Why (not) bring your kids to a conference
I'm a mother of a 2-year old daughter, employed at the Swiss company Experts Inside AG and I run my own side-business in the tech conference scene. Alongside the multiple roles, I'm also deeply involved in several Microsoft community activities. As a Microsoft MVP I often speak, support, volunteer, organize, and attend conferences around the world. It's deep in my DNA to "be on the move." And then...my long wanted dream finally came true: I became a mother. Would this completely change my life style? I found a way that works for me to combine the best of both worlds, spending time with my daughter and at the same time keep my career highly active. I'm not saying it's always easy, but I love to find ways to make it possible and share my experiences with you.
A few weeks ago we had one of our largest and most important conferences of the year - European Collaboration Summit in Germany and Experts Live Netherlands. Due to a planning overlap (and grandparents not being available this week) we ran into a big challenge, I had no other choice than either A) cancel my long-confirmed trip or B) bring my daughter with me and make it work somehow. After a long thought, I decided I really can't (and don't want) to cancel my work trip and let down on my amazing team (and have FOMO) so I decided I bring the little princess with me. Writing this now, absolutely no regrets! Here's a few of my pros and cons and lessons learned:
Everyone is so kind and helpful. You would be amazed how many fine people and colleagues in our community offer a helping hand - even if it's just keeping an eye on her for a few minutes or play together for a longer time. Don't think you're on your own, the community has your back at conferences.
There is SWAG, free swag EVERYWHERE! Which means, walking around the venue is so exciting scouting for gadgets and toys and cool giveaways.
She got to meet and look up to great speakers in our community, for example she sat first row on a panel listening to Laurie Pottmeyer, Senior Product Manager & Community Lead at Microsoft Teams Engineering. As I'm an advocate for women in tech, I truly hope great examples like these power house speakers inspire our younger generation in tech.
She got to experience mommy in a different role and watch closely and observe how I work. Obviously I also observed her all the time to ensure she is not overwhelmed, or scared or doesn't feel uncomfortable being there in the crowd. The opposite luckily, sweet child, is even more outgoing and extrovert than I am! She totally loves it, mingled with people, was dancing as soon as she heard live music, and walked (ran) around the venue having the time of her life.
No mom guilt this time - I felt this extremely when I went alone to USA for the Microsoft MVP Summit in Seattle earlier this year. Every day I felt guilty for not being home - this time I luckily could enjoy her presence and vice versa all the time.
Wonderful memories we created together and will cherish forever. I hope one day she looks back at the (thousands) of pictures and videos I took of her - and think how cool it was she was at a tech conference with her mom. You might think "she will never remember" but one thing for sure too: I will never forget.
"Work-life balance" actually becomes "work-life integration" where the difference is of trying to thrive separately, you bring work and life closer together instead.
Shortage on sleep (night or early morning feeds) - while I needed to be on "full power" for the conference too. Thank you for coffee!!
Less time to focus. With one eye on her, and at the same time trying to be part of a conversation and then needing to run after her.
Center of attention. Everyone is surprised to see a toddler running around in a conference with adults - so it might feel like people are watching. Unintentionally, naturally. I would totally do the same by the way. However, what I actually liked is that people opened the conversation and started talking about their kids or saying how they got inspired to bring their kids to a conference next time too.
I can't think of too many cons from my side, as for me it was really a great (intense) beautiful experience to bring my child along. I know some events even offer child care on-site, this could definitely be something for community conference organizers (including me) to think about at their events in the future. I'm confident this would help many parents, both mothers and fathers to combine events with family. Who wants to start a business for "conference-babysitters" at Microsoft community events and send the same dedicated team to events around the world? Great idea, no?
As opinions can be very different, I'm happy to hear from you in the comments or DM, and to hear about your experiences. If you need any tips, I'm always happy to help and share more of my personal stories.