What do you do when your job requires extensive travel, but you can’t bear to be away from your kids for weeks on end? If you’re an opera singer like Irene Roberts, Amber Wagner or Wendy Bryn Harmer, you bring your little ones on the road.
Our three featured opera moms are performing this week in Ariadne Auf Naxos with the Palm Beach Opera. Each woman has at least one child under age 5. And each is a rising star in a world that often requires performers to travel from one production to the next, around the nation and around the globe.
Irene, Wendy and Amber shared with WMAG what it’s like to combine a demanding career with travel and small children, living in hotels and establishing daily routines. They even provided some hacks for other moms who are considering bringing their kids on long work trips. We love their devotion to their little ones, their creativity and their practicality. Their jobs may be glamorous, but they experience the same juggles, struggles and joys as every other working mom.
Meet the opera moms
Currently hails from: New York City
Kids: Son – age 3 1/2, and daughter – age 6 months
Currently hails from: Berlin, Germany
Kids: Son – age 1
Currently hails from: Manteca, California
Kids: Son – age 2
WMAG: When you started your family, what were your career expectations?
Wendy Bryn Harmer: My career is so different than what my management and I planned on, but it’s what I can sustain and what I find fulfilling. Our family happened in an unexpected way. We adopted our son (as an infant) with about 48 hours’ notice. Last year, we were in the process of adopting again when we found out I was pregnant with our daughter. So, our kids found us at horribly inconvenient but totally perfect times!
Amber Wagner: I thought I would just continue on traveling and singing and bring my son and all would be jolly and lovely! It’s actually proven to be quite more difficult than that. I try to take Colton with me as often as I can. The older my son gets, the easier and harder this career has become. Easy in that he doesn’t require as much stuff on the road he gets older, harder in that we leave behind our community, church, friends and every day life he has grown to love and count on when Mom has to report for a gig!
Irene Roberts: I knew that having a family would change the flexibility I had in my career, but before starting our family we knew we were moving to Berlin where I would have a fixed position with an opera company, so my time with my family wouldn’t be compromised. We plan on traveling together until my son begins school. I want him to have as normal as a life as possible and not uproot him and move him constantly robbing him of great friendships and stability.
WMAG: Is your situation unique?
Wendy Bryn Harmer: Most singers who have young children travel with them. They travel with a nanny or family member to help.
Irene Roberts: I don’t see many mothers bringing their older children to gigs though, and I assume it’s for the same reason as I mentioned before.
Amber Wagner: I would definitely say performers with children is FAR more the norm than those who do not have children. I long to see major companies offer childcare options and resources to us parents. My son is the most important thing to me in this life, and the greatest achievement of my life. While I love singing, I love my son more. I am first a mother, then a singer. I never want those lines to be blurred for me.
WMAG: Do you have a spouse or partner helping you?
Irene Roberts: My husband is here and he takes care of our son when our sitter isn’t available and I am in rehearsal. He works remotely full-time so he has just a bit more flexibility in when he starts work.
Amber Wagner: Colton’s father and I are divorced, but I think we have struck a great balance and we are very committed to our son and his well-being. I am fortunate enough and deeply blessed to have my mother travel with me and take care of my boy while I rehearse and perform. I have also taken my dear sister with me as well. We had great fun!
Wendy Bryn Harmer: I typically travel with a nanny but we are between nannies, and so my husband is taking his paternity leave and coming with us! I am married to The World’s Best Person, so it’s easy. And by “easy” I mean “no one is panicking yet.”
WMAG: How has your arrangement been received by your colleagues?
Amber Wagner: I have never experienced anything but warm support, love, and precious enthusiasm about my son and me being a mother. My colleagues indulge me when I bring out my phone and proudly show pics of my gorgeous boy.
Wendy Bryn Harmer: It doesn’t really affect them. I don’t bring my kids to rehearsal, and they are too little to come to performances. Generally, my son comes to one dress rehearsal with a babysitter so he can leave if he gets restless, but that is always after getting clearance from the administration. He likes to see what I do but is usually WAY more interested in the technical side of things, like the set or the headsets the stage management wears.
WMAG: Describe a typical work day. How do you juggle rehearsals, performances and other work commitments?
Irene Roberts: 6:30 wake up, take care of baby’s morning needs, prepare breakfast for baby and Mom, Dad gets up and walks dog, Mom plays with baby and gets ready for rehearsal. Mom gets lunch together for family, more playtime, put baby down for nap, Dad starts work, Mom goes to the opera, comes home, play with baby/go for walk, dinner, baby bath and bedtime, walk dog, study music, hit the sheets.
Amber Wagner: Typically it’s get up, get some breakfast and head out to rehearsal! When my son is with me, I try and spend some time with him before leaving for the day, and if I don’t have evening rehearsal, I do bedtime routine so I can sing to him and read and cuddle. I think the juggling part is simply experience based. You just have to find the flow that works for you and your child!
Wendy Bryn Harmer: The nature of the business is that it’s a little chaotic! Most days are sketched out the evening before. When I am working, the nanny has the kids at the zoo or a museum. When I am not working, I have the kids at the zoo or a museum.
WMAG: What has been the best part of the experience?
Wendy Bryn Harmer: I love that my children have seen and will continue to see the world. The theater is full of generous, good souls and I am so glad my children get to be around them. During the first year of his life, my son slept in my dressing room through six complete Ring Cycles. The wardrobe staff and the crew just adored him. It was so fun to see big, brawny crew guys just lose it over a baby.
Irene Roberts: My husband and I make a really good team, and each night we go over my rehearsal schedule, when the sitter can come, and what meetings he has. Then from there, we figure out who will play with Austen and when, and who will take care of our dog. I always do the cooking, so dinner is always on me.
Amber Wagner: It is a huge blessing to be able to take my son with me around the world and show him different countries and cultures. And it’s been such a gift for my mom to experience that as well!! Life is short. No amount of money or “extraordinary” gigs will give you back the fleeting seconds with your child. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wished for him to be an infant again … it goes so incredibly fast.
WMAG: What has been the most challenging?
Amber Wagner: Finding my footing as a mother … my desire to be the best mom to my son while providing a living for us and traveling for my career. It can be very overwhelming. But as time goes on, I gain more experience and perspective and shake off the little things that just don’t matter. All that is required of me is to love my boy and sing well.
Irene Roberts:The most challenging thing so far for this trip has been adjusting to the time zone. I was far busier doing several shows at a time in Berlin and was gone much of the day, so it is really nice to focus on one show here and still spend plenty of time with my son.
Opera moms’ hacks for work travel with kids
Wendy Bryn Harmer: Crystal Light Energy – Grape Flavor
Irene Roberts: We found our babysitter on a website called sittercity that Amber Wagner actually led me to.
Wendy Bryn Harmer: The ONE piece of advice I have is to keep your phone in a separate room. I charge my phone in my bedroom, which is on a different floor than where I spend most of my time with my kids. I don’t answer emails and texts when I am with my children.
Keeping Kids Occupied
Wendy Bryn Harmer: Books! Also, we get zoo and museum passes everywhere we go. We have about four dozen memberships to museums around the world.
Getting Used to a New Environment
Wendy Bryn Harmer: Our children travel with their special stuffed animals, and they each have a blanket that they only use in bed. When the blanket comes out, no matter where we are in the world, its bedtime.
Irene Roberts: Bedtime in a new environment was stressful for the first few days on top of jetlag. My son and I were in London last week, and I brought his bedtime cuddle puppies and one of his sheets so it smelled like home. We did the same thing here and I think it helps. Plus keeping the same bedtime routine with bath and reading.