Tag Archive | workfromhome moms

Balancing Work and Family during Summer Break: Ideas Wanted

my guys

“My Guys”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Sorry, you’re not going to find inspiration or words of wisdom from me right now. This time, I need your advice—and I’m confident I won’t be the only one to benefit from sharing stories and ideas. I know I’m not alone, so for everyone who has weathered summer break and made it through without losing all of your hair, we’d love to hear from you.

The challenges of being a working mother are nothing new. I’ve been in the game for a little while, but working through the summer while the boys are home is a first for me. In previous years, I’ve had the good fortune of not working during the summer months so I could focus on my boys without the added responsibilities. I have many luxuries with my current job, but taking off the entire summer is not one of them.

I truly love this job and I’m glad to have projects to keep me busy and engaged. I have the opportunity to work from home and my boss, the mother of 3 boys herself, is understanding and flexible. My hours range from 20 to 30 hours a week—makes for a good paycheck and still gives me time to devote to my family and myself. Easy, right?

No problem, I thought. My boys are older and more self-sufficient. I won’t have to see the youngest to the bus stop, so I can get started early in the morning and still hit the pool by 2pm.multitasking nick

I’m organized, clever, and planned for their every need so I could hit the “To Do” list hard. There’s food in the house. Summer- reading books are set. I gave them the “reminder” about all the things they do have so I don’t have to hear those two fingernails-down-the-chalkboard words: I’m bored. I prepared a list of things for them to accomplish, like organizing closets, drawers, and cleaning up the massive Lego display occupying two-thirds of my basement. And I signed them up for a few half-day camps to keep them socially connected. I thought to myself: I got this under control. They’ll be happy. I’ll be happy. This summer is going to be the best ever!

I know what you’re thinking and you can stop laughing now! Wow, was I wrong—at least about last week. My complaints are not new or unique, but talking about them makes me feel better. Let’s have a brief rant session—add your frustrations to the list too.

  • Oldest to camp by 9am, pick up at noon.
  • Drop by office to take care of a few things.
  • Youngest to a friend’s house for a couple hours, then home again.
  • Youngest to camp by 5pm which means making something simple for dinner at 3:30 and eating by 4.
  • To the store for last-minute birthday gift.
  • Five minutes after reaching the office, a text from youngest that oldest wouldn’t let him watch television. Really? Three televisions and only two of them. My A-students in math can’t solve this simple word problem?
  • Power outage moments after returning home and finally starting a new article.
  • When? Who? Where? What? Come see this. Can I? Why, why, why? My youngest really should become a lawyer, an investigative reporter, or work for the FBI, because he certainly knows how to ask relentless questions.
  • Flat tire which required two trips, back and forth…over two days, to the shop before it was finally fixed…blah, blah, whine, moan, etc.

Four simple hours of work takes all day! I spent more time driving here, there and everywhere with brief smatterings of writing, phone calls and planning in between. Frustrations mounting, the next person to ask for something while I was typing got the death stare! By the middle of the week, I was tired of trying to keep the plan together and gave in to the constant derailment and unrelenting requests to go to the pool.swim tube Had I actually felt like I accomplished something, it would’ve been a well-deserved break. Regardless, I needed it…and so did my boys. Is it September yet?

Ah, another week on the horizon. There are no camps scheduled, so the shuttle driver gets a short break. The tire is no longer losing air; shh, don’t jinx it. The chores are done. I remain optimistic—yet positive that uninvited challenges will crash my perfectly planned party.  

Maybe it’s guilt. Am I wrong to feel bad when the boys spend too much time playing video games or watching television so I can actually get something done? Clearly, they’re happy and I’m the one with the problem. I know, it’s best to go with the flow. Am I missing something?

I know what you’ll say, “Work after they go to bed.” One is an early bird and the other a night owl, so if I thought I’d be productive between midnight and 7am, I’d entertain that suggestion, but I’d rather hear what else you’ve got…

Here’s where the whole “a place for community and inspiration” really gets interactive—now’s your chance to weigh in with war stories and suggestions for maintaining sanity. What challenges do you face with balancing work and kids being home for the summer? How have you dealt with frustrations, solved dilemmas and managed to live to tell about it? What brings peace to your chaos? What’s your best advice?

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Picture-Perfect Gift Ideas

By Ruth Topper

Think for a moment about the best gift that you ever received. Most likely, it was something personal; a gift given from the heart.   One of the best gifts I ever received was a baby gift for my daughter (who is almost 15 now).   My best friend from high school, Gloria, sent me a baby album where she had personally pre-designed all the pages.  The album didn’t have any photos in it—just places designated for them.  The album had been put together so thoughtfully.  At first I was afraid to do anything with it—it was just too beautiful!  I finally “got brave” and started filling the pages with photos and writing stories.  As the pages came together, it sparked excitement—over my pictures and my baby girl.

One of the pages from my daughter’s baby album… a project that ignited my career with Creative Memories.

After a conversation with Gloria, who lived in Minnesota while I was in Pennsylvania, I learned that she was a Creative Memories Consultant and this was called “scrapbooking” (not a household term at that time!).  As a consultant she sold products and helped people celebrate their photos and families by teaching them how to make albums.  This struck a chord with me and within a matter of a few months I became a Creative Memories Consultant too!  I had no idea where this path would lead me at the time since I recently had gotten “Off the Merry Go Round” with the birth of my second child and wasn’t really looking for a job or home-based business.  Would I be able to do this?  Well, if longevity has anything to do with it—then yes, I can.  I recently celebrated my 14th anniversary as a consultant.  After all these years I still enjoy helping people “love their photos” and celebrate them in meaningful ways.  Although there have been financial benefits over the years I always tell customers that they are the biggest blessing I have received.  I have gotten to know people in a very personal way as they share their family photos and stories with me.

As we approach the holidays (and other gift-giving occasions) we often are looking for thoughtful gift ideas.  I would put albums on the top of the list.  Albums have a “wow” factor about them.  In fact, grown men have been known to shed tears!  This idea may scare you a little bit because you envision hours of hard work to create this “masterpiece.”  I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think.  Albums are a gift of “heart” not “art.”  Pair your photos with your words or the words of a pre-designed album and you will deliver a gift with impact.

Here are a few album ideas:

The Simply Said Book from Creative Memories

1. Simply Said Book from Creative Memories (hey it’s something I know after 14 years as a consultant) – This is an amazing little gift for under $20.  It’s quicker than an album but more than a card.  There are a variety of themes to choose from: Hope, Joy, Dream Big, Teacher, Love and Grandparent.  Each book has 24 pages that are pre-designed with word prompts.  You just fill in the blanks and add 6-10 photos to complete.  You should be able to complete this magical gift in one to two hours.

2.  Album Kits – Album kits are available in a variety of themes such as baby, wedding, vacation, Christmas, etc. at many retail and all craft stores.  You should only need to provide photos, adhesive & pens to finish your album.  One of my current favorite ideas for a theme-oriented album is a recipe album.  You can either photo copy or write recipes onto cards, add some photos of the cook, recipe provider or the final yummy product and insert into an album.  This is sure to be a treasured gift for graduates, newlyweds or family members.

3.  Digital Albums – Digital albums have become very popular in recent years.  To create a digital album you just need a computer, digital images and album making software available through various photo websites and retailers.  Most of these sites have pre-designed pages available to make creating pages simple and fast.   One of the greatest advantages of digital albums is making multiple copies is a snap.  A few years ago at Christmas I decided to make a digital album of childhood photos for my two sisters.   I had to scan almost all the photos for this project.  I used pre-designed pages that allowed me to “drag and drop” my photos onto pages, added some stories and “sister” quotes.  The final product was a priceless memory of our bond as sisters.

Celebrating sisters!

4.  Traditional Scrapbooking Albums – For those who may want to express creativity in their own way there always is the traditional scrapbook album that comes with blank pages so that you can truly transform the pages into your very own.  Although this option may take more time it certainly is always well worth it.   The year my mother celebrated her 80th birthday I spent several months working on an album of her life.   It included pictures of her and her siblings growing up, the story of meeting my dad and getting married, the addition of her three “girls,” her worldly travels, births of her grandchildren and letters/photos that I solicited from her family and friends.  It truly was a masterpiece—if I must say so myself!  She revisited it a few years after I gave it to her and it took her more than three hours to read cover to cover!

People want to know they are loved.  Albums featuring photos and stories are proof of that love.  Give a gift of love to someone—your grandmother, dad, children, friend, etc…  We would love to hear your stories so please tell us about an album that you gave or received that was thoughtful and special to you.

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!

Surviving and Thriving as a New Mom!

By MA Filler

First my disclaimers:  I’m a bit nervous about writing this first blog post.  I have a science and math degree and no writing experience other than the papers that I wrote in college.  In addition, I want to make it clear that I am by no means an authority on the issues of parenting.  But, I hope that I can be of help to you in whatever stage of parenting you find yourself.  In fact, I’m hoping to learn from you as well!  Finally, I am aware that not everyone has or desires the privilege of “jumping off the merry-go-round.”  Our differences in approach and circumstance are what make life interesting!

I blame my dominant left lobe for my inclination to view all sorts of things in chronological order.  So, let’s begin with the new mom stage.  What are some of the challenges that new mothers face, and how can those challenges be addressed?

“The first day of the rest of my life” – my husband and I with our first son, David

My first son was born one day after his due date and just about 12 hours after I got home from my last day of full-time teaching.  I planned to work until my due date as I thought statistics showed that first time babies are generally late.  I thought I might even have a week or two to rest and get mentally prepared.  The bottom line is that babies will come when they are ready.  Unfortunately, I was exhausted going in to the parenting process for the first time.

When boy wonder number one was born, I was immediately overcome with intense feelings of love and, surprisingly, being overwhelmed.  I cried in the hospital while a nurse comforted me saying that “it” would be all right.

What was wrong with me?  Why did I feel so under-prepared to assume this new role?  Perhaps it was the physical pain I was in from giving birth or the reality that I didn’t have a very big support system once I got home.  My mom came for a few days to help out but lived two states away and was unable to stay beyond that.  We were new to our community, and I knew very few people.  I went from knowing exactly what I was going to do every day to having no idea what I was doing day to day.  I had chosen to nurse, and no one in my family had ever done that nor was there support in our area for nursing mothers. On top of that, my son had colic and didn’t sleep day or night.

How did I survive that phase of parenting?  Well, it wasn’t easy, and it is a wonder that I went on to have two more babies after that!

When I reflect back, here are some things I did to not only survive but to thrive during that first year.

  1. Take one day at a time. I remember thinking that I would NEVER get sleep again.  Try to keep perspective and know that all children do eventually learn to sleep (that’s a topic for another blog post).
  2. Make friends with other new moms.  I was blessed to meet two of my fellow bloggers, Karen and Ruth, in a Sunday school class for parents.  In addition, I attended a stay-at-home Bible study group that met during the week.  From those relationships, we formed a much needed playgroup for “the moms!”
  3. Make friends with moms who are ahead of you “in the game.”  Fortunately, just before my first son was born, I moved across the street from a mom with two girls, ages 7 and 10 at the time.  Her wisdom has and continues to be priceless.
  4. Go for a walk or get some other form of exercise.  The exercise piece is critical in mood lifting!  If weather permits, get that stroller out and walk. The sunlight alone will lift your spirits.   If you have to stay inside, the baby swing can be your best friend while you get in a quick 30-minute workout.
  5. Accept help when it’s offered.  For some reason, it’s not only difficult to ask for help, but it’s also difficult to accept help when being offered.  I remember friends and family offering to keep the baby.  News flash…there are people out there who ADORE babies and would LOVE to help you out at this stage!
  6. Take Time for Yourself.  Take a bath, read a great work of fiction or sleep!  Also, for future perspective, read Jen A’s blog post from 10/5/12, The Importance of Girlfriend Getaways. 
  7. Laugh!  Look in the mirror at your unkempt, pajama-wearing self and laugh.  Try to find humor in the stream of urine that was sprayed on the nursery wall (you know I have boys) and the other day-to-day mishaps that are likely.

Note:   If you have a colicky baby, make a recording of the hair dryer or some other form of white noise and play it back for your baby.  It works wonders!

Cherish every moment you have with that newborn baby!  In the blink of an eye, you’ll be moving on to the next stage!

 

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.

Congrats!

By Karen Hendricks

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

Our Mission: To provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children and families. Re-prioritizing, we are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.

We look forward to sharing tips, ideas and conversations about:

  • Daily family life, staying organized
  • Family fun, activities, games
  • Parenting – the agony and the joy
  • Recipes, healthy tips from the kitchen
  • Balancing work with family life
  • Penny-pinching tips
  • Family photography, scrapbooking
  • Travel, day trips, vacations
  • Arts & crafts projects

We are open to your suggestions and topic ideas!  Email us at:  OffTheMGR (at) gmail.com