Tag Archive | working moms

One Foot on the Merry-Go-Round

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By Karen Hendricks

“Doing it All” (or should I say #DoingItAll) was the theme of a week-long series by Maria Shriver on the “Today” show last week. I identified with many of the women depicted in the stories, as they tried to juggle careers, children, marriages, family, financial concerns, special needs children, and free (me) time. While all of our circumstances are slightly different, the underlying theme is the same for nearly all women… Why do we feel the need to do it all, and do it all well? Do we feel pressured to do it all? Does society expect us to do it all?

By the way, The Merry-Go-Round = DoingItAll.

Along those same lines, The Atlantic recently ran a story titled “Moms who cut back at work are happier.” It’s based upon new statistics from the Pew Research Center, finding that growing numbers of women are making career sacrifices in order to spend more time with their families. Hello?! This is exactly what Off the Merry-Go-Round is about! How wonderful to know we are not alone.

Here are the latest stats:

  • 65% of mothers say they have been motivated by their families to make sacrifices for work—anything from quitting a job to turning down a promotion
  • 46% of the above women who made family-related career sacrifices report they are “very happy” with their lives
  • 53% of married mothers with children under the age of 18 say their ideal career would allow them to work part-time… compared to 23% who said full-time… and 23% who said they’d prefer not to work at all

The article goes on to contrast these findings with the scads of recent news stories about women “leaning in” and making great career strides. I want to say, that I am all for equality in the workplace, and I applaud strong women accomplishing great things and breaking down stereotypes. However as someone who once leaned in, I am happy to now lean back a bit and focus on my family. It was a conscious decision on my part. I love working part time, setting my own hours, selecting projects and clients—the ball is in my court—and it all revolves around my family.

So for me, personally, the stereotype I run into is this: People expect that once you have “done it all” that you should continue DoingItAll. So to hear that 65% of mothers say they too have made sacrifices in their career lives… that is extremely gratifying. Maybe the tide is turning and society will start seeing beyond women’s careers in judging their status in life. Raising wonderful children into productive, kind adults should count among the world’s toughest—and most rewarding—assignments.

Last week, the magazine Working Mother retweeted the following: “I don’t see a problem with women leaving the workforce for family. I see a problem with them being unable to get back in.” (Lauren R. Parker) That may be the next chapter down the road for some of us, as our children grow, leave the nest, and we attempt to re-enter the full-time job market.

Back to The Atlantic… I admire how W. Bradford Wilcox summarizes it all up in his article:

This data suggests that one reason married mothers who make work sacrifices are happier is that they would prefer to scale back at work—at least for some portion of their lives as mothers—and are happier when they can do so.

This reality is often glossed over in the public conversation about work, women, and family, but as Catherine Rampell at The New York Times observed: “Not everyone aspires to be an executive at Facebook, like [Sheryl] Sandberg, or to set foreign policy, like Anne-Marie Slaughter” (author of “Why Women Can’t Have It All”).” Instead, as K.J. Dell’Antonia put it, most women are “striving for flexibility and balance” when it comes to juggling their aspirations for success at home and work.

Again, in the public conversation and the formulation of public policies regarding work and family, let us not forget that the happiest married mothers are those who are able to lean homeward, at least for a season in their lives.

So here’s how it all boils down for me:

I have jumped off the full-time Merry-Go-Round of DoingItAll. Now, having one foot on the merry-go-round, working part-time, still involves a good amount of juggling but it’s manageable and fulfilling. I have no regrets about putting my family first. Good friends truly understand this and are supportive. And if people aren’t supportive then they are missing the point, missing the importance of family, and I truly feel sad for them. DoingItAll is indeed possible, for periods of time—however, some area(s) of your life will suffer. I think the real secret to DoingItAll is to give yourself the gift of grace… because there are times in your life when you simply can’t do it all. And that’s ok.

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?

The Myths About Working from Home (No, I Don’t Wear Fuzzy Slippers)

By Karen Hendricks

It’s always interesting to see the reactions of others when they learn that I work from home. They usually have a picture in their heads that falls into one of the following categories:

  • “Awesome! I’m so happy for you.” (These people truly “get it” and are usually friends who are moms too.)
  • “Really? That’s great. What do you do all day?” (These people think I just own a home office for the fun of it.)
  • Oh, how nice—that sounds comfy.” (These people doubt that I am actually doing WORK. They probably think I wear fuzzy slippers all day. Sigh. I wish…)
Fuzzy Slippers

In the market for fuzzy slippers? These are called “Shagilicious” by Patricia Green. Credit: Zappos.com.

The fact is…

More and more Americans are working from home.  According to the latest numbers from the US Census Bureau, about 13.4 million Americans worked from home at least one day a week in 2010, an increase of about 1.6 million from 2000. That accounts for almost 10% of the entire U.S. workforce.

Home-based benefits

For me, working from home has provided a multitude of benefits. I feel very blessed to do what I love and love what I do. Owning my own business, a communications firm, has its share of challenges but the benefits are plentiful:

  • Zero commuting! No driving, no gas money required, no parking costs or hassles, no wear and tear on the car except for appointments. You have more time to spend on work and there’s no loss of time from commuting.
  • The ability to set your terms and limits. In terms of a workload, I try to stay between 30-40 hours per week. Owning your own business also means you can choose clients and projects. Not that I say “no” that often, but if a project or client doesn’t resonate with me or doesn’t represent something I believe in, I have the ability to “pass” and say “thanks for thinking of me, but no.” I enjoy maintaining a variety of clients who challenge my work skills on several levels, involving a mix of marketing, PR, and freelance writing, with a dash of photography.
  • Being motivated has its rewards. Freelance work, especially freelance writing, relies heavily on skills like creativity and perseverance. Working for yourself can provide a great sense of satisfaction when freelance assignments are accepted by editors and magazines for example.
  • All the comforts of your home office. It’s a wonderful feeling to be “at home” and at ease while you work. And you don’t have the temptation of co-workers bringing calorie-rich doughnuts or muffins into work. (But you can do that all by yourself if you wish!)
  • Few interruptions. I find that my work flows better without the frequent interruptions experienced in a typical office setting. This is most beneficial for writing!
  • Flexibility in scheduling. I try to pace myself in order to power through my work projects Monday through Thursday so that I can give myself every Friday off. It doesn’t work every week, but it’s a great feeling when it does. Friday serves as my “back-up day” to finish projects, make calls, or tie up loose ends. If I can complete my work by noontime on Friday, I still feel a great sense of accomplishment.
  • Family flexibility. Being able to schedule around my children’s sporting events, doctor appointments, etc, is simply invaluable. Being at home when my children arrive home from school is also a bonus.

It’s not all fun and games

Working from home isn’t for everyone, however, and there are some pitfalls to avoid:

  • Maintain a structure to your day. It’s helpful to set “work hours” for yourself and then stick to them. Be disciplined.
  • That being said, build small breaks into your day or else you’ll burn out. Reward yourself with several small breaks, just 5 or 10 minutes to take a short walk outside, make a personal phone call, or grab a healthy snack. These pockets of time can also be very helpful with household chores such as throwing a load of laundry into the washing machine or popping dinner into the oven. Switching gears and taking breaks is reinvigorating, especially when you incorporate physical activity. Make sure you don’t “forget” to return to work.
  • Set goals for yourself. Set daily goals every morning and weekly goals every Monday. Check them frequently to make sure you’re on task.
  • Ask for family support. During your work hours, make sure your family knows your primary focus is on your work. (Would it be wrong to tell your kids to only interrupt in the case of a fire? Hmmmm…)
  • Define your work area. Make is as functional and professional as possible so that it helps you set the tone for productive workdays.
  • This is the big one: casual vs. professional attire. Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you should wear sweatpants or fuzzy slippers. It’s great to have the option to dress casually, but this might impact your work performance (just as the tip above advises you to create an environment conducive to productive workdays). Be comfortable but not too casual. Now… where did I put my fuzzy slippers…. under my desk? Just kidding. 😉

Are you self-employed? Do you work from home? Please pass along your tips and strategies too!