Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

A Dad’s Double Life

Hello readers! Today I’m turning over the pages of WM to a dad who was inspired by his kids, found a hole in the kinds of books he was reading to his kids, and turned that into a real book. It’s an inspiring story for anyone who has an idea and sometimes, it’s fun and important to highlight the Dads here on WM. Also, it serves a reminder that Dads are also chasing different dreams, balancing work with life and figuring out what to give up along the way. With that, I give you Matt Damman (I know, I know, so close but not quite Matt Damon).

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For over two years, I lived a double life. No, not one of those exciting, ‘edge of your seat’ dual lives full of dark secrets, seduction and thrilling suspense.

Mine was a little different.

By day, I was in a suit sitting on a trading desk buying and selling stocks and bonds for a Wall Street investment house. But, by night, while my colleagues were pouring over market data, pouring a drink or just watching TV, I was in sweats on the couch with a MacBook covered in my kid’s storybooks. I was trying to launch a new brand for children.

Yea, not so “thrilling”…but I tell myself it was much safer.

You see, I didn’t set out to write a children’s book. Not from the start, anyway. It happened and it’s been an incredible journey, but before I tell you about that, let me back up and introduce what this is all about.

CoverWired Momma readers, I’m pleased for you to meet my friends, The Small Sports™ (Find them on FB here: www.facebook.com/thesmallsports).

I created The Small Sports while sitting on our family room floor. No team of “creatives” running around, no paid focus groups, or marketing departments here. Just a dad with an idea.

The idea for the concept hit me after reading dozens of books with my two young children (then ages 3 and 1), and watching hours of Sprout, Nick Jr., and Disney Jr. Like many parents, years of education in literature, history, and math have been replaced in my head with Little Einstein episodes, every line to Monster’s Inc. and the tune to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’s Hot Dog Dance. Hot dog, hot dog…. (Sorry)

But, I was cool with that… I just found myself asking a simple question.

Where were the sports themed characters?

I mean, there were talking trains, tons of princesses, and a bald French-Canadian kid with parents who wore sweatshirts day and night- but where were the baseball, soccer and football players?

This got me thinking. There is so much that kids can learn sports  – values like teamwork, good sportsmanship and how to win and lose.

Sportsmanship is missing too often in sports both for the children and parents. So what could I do about it?

The author, Matt, with his wife.

The author, Matt, with illustrator, Patty Eisenbraun.

Well, it was staring me in the face – create a children’s brand around that message! And, I wanted it to be different. I wanted wholesome characters, not the freaky huge head ones, or the over-sexed sassy dolls you see in the store with skirts that could be mistaken for a belt. I wanted a simple message that kids and parents could relate to. My excitement was building… There were only a few small issues.

I had to work all day! Ugh. I also refused to give up time with my wonderful wife and children (I had given up on hitting the gym at this point, though). Oh, and I also had no idea how to actually launch a children’s brand. Minor details, right?

Eventually I partnered up with a wonderful long-time family friend who is our very talented illustrator.  She helped bring life to The Small Sports idea and after over 20 drafts of the book, countless hours pulling out what little hair I have left, we felt like we were onto something.

Our first book The Small Sports Take the Field is based around a rough and tumble little boy, Jake, and his dream of having the perfect place to play. He is determined to clean up an old field by his house, but he can’t do it alone. That’s when his new friends come in. Together, they help make his big dream come true. It’s a real tale of teamwork and friendship.

So, after over two years of writing, editing and directing the artwork – I also had to figure out how to self-publish a book, find a printer and build our website. I had no idea how to do any of those things when we started. But, we got it done. Somehow.

When the books finally arrived, opening it for the first time was truly amazing.  But, that didn’t compare to the feeling of seeing my two kids

Matt's adorable kids with his books!

Matt’s adorable kids with his books!

reading the book. My daughter even did the voiceover in our trailer on YouTube (check it out!).

We’re growing the series and have a second and third book in the works. We are also seeking a publisher and potential animation partner.

Our goal is to introduce The Small Sports to children ages 3 – 8 years old. Teach kids about teamwork, good sportsmanship and encourage just having fun with sports.

With a little luck, maybe their parents will learn something too…

So, will The Small Sports turn into the sports version of The Little Einsteins? I’m not sure. But I can say, one really busy Dad with an idea can get something done. Just don’t ask me if I’ve seen the latest episode of Breaking Bad.

You can find out book easily on Amazon

Thanks and Be A Good Sport!

Matthew Damman is an author, entrepreneur and co-creator of The Small Sports™. He worked for three Fortune 500 companies before hanging up his suit and tie in 2012 to co-found MAP Creative LLC. Oh, and he also now runs a consumer electronics company, Fonegear LLC. Matt graduated from The University of Michigan in 1998. He lives in Michigan with his wife Shauna and their two children, Claire and Jake.

 

 

Why Marissa Mayer’s Decision on Working from Home is About All of Us: How Far We Haven’t Come

Ironically, it’s been just over a week since we noted the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and about two weeks since the 20th Anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act. In case you didn’t realize, it’s been TWENTY YEARS since our government passed any sort of federal initiative to protect working families.

How much has changed in twenty years?

Aside from the new gray hairs I have sprouting on my head and the dramatic influx of technology into our daily lives, well, unfortunately for women working in America, it’s not been a progressive 20 years. Because on the federal level, nothing has changed.

Did you know that in 1990, the United States ranked 6th in female labor participation among the 22 countries in the OECD?

Want to know how we fared in 2010?

Oh, we’d fallen to 17th place. Oh my, how far we haven’t gone.

Last week there was an excellent piece in the NYT written by Professor Stephanie Coontz on Friedan, feminism and its place in between the demands of work and family life for women in the United States. Professor Coontz noted that our workload has increased dramatically from 30-hour work weeks in the early 1930s to the standard 40 hour week by 1938. Jump forward to 2000 and by then the United States had surpassed the Japanese in working hours per week — she explained the average dual-earning couple worked “a combined 82 hours/week.”

Think of that in contrast with Coontz noting that “70% of American children live in households where both parents work.

So we’ve decided we all need to work more but we need to protect working families less on the federal level – so not one of us should be surprised that when compared with other countries who are “economically and politically similar to us, the US comes in dead last in family-work policies.”

Not long ago I blogged about how the Europeans have laws that protect parents, specifically those with children under the age of 6 or with special needs until that child is 18, these laws dictate that a company can not reasonably deny a request to work part-time or flexible hours. And what have the companies found? They’ve found that it hasn’t impacted their bottom line, it hasn’t made them go broke, or ruined them. And it’s certainly boosted morale. Oh, and for many of these European countries, these laws have been in place for over a decade.

No one responded to that blog post. No one noted their surprise or anger that we have NOTHING similar here in the United States.

And yet – Marissa Mayer – she of the famous 2-week maternity leave, she who built a nursery NEXT DOOR to her office at Yahoo! – notifies everyone at Yahoo! that they will no longer be able to work from home effective June – and ANGER bounces across the country.

While a writer at Forbes hails her as a true business leader. Meanwhile a writer at The Broad Side claims that we shouldn’t criticize her just because she is a woman making a seemingly anti-woman decision. I would argue that it’s not that Mayer is thinking like a man, she’s thinking like an AMERICAN.

And then there’s Richard Branson – who takes to Twitter to express his shock that she would make such an antiquated decision, in fact he called in “backward thinking.”

Newsflash Americans – we are a MOCKERY on the world stage because we do NOTHING to support working families on the federal level. We spend so much time talking about this female CEO and the luxury she affords herself by building a nursery next door to her office but rescinds work-life balance options for all her employees. We gossip about Sheryl Sandberg and her obnoxious suggestion that she is every working woman because she, too, has had a daughter with lice, that she discovered on a business trip, on her private plane. These women are nothing like any of us.

And yet where is our outrage that we live in a country where it’s okay for a Fortune 500 CEO, be the CEO a man or a woman, to rescind a work-life flexibility policy from its employees without having to face any consequences?  Give me a break – that isn’t leading. And neither is our country. We are a joke. We haven’t come far, we’ve gone back.

Ask yourself, what is it our country leads when women continually drop out of the work place because we have no policies in place to manage work and family? Where our female participation rate in the work place drops over time while it rises for women in other developed countries?

Mayer’s decision is a reflection of where we, as a culture, place value. Her decision is about every single one of us because we are complacent and, unfortunately for many, blind, to just how antiquated our system is for working families. I’d imagine that the Europeans are all mocking just how far we haven’t come. We should be demanding more. We should be demanding leadership  – leadership from our business CEOs and from our elected politicians. I don’t care if they are a man or a woman – every single one of them has a family.

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5 Thoughts on “Having it All”: A look at 20 years after the Family Medical Leave Act

I was 17 when the Family Medical Leave Act passed.  Newly graduated from high school, heading off to college, I had a plan. The pieces of the plan later fell into place much like I envisioned when I was a doe-eyed high school graduate, just as so many girls in the 80s and 90s believed these similar things would and should and could happen:  college, career, graduate school, marriage, career, baby, career, happiness, success, memories.  We didn’t just think they would and could happen, we were told it was all possible.

The narrative of this story hasn’t unfolded how I thought it would, however. Let’s review:

Education – check.

Marriage – check.

Healthy babies – check.

Don’t I have it all?

Well, it depends. The fairy tale got convoluted because though we are a nation that prides itself on the rights of women and girls, a nation where “family values” is a favorite buzz-word for politicians, where we’ve recently seen two women attempt to run for the highest and second highest office in the land and where our health leaders preach the importance of breast is best for baby, it turns out maybe we are just really good at rhetoric.

See, we love breasts during the Super Bowl. Breasts are best in movies.

But breasts need not disrupt business hours. Nurse your baby exclusively, don’t you dare expect to get formula after you’ve delivered a baby in New York City but get your ass back to work and don’t complain that we aren’t paying you while your vagina heals from child birth — this is what our actions say to new mothers.

Turns out, once you start personally experiencing what it’s like to have a baby in this country and then try to manage that baby with a career, using the right words is meaningless when the actions that muddy our personal narrative do nothing to support the words. No one says that when they tell an American teenage girl the sky is the limit and she is just as good as a boy.  In my own personal experience, I was lucky to have some paid maternity leave but it was the return to work and the inflexible employer towards the demands of babies on time during business hours that ultimately fed my departure.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post , in a piece about the 20th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, profiled one Montgomery County woman who lost her job after she had an emergency C-section, a hysterectomy and then tended to her newborn in the intensive care unit for one month.  Pretty sure, when she was growing up,  no one told that local mom how easy it would be for a woman to get fired because she got pregnant, had a medical emergency and took care of her baby.  The reality is, millions of people in this country are impacted by our weak and pathetic system in place to support families, and somehow we keep electing the very people who do nothing about it.

Back to the same old question, the one that few of us were prepared for when we imagined our fairy-tale future: How can we possibly “have it all” when we don’t have laws to protect us and support us?

Clearly, I am reluctant to call the Family Medical Leave Act progress. Exactly what is “progress” about being one of three countries that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave?  And what else has changed legislatively since its implementation 20 years ago? What I can do is offer five perspectives on navigating your way to “having it all”:

1. Beware the seduction of “having it all.”

For she is but a temptress fed by the media. Talking about her makes for excellent web site traffic because just the phrase incites confusion and anger in most parents.  The trouble is, the overly-simplistic idea of “having it all” suggests there is an “all” – and more importantly, that the “all” is a universal “all.” Here’s the truth: what works for you probably doesn’t work for me. What you need to feel fulfilled is different than your best friend. Just as the way we all parent varies. Rather than seeking “it all,” I think we would all benefit from focusing exclusively on what works for ourselves, our partners and our children. What do each of them need from us and what do we need? How can we achieve what we want professionally and personally and feel proud?  Do you have the courage to ask for what you need at work and do you have the courage to be honest with yourself and then see it through? This ties nicely into topic #2.

2. Screw balance and instead find your boundaries.

First, no one ever feels balanced once they have a baby, unless you think extra weight, less sleep, odd fitting shoes and being chronically late conjures of feelings of balance and peace. Let’s divert the conversation from balance and instead focus on boundaries.  We make choices in work, at home, in social planning, in registering our kids for classes, in agreeing to take on school auction projects, and so on. The list of options is endless. Each choice has a consequence. Just be realistic about the trade-offs of your choices. Use your voice to confidently carve out boundaries that fulfill what you and your children need – not what you think others want from you. Someone always wants something. Only you can decide what and how much they get. This includes children. Own it and don’t apologize for the choices you make as long as you make them honestly and realistically.

3. Don’t covet thy neighbor’s situation. Otherwise known as “grass is greener” syndrome.

See that stay-at-home mom in her yoga pants picking up the paper at the end of the driveway while you’re tearing down the street worrying about getting to work on time and fretting because you’re leaving your baby for nine hours? Wow, don’t you wish you had her life?

Beware these thoughts.  As someone who has been a full-time working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a part-time working mom and a mis-mash of full and part-time from home, beyond being erratic in my own decisions, I can tell you — there are many days when that asshole boss couldn’t hold her own against that asshole boss who is 18 months old. Here’s the hard cold truth: The grass is always greener when you aren’t at peace with the choices you’ve made in your own life. Figure out what’s stirring those feelings and you’ll avoid the unnecessary judgment and idealistic vision of what you perceive someone else to have.

4. Know your tribe. Proactively help them.

Enter the importance of a community and the recognition that other parents are your tribe not your enemy or your competition. Hear about a mom in your neighborhood who just had a baby? Did you bring her dinner? See an email about a kid in class who has a sick parent or a traveling parent or a sick sibling? Did you invite that child over for a play date to give those parents a break? See that new mom struggling with her work schedule as she’s transitioning back to work after having a baby? Did you go talk to her and offer to help and just ask her how she’s doing? Pay it forward because the catch with parenting is this: You never get warning when you’re going to need others. And need others you will. We all do. It’s Murphy’s law for parenting that children all come down with the norovirus when you have a traveling partner and a major deadline at work.  Going out of your way to support the parents around you, even though you probably don’t have the extra time or energy, will return itself in the future. You just don’t know it yet. Part of having it all comes from supporting each other.

5. Don’t forget Dad.

Unless you married a lazy asshole, and hopefully you didn’t, don’t forget about Dad. He cares about his baby too. He wants to know how to take care of her without a note from you and guess what – he gets to do it his way – which will always be different from your way in some form. Make sure he knows the pediatrician’s phone number, where the baby Tylenol is stored and what the nap schedule is. Let him volunteer in the preschool classroom, handle pick up and register Johnny for a few classes. Dad’s role is critical and when mothers take all of it on, it becomes that much more difficult for her to ever have it all because she’s so busy doing it all, usually not too happily.  Not to mention, until more dads speak up and demand workplace flexibility, our cultural attitude towards working hours won’t change.  Babies and children have needs during the business day, so expect him to share in being available during business hours like you are expected to be when things arise. Odds are, he wants to be but we are still a culture that defers to mom.  Be mindful about your role in enabling this and then changing it.

The question I am left wondering is, twenty years from now, when my girls are 24 and 27, will we have made some actual progress? Join me on Facebook to keep up with this conversation and other fun.

NBC4’s Angie Goff: On Managing Work, Motherhood and a Second Pregnancy

Last spring I interviewed NBC4’s Angie Goff and we covered a wide range of topics from managing work and family, how she carves out moi-time and where she shops. Over the last few weeks, traffic to my blog has been spiking and I always know when she’s on the air before I even turn on the TV because it seems EVERYONE wants to know if she is pregnant again.Note – this would be my nightmare – to have people constantly keying in search words asking if I am pregnant. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. Ever.

Clearly Angie wears her pregnancy very well!

As it so happens, Angie Goff IS pregnant and due to the apparent high level of interest in her pregnancy, I figured, what better time to follow-up with her and see how she’s doing and find out how she’s feeling about work, motherhood and moi-time as she looks to having her second child this year. Let’s get started.

Wired Momma: During our interview last spring, you noted how your first pregnancy unfolded on the camera and NBC4 incorporated it into the news. Will you be doing this again? Will you be including more stories on working moms or parenting in DC or pregnancy with this second time?

Angie: I was actually with WUSA9 at the time of the first pregnancy.. so they captured my pregnancy and it was a fun experience! It was neat to have my first pregnancy unravel in real life and TV. This time around I think will be a bit more private. I’m updating my blog so there’s a little baby talk on there. That’s where I revealed #2 was on the way and that “it’s a boy” this time around. As for stories… I may cover some mom-related issues in the future. I’m always open to any stories that moms in our area think should be told. Bring ’em on ladies!

Wired Momma: Congrats of having a boy! That is very exciting. Last April when we spoke, you were really open about being on camera during your first pregnancy with Adora. You noted that you looked at old pictures and worried about returning to your old shape. Do you have these same concerns this time or do you have a different perspective?
Angie: A little more than 20 weeks in to this pregnancy I’ve already gained 20 pounds. I haven’t freaked out as much as I did the first time but I’m aware. I was able to lose most of the baby weight after Adora but it was very hard. I know there’s a tough road ahead… but I also know that it can be done. That is a little more comforting this time around.

Wired Momma: We talk a lot about the importance of “me time” on my blog, in fact it’s the entire theme of my blog for 2013 because I spent so much time talking with moms all over our area last year and found it to be a universal problem – most women struggle to find that time and seem to feel guilty about taking it. Now that you are well into your pregnancy, do you still fit your “me time” in from 1-2am as you did last spring when we last spoke or are you able to find other times to carve it out?
Angie: My schedule is different from last spring so now I’m getting up around 2am for work! Finding me time is still a work in progress and honestly I don’t get it in every day or even every week. I’m trying though. I recently started going to the movies by myself on my day off. It’s been awesome. Also I consider my magazine time “me time”. When I get a new TIME or Oprah I make it a point to read it cover to cover within a day or two. Sometimes I do it while Adora is watching a show or I sit in bed earlier than usual to have the moment.

Wired Momma: I love it. Going to the  movies alone actually sounds pretty blissful to me. Let’s add that to our list of things that count as quality “moi-time!” Now let’s change direction a bit into fashion: by the search terms leading people to my blog, I know the DC viewers are really interested in where you and fellow mom Eun Yang shop. Do you have favorite go-to shops or styles for maternity wear?

Angie: Funny you mention my girl Eun.. she just told me about this site MORE of Me maternity and this stuff is so posh for the pregnant. I’ve also bought a lot of Ann Taylor Loft pants, Gap maternity tops, Rosie Pope dresses and skinny pants. Pea in the Pod has pretty much everything including Nicole Miller’s maternity dresses. They tend to be more feminine and flattering. Isabella Oliver is also a go-to brand for dresses and bump flattering tops. Don’t forget your Mama Spanx either!

Wired Momma: Excellent fashion tips from a woman who has to unfold her pregnancy on camera! I’ve never heard of that MORE of Me web site before. Now, what is different about a second pregnancy for you and managing a high-profile career with a toddler versus the first time around?

Angie’s beautiful family

Angie: I am SO TIRED! I think it has to do with running around with an energetic 2-year-old. Some days when I feel sick, I feel so guilty because I just can’t keep up with her. I tell her I’m sorry.. momma’s sick. I’m very lucky because often she is empathetic. The other day she came over to the couch.. brought me a bottle of water and rubbed my tummy.

Wired Momma: Wow – what a sweet girl! And I hear you on the extra amount of exhaustion in a subsequent pregnancy. I am sure there are women all over our area who can totally relate. For what it’s worth – you don’t ever look tired on the air – which never fails to amaze me between you and Eun given the time you guys must wake in the morning. Back to motherhood, what do you know now about motherhood and careers that you wish you’d known the last time?

Angie: That it all is gonna work out! I was so afraid it would be hard to leave Adora to go back to work. What I’ve found is that I need that time away. In a way it is “me time” since I can totally concentrate on what I need to do. At the end of the day it makes me value the time I do get to spend with my child. As for balancing pregnancy and career.. I wish I didn’t push myself so hard when I was pregnant with my first. It was almost as if I thought I had to prove to everyone I can be with child and still perform at the same level as before. I nearly killed myself doing that. In my 3rd trimester I was having regular heart sonograms because they discovered my heart was enlarged. It was scary stuff. This time around I’m only taking on what I can handle. The biggest lesson learned perhaps is… don’t feel guilty for it!

Thank you Angie, once again, for such an honest and open interview. Not to mention some excellent fashion tips for area moms who are also pregnant. To keep up with Angie, you can follow her blog and as always, please be sure to hit “Like” on the Wired Momma Facebook page to keep up with more fun and conversations about work and life “balance.”