Tag Archive | Career carousel

Working Mothers Unite, Look at the Positives

By Jen Ashenfelter

Some decisions are based on a want. Do I want to be a stay-at-home or a working mother? Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter—maybe going to work is a financial need. I’ve experienced all three.

I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother so I stopped working after my first son was born. Eventually our financial situation changed, so I needed to be a working mother. For many years I really enjoyed my job in real estate—until it started consuming the time I wanted to give my family. A career in real estate cost me more than I was making; once again, I made the decision to get off the merry-go-round and be a stay-at-home mother. I loved it—time for the kids, the household and myself—to sip coffee or have lunch with friends, read books, attend a class and take on some freelance writing projects.

My days at home weren't quite as glamorous and dramatic as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a second job.

My days at home weren’t quite as dramatic and well-paying as those of the Real Housewives of NJ, so I got a different job.

However, I figured my days of living like one of the Housewives were quickly nearing the final episode, especially since I was not getting compensated for this reality show where “getting nickeled and dimed” actually costs Jacksons and Bens in this economy. With college tuition looming large over the horizon, going back to work was part of my long-range plan but the bank account couldn’t wait that long.Whether you want to work or you need to work, well, it’s still work. However, there are advantages to being a working mother. Here’s my spin on what can be gained—besides money in the checking account—from being a working mother.

It’s my paid vacation

I didn’t want to leave my toddler and infant every other weekend when I started working at the real estate office. I didn’t want to be away several nights a week when I worked at the tax preparation office from January through April. As fun as those jobs ended up being, they were a need and not a want. There were plenty of responsibilities in the job descriptions but there were also no diapers, no endless questions, no bickering, no whining and no SpongeBob! All that and a paycheck too—put your hands in the air and give me woot woot?! There’s no downside when you look at the bright side. Discover the positives when you have to work and create some fun.

Dust off the jewelry and heels

Being at home with two boys left little opportunity to dress up, but I’m still a girl at heart. Wearing sweatpants and sneakers are comfortable and convenient for kicking around the house, but some days I was a prime target for a style ambush where obnoxious TV hosts go through your closet and drawers and heave every piece of clothing you own into a giant garbage bag. I’m all for casual, cozy clothing, but I have a new appreciation for business attire. Buy a new outfit and blow the dust off the jewelry and heels, then add some mascara and lip gloss—the feeling is amazing!

Break the OCD housecleaning habit

My name is Jennifer. I’m a clean freak. What’s that on the floor…why are there crumbs on the counter? I don’t care what your house looks like; I care what my house looks like…a lot. If that makes me a little OCD, then I guess I’m guilty as charged. However, I’m learning to deal with my obsession, but only because I have to! Sadly, I don’t have as much free time to dust and scrub and vacuum anymore. So to all you clean-home haters, forgive me. I’m a changed woman and I want to be a part of your club.

Give the kids something to do

Ok, I’m not completely cured of my clean-house obsession. Isn’t that why we have children so that eventually they can take over all the chores? (No need to call Social Services—my two are definitely old enough…and it’s about time too.) The boys are learning that their clean clothes and a bathroom that doesn’t feel like a public restroom don’t just happen. There’s just not enough time in my day to do it all. Working has made me realize that they live here too and the free ride is over. This working woman may not be awarded Mother-of-the-Year for making the boys do more housework, but some day my daughters-in-law will thank me.

When I'm belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

When I’m belting out a tune, this is what I see looking through my windshield.

In the car, you are a ROCK STAR           

Whether it is five minutes or one hour, embrace the commute. The time and space belong to you! It could be the quietest time of your day or the loudest. Personally, I prefer the daily rock concert. I don’t sing in the shower—someone in the house might hear me, and I’m fairly sure my American Idol audition would produce goose bumps—more of the fear-inducing than the awe-inspiring kind. But in the car—with the speakers thumping—I am Kelly Clarkson…no, Carrie Underwood…wait, a little Jennifer Hudson. Ok, in reality maybe more like William Hung, but it’s my moment on the stage. Rock on!

And more important, surround yourself with really smart and creative people

What’s the saying…too much of a good thing is too much…or something like that? It’s true! Most days I enjoyed being at home with my boys. I loved watching them play and learn and grow. It was fun for them but not always fun for me. It was all about Legos and Matchbox cars and tool sets and playing in the dirt—don’t get me wrong, they are all very cool things. But some days I longed for a mountain of Barbie dolls with fabulous outfits and little shoes. Or I wanted to just sit and read a book. Try reading any Harry Potter book at 5 minute intervals with 10,000 interruptions—not going to happen. Let’s just say that exercising my mind, finding adult conversation, and keeping my writing skills fresh were challenging at times.

Now that the boys are in school, working part time allows me to concentrate on learning and growing too. Never stop learning. Do yourself a favor and surround yourself with people who are smarter and more creative than you, but who are encouraging and patient. Don’t feel intimidated. It feels great being part of a team, to be working with people who are really passionate about what they do, and accomplishing positive things every day. Our children receive our wisdom, guidance and encouragement to learn and grow. Even as adults, why can we not give that to ourselves?

If you’re a working mother, what do you feel you’ve gained by going to work? How do you make your time at work fun and rewarding?  

 

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Torn Between Family and Career

By Karen Hendricks

Mother’s Day, 2005 – while I successfully balanced motherhood with a part-time position in radio.

It’s probably the most controversial, emotional, gut-wrenching decision every mother will make:  Should I continue my career or stay-at-home with my family?  There is no easy answer, there is no right answer, and sometimes our answer to this question changes through the years.  Personally, my answer has changed what feels like a gazillion times.  I left a full-time position as a television producer—a job I absolutely adored—to stay-at-home with my first daughter.  But a part-time job as a radio newscaster was too wonderful to pass up.  Enter my second daughter and my son. I continued working in the radio business, with a very flexible and understanding employer, until cutbacks ensued.  A part-time position as an event coordinator/PR director was the perfect fit for a while.  That position morphed into a full-time opportunity as a PR director and although I loved the position, it was extremely challenging to be the kind of mom I wanted to be at the same time.  The position demanded more than 40 hours of work per week, and after five years, I made the decision to put my family first and wrestle back control of my time.  Lucikly, I had formed my own LLC a few years earlier, even had a few clients on the side (in my “spare time,” ha ha), and I was able to transition to working at home, for myself.  It is a wonderful feeling being able to set my own schedule, work load and focus.  I think I have finally struck the right balance, allowing me to continue the work that I love, but also being able to devote time to my growing family whom I love more.

I recently picked up the book Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood by Samantha Parent Walravens.  What an amazing collection of dozens of short essays by mothers who have all struggled to answer the career vs. family question.  It was perfectly-timed reading material, as I was developing the idea for this very website/blog, Off the Merry-Go-Round.

Many of the essays tugged at my heart-strings, as I could relate to the writers.  The author/editor of the book, Walravens, sets the scene for the essays to follow, in her introduction:

After ten years of changing diapers and chasing toddlers, helping with homework and volunteering in the classroom, I decided to reach out to other women like myself to see how they were dealing with the disconnect between motherhood and professional ambition.  … Whether at work or at home, they reported feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, most, if not all of the time. 

I saw an opportunity.

By admitting they couldn’t do it all, women could achieve a sense of freedom.  By writing about it, they could achieve a sense of community. …

As these stories illustrate, there is no perfect mother, nor is there a perfect balance when it comes to kids and career.  Caught between the heady “have it all” idealism of our feminist foremothers and the rigid realities of the corporate world, women today are creating new paradigms to navigate the conflicting worlds of paid work and parenthood. 

Her motivation was right on target with my motivation for starting Off the Merry-Go-Round.  The rest of the book was a page-turner for me!  I’ve gathered a few highlights that especially spoke to me:

My four years of motherhood have taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect balance, particularly for those of us who have been both blessed and burdened with a first-rate education and a work life we care about, or need.  We cannot help but think about the road less traveled.  Stay-at-home moms will wonder about where their career might have gone if they had continued to work, and will encounter the economic vulnerability that comes with not working.  Women who work full-time will feel the guilt of being absent for so many of the tender moments that childhood brings, as well as the pressure to try to “do it all.”  Those of us somewhere in the middle – part stay-at-home mom, part career mom – experience some combination of the two:  regret about not doing more at work, regret about not being fully engaged at home.  (Carrie Lukas, page 22)

The days are truly long but the years are short.  I started to think about all the times I answered an email while my children told me about their day at school or was too busy working to read them a bedtime story.  And while at the time what I was doing seemed so necessary, so important, I was ignoring the posted speed limit for that particular place and time.  (Sara Esther Crispe, page 41)

Today, with the advent of blogs and all other forms of online communication, millions of moms are rewriting the definition of success by telling their own stories.  The real stories from the trenches of motherhood have emerged. (Alaina Sheer, page 81)

Then, there are the people who tell me that with today’s economy the way it is, it is no longer a viable option for women to be home with their children.  I’m here to prove that it is still a wonderful choice readily available, especially for women with intellectual prowess.  We live simply, but with a much higher quality of life…. (Bracha Goetz, page 93)

Learn more about the book Torn by visiting Samantha Parent Walraven’s website.

How have you answered the career vs. motherhood decision?  What happened as a result–regrets, fears, support, contentment?  We look forward to reading your words of wisdom and building a sense of community on Off the Merry-Go-Round.  Please leave your comments and replies below!

The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways

Reunion brunch with high school girlfriends.

By Jen Ashenfelter

When I jumped off the career merry-go-round to stay at home with Nick (and Chris a few years later), I had no idea the level of isolation that would follow. My social calendar—once filled with lunch dates or happy hours and weekend outings—was replaced with keeping baby fed, dry and happy 24/7, grabbing a quick shower whenever possible and catching up on household chores over the weekend…wash, rinse, repeat!

Of course there were play dates and an occasional gathering of friends and family, but always with toddlers, toys and training toilets in tow. Uninterrupted conversations among adults were rare and usually focused on kid stuff. But I really couldn’t complain; I was lucky to be a stay-at-home mom with a completely supportive husband. However, something was missing.

Beach weekend with my sister and two childhood best friends–ready for dinner in Atlantic City.

Where was ME?

Enter Oprah. (Besides watching endless episodes of Sesame Street and Thomas the Tank Engine, that daytime diva was 60-minutes of being connected to another adult female.) I can’t remember the details, but what I took away from one particular show was the importance of taking care of myself and the benefits of having girlfriends.

Research shows the health benefits women reap by having a network of friends: lower levels of stress and depression, improved mood, lower rates of heart disease and diabetes, delayed memory loss, longer life expectancy.

Equal Opportunity Friend Time: Just for the record, I think it’s important for women and men to have strong friendships and spend time with those people outside of work and family responsibilities.

Organizing free time with good friends is necessary. The health benefits are a plus—use those in your favor when telling the significant other you are headed out for the evening or a weekend away—but, for me, the biggest plus is simply the chance to reclaim me. I become Jen again…not “honey,” “mommy” or “ma’am.”

Newsflash: It’s not selfish to take the time to be you. Recharging is necessary to be a good mother, wife and friend. 

Since that ah-ha moment, in between working from home, managing the household, and driving around town to and from soccer and karate, I love to gather with girlfriends. For me, it started with organizing an afternoon with a close circle of girlfriends at a pottery workshop then dinner together afterwards.

My core group of friends has religiously gathered on the first Thursday evening of every other month at the same gal’s house for the past several years. I spend at least one weekend a year with my sister and two close childhood friends. I’ve reconnected with a group of work colleagues who were good friends before kids and new jobs; organized a reunion brunch with girlfriends from high school; and have gathered friends to enjoy special dinner events at a local teahouse.

Tips & Creative Ideas for Spending Time with Girlfriends:

A fun evening with the gals I used to work with.

  • Start with organizing a simple event with just a few friends—lunch and a special museum exhibit, coffee or cocktails at your house, or hosting an in-home-demonstration show.
  • Organize a gathering around different groups of friends–childhood friends, former coworkers, neighborhood moms or friends with a specific interest such as reading, dancing or photography.
  • If you organize it, they will come—go ahead and pick a date, time and activity and then invite friends. Trying to organize a fun time based on coordinating schedules and interests might prove challenging. It’s ok to be in charge of your gathering and coordinate the overall plans before requesting suggestions for the finer details.
  • Be flexible when organizing regular activities like a book club or game night—not everyone will make it all of the time, that’s ok.
  • When you’re ready to plan a weekend away, keep it simple, small and local like visiting the beach or getting pampered at a hotel spa in town. Organizing a weekend trip takes time, research and patience. Discover new places and activities in your own backyard for starters. Use social media, the internet or hotel concierge for sightseeing ideas/tours and dinner reservations.
  • Whether it’s an afternoon, night or weekend away, minimize cost and travel until you know everyone’s comfort level.
  • Don’t call or text home except maybe once a day. My husband and boys create their own Boys’ Night/Weekend when I’m out with girlfriends. Everyone enjoys their special time…and there’s truth to the saying: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A special evening at a local wine and tea dinner event.

Do you get together with girlfriends regularly or plan yearly getaways? Tell us about a favorite trip you took recently or share your creative ideas for gathering the girls together.

Finding Family Fun–Off the Merry-Go-Round

Jen with “her guys.”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Riding the “career carousel” is a different experience for everyone; some love it, some loathe it…and a few ride somewhere in between. This is my story and I can tell you it’s ok to get off the merry-go-round and be happy…

One step through the gate…anticipation builds. The distant music is joyous and enchanting, quickly pulling you closer to its source. Anxiously you search, competing with the crowds and traveling with focused determination to reach your destination. At first sight, you fall helplessly in love with its breathtaking beauty and dazzling detail. With the giddy excitement of a child, you eagerly hop on full of energy and expectations. After close inspection, you carefully chose a horse—deciding whether to remain steady or add a bit of movement. The ride is slow at first so you enthusiastically wave to the crowds. Feeling the rush as the speed picks up, you firmly grasp the reins. Eventually, the crowds and the music become a blur and you grow tired of the monotonous motion. You think: What happened to this wondrous ride? I expected more than this one-trick pony moving in circles.

At home with my first baby, Nicholas, at 10-months-old, April 1999.

When the ride is over, it’s ok to get off.

Long before I decided on a career path, getting married and having a family was what I wanted most. That’s not to say developing a career and landing my dream job were not important. I married after college graduation and wanted to build a firm foundation with a resume full of experience to draw from in the future before starting a family. International travel, global publications, corporate initiatives, and management presentations—the ride was everything I dreamed it would be. And after 8 years, it was time to go. The day we knew our first child was on the way, I was prepared to get off the proverbial “merry-go-round.”

The option to take another ride on the merry-go-round always presents itself.

Several years later, I heard the music again. Knowing what to expect when I reached the carousel again, this journey was less deliberate and I searched for a slower ride. All the horses were attractive so I tried a few on for size. However, there was something about that last horse—adorned with lots of pretty ribbons and bells; it seemed innocent underneath. I hopped on and took off in a measured gait thinking I had this trot mastered. Each time around, the pace quickened so slightly I hardly recognized the change. The next thing I knew, the ribbons had unraveled and I was racing again.

My youngest, Christopher (in blue), is a joy to watch on the soccer field.

The second ride is not always as smooth as the first. These alluring and hypnotic attractions can easily create distraction from what we really desire.

By this time, my first born was now in middle school and my baby was in elementary school. Where did the time go? That horse was moving so fast I started missing these little boys step off the school bus, learn a new karate move or score a goal during a soccer match. I became frustrated when they got sick, and was cranky when they needed my attention. Despite the speed, I became restless at work, impatient at home and full of doubt that I could ever win the race.

Jumping off at full speed is scary, but you won’t fall.

Finally, tired of holding on for dear life and disappointed that I veered off course, I hated everything that about that horse. The reins snapped and I jumped. The fear of falling hard was immediately replaced with comforting relief and the promise of a new journey that would lead me back home to my family and focused on the career I established many years before.

Hopefully, our stories will inspire you to get “off the merry-go-round.”

Yep, I jumped off twice…and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. There are open, caring arms in that crowd around the carousel who understand the need to take that leap of faith. Our mission is to create a supportive community where women can share information and creative ideas that enrich our family life and celebrate…us.

WELCOME to Off the Merry-Go-Round!  Please share a comment below–thanks!

Nicholas earned his first-degree Black Belt, 2012, after 6 years of hard work! I am so thankful to be there for my family’s big moments… I cherish each one.