Category Archives: Working Moms

A Reflection on the Work Identity of a Mom

Me and my mom at my graduation from Northwestern. Dec 2003

Me and my mom at my graduation from Northwestern. Dec 2003

Ten years ago this month I had just graduated from Northwestern University with my M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications. I knew what I wanted and I had it – a great job back in DC with a large, high-profile and powerful trade association, applying much of what I’d learned in grad school. I was newly married, we were living in the city but knew we wanted to buy a place, I had life by the horns.

My first at 10 weeks. She was cute but would she ever sleep?

My first at 10 weeks. She was cute but would she ever sleep?

Eight years ago this month I was on maternity leave with my first baby girl. I knew I wanted and needed to go back to work. I roamed the cold streets of my neighborhood, lonely and wondered if this child would ever sleep. I cringed at the days that were too cold to walk and didn’t know a thing yet about worrying about decent child care, managing work and babies, or even handling unexpected sick days. I was only weeks into parenthood but I had tremendous clarity that being a working mom was right for me.

Five years ago this month I was on maternity leave with my second baby girl.  I knew I didn’t want to

Me and my youngest when I *just* stayed home.

Me and my youngest when I *just* stayed home.

keep working full-time, I didn’t know if I could handle being home full-time or what that would even involve or if it would fly in the face of my college minor in Women’s Studies. I knew I had the courage to quit the job I had after maternity leave but I didn’t know if I had the courage to walk away from my career completely.

So where am I today? How does it fit with where I thought I’d be 10, 8 and 5 years ago?

Today’s post is for anyone who once had certainty and no longer does.

Today’s post is for anyone who doesn’t have a label to call themselves.

Today’s post is hopefully also for anyone who isn’t sure they have the courage to make a big decision about their family and career.

After I walked away from the career I’d spent 12 years carefully and methodically establishing, five years ago, I really had no plan. This was not like me. But a different kind of opportunity knocked than I’d ever planned for, the kind that said we could make changes and afford for me to quit working full-time, so I took it. I took it with no other clear job in sight.  Not even a shell of a plan.

For a short time, I just stayed home. Note I mean that very sarcastically because until you’ve spent prolonged amounts of time home alone with your children – without a spouse or partner or nanny or mom or anyone else there – you honestly cannot appreciate it or how difficult, stressful and exhausting it is. This isn’t a jab at anyone or a judgement at all – it is fact. Pure and simple.

Then I started dabbling in other things along with being home. I started writing a parenting blog for Washingtonian Magazine, which opened some doors to events and activities I otherwise would have had to pay for. After 6 months, they stopped the blog and I faced my first big fork in the road – should I try to keep it going on my own platform or should I quit?

I decided I’m not a quitter and if I started it, despite a wounded ego and disappointment, I should keep going. So I kept going and rebranded as the beloved and world-famous WM.

Pretty much no one actually considered blogging work, especially then. Sure we got tickets to free things and to me that was like income – but well – there was no weekly payroll, no benefits, people thought I just “got things” – instead of realizing how much work went into building an audience and writing material that would make you want to come back and read me again. That takes work.  As does learning how to build an audience on social media, how to engage with people effectively on social media and how to write content that will get noticed in searches.  But again, to most people, mom bloggers just get free tickets.

Then I started becoming more aware of these labels we cling too everywhere we go. No work clothes? No steady pay check?

She stays home.

Blogging?

Totally a fad. Check out her lounge wear.

Doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, back in reality land, I felt like I was working my ass off. I loved writing, I loved blogging, I loved having access to events (which again, as any blogger knows, you work very hard for) but what was I doing, where was it going, why was I doing it?

I still didn’t know but I just kept doing it.  I also realized just how much I was learning about my own profession, which was public affairs/public relations, by actively blogging and tinkering on social media on a regular basis for WM.

At this point, I was also on the board of our preschool, I was maintaining a weekly newsletter for my old job, keeping the blog going and had the kids. But still, there’s no label, so I was a stay-at-home mom.

More time passed and freelance projects grew from a weekly newsletter to writing materials for other clients, to advising clients on social media strategy until bit by bit, I found myself with a legitimate company. I realized that my lack of a plan, my no real direction, quietly and slowly took the shape of a very real, strategic and smart direction: I had gained and developed an invaluable skill set on social media by being active in it as I wrote about my kids, my life and my experiences in DC. I kept working by doing, all those years.

By last year, I’d purchased a domain and named my company SOMA Strategies,  worked more aggressively to build up my client base and essentially began working full-time, squeezed into part-time preschool hours, from my house, wearing whatever I felt like it, sometimes wishing I did have an office to go to or a consistent outlet for childcare because business hours most certainly do not align with preschool hours. But like everyone else managing work and career and family, I wing it.

So who am I now?

I am a small business owner in yoga pants sitting at my kitchen table.

I am a social media strategist, blogger and mom.

What do I seem to others?

I don’t care anymore.

I’ve noticed over the last 5 years how dramatically the preschool parking lot and playground has changed. There are so many more dads. There are fancy bags tossed over the shoulder of lounge wear.

I’ve noticed that if you pay attention, nothing is at it seems and even in a company town like Washington, where most people wear their work identity on their sleeve, you actually have no idea if a suit or no suit means anything in the work department. Nor does it matter.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is no matter how clear your path once was, if you are open to opportunity, if you are willing to put yourself out there, if you can handle rejection and keep going, your career really can be a long, windy journey that ebbs and flows at your own direction.

Also, my somewhat anal self has learned that in life, you actually don’t always need a plan. You just always need confidence and you have to be hungry and want it more than anyone else in the room.  You also have to see how differently opportunity can knock.

What’s your work identity as a mom? Do you care? Is there a label? Has your direction changed course?

 

 

 

Friday Buzz…..Lean In, Sister

I have been quiet this week on the blog because work has been so hectic. My apologies!! Remember…I am taking guest posts now and would love and welcome any submissions from my fabulous readers! Just email me at wiredmomma@me.com

So let’s roll up our sleeves. If you aren’t on the WM Facebook page, not only are you totally missing out, but you definitely missed some of the most interesting conversation I’ve seen yet this week. I was thinking this week was all about Sheryl Sandberg…it really seemed that way…..but then this piece from the Atlantic dropped on our laps.

And suddenly many of us were all sorts of pissed off.

Moi Included.

Suddenly I was thinking, screw the office, let’s LEAN IN at home, ladies. And tell our husbands to lean the hell in too, while they are at it.

The author, Alexandra Bradner,  took the time to write down this very thorough bulleted list of things that need to be done when you have children….and asks what percentage the moms do and what percentage the dads do.

Suddenly my head was about to blow off my neck because I was thinking we had it somewhat split chez moi and as it turns out, we don’t, and as it turns out, it’s what one of my readers and friends called “the invisible work”, that’s so time-consuming…and we get no acknowledgement of doing, no credit, no offering to help. Do we even realize we’re doing it half the time? No matter, it’s still very time consuming. And have I mentioned, thankless.

So here’s the list Ms. Bradner details, I copied it directly from the site – see what you think:

“What percentage of this work do you do? What percentage of this work does your partner think you do? Record your answers and compare notes.

  • Childcare management and communication
  • Cooking and meal preparation
  • Dishwashing
  • Laundry, ironing and mending work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Home decorating (garage sales, picture hanging, etc.)
  • Yard work
  • Afterschool lessons, weekend activities, and summer camp planning and coordination (researching, driving to, waiting during, and equiping)
  • Communication with extended family (calling mom, mailing gifts, etc.)
  • General household cleaning (sweeping, vacuuming, garbage removal, window washing, etc.)
  • Making travel arrangements and packing
  • Party planning and holiday preparation (cards, meals, decorations, cleaning)
  • General social outreach (setting up playdates, interacting with neighbors, making plans with friends, etc.)
  • Monthly financial chores (bill paying, health claims and tax prep)
  • General shopping and consumer research (for clothing, gifts, technology, media, etc.)
  • Putting kids to bed and waking up with them in the middle of the night
  • Getting kids ready for school, dropping them off, meeting the bus in the afternoon
  • School-related tasks and communication (contacting teachers, delivering forgotten items, volunteering, attending conferences and shows)
  • Staying home with sick kids
  • General family scheduling
  • Coordinating and completing home repairs
  • Documenting family history (taking and organizing photos)
  • Disciplining kids (establishing and enforcing consequences for misbehavior)
  • Managing and picking up the pieces after major upheavals (moves, home sales, funerals, job losses)
  • Pet care (walking the dog, checking out kennels, etc.)
  • Emotional work (resolving playground disputes, offering advice, proactively keeping the peace among siblings)
  • Long-term financial planning (for retirement, college tuition, etc.)”

I intend to evaluate it again this weekend and see where we can do better….get Mr. Wired Momma (who is a very nice and supportive man, btw) to LEAN IN.

Take that, Sheryl…..Your book is motivating me to yell at my husband to lean in at home.

For more fun, be sure to “Like” the Wired Momma Facebook page because you are actually missing out if you haven’t…..#NotKidding

Oh….two more things…the next WM Book Club book will be “Lean In” and we’re going to meet at the Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner on Wednesday April 10 at 8pm. And finally, if you have some time on Sunday, come find me on the Expert Panel at The Baby Affair at 1pm! Would love to see you there!

 

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.