Posts Tagged ‘working moms’

I was a bit surprised to see an article about working and parenting in the Openers Section of this Sunday’s NYT Business section. I’ll admit, I thought there would be more pressing things to write about. But I appreciate the coverage of a topic that is, of course, close to my heart. There are three key issues that the article brought up for me.

1) Being highly involved with your kids and your career means that you sometimes have to temper your ambitions.
I read Baby Makes Three (and Book Makes Four), the story of Alexandra Levit’s joyful birth of her first baby and her latest book in the same month, with interest and empathy. I freqently find myself in situations were I feel I need to temper my career ambitions so that I can protect my time with my monkeys. And I’m frequently unsure if I’m doing the right thing. But, like Levit, most of the time I feel lucky to have a career I enjoy and a pair of loving monkeys who I get to raise. 

2) It is possible to create a good situation for juggling family and work before you have kids. But it’s about demonstrating your value, not setting a schedule.
Levit writes that the advice from her mentors was to not worry about juggling family and work until her children were born. Only then, according to the advice, would she know what she wanted. She ignored that advice and is grateful that she did. I think that the advice was partly right and that ignoring it was partly right.

It is true that you don’t really know how you’ll feel about working vs. staying at home until you’re a parent. I’d even go as far as to say that even once your kids are born, you may change your mind a few times over the course of several years.

Which is why it is good to partially ignore that advice. Clearly establishing your value to employers, clients, or anyone else who who matters before you have children will most likely buy you the flexibility you need to figure things out after you have kids. It doesn’t mean you’ll know what works. It just means you’ll be more likely to be able to figure out an arrangement that works.

3) It’s easy to focus all your energy on your work and your kids. But if you don’t spend time on yourself, you won’t be the only one to suffer.
I did start to get a little worried about Levit, though, as I finished the article. She writes that with limited time to spend with her son and limited time to work, she has to maximize every moment. That includes not going to the gym or grabbing a coffee. This worries me because what I’m reading between the lines is that Levit is making time for work and for her family, but not for herself. I think that’s an unsustainable bargain, and one that’s likely to leave her depleted. Instead, I’d recommend that she make time to also do things just for herself. And I’d bet that they’ll somehow end up energizing her work and her interactions with her son.


Read Full Post »

I just read Laura Vanderkam’s post on  ‘core competency moms’ on the Huffington Post.

It’s an interesting perspective on how working moms compensate for not having enough time to do it all by prioritizing and focusing on the things that really matter, not necessarily the things that keep the house looking pristine. These moms thrive by knowing what they’re best at, and what’s essential for them to do, like teaching their kids about nature, and outsourcing everything else, like laundry, housecleaning, and dishes. They follow the same principles as companies that focus on what they do best and outsource what’s ancillary, like cafeterias and health care plans.

I’m a big fan of this way of thinking – I’m all about focusing my attention where it matters. But I do have a bone to pick with one of her prime examples – using paper plates instead of doing dishes. Teaching lessons about waste and responsibility for the planet actually seems like one of those things that parents should do for their children. Plus, whose kids don’t like to help with emptying the dishwasher?



Read Full Post »

I just finished watching 3:10 to Yuma, which was a completely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Like all Westerns, it was a story about What It Means To Be A Man wrapped in a plot involving horses, guns, and manhunts.

What was particularly interesting about this one was it’s emphasis on parenthood – well, really fatherhood, but I’ll take it.

In the story, the good guy, Dan Evans, is escorting the bad guy, Ben Wade, to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison after watching him hold up a stagecoach and helping capture him.

The reason Dan takes on this foolish and likely lethal assignment is to save his family farm, ensure that his young son with tuberculosis has a healthy environment to grow up in, and show his older son, Will, that he is honorable and heroic. For the sake of Providing for His Family and Being a Good Role Model, Dan is willing to die.

Now this might be a stretch, but it made me think of something I hear a lot of working moms tell themselves and others to make them feel better about missing a soccer game, bed time, etc. “By working, I’m being a good role model for my children.” It’s something I tell myself on a regular basis.

Just as I take issue with what most Westerns tell you about What It Means To Be A Man, I take issue with this idea that Being A Hero and Being Honorable the most important lessons you can teach your children. Are they really more important than the many tiny lessons you could teach them every day if you were there to watch them grow up?

I know that working hard and having a successful career isn’t quite like dying to make a point, but it made me think. Are we really trying to be role models or that just a nice excuse that seems less selfish than the real reasons we work? And if we are trying to be role models, what exactly are we modeling?


Read Full Post »

I’ve written about feeling guilty for being a working mom – both about what I can’t do at work and about not always being around for my husband and my kids. This week, though, I found a couple of things that as a working mom, I get to not feel guilty about. So, let’s stick it to the should be’s and celebrate not feeling guilty.

1) Having someone clean my house. I have some friends who are stay at home moms with household help. Mostly, it’s someone doing the heavy cleaning once every two weeks. I think they have nothing to feel guilty about, as even stay at home moms can get really busy. But they all seem to feel like they should be doing it themselves. We now have someone coming to clean our house every week, and I am loving it. And I don’t feel an iota of guilt. Minor victory.

2) Outsourcing most of our Seder to Whole Foods. I am very excited to be hosting family and friends at our house for Seder on Saturday. And while I love to cook, I’m getting most of the food from Whole Foods. A Passover Seder requires elaborate preparation, with special foods, special table settings, and a special ceremony. I’m going to be out of town for most of this week, which means I won’t have a lot of time to prepare. I did take time to find a Haggadah, or guide to the ritual meal, that I’m excited about using. And I’ll make a brisket. But everything else is coming from Whole Foods. It’ll be delicious and I won’t be exhausted. A fabulous combination in my opinion.

While I’m happy to acknowledge that I can do these things without feeling guilty about it, I think they are things that everyone should be able to do without feeling guilty. I am aware, of course, that there’s a vocal, strong, ongoing debate about what a good mom should and shouldn’t outsource, even if she works. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check out the response to this post, on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog. It’s an extreme example, but it gives you an idea of the vehemence of opinion on this topic.

To me, being able to focus on the things I care most about (like the Haggadah, spending time playing with my kids, or giving a talk at a conference) and being able to have someone else do the things that I love having done but don’t like doing (matzoh ball soup or cleaning the bathroom) goes beyond being just a privilege I can enjoy because I can afford it.  

It becomes a way to acknowledge my limits, and to be OK with those limits. I know that I can’t do it all, but if I prioritize my energy, I can do what I enjoy and get done what needs to get done. Without sacrificing myself, my husband or my children’s well-being. And that’s something that all parents, and all people, should be able to be comfortable doing.

Read Full Post »

I had a chance to have dinner with an old friend the other night. Once we got through the stories about how cute our kids are and the stories about what our mutual friends are now doing, we started comparing notes on the whole part-time working mom thing.

We both love working part time and really value the time that we get with our kids. We both love our jobs and have been very focused on our careers for many years before having kids and even once our kids were born. And we both feel that our jobs, in their current instantiations, are a little bit boring. More specifically, we both think that our jobs would be more interesting and engaging if we didn’t have the time/travel restrictions that we do.

I try to avoid traveling too often, limiting trips over a day to one a month and not traveling more than two weeks in a row. (Try is the operative word). She works a 26 hour work week, scattered over the course of four days. What this has meant for both of us is not going after opportunities that would otherwise interest us and not taking on challenging projects that would fully engage us and provide opportunities to grow and learn.

Both of us are in situations that many would envy – doing the work we love, part-time, while still taking time to focus on our growing families. It seems like a dream. But then there’s that boredom, that itch to do more even as you know that you don’t want to take on more.

My friend’s interpretation of our situation: the mommy track is alive and well. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t feel like I’m being mommy tracked by my company. And I’m trying not to mommy track , making sure I stay engaged, am still learning, and continue to hone my art. Yet the feeling persists.

I’m constantly hearing and reading about “The end of work as we know it” and how traditional careers are becoming less common as people “customize”their careers. Yet as someone who’s trying to capitalize on/create those trends in the workplace, I’m finding challenges. Challenges that stem from my company and my client’s ideas of how much I should be putting into work, a little. But even more surprising and difficult to manage, challenges from my own ideas about what’s OK to do and not do,  what makes an engaging job, and what makes a job worth doing. 

Is the mommy track alive and well? And what can we mommies (and daddies, and artists, and…) do to make sure we’re not getting in our own way as we try and redefine what it means to have a successful career? 

Read Full Post »

I’ve been working part time since the monkeys were born. When I first went back to work it was two days a week and over the last two years it’s slowly inched up to four days a week. That actually seems like the right amount for me to be able to feel somewhat successful in my career and also feel like I get to spend a lot of time with the monkeys.I say somewhat successful because it’s still a challenge. I can’t do everything I’d like to do and I have to really prioritize how I spend my time. I say no to a lot of requests. This is especially hard as I work for a small and growing consulting firm and there’s always more than enough work to go around. I’ve been with the company since it was really small, am a leader there, and am vested in its success. I often feel bad because I can’t do as much as I know needs to be done.I feel especially guilty when I see my colleagues and friends struggling with working many hours and having too much to do when I know that it is technically possible for me to take things off of their plates. But it’s not possible for me to do so and maintain my part time status, so I don’t.  For a while, this was really challenging for me. But I’ve recently decided not to stress over it, because it is what it is, and feeling guilty isn’t actually helping anyone. In fact, my friends and colleagues at work have told me not to feel so guilty, that they just accept that I give what I can and so should I. And I have indeed felt much less guilty about work lately (1 point self aware adult; 0 points Jewish heritage). And then there is the other guilt. Last week, I was in California for a couple of days for work. I hadn’t traveled in about a month, but it was to be the first of two longish trips to the West Coast in the course of two weeks. And it was my first trip since we lost our nanny. So I felt guilty just getting on the plane.

Of course, as I settled into my work, I forgot about the guilt and concentrated on what I was doing. I was immersed in my work and feeling pretty good about it. Until I got this text message from my husband: Monkey 2 has infections in both ears. Cue spiral into guilt and recrimination, vision of husband on sofa buried under two screaming kids, fantasies about quitting my job, vision of myself on sofa buried under two screaming kids,  worries about paying the mortgage, etc. Oh, and then off to lead a team of 15 people in a working session.

This other guilt is equally bad for my job, equally unhelpful to my husband and the monkeys, and equally unhealthy for me. Yet I can’t seem to figure out how to get past it. Is it even possible to not feel guilty over not being with your kids when they’re sick? If I can get over the guilt about traveling for work and leaving home and childcare responsibilities to my husband, does it make me a bad mom? If I was the dad, would I even be writing this post? I know this last question isn’t quite fair, just like I know that there are some moms who do travel for work without the guilt. What I’d really like to know is, what’s their secret – and can I get some?

Read Full Post »

After the monkeys went to bed tonight my husband and I had an invigorating, um, discussion. I learned a few things.

One – not having a nanny is hard. Two careers, two kids, one dog and one preschool schedule, not to mention dinner, household repairs, laundry and a delightful 5:30 AM wake-up call this morning, leads to two very tired parents.

Two – sometimes, I need to be as thoughtful about entering into a conversation with my husband as I am with my colleagues and clients. Here are some techniques that work well when facilitating a meeting at work that I should have used tonight with my husband.

 1) At the start of a meeting, let everyone know why you’re there and what you hope to accomplish. We don’t have formal family meetings yet, but when broaching a sensitive topic of conversation with my husband, I think he’d really appreciate knowing why I’m bringing it up before we get too far into the conversation.

2) When you share information, let others in the meeting know what you expect from them. Are you telling them something just so they know what you’re up to or what’s on your mind? Are you looking for input into a decision that you’re going to make? Are you looking to make a shared decision? Clarifying this can help the other person be in the right place to give you the kind of response that you’re looking for, and can prevent ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ defensive attitudes that can take a conversation down a wrong path when all you really want is for someone to nod, take note of what you’re saying, and move on to the next topic.

3) Try a trial close. Sometimes, conversations continue far longer than they should because everyone wants to say their piece, and minor details are debated, discussed and debated again without much progress being made. Sometimes, you’re at an impasse and there’s real disagreement between the parties to a conversation. And sometimes, it’s hard to tell which situation you’re in. At those times, it can be useful to stop the discussion with a question: what can we all agree on right now? In my meetings at work, we suggest a way to resolve the topic and have everyone vote on whether they agree with that course of action. If we agree, great, we’re done. And if we can’t agree, we either continue talking or put the issue aside for when we have more information to make a decision. My home is also a place where we like decisions that are made by consensus, not decree. I think it would help some conversations end faster and expend less of our energy if my husband and I made an effort to call it and see if we could agree on a resolution to a conversation instead of over-discussing an issue. Best case, we resolve the conversation. Worst case, we pause it and move on to the things we really want to be doing. After all, there’s dinner, laundry, the house, the dog…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »