Life as a Mommy Missionary…When There’s a Conference

In our first years of marriage and on staff, Dave and I experienced regular conflict during conferences.  We would go, go, go all day all week and rarely connect or pace ourselves.  As we entered parenthood, new challenges arose—Do I go?  Do we bring kids?  And if our whole family is there, who is “on” as the parent?  We’d begin conferences tired, after packing and traveling, and then end them exhausted and frustrated with one another.  Yikes!  As we’ve processed and communicated and accepted more reasonable expectations, we’ve learned some ways of pacing ourselves and living in peace with each other that I hope might bless you as well.
Attending a Staff Conference Kid-free
With staff conferences, we’ve made a concerted effort for me to attend them without kids if possible.  I find that as I am at home more and more as our family has grown, going to staff conferences energizes me in the vision of why we do what we do, and going kid-free helps me feel freed-up to truly experience the conference.  Dave and I look at the schedule for the conference ahead of time and map out free time and meals—who we would like to connect with and whether we’ll do it together or separately.  Often, we will try to coordinate with others before we arrive at the conference. 
Planning Time to Connect as a Couple
We also have found that going back to our room together at a normal bed time gives us time to connect and share about the day—content, conversations, what we’re hearing from the Lord, etc.  This has been huge for us.  I can wait patiently to share what is on my heart because I know we’ll have that time to process together.  Dave is much more extroverted than I am, so occasionally he will then head back out for more hang-out time with friends after we’ve talked some, and I will go to sleep!
Attending a Conference with Kids
When we bring our kids with us to a conference, I have found it helps my heart tremendously if I count as a bonus any content I get to hear or conversations with friends I get to have.  It is reasonable to expect that meals will be chaotic, one child will likely not nap, conversations will be interrupted, etc.  Especially when there is no childcare option, Dave and I will need to over communicate who is going to what, and who will be “on” with the kids.  Generally, since Dave is the full-time employee, I expect to I stay with the kids while Dave goes to the meetings.  That being said, I may work it out to swap nights with another mom to be able to go, or there might be specific content that I’d really like to hear, and I may ask Dave if we can make it work.  Different couples may have a different approach, and that is fine.  This is the approach that has led to peace for us.  Dave is really helpful and capable with the kids, and when he is free and able, I can count on his help.  (Like during meals!)
Student Conferences
As for student conferences, we talk and pray about each one as they come.  Sometimes it seems strategic for me to go and other times not.  Generally if there isn’t childcare offered and our parents can’t watch the kids, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us right now with so many littles.  They are my full capacity when I am with them.  In past years, I’ve been asked to speak to the women at our fall conference, and Dave and I have felt like this was a good developmental opportunity for me, and we made it work for me to go kid-free.   EDGE preview is often really encouraging to me and with it being a 24 hour conference and only an hour from Dave’s parents house, it has worked the past couple years for me to take part—so we say yes when we can and it makes sense.
When I Stay Home with the Kids
For the trips I don’t go on, I have found that planning things to look forward to is so helpful for my heart.  We often have “kids’ night” where we watch a movie and eat popcorn and smoothies for dinner.  I will tackle a project that I haven’t had time for yet.  I’ll pick up my favorite dessert and watch that BBC time period movie that doesn’t quite interest Dave.  When we have money in the budget, I hire a babysitter for an afternoon.  (Or sometimes we barter babysitting for free food and laundry!)  I’ve heard of friends traveling with their kids to visit a best friend or family.  All this to say, I want to be refreshed and content when Dave gets home–as much as possible anyway!  When I stay home, it is helpful for us to discuss ahead of time how much we plan to talk while he’s gone, and for me to remember that he will likely be tired when he gets home.
As you prepare for the National Conference, whether you’ll be staying home with kids or going with your husband or going with your whole family, I encourage you to think through your expectations, talk with your husband about them, and pray together.  The pay-off is worth it!

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