand, travels like an astronaut, now at diamond-platinum-plutonium-real-Corinthian-leather airline miles status.

Not me. I'm the constant. I'm the one who holds down the fort.

In the past few years, however, I've begun to receive many opportunities to speak in public about my cause (postpartum depression) or about social media, and to attend events at which I can network with people who may be able to help me create more awareness for postpartum depression and the other work that I do. I'm extremely grateful for these opportunities. It makes me feel as though my work is being recognized and making an impact, which makes me proud. It allows me to reach ever more people about things that are important to me. It helps me help my husband pay the bills. But it also means I'm traveling.

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In the last month, I've been away from home 11 or 12 days. First Boston, then Nashville, and last night I came home after spending four days in Austin, where I was fortunate to speak at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. While in Texas, I received the following, tear-inducing email from my 10-year-old son:

Mama mama mama Come home please please please please please please mama

Uhhhhhhhh ooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh spilled spaghetti sauce on my school shirt, anyway come home momma pleasiiiiiiiiie

So unhappy you are not here now memu [pronounced mee-moo]

So sleepy and tired mama please come home to end this tragedy

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmoooooooooommmmmmmmmmmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Please respond soonPlease respond soon

Please respond soon Please respond soon

Heart. Breaking. Shattered. Heart Shrapnel. Piercing Lungs. Can't. Breathe.

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I am torn between the myriad of opportunities given to me and the leaving my children that such opportunities require. While in Texas, I'm invited to a conference in a couple of weeks at which many nonprofits will meet. A month or so after that, a women's conference at which I could speak. One lovely prospect laid out before me after another. And yet …

I've made a decision to say no to approximately half of the invitations and opportunities that would require me to travel. I just can't take too many emails like the one above.

I know my son was just fine. Dad was home. Everything was cool. He's a great kid. He behaves. He's kind. He's fabulous in school. He may have been exaggerating. Slightly. And yet he wanted me to know that he needed me back home. It's not so much how he said it, though I've saved the email because it's so freaking precious, but that he said it.

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He wanted his mom. I'm his mom.

I'm going to be strategic and selective about this. I'm choosing to do those things that are big and important opportunities, and I have to let a few of the others go for now. There's no question I'll still be traveling, but I'm not going to say yes to every shiny object dangled before me.

This leads me to think of the moms who aren't in a position to say no. I'm not being forced, let's say as a full-time employee of a company, to be on the go all the time. I'm not being forced, let's say because my spouse lost his job or it's difficult to make ends meet, to leave more than I'd like. I wonder how they feel. How do they manage the piercing pain of the traveling working mother? How do you?

Every time I say no I think of the people I won't meet. People who could potentially help fund my nonprofit. People who could hire me for work that might enable me to do more for my family. I hate missing opportunities. It hurts a little every time.

It's just that emails like my son's hurt me that much more.

- By Katherine Stone
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