Sunday, December 30, 2007

Overwhelmed: Five Ways to Take Back Your Life

Below is a guest contribution from Amber Rosenberg,

Do you spend your energy worrying about everything you have to do instead of actually doing it? Has making dinner, picking up the dry cleaning or responding to e-mails become a monumental effort? Is your to-do list growing at unmanageable rates?

Lately, I’ve been observing what happens when I find myself in this undesirable place. I noticed that when I start to feel overwhelmed, I go to great lengths to check off ‘just one more thing’ from my to-do list. While this short burst of frenzied activity allows me to accomplish one thing, by the time I get to the second item, I’m totally exhausted.

So, I decided to try an experiment. For the last week, I tried to give into this stuck feeling; to surrender to it and to see what happens. When I slowed down, I noticed that the culprit was often unrealistic expectations of myself and my time.

When I started to have these unrealistic expectations of myself, it became easy to lose sight of why I committed to doing something in the first place. Once I became disconnected from the meaning behind my actions, it was easy to lose motivation. Losing motivation for one thing quickly snowballed into losing motivation for another thing, which contributed to an ever-growing to-do list and, eventually feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of giving into this frenzy, I decided to take some time to re-connect with what’s important to me - exercise, meditation, laughter and fun. Now I’m in the process of figuring out how to incorporate these into my everyday life.

So, when you’re overwhelmed, instead of trying to get as much done as quickly as you can, try slowing down to get re-connected with the meaning behind your actions. Try a few of these exercises to help you slow down:

1) As often as possible, stop for a moment and take several deep, relaxing breaths.

2) Do something that you used to do as a child. Run through a sprinkler, swing on a swing-set or draw a picture.

3) Go outdoors for as long as it takes get perspective. Take time to notice the details of nature – look up at the clouds, smell the grass, snow or rain and feel the fresh air on your skin.

4) Run up and down your stairs or do some jumping jacks or push-ups for 10 minutes. Explore how getting out of your mind and into your body helps you to feel both calm and energized.

5) Watch a funny movie or read a funny book. Laughter provides perspective and makes everything feel more manageable.

Spend a week trying these exercises and then look for patterns.
What do you notice? What are you learning? What is possible from here?
Write down what you learned or share it with your coach.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try letting go of your expectations and measuring your accomplishments. Instead, focus on slowing down and re-connecting with what energizes and feeds you. When you’re connected with your values and the guiding principles of your life, you’re connected to the natural fuel for getting things done.

Amber Rosenberg is a professional life coach who helps high-achieving working mothers manage their guilt and stress and re-define success on their own terms. After 12 years struggling to create her own work/life balance in the corporate and non-profit worlds, she is passionate about helping women actively choose how they want to spend their time. A popular speaker and frequently interviewed for national print, TV and radio media outlets, Amber co-authored the book Inspiration to Realization with a chapter on "How to Manage Your Love/Hate Relationship with Time". To sign-up for a complimentary coaching consultation, order a signed copy of her book or sign-up for the Working Mothers' FREE monthly e-zine, go to

Friday, December 28, 2007

Technology: Friend or Foe

Technology seems to be a catalyst to supporting the quest of many to find a more flexible work option. Technology allows us to easily work from home, or stay connected when we work part-time or an alternate schedule. I know I could not run my consulting business and spend a lot of time with my kids as I do now if I didn't have e-mail. I try to conduct as much business as possible through e-mail so that I can easily stay on top of things even on my off days by a quick check of e-mail. It would be impossible to return a client call with toddlers screaming in the background.

But that same technology that gives us the freedom to work when and where we want, also runs the risk of keeping us more connected with our work than with our family. I fortunately have not picked up Blackberry yet, so I am able to make it through an afternoon at the park with my kids without checking in. But, if my laptop is nearby, I can't resist the temptation to check-in, even if I am doing something fun with the kids. And a few days away on a vacation still includes my cell phone and related messages and necessary returned calls.

An astute MBA student makes many of these same observations (here). As the article points out, beyond risking your family time, staying plugged in can also lead to burn-out and disengagement with your work.

It is therefore important to set some boundaries on your use of technology outside of work hours. Here a few tips:
- Make sure you colleagues/clients are aware of your work schedule and availability. For example, on your off days, you may decide to check your e-mail just once in the afternoon. As long as those who need you understand that, they can plan their communications with you appropriately.
- Use your "out of office" settings on your e-mail, or keep your voicemail message up-to-date with your availability. Most people will be patient to wait to hear back from you as long as they know when you will be checking in.
- Leave your cell phone or Blackberry in your car when you are attending an event with your child. That urgent message will most likely be able to wait an hour while you watch your kid's school program, but you may miss your child's solo performance if you are distracted by a vibrating phone urging you to check your messages.

Technology has the potential to invade your family time, but only if you let it. Iknow it has allowed me to have the flexibility to work the schedule I want, but I also know I have to work hard to use technology in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Season of Giving

Merry Christmas, or whatever winter holiday you celebrate! I think we are finally done celebrating, after nearly four full days of various parties and gatherings. I'm tired, but the kids had a blast and we have tomorrow off to recover.

As you read your local paper this week, you will most likely find a story about an organized charity or just a generous individual who made the difference for someone this holiday season. Whether it was Christmas gift for a child, or a dinner for a hungry family, our papers are filled this week with stories of holiday giving.

Interestingly, many women consider the opportunity to give back to their community an important part of their career aspirations. I am reading "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett which shares data from a study conducted exploring women's work lives. The survey asked women what they really want from a career. High quality colleagues topped the list (82% desired), with the opportunity to "be my self" a close second at 79% and flexibility third at 64%. But, what I found fascinating was that the opportunity to give back to society ranked highly, desired by 56% of respondents, even more important than high income (42%).

While I am suprised to read this statistic, it does make sense. I agree that you must be satisfied with your life in general in order for your work to be satisfying. I think that your work must be integrated into your life, and if you want to give back to your community, then your work arrangement must support that pursuit. Unfortunately, in the push to find time for the basics, such as time with your kids, altruistic intentions often fall to the wayside. But, if giving to the community could be integrated into your work, then you might have an opporutunity to feel more balanced.

One way I have integrated community service into my work is through creating service learning projects for my college courses. I teach part-time at a local college and I have created projects for my business students to help out at local non-profit organizations. It is a win-win-win arrangement. My students learn valuable business skills, the non-profits receive valuable assistance, and I get to do my part to support the community.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dads and Work

As I've said before, Dads' perhaps have a bit more of a challenge in blanancing work and family. It is at this point in time unusual for a Dad to request a flexible work schedule. Those that do may actually face career suicide. Dads are much more quickly stereotyped as uncommitted to their job if they want to spend time with their families.

But more are doing so. Last week a USA Today article (here) discussed the challenge that men face in the workplace if they want time with their families.

It is unfortunate that it might come to a male request for a company to provide flexibility. But in the end, everyone benefits if companies are willing to test out flexiblity based on a Dad's request. Once they see the productivity, retention and health benefits they get from offering the flexibilty, we will be closer to it becoming the norm.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another Holiday Party

Tonight we went to a Christmas party at the kids' school. This was in addition to the Christmas party they each had already in their individual classrooms. Last week we had a Holiday party with the pre-school PTA I belong to, as well as a Christmas party with the kids' playgroup. In addition to the kids' parties, we also have the work-related parties and of course the family parties. Each requires bringing some kind of food as well as a gift or two.

I'm not sure what my point is here. I guess it is just that for a supposedly joyful time of the year, we seem to do a lot of rushing around. Sometimes it seems like more stress than joy. We've tried cutting back and only attending those that we feel we need to attend, but that still keeps us busy. The kids always enjoy their parties, so we certainly wouldn't want to skip them. I also enjoy the opportunity to catch up with friends, as well as meet other parents. I can't say I'm crazy about the work-related parties, although they sometimes have good food and drink.

I do sometimes get so wrapped up in the hectic pace of the holidays, that I forget to enjoy them. But it is hard to when you need to bake cookies for the next party when you'd much rather be going to bed....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Work-at-Home Scams

In the search for family friendly work, many parents seek out opportunities to work-at-home. The opportunities seem plentiful. On a daily basis I receive or see several ads for work-at-home opportunities.

I have discussed some valid opportunities in the past, but want to caution against scams as you look for a work-at-home opportunity. You might actually find real work that does pay you, but you could also end up becoming involved in illegal activities. I just read a story (here) about a woman who took a job assisting a shipping company. What she didn't realize is that she was repackaging and shipping items that were purchased with stolen credit cards, assisting the scammer in moving stolen goods.

There are many other types of scams out there, many featured on a blog for New England Mothers (here- not kept up-to-date, but lists many examples of scams). Often times work-at-home scams are just pyramid schemes that require you to pay a fee to get started. You then make your money by getting others to pay a fee and join the process. For example, you might have to pay $50 to start a business stuffing envelopes. You are then sent ads to mail out to try to get others to pay the same fee to start an envelope stuffing business. You make money when others respond to the ad.

Generally, if a company requires a fee, be cautious. Many direct selling companies (such as Mary Kay or Creative Memories) will require you to purchase products. However, if you have to pay a fee you must know exactly what you are going to get for that fee. If you visit a website about working from home that doesn't clearly tell you what it is you will do, it is likely a scam. Before working for any company, check them out with the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Health Benefits of Flexibility

A recent study found even more evidence that providing flexible work options is a good for business. Beyond ties to retention, productivity and even ethical behavior; researchers now believe that providing flexible work can improve workers' health.

The study, published in The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (see summary here), found that employees' perceptions of workplace flexibility were associated with healthy behaviors such as frequent physical activity, healthy sleep habits and participation in stress management activities.

This is good news for organizations struggling with healthcare costs. Many companies are working on ways to promote healthy lifestyle choices in order to lower their insurance costs. Offering workplace flexibility is a relatively easy step that organizations can take to support their employees health.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Online Networking

At the Massachusetts conference earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary women doing some inspiring work. One of my fellow panelists, Cooper Munroe of discussed the nature and power of online networking. She shared several stories, including the success of her and her partner’s blogging response to Hurricane Katrina and the immense amount of relief they coordinated that likely went beyond what many governmental agencies provided (read about what they accomplished here).

I have always been an advocate for networking, and obviously attending a conference such as this provides a great networking opportunity. But, Cooper’s stories started me thinking about ways we can better use the Internet to network to help us succeed in what we want to do.

In my quest to keep my work family friendly, at the very least online networking has allowed me to reach out to others to simply commiserate. But our online friends can also help us build confidence, prepare our resumes or even identify the right contacts at a company we want to target. And networking online is certainly more family friendly than in-person networking as you can do it on your own schedule.

There are many sites out there, some for moms such as There are others targeted at parents such as I also suggest looking for local sites to network, either through your community or your profession. And finally, make sure you check out Cooper’s site as a great place to get started building your online network.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Feminine Mistake

I just returned from the Massachusetts’s Conference for Women where I spoke on a panel “Embracing the Chaos.” It was a great conference, providing resources and guidance for women with varying backgrounds and ages. More on that later.

I had the opportunity to hear from Leslie Bennett who wrote “The Feminine Mistake.” (See her website here). She was on a panel talking about “Opting Out” of the workforce, and while the rest of the panel seemed very optimistic about career re-entry after you make the decision to stay home, she was not necessarily so positive.

Leslie referred to the decision to stay home as the choice to become economically dependent. She shared several stories of women in their 50’s and 60’s who enjoyed staying at home with their children, but later found themselves near poverty following the death, disability or the divorce of their husband.

I haven’t read her book yet, but I plan to pick it up. She built some arguments that I feel were somewhat persuasive. While I sometimes feel guilty for working, Leslie argued essentially that you should feel guilty if you are not working. She also suggested we are wasting our time worrying about things we shouldn’t worry about- such as being the “perfect” mom. As she suggested, is it really so important to send homemade cupcakes to your kid’s school when you are the “snack mom?”

I’ll write further on this once I’ve read the book…..

Saturday, December 8, 2007


As I have mentioned before, being "green" and being "family friendly" truly goes hand-in-hand. Efforts that protect the earth seems to coincide with efforts to protect our family values.

As such, those interested in family friendly work may find some value in freecycling. In your efforts to minimize your financial obligations, you should attempt to procure things you need (or think you need) at the best prices. So how about free?

That is the idea with freecycling. The Freecycle Network originated in Tuscon, AZ in 2003. Since then the network has grown to over 4,000 groups around the world. Anyone can become a freecycler. Basically you join a local group, and when you have something that you are considering throwing away, you instead list it to your freecycle group.

In return, you receive messages from your group of their discarded treasures which you can pick-up if you are the first to respond. You can freecycle clothes, home items, yard supplies, equipment, etc. You can responsibly dispose of pretty much anything around your house, and in return, can often pick up things you might need.

The bottom line is that you can save money by picking up for free some things that you might otherwise spend money on. And meanwhile, you help minimize contributions to your local landfill. Check out the Freecycle Network at

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Be Proud of Your Work

I recently spoke to another working mom that seemed to not to want to admit that she was in fact a working mom. This woman made the decision to leave the corporate world and become a stay-at-home mom after her first child was born. However, she enjoyed her work as a marketing executive and ended up running a small consulting business working with companies to develop their marketing campaigns. Her business was not full-time, she only worked a couple of days each week, but it was none-the-less successful. She told me, however, that she was "just a stay-at-home mom" for several years. Only after some further discussion did I learn about her business.

I've seen this so many times. Women who are proud to be stay-at-home moms that seem to hate to admit that in addition to this role, they actually do some work that brings in some income for their families. Why is this? I know in my community, there seems to be more stay-at-home moms than working moms of the pre-schoolers I know. I am curious if to some extent it is a 'status' feeling. That is, do some feel that that it is important for others to know they don't need to work?

For me, obviously being a mom is an important part of my identity. But my work is also part of who I am. And I think that is a good thing. I think it helps me be less stressed because I feel I haven't totally lost myself in this process of becoming a parent. Am I wrong here?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Holiday Stress

While most people look forward to the holiday season, working parents often see the season as just another source of stress in their lives. The key to surviving, or maybe even enjoying the holidays is to approach the season with a plan on minimizing the stress.

Here are a few suggestions:

- Involve your kids as much as possible in your holiday preparations. Even a toddler can put labels on greeting card envelopes or help tape the wrapping paper on gifts. While kids might slow down the process a little, involving them gives you a chance to spend some extra time with them while getting some holiday work completed.

- Consider where you can cut back. Can you do four strings of lights in your front yard instead of 20 strings? Can you cut back on your gift list? Over the last few years I've had important discussions with many family and friends to suggest that we would enjoy the holidays more if we didn't exchange gifts. Or, we participate in more gift exchanges instead of buying for everyone (i.e. all of the cousins just pick one name instead of buying for every cousin).

- Attack your holiday shopping with a plan. Have a specific list of gifts you want to get and do some online exploring before you head out to the stores so you don't waste too much time looking around for the best deals. I try to do all of my shopping in one day. It makes for a long day, but saves many other trips.

- Speaking of online, do as much shopping as you can online. You can save a lot of time, and often a lot of money by searching for gifts online. Further, you can shop at odd hours such as late night or early morning when stores aren't open, but you might have some free time.

- Don't neglect yourself in the process. Keep eating right and exercising to keep yourself healthy. There is nothing worse than trying to make it through holiday parties if you don't feel well.

Don't allow yourself to get so caught up in the "work" of the holidays so that you do not enjoy this festive time of the year. If you have a plan to attack the holiday season, you can enjoy the holidays with your family.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Job Board for Moms

I learned about a new job board with opportunities specifically for moms looking for flexible or work-at-home work. It is new- I don't think that there are any live postings yet- but it is open for applicants to register. The website is and was started by a mom who wanted to provide a resource for moms who want to work, but do not want to return to an inflexible workplace. I think it would be worthwhile to register on the site if you are searching for a new opportunity. I would assume that as more applicants are registered- the site will be able to attract more job opportunities.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How to Transition Back to Work After Maternity Leave

Today I am sharing some advice with you from Working Mothers’ Coach Amber Rosenberg (Learn more about Amber at the end of this post).

If you're like many of my clients who return to work after maternity leave, you may view your job as a welcome vacation from the exhausting responsibilities of caring for a newborn. Oh, the irony. However, as you prepare to go back to work, you may unexpectedly be faced with a whole new set of challenges, including growing feelings of anxiety and guilt about not staying home with your child. Here are a few ideas to help you through this process:

Plan Your Plan Carefully select the best back-to-work date for you and your family. Try to anticipate how much time you'll need (and how much time you'll get) as best as you can. Review your employer's maternity leave policy and talk with other working mothers in your field. Work with your husband/partner to assess your personal financial situation to determine when and how (part-time, flex schedule, etc.) you'll return to work. Also, be sure to review your Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) eligibility. As you start to explore these questions, you may also find it helpful to create a work-plan for you and your growing family that outlines what your weekly schedule will look like.

Partner with Your Partner Talk to your husband/partner about your plan and make sure you're both on the same page. You'll strengthen your relationship, save time and energy and build the support you'll need throughout this transition. You might be surprised to find that your partner shares similar feelings about his or her return to work. Talk with your partner about what is going to work best for the family, as a whole. Remember that perfect options don't exist. There will be sacrifices by both parents. Money, time, convenience and fast-paced career growth are among the biggest things that may change. The best option will include sacrifices with which you both can live. By engaging in honest, ongoing communication with your partner/husband, you'll be able to successfully manage this transition together.

Communicate at Work Too Not everyone has the luxury of working with colleagues who are familiar with the challenges of returning to work after maternity leave. Talk regularly with your supervisor and/or your staff about your schedule, priorities and options. Only you know what you need to balance your roles as mom and professional, so speak up.

No Woman is an Island - Delegate! One of the secrets to success as a working mom is learning how to delegate to other staff, your husband/partner, your family, etc. If you're overwhelmed with work, take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself some honest questions. What do you absolutely need to do right now? What can you postpone, delegate or say "no" to? On the personal front, hiring a cleaning person one day a week may be all it takes to make you feel in control of your home life again. Maybe it's time for him to start ironing his own shirts or for your older children to start doing the dishes. Spread the workload around a little -small changes can make a big difference.

Find Comfort in Childcare The more comfortable you are with your childcare situation, the easier it will be for you to focus on work. Set-up a trial run with your daycare for a week before you return to work to prevent any last minute surprises about reliability, scheduling, pick-up/drop-off, etc.

Breast-pumps and Boardrooms Some larger family-friendly companies now have special rooms devoted to pumping, called lactation stations. If your company doesn't have such a room, set-up a daily pumping schedule where you can shut your office door (or use someone else's office when they're in meetings). Cover the windows, lock the door and put a note on the door as to when you'll be done. Make sure you've got refrigeration available (if needed) and consider how convenient your clothing is to workday pumping. Pumping at the office can be a hassle but it gives you the freedom to continue nursing for as long as you choose. As an added bonus, if you're missing your baby, stressed, or feeling guilty, you may find that the oxytocin and endorphins released through the pumping will help alleviate some of these feelings.

Expect to Feel Guilty When you're working a lot of hours and away from your child for long periods of time, you may be consumed with feelings of guilt. You may also feel guilty for leaving your child to go to work, guilty that going to work sometimes feels like a welcome break from your child or guilty when you have to leave work early. Guilt is a given. I work with my clients to help them manage this guilt (see the last ezine article on how to manage guilt). You can't control guilt but you can choose what you want to do about it.

Learn How to Compartmentalize As we already established, when you're at work, you may feel guilty. Then, when you're with your child, you may find that you're easily distracted by thoughts of work, household chores or a million little tasks that need attention. Do your best to be in the moment. If you're able to be fully present when spending time with your child, you'll feel less guilty when you're not with them. Easier said than done, right? Read my upcoming article for tricks on how to become more present and focused when spending quality time with your baby.

Set a Trial Period Allow yourself a ninety-day trial period to see how your new weekly schedule works for you and your family. Once you're through this trial period, assess how it's working and change your schedule accordingly. Also, as your child grows and develops, you may need to continue to tweak your schedule.

Keep it in Perspective At the end of the day, all of this careful planning can't account for emotions. During the post-partum period, your hormones are in huge flux and if you find yourself in tears the first day back at work, remember that you're not alone and there's no need to beat yourself up about it. The good news is, research shows that if you have an enjoyable job that inspires and motivates you, it's beneficial for your health and for the health of your child. So, hang in there, give yourself a break and remember that by taking care of yourself, you're taking care of your baby.


Amber Rosenberg is a professional life coach who helps high-achieving working mothers manage guilt and stress and re-define success on their own terms. After 12 years struggling to create her own work/life balance in the corporate and non-profit worlds, she is passionate about helping women actively choose how they want to spend their time. A popular speaker and frequently interviewed for national print, TV and radio media outlets, Amber co-authored the book Inspiration to Realization with a chapter on “How to Manage Your Love/Hate Relationship with Time”. To sign-up for a complimentary coaching consultation, to order a signed copy of her book or to sign-up for the Working Mothers' FREE monthly e-zine, go to

Friday, November 23, 2007

Will Laws Help?

I firmly believe the way to create change in the working world is for parents to begin demanding the work flexibility and support they need. In my opinion, as parents begin demanding flexibility, companies will start providing it in order to attract and retain a talented workforce. Further, as companies see the pay-off in increased worker loyalty and productivity, they will begin to expand the options to all workers.

However, I do acknowledge the role that our legislative system may play in advancing the cause of working parents. In fact, I am beginning to believe that some appropriate legislation may be the push employers need to start offering flexibility. For example, the UK’s workplace flexibility law, passed in 2003, has started to see some positive effects. The law requires flexibility options for certain workers with children under the age of six, and the law was extended for those who care for elders in 2006. The law may also be expanded to include more parents as companies have begun to realize the benefits of providing flexible work (see article here). Interestingly, support for the law is one of the few things their two major political parties agree upon.

There are several grassroots groups pushing for work/family legislation such as Efforts by this and other groups may be starting to pay off as individual states push through laws that benefit working parents. California and other states have already extended parental leave laws, and Indiana is considering offering tax benefits for companies that provide child care and also a bill that provides paid leave for parents attending school conferences (see article here).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Research Supports Telecommuting

A study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found support for the benefits of telecommuting. The study pulled together the results of 46 independent studies examinng telecommuting (find a summary of the research on ScienceDaily here).

According to the author of the study:
"Autonomy is a major factor in worker satisfaction and this rings true in our analysis. We found that telecommuters reported more job satisfaction, less motivation to leave the company, less stress, improved work-family balance, and higher performance ratings by supervisors."

The study provides evidence to support what those that telecommute already know: telecommuting is a win-win work arrangement. The employee benefits from the flexibility that the arrangement allows, and the employer benefits by having a dedicated, high performing worker.

The study reported few negative aspects of telecommuting, and those that do exist can be eliminated by setting some guidelines and taking appropriate actions to avoid problems. For example, the study found some challenges in work relationships for telecommuters who worked from home for 3 or more full days each week. However, work relationships with a telecommuter's boss and/or coworkers can be maintained with some specific efforts such as regular communication and productive in person meetings.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Motherhood or Career

It seems that the feminist revolution missed something along the way. Here we are in 2007 and women are still discussing the choice between career or motherhood. While some women have managed to do both successfully, most research suggests that there is a "motherhood penalty" whether it is in career opportunities or in long-term salary earnings. (See article in the Mercury News that shares some statistics on this).

Why do men earn more over their lifetime if they have children, while women earn less? As the Mercur News article discusses, often women are forced to try to make their family decisions based on when it will have the least impact on their careers. This often leads to women waiting until their 40's to have children, when then creates a challenge against biology.

Instead of debating the right timing of parenthood, perhaps a more productive discussion is the one on why the world we live in forces us into this debate. When as a society are we going to step up and say that employers and our government need to provide support to parents, particularly moms, who want to raise a family and have a career? It can happen. All we need is some workplace flexibilty, quality childcare, and support and encouragement in the workplace. If the right supports were in place, women would not have to choose between motherhood and career.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bringing Baby to Work

Allowing new moms to bring the baby to work is a growing trend, particularly in small firms. The Boston Globe recently ran a story featuring a few firms that do offer this option (see here). There are many pros and cons to allowing babies to come to work, and it certainly won't work out in all kinds of companies. But, kudos to those companies that can make it work.

The Boston Globe article also mentions some companies that allow parents to bring their kids to work on an occasional basis. If school is closed or a nanny calls off at the last minute, parents are often stuck in a dliemma where their only option is to take the day off. A company policy that allows the child to tag along with mom or dad for a day can take some stress off parents and also reduce unnecessary absences. An older child can be set-up in a conference room to do homework or watch a video. A toddler can find some amusement playing on the floor by mom or dad's desk.

Obviously a parent won't be as productive with a chlid along at work, but they will be more productive than if they stayed home. And of course, such a policy won't work in every company. But, a few enlightened companies that allow an occasional child in the office create a step in the direction of a world where family friendly work exists.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ultimate Working Mom

I am in the middle of reading "Fair Game" by Valerie Plame Wilson. I assume most know who Valerie Wilson is, but in case you are a busy working parent who has missed the news in the past few years, Ms. Wilson is the former undercover CIA agent who had her identity exposed in what appears to have been a case of political revenge (learn more about the case here).

It is a fascinating read, giving a you a window into the life of a covert CIA agent. But, even more interesting to me is that in addition to her life as a CIA agent, Valerie Wilson is also a working mom. In fact, her twins were just toddlers as she lived through this very public scandal.

In addition to the typical working mom worries of finding suitable childcare and keeping your life in balance, can you imagine adding international undercover travel to your worries? Or threats to your life or the safety of your home because of a political scandal?
Ms. Wilson became a mom after almost 20 years in the CIA. She chose to continue her career after an extra long maternity leave (it isn't exact in her book- many parts of her book relative to dates were blacked out by the CIA- but it looks like she took about a year). Further, she was able to negotiate a part-time arrangement so that she could continue her career without the extensive travel and long work hours she had prior to becoming a mom.
I find her story engaging and inspiring so far....will let you know as I read further.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Doing it All

I have had several friends comment to me how they are impressed with how I do it all. Many of my friends, particularly those who are at home full-time or do not have kids, think that I have some super abilities in order to manage my kids, my work and my home.

What all working moms know, however, is that we don't really do it all. Or, at least, we don't do it all well. I have commented several times about the lack of cleanliness around my house. Some don't believe me as I typically work hard to clean up this disaster area before guests arrive.

But, my real secret is that I am slowly losing my mind. Or, at least my memory. As I type this I have no idea where my keys are. My keys, that I need to drive my car, get into my office and my house. I have also wasted about an hour of my day today so far looking for them. And this is not the first time I lost or forgotten something important. I have spent weeks looking for lost papers, or clothes. I can't tell you how many times I have forgotten if I have or haven't washed my hair yet during a shower (I always just give it a second wash, just in case).

And so, one of the things you must accept if you are going to be a working parent, is dimenishing memory. That is O.K. though. Sometimes when I am away from home for a busy day, I don't remember how dirty my house is and I can pretend that I am a busy working mom that is doing it all.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Companies Still Don't Get It

A recent survey from by shows a disconnect still exists between employees’ desire for flexible work and the priority that companies place on offering such options. The Work/Life Balance survey (read article here) found that 89 percent of the employees surveyed believe work/life initiatives are important offerings to consider in the job search, while only about half of the Human Resource professionals surveyed consider work/life initiatives important. Further only 29 percent of employees viewed their current company’s work/life offerings as good or excellent.

Why don’t companies know what employees want? Part of the problem is that few companies take the time to collect information from their employees on their satisfaction with company benefits. Further, employees are clearly not vocalizing their needs. I wonder how many employees that responded to the Monster survey have asked their employer for a flexible work option? My guess is not many.

Companies are not going to invest the time and effort into developing work/life initiatives until they see the bottom line value in doing so. When companies start losing employees and having difficulty recruiting talent to fill those openings, they might start considering ways to improve retention.

If you truly want flexibility in your work, and are considering leaving your current employer to find it, help your company out and ask them about flexibility. In fact, build a strong business case for a more flexible schedule and then demand it. Once more employees step up and ask for what they want; we will start seeing a shift in the work/life options that companies offer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Creative Work Options

Many parents decide to go out on their own and start a new business in order to create a family friendly work arrangement. Often a simple idea can allow you to create an opportunity to earn money, but on your own schedule. One area that offers a lot of opportunities is to start a business offering services to others.

For example, the host of a local talk show told me about a friend of hers that started a business selling bagels and muffins at local office buildings. In the mornings she would pick them up from the bakery and leave them in baskets at certain office buildings. She relied on the honor system, allowing patrons to drop money into a jar. She would later pick up the leftovers and collect her earnings.

Another mom I heard about started a concierge service, targeting other working moms. She ran errands, picking up dry cleaning or dropping of a car for service. Often, she organized her own personal errands around her clients' so she was essentially paid for running errands she needed to run anyway. Another mom started a home organizing service. She goes into your home and organizes closets, work spaces, pantries, and storage areas.

These are some examples of some fairly simple ideas that can turn into very successful businesses. One of the key advantages of starting a business that offers a service is that there are little start-up costs. The biggest challenge and expense is marketing your services. However, with some planning and creativity, you can market your services cost-effectively and get your business off to a solid start. Here are some ideas:

- Write a press release about your business to send to the local media.
- Donate a service to a local fundraiser to use as a prize.
- Send an e-mail message announcing your service to your friends and family, ask them to share it with their friends and family.
- Look for local bulletin boards to post a flyer (coffee shops, libraries).
- Offer a workshop related to your service at a local venue such as your library or community center.

If you have a unique idea, and you are willing to put in the time and effort to market your idea, you can start your own service business and be on your way to family friendly work.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


If you are a working parent, you know you can find more time for your kids by outsourcing chores around the house such as cleaning and cutting the grass. But some parents are finding more time by outsourcing some of the less desirable parenting jobs.

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times (here), tells of the availability of consulting services that you can use to take over such parenting headaches as potty training, getting your baby to sleep through the night or helping you manage other behavioral problems.

While I don't think we should give up our responsibiity as parents, if there are some non-essential parenting duties that I can get help with, I am all for it. Potty training for instance. I would have loved to be able to take my kids to a day long class and come home to a diaperless world! I only have 2 kids, and learning how to potty train them is a skill that I will never need again. I didn't enjoy it, in fact, I found it very exhausting and time consuming.

Call me a slacker, but if I can outsource a duty I don't enjoy and save myself some valuable time that I can use to do something fun with my kids, then I think it is a good idea.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Family Friendly Culture

When I talk about family friendly work, I often get hung up on talking about flexible work options. For most, the ability to have some flexibility is the key to family friendly work.

However, the nature of the actual work environment often is more important than flexibility of schedule. I have talked to many parents who tell me that they are not comfortable even talking about their kids at work. Admitting you have children in some companies can become a barrier to career advancement. You are not in a family friendly environment if you feel that you need to claim you are sick to get a day off instead of letting your boss know you have a sick kid.

Beyond the attitudes of company leaders toward families, companies can also create a family friendly work environment by offering benefits that support you and your family. Examples include comprehensive health care coverage, paid sick time, family leave beyond the legal requirements, and childcare support.

If you are looking for family friendly work, it is essential that you make efforts to find out what the work environemnet is really like. Even little things, such as children's artwork proudly displayed around the office, can help you find out if a company is family friendly. You should thoroughly check out benefit options and look for opportunities to talk casually with as many peers as possible. Create a checklist of what you think is important for you and your family, and stick to it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mom Entreprenuers

More and more moms are finding that starting their own business is the best way to find family friendly work. According to a recent article I came across, a study by the Center for Women's Business Research reported that women own nearly half of the privately held businesses in the United States. Further, one in every eleven women is an enterprenuer!

Kaye Bowles, the author of the article, suggested that more women start businesses because of the flexibility that your own business offers. I agree. I see more and more moms (and dads) starting their own business because of the frustration of working for someone else.

I know I've shared many examples of how my own business has helped me find the flexibility I need. Again tomorrow I've been able to easily rearrange my schedule to make it to my kids' school Halloween parties. There is just something about that feeling of control that really helps you feel that you are doing well for your family.

The article points out, however, that you must pursue a business opportunity that you are passionate about. While you have control over your schedule, you still have to work hard to make a business succeed. If you don't like what you're doing, your family will sense it. Work that causes you to bring home frustrations is often not very family friendly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Staying In

It is a rainy, cold Saturday afternoon and I couldn't be happier. We attended a Halloween Party for the kids this morning, but we have no other plans the rest of the day. I have on a cozy sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers on and I have my feet up in my favorite recliner getting ready to watch a movie with my son.

On days like this, I ask myself why we have to be so busy all of the time. Sometimes I feel like I just go from one commitment to the next, never actually enjoying what I do. I feel stressed out a lot, and I know that it is all self-induced. That is, I stretch myself thin, trying to keep my kids involved in things and always trying to accomplish as much as possible in a day.

It helps me sometimes to read books by 'real' moms that aren't always trying to be the perfect supermom. Here are some of my favs:
  • Confessions of a Slacker Mom by Muffy Mead-Ferro
  • The Three Martini Playdate by Christie Mellor
  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Any other good ones out there?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Who You Know

When it comes to finding family friendly work, it s not always what you know that is important. Most often, it is who you know. Finding a job using your network of contacts has many advantages.

For example, through your network you can often learn of job opportunities that have not yet been made available to the public. Often jobs are filled through referrals before an advertisement is placed. Further, you can often learn through a contact if a company actually lives up to its' family friendly claims.

Many traditional opportunities for networking exist. You can go to parties that you are invited to, or try to stay after an important meeting to get to know key players at your company.

But it is the Internet that has given us the most opportunity to network. There are of course the well known social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. But from a business perspective we are starting to see some more professional online networking opportunities as well.

For example, I have spent some time this evening updating my contacts on It seems to be a widely used site that allows you to enter your personal network with the opportunity to expand your network through your own contacts.

If you have done your research and want to apply at a company that you think is family friendly, such a networking site can help you find the right contact to submit your resume to. And at the worst, you have established a few solid contacts on the way.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I Can't Help But Ask...

Every time I meet another parent, I rush to ask them about their work arrangement. I try to be casual, starting with "so what do you do?" From there, I have to know if they have any flexibility at work, and if they work in any kind of unique flexible arrangement I insist on asking for every detail.

When I was writing my book, people understood this uncontrollable need to learn about the different kinds of arrangements parents have negotiated. But even now that the book is finished, I still can't help my compulsion to learn about how other parents balance work and family. Obviously it is something I am passionate about, enought at least to write a book. But, I think it goes beyond that. In my own struggle to spend time with my kids without sacrificing my career, I find some comfort in learning that others have made efforts to find balance.

This week I chatted with two ladies with great work arrangements. Beth is an acocunt manager at a private airport. She works three, twelve-hour days (Sunday-Tuesday). Her husband works a traditional workweek and her parents watch her kids on Monday and Tuesday during the day. She is considered full-time and receives full benefits, but still gets to spend four full days a week with her kids.

Allison is a speech therapist, currently working just one day a week at a nursing home (second shift). She also fills in for other therapists on an occasional basis. While she has only a part-time income, she has complete flexibility and is able to keep her skills and licensing up-to-date so she can easiliy return to full-time work at any time she wants.

These are two from just this week. I am suprised on a regular basis about how many creative work arrangements parents have negotiated with their employers. I'm sure there are many more out there, and I plan to keep asking.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Living Cheap

I was talking with another mom this morning about her work. She said she loves her job, but could make more money if she worked more. But she has decided not to, because she wants to spend time with her kids.

Is her retirement account suffering? Has she stopped saving for her kids' college? No. Instead of letting her family friendly work schedule affect her financial stability, her and her husband are cutting back in areas where it doesn't matter. They have older cars with no car payment, don't have cable TV and try not to eat out too much.

Financial management is an essential step in creating family friendly work. I'd love to remodel my bathroom, and buy all new furniture (everywhere in my house- everything we have is old!). But, instead, I get to spend a few extra quality days with my kids each week. It is a good trade-off.

There are lots of resources out there to help you better manager your money. Check out, or for some ideas to get started.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Flexibility Works

There are many reasons why a flexible work arrangement is a good thing. Obviously flexible work allows parents to better meet the needs of their children and experience less stress when trying to balance work and home life.

I have also pointed out that flexible work benefits companies through increased productivity and improved employee retention. A recent article by John Halamka, a Chief Information Officer at a healthcare facility makes a few good points (see article here). Some key points:

- Often in-office distractions reduce productivity. Therefore, allowing an employee the flexibility to work from home may increase productivity.
- An employee with a long commute can have more time (to work, or at home), by working fewer but longer days.
- We have so many options to communicate via technology, face-to-face meetings are not always necessary.

Halamka goes on to point out some concerns with flexible work such as how to hold employees accountable and security issues. However, most of these you can overcome and the pay-off is worthwhile.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who Doesn't Want Family Friendly?

Even companies with good intentions can have challenges supporting their employees. Many enlightened companies do now offer policies and programs that provide support to working parents. These family friendly companies seem to be on the right track to attracting and retaining satisfied and productive employees.

That is, unless you are not a parent. As a recent brief New York Times article points out, kid-free workers aren’t always impressed with a company’s dedication to becoming family friendly. And their lack of support is not without reason. In many work environments, those without children do not receive the same consideration as those with children.

When exceptions in a work schedule or other obligations are requested, managers often make value judgments when making their decision. A manager will often grant a request if it involves an obligation for a child, but deny a request made for other personal reasons. A student of mine was just telling me the other day that in a previous job she was often asked to stay late when others were not. She did not have children and was even told a few times that it didn’t matter if she worked late, since she didn’t have anything else to do.

So what is a company to do? Can a company support working parents without stepping over those that don’t have children? I think they can. In fact, those policies and programs targeted at working parents can often benefit all employees. If a company designs flexible work options, generous time-off policies and other benefits for working parents, they should make sure that all employees are eligible to take advantage of these as well. Doing so will likely give the company the same return of increased productivity and loyalty by employees, parents or not.

Managers should also avoid making value judgments when it comes to granting employees time-off or other exceptions. If an employee needs to leave work early for a personal emergency, a manager should not judge if the reason for taking the time-off is important or not. The manager should focus on the business impact of the decision. Is this a responsible employee who will make-up the work if needed? Is there an important deadline or other work-related reason that makes the accommodation impossible? The manager should base his or her decision on a business need, not a personal judgment about what is a personal emergency. An employee without children very well might have a personal emergency that is just as important as one that involves a child.

I’ve heard some say that benefits should be called “life friendly” instead of “family friendly.” That might just be a good idea.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Take a Vacation

I suggest often that you should take a break, take some time for yourself. But while I take off a weekend here or there, taking time off is something I don't really do a good job of myself. I really cannot remember the last time I took a full week off from working. I'm thinking it might have been a trip to Denmark in 1999.

As Julie, a blogger for the Chicago Tribune points out, taking some serious time away from work is important to reduce stress and actually be a better employee. Her discussion (here) mentions directives from some companies to their employees on the importance of taking time off.

That is one thing I miss about working in the corporate world: paid vacation. If I take time off, I don't get paid. Further, I don't have anyone to cover my work if I am away. While I love my work arrangement, and I know I wouldn't the flexibility I have now if I worked for someone else, I do wish I could just walk away for a week (or maybe more!).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Want to get involved?

A few days ago I mentioned the lack of governmental support for working families. I don't think that many would argue against the idea that the government could do more to "encourage" companies to support parents.

However, having spent many years in the corporate environment, I am not sure that government intervention is the best approach. In my experience, companies put together better programs/resources/policies when they do so to be competitive. That is, (most)companies will comply with government regulations. But, they won't go beyond the minimal requirements. On the other hand, if competitive pressures to get top talent require a company to offer such programs/resources/policies, then they will likely do so. Of course we aren't there yet, but I predict that more and more companies will begin to offer family friendly work options.

Some companies, however, will not make changes unless they are forced to. So if you are looking for a way to help encourage our government to provide families with support, check out Moms Rising, a grassroots organization to support mothers. Further, 9 to 5, a National Organization for Working Women, recently released a report laying out an agenda for governmental suport (check it out here). If nothing more, strong support of these efforts will help send a message to companies that support for working families is needed.

Monday, October 8, 2007

National Work and Family Month

Well I have returned from my restful weekend and as usual, I am now swamped! A few days away always leads to a week or two of playing catch-up. But, we had a wonderful weekend of eating, drinking, girl-talk, massages, swimming, sight-seeing and general fun!

As I worked to get back into the swing of things today, I found a note I'd written about National Work and Family Month. Apparently back in 2003, Congress passed a resolution to make October a month that we recognize what companies are doing to promote work and family balance. The Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) was involved in this effort and provides a nice outline of the resolution here.

While I think it is good that the government has made some recognition of the fact that managing work and family is tough, couldn't they do more than pass a meaningless resolution? What benefit does this resolution provide for working families? While the AWLP provides some useful suggestions of what a company can do to honor this resolution, I don't think many companies really do much of anything (unless they can garner some publicity from it).

Shouldn't we expect our government to provide a bit more support to working families? As I've mentioned before, we lag severely behind most other industrialized countries in benefits provided to working parents. Wouldn't efforts to support quality childcare and flexible working options do us more good than a resolution to "recognize" work and family challenges? If they really recognize the struggle, shouldn't Congress do something to help?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Weekend Get-a-Way

I leave (quite early) tomorrow morning to go meet up with my college roommates for our annual reunion weekend. Each year the three of us pick a location and fly in to spend an entire weekend kid-free. This year we are headed to the new home of one of my pals, Philadelphia. However, we'll be staying at a hotel instead of her home to make sure she gets a break too.

I was mentioning the get-a-way to a colleague whose children are grown and she said "good for you" and then followed with "I never felt comfortable leaving my children when they were young." What?? I know that there are many parents out there that feel this way, so please forgive me, but give me a break! I am leaving the kids with their father, not some stranger. He is for the most part perfectly capable of taking care of them (maybe not dressing them in matching clothes, but I am sure he will feed them and make sure they sleep, at least some).

And I really need this. Especially after this week of juggling schedules trying to make sure they were taken care of while they were sick. This is a weekend for me, to allow me to relax and rejuvenate. As a result of my time away, next week I will be a much better mom!

I'll let you know how it went when I return.....

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sick Child Care

I think I just wrote about this a few weeks ago, but again this week we were plagued by sick days. Yesterday wasn’t too difficult. I could work from home except for a one-hour class I teach, which my husband covered over his lunch. Today was more difficult, I had a training program that I was giving to a client, and my husband had several urgent meetings. My in-laws and mom came through taking shifts to take care of the kids until I could get home.

The kids were, of course, just sick enough to not go to school. But, not really that sick. My son woke up with a fever that blocked him from going to school, but it was gone by 9am. The kids had a great day hanging out with grandparents. In fact, they have asked if they can be sick again tomorrow.

For us, today was a panic trying to coordinate last minute childcare for only mildly ill kids. I would love to see a “sick childcare” center open around here. Sick childcare provides care for mildly ill children. It is for cases just like we had today where your child may be contagious, so you don’t want them to go to school. But, they are not seriously ill where they need you there. These centers have health care professionals on staff that provide supervision and care for the sick children.

Interested in learning more? There is actually a non-profit organization that exists to promote the establishment of sick childcare centers. Learn more about them here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Deciding to Have Children

I just read an article about making the decision to have children (see here). The article discussed several considerations including those that are financial, emotional and biological. The article also discussed the career-related considerations that particularly affect women.

While I know that women who want a career and a family obviously must think about how the responsibility of a child will mesh with their career progress, this article struck something with me. The article mentioned some women who didn’t have children because they didn’t see how it would fit in with their career. If women feel that they might have to forgo children in order to have a career, isn’t there something wrong in the world?

I know I did think about my career in deciding to have kids. I don’t think I thought seriously about kids until I was in graduate school. After I started my classes, I knew that I didn’t want to have kids until I made it through my classes. I knew that once I was working on my dissertation, I would have more flexibility to manage a baby.

However, I did not think about the long-term effects of children on my career. If I didn’t’ have children, I would likely be in a tenure track position at a university. Instead, I have pieced together a mish-mashed career of teaching, consulting and writing. However, instead of feeling like I gave up a career for kids, I feel that having kids motivated me to pursue a more interesting and fulfilling career path than I would have otherwise.

So while I in no way advocate jumping into parenthood without a thought, I do believe we think too much about finding the right time to have children. There is no right time. I think you should have kids when you want, and then figure out how to make your career work around them.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Virtual Conference

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am speaking at an upcoming virtual conference. The Momference starts live on Monday and looks like an interesting venture. I have been impressed with the preparations to date and I am curious to see how it goes.
This idea of utilizing technology to provide more people access to learning opportunities seems like a unique approach to solving the problems some may face with keeping their skills sharp. If you can participate in a conference from the convenience of your home, I would think you would be more likely to do so.

This conference still has a cost ($127 to participate in the live version), but that seems pretty reasonable for a six day conference. Further, you don’t have to incur travel costs to participate. I doubt that there is anyone who will listen in on six full days of presentations, but I think that there should be enough available to make it worthwhile.

If you check it out, let me know what you think. I am involved on a panel that presents on Tuesday, October 2 at 4pm EST. I am going to try to listen in on some other sessions as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Working Mother Magazine's Top 100

Working Mother Magazine has just released its’ Top 100 companies for working moms (see here). This annual list highlights companies who have policies, programs and benefits that support working moms. If you are searching for a family friendly company, this list is a good starting point for conducting your research.

Further, reading about what other companies are doing to make themselves more family friendly may give you some ideas of policies and programs that would be beneficial at your organization. For example, Wachovia offers women many networking opportunities so that women in the organization can connect and help support each other. Creating more networking opportunities such as luncheon meetings or a mentoring program is something that an organization can provide with little financial investment.

So the list and supporting information is worth a read. A reminder, however, on my earlier caution: the policies and benefits described for each of these companies are not necessarily available to all employees. If you pursue an opportunity with a company listed here, make sure you find out exactly what policies and benefits you will have access to in your particular job.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kids Will Rule Your World

I can’t believe that my son Hank is turning 5 this week! On one hand, it seems that time has really just flown by; on the other hand, I don’t remember my life before children.

A friend of mine had her first child a few years after I did. When she was pregnant, she talked about trying to work out a flexible arrangement with her employer once her daughter was born. She mentioned that she might try to work from home a few days a week, at least while her daughter was an infant so she could spend some time with her. I cautioned her that she may not want to count on getting too much done in a day with the baby at home. She didn’t pay too much attention to my advice until the baby came along. She really thought that the baby would just sleep a lot and she really could get some work done.

And then reality hit. She had a particularly fussy baby and there would be no working, or doing anything else while the baby was there. She later asked, “why didn’t you tell me what it was really like?”

I told her that I had tried to tell her, but you just can’t comprehend how all-consuming children are until you have them. Your life shifts from being your life, to being your life that you are trying to work in around your kids’ needs.

I’ve tried to urge expecting parents that I know to really think about what they want in a work arrangement before the child comes along. But most don’t understand the challenge until they are buried in it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Family Friendly Myth

Every year when Working Mother magazine lists the top family friendly companies, you can usually find some follow-up commentary from employees of some of those companies that state that while their company does have family friendly policies, they are not encouraged to take advantage of them.

I spoke with a reporter recently who told me of a friend who worked in PR at a big company. The PR professional was assigned the task of getting the company on a list similar to Working Mother's and after some research and policy writing, was able to get the company on the list. While the PR professional was rewarded for the accomplishment, nothing changed at the company for working parents.

To further confirm the fact that companies with family friendly policies are not necessarily family friendly, I just read a press release about a study with similar findings on the real availability of family friendly work (see here). While I was unable to find any other information on the study, it seems to confirm these concerns.

If you work at a company that claims to be family friendly when they are not, it is time to ask your company to live up to its' promises. If employees demand the flexibility they need and demonstrate the value to their employer, family friendly work can become a reality.

If you are looking for a new company, you must go further than reading the company policy to find out if they are truly family friendly. Get a feel for the company culture and find out if the policies are actually used. Make sure you know if your potential new boss supports the family friendly policies and benefits that are available.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Corporate Success

I just came across an article in the Minnesota Women's Press (here) that highlights some of the challenges women face as they climb the corporate ladder. The article noted that while women have maintained their ground in corporate management due to family friendly benefits and flexible working options, a stigma still exists for women taking advantage of such options.

As a result, we have seen little progress in diversifying the top ranks of corporate America, with women only holding about 5% of the top spots in medium and large companies. Further, if we continue progressing at the same rate, it will be another 40 years before women achieve parity with men in these top spots.

So what is the answer here? Do women who want to have happy family lives have to drop out of corporate America? I did, and I am happy about my decision. I, like many other moms (and dads), have found that success by my own rules is much more satisfying and a lot less frustrating.

But, what about those that enjoy the corporate game? What will it take to give them the ability to work in more flexible arrangements and still have success at the office? Will it ever be possible?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Working with Baby

Many work-at-home moms and dads solve the childcare dilemma by attempting to work with a new infant in tow. Many have successfully managed to get through a workday stopping to feed the baby and change a diaper or two along the way.

I did it some. I was working on my doctoral dissertation when my son was born and spent many afternoons reading research papers to him in a sing-songy voice, or typing on my computer while he napped nearby.

This arrangement worked as long as I didn’t have a pressing deadline. It never failed, he would have a fussy spell while I was trying to get something done by a certain time. I also found that I couldn’t conduct any business over the phone with him around. Even if he was sleeping, a conversation could quickly come to an unprofessional end with a wail from the crib.

Interestingly, some workplaces have allowed new moms and dads to bring infants along with them to return to work with less turmoil. (see article from ABC news) Is this a good idea? Can a parent be productive while a baby is nearby? Could a crying infant in the background be disruptive to co-workers?

My belief is that it depends. While working with my infant around did work for me for a while, I found at some point it was just unproductive. I also found that I often felt guilty working when I could be paying more attention to him. As my babies turned into toddlers, I found it was virtually impossible to work while they were around. Now pre-schoolers, I can occasionally grade some papers while they are playing, but that is about it.

I do caution those that think they can work from home without childcare to make sure they carefully assess their ability to maintain a professional tone on the phone, and that they watch deadline commitments. I have dealt with work-at-home parents with crying kids and barking dogs in the background and I think it does jeopardize their ability to communicate professionally.

However, I am impressed that some companies have figured out the benefits of helping support families. Returning to work is challenging for a new parent, and some time transitioning could make the adjustment a great deal easier, which benefits both the company and the parent.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Doing Research

Some elect for a job or career change in search of a work arrangement more compatible with family. Often a new job that allows for more independent work can give you the flexibility that you need.

Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), the government, specifically the Department of Labor has created a useful tool to help you conduct research to get you started in making such a change. O*Net Online is an occupational information network that provides detailed information about hundreds of jobs. Each job listed includes detailed information about typical responsibilities for the job and also what kind of knowledge, skills and abilities are required for the job. The site also provides salary expectations and information about the future demand for employees in the job.

You can use the database in several ways. You can explore and find careers/jobs that match your interests. You can do research on careers/jobs that use the same skill sets that your current job requires. You can also learn more about the skills you need to develop to move into a career or job you are interested in.

Changing jobs successfully requires conducting research in order to understand your options and get yourself prepared. I think O*Net provides a good starting point.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Today I had a conference call with the panel I will be working with to present “Spotlight on Careers” at the first Momference, which is an upcoming teleconference for moms.
The Momference will provide sessions on a wide range of mom-related topics including parenting, relationships and careers.

The Momference includes six days of teleconference presentations that you can listen to from home on your computer or telephone. You can listen live (October 1-6), or there is also an option to listen to the recorded sessions so you can spread it out over time. It looks like it is going to be packed with many great resources, and I think it is reasonably priced.

To give you an idea of what it is all about, the organizers are offering three FREE pre-conference workshops. They start tomorrow, 9/14, check them out here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Being Honest

Another important characteristic of a family friendly work environment is transparency. When I say transparency, I mean that employees and managers are honest and truthful with each other about everything. From business plans to personal concerns, being transparent means being truthful about what is going on.

Transparency is family friendly because it provides less stress and more stability at work. If management is honest with you, then you know where you stand with the company. You know if your job is stable and you know what you have to do to succeed.

Further, transparency means that you don’t have to hide the fact that you have a family. You will be less stressed if you know you don’t have to make up a lie to get out of work early to pick up a sick kid.

The head of talent at Deloitte promotes what she calls being “compulsively transparent.” After admitting that she missed an important meeting to attend a sale at Nordstrom’s (see article here), she challenged others to start being truthful at work as well. She suggests that we all make trade-offs between our personal life and work. Even those who don’t have children have things going on outside of work that could conflict with work responsibilities. Shouldn’t the workplace acknowledge that?

Therefore, when you are looking for family friendly work, you should check out how open communication is at a potential company. What are time-off policies? How does management communicate with employees? Finding out if a company promotes transparency will help you determine if it is truly family friendly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Dash

This evening I attended the wake for a friend's father who died suddenly last week. Although he lived a full life, my friend said the week had been tragic and that they were of course all overwhelmed at their loss.

As I was driving home, I thought of something I read once somewhere. When you die, your name goes on a tombstone, followed by your date of birth, a dash and then your date of death. Your entire life, everything you accomplished, everyone you touched and the family you created; all represented by a short dash.

So before you get to that date of death, you must make the most of your dash. Your dash through life as it sometimes seems. It just goes so fast. You know that if you have kids.

So this is why you must make the effort to create the life you want. Beyond reducing the day-to-day stress of just getting by, finding a good balance between your work and the rest of your life can help you get the most out of your dash.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Avoiding Housework

This evening we took the kids and met some friends at a park. We had a cookout and the kids played while the adults talked. We had a great time and as we packed up to go home, my friend Jill mentioned that the best part of the night was that no one had to clean up their house, before or after the cookout.

Jill only works part-time, but she will tell you that she did not quit her full-time job so she could clean her house. She cut back on work so that she could enjoy her kids. I also have set my priorities. My kids and family first, and then my work. Home decorating, or even home cleaning, is not important to me.

Managing my time is the key to my family friendly work arrangement. Therefore, I don’t think time spent cleaning or doing other things around my house is the best way to spend my time. Surprisingly, I don’t think most of my friends realize the depth of my aversion to house cleaning. As far as I know (maybe I’m just clueless), most that visit our house think we do a decent job of keeping our house presentable.

So here are some tips if you too are looking to cut back on your housework:
· Have a quick clean plan. If someone calls and is coming by my house, I have a strategy to sweep through the first floor and pick-up/clean-up all visible areas in a few minutes.
· No one ever really looks in your closets. It is fine to jam and stuff things in your closets and then quickly shut the doors.
· Spend your time in the bathroom. If you only have a little time to clean, spend your time in the bathroom. It is what your guests will notice.
· Invest in a Swifter, or whatever other cleaning cheating devise that you can find. I can clean my floors with a Swifter in just five minutes.
· Decorate your home with easy cleaning in mind. Our last house had white linoleum in the kitchen and off-white carpeting throughout the house. It always looked dirty, even just hours after cleaning. We now have flooring with darker colors and lots of patterns. You can go weeks without sweeping and no one ever knows.

O.K., so maybe you think I am joking. I’m actually not. I work hard to not work hard around the house. I’ve found the best way to find time is to eliminate things that I just don’t find important.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Changing the Rules of the Game

I spoke with a reporter today who asked me if I thought there was truly a change going on in the workplace when it comes to family friendly work opportunities. She has been writing on the topic for more than 15 years and told me that every few years there seems to be serious change on the horizon, but it then fades away.

What is different now? Am I just another author in a stream of many proposing wild ideas that will never become truly acceptable? Or can a parent really find a fulfilling, successful career and actually spend time with his or her children?

I think they can. Parents (women in particular) are starting to reject the traditional model of career success. Those before us made many sacrifices to allow career opportunities for women. But, they had to make their progress on what is considered the traditional male terms.

Now that we have access to the c-suite, it is time to start rethinking the rules of success. Does it really matter if you work long, self-sacrificing hours? Or can you prove yourself through your creativity, productivity and bottom-line contribution to your company’s success? I think the latter makes sense for both you and your company.

Kimberly Palmer at U.S. News and World Report, along with other writers, call it the “New Mommy Track.” (See article here). I think we need to just call it the "New Rules of the Game."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Single Parents

I picked up a cold somewhere this weekend and have felt miserable all day. My son who typically is easy to put to bed of course picked tonight to have a melt down. I was so tired I know I just wasn’t handling it well and finally called for my husband to just take over.

As I walked away and let him deal with it, I thought again about the fact that I feel fortunate to have a partner in raising my children. Beyond raising our kids in a family environment that I feel good about, it just makes life easier on a daily basis to have someone to take on some of the responsibility.

So, my deepest respect goes to those who do it alone. Whether by choice or circumstance, I truly admire those parents that raise children on their own. But, I wonder often how they do it? I’ve talked to many single parents who tell me they “just do it.”

I know a good support system is helpful. I met a woman yesterday who moved back in with her parents so that she could afford to finish working on her nursing degree. She has been working on it for awhile, and moving home with her parents will allow her to finish up more quickly so she can move on to a career that she strongly desires, that will also help her better provide for her two daughters. I could tell that she wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, after so many years of independence it must be difficult being back in your parent’s home. But, I could also tell that she felt fortunate to have their support.

I would love to hear other tips or guidance from single parents!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Cultivating a Contact

Networking is the key to finding a family friendly work arrangement because you can find out if a company really is family friendly through a network contact. Further, most employment opportunities aren’t advertised, they are filled through referrals.

There are many ways to network and meet new people, but then what? Network contacts are helpful when they think of you when they hear about a job, or when you can call them for advice. Just meeting someone briefly doesn’t build the relationship you need to make that person a valuable network contact.

After meeting someone, you must make an effort to build a relationship. Here are a few strategies to cultivate your next network contact:

· Follow-up with a “nice to meet you” note. Either via snail mail or e-mail, send a note to your new contact telling her that you enjoyed meeting her and look forward to getting to know her.
· Invite her to lunch or coffee. An informal talk over a quick lunch or coffee will allow you to get to know her better.
· Ask for an informational interview. If your new contact is in a job you are interested in, or works at a company you are targeting, ask her if she would have time to meet you for an informational interview. (Learn more about informational interviewing here).
· Keep your new contact in mind if you learn about something of interest to her. If you come across a good job opportunity, interesting conference or program, new babysitter or even just a recipe that she might enjoy, pass it along.

While meeting new people is what networking is all about, you must also remember that successful networking involves getting to know your new contact. Taking the time to cultivate a network contact can turn it into a valuable relationship that may at some point help you find the family friendly work opportunity that you want.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I was at a social event this evening and I met someone who I had helped yet had never met. A few months ago, I was at the gym talking with a friend about my search for a new childcare arrangement. Another woman nearby mentioned that her daughter had just moved to the area and was also looking for a new childcare arrangement. So I sent her a list that I had, which she then shared with her daughter. Her daughter, who I met tonight, ended up hiring a nanny from my list.

This just reminds me that you can’t have enough friends when you have kids. I’ve mentioned this again and again, I know. But it really is worth your while to help others. Besides just being the right thing to do, if you are helpful to others, they will likely be helpful to you. I often forward on messages from other parents looking for help with something. Whether you are looking for a babysitter or a new doctor, recommendations from friends are key to making your life easier as a parent.

A new site I came across recently allows you to start your own local networking group if you want to meet other parents in your area. Check out Maybe you can expand your network!

Monday, August 27, 2007


One issue that isn’t often mentioned in the work/family debate is the matter of finances. I’ve read many articles and discussions about whether or not parents (particularly moms) should work and most lack any acknowledgement of the financial impact of staying-at-home. However, many parents don’t get to choose if they work or stay home, they must work in order to provide for their families.

Financial need can create a significant barrier to finding a family friendly work arrangement. If you need to work to provide the basics for your family, or to live the kind of lifestyle you desire, the amount of money you need to make is an important consideration in your pursuit of family friendly work.

Obviously cutting back your work hours has the most significant financial implication. Further, while you can still progress in your career while working part-time, your progress will likely slow, as will your income growth.

One tactic to find a more family friendly work arrangement is to reconsider your financial priorities. Often, I hear parents say they can’t cut back their hours because they can’t take a cut in pay. I think that part of finding a family friendly work arrangement is taking a close look at your spending.

Often just small cuts in your spending can lead to big savings. It is what David Bach calls the Latte Factor (as in spending on small things such as coffee adds up quickly, read about it here). So as you consider your work arrangement and your priorities, you must also consider your spending and your finances.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Learning and Technology

Evolving technology is key in advancing family friendly work opportunities. Obviously, technology makes it easy to work remotely and also supports communication when working a flexible schedule.

Technology has also made it easier to advance your skills, leading to more family friendly opportunities. For example, as I mentioned earlier this week, if you want to start your own business, you can learn what you need to learn mostly through online resources and networking. More colleges and universities are offing distance learning opportunities so you can get an advanced degree that might allow you to pursue a professional position that is more suitable for a flexible work arrangement.

And a more recent development that allows skill building with the use of technology is the virtual conference. Traditional conferences have always been a great way to learn new things in a short period of time. However, they often involve travel and expensive hotel rooms. Further, it is often challenging to abandon your life for a few days or a week to attend a conference, particularly if you are a working parent.

Virtual conferences happen online. They are very much like traditional conferences, offering many sessions at different times. But, you can log-in and participate in the sessions from your own home. Many virtual conferences also record their sessions so you can listen to a presentation an at alternative time if you have a conflict with the scheduled time.

I just signed on to present at my first virtual conference. The Momference, which is full of resources and advice for moms, will run October 1-6th and will take place online and over the telephone. Check it out here!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back to School

While my kids are just in pre-school, it is still back to school week for us. While it is only part-time, it still is not easy. There have been some tears (for all of us) and after only three days, I still walk out with that tugging feeling in my chest. You know the one, where you question every decision you have made about your work and your family. While they would be going to pre-school now even if I didn’t work, the school day would be shorter.

I know I have made the right decision. My kids are getting a fantastic early education. They are making friends and most likely having more fun that if they were home with me. They certainly are eating better. And I am making money to support them and also finding personal fulfillment.

But it is still hard to do. Everyone is tired at night, including me. I remind myself that many are not as fortunate to have the flexibility that I do. I was really missing them yesterday so I picked them up an hour early, and worked later after they went to bed to catch up on what I missed. Did I mention it is not easy?

So this is my dilemma for back to school. I’m sure you have one too, most parents do. For many, back to school time generates a desire to find a more family friendly work arrangement. There was an article on ABC’s website this week that provides some great tips for that pursuit, check it out here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Starting Out On Your Own

One way to create family friendly work is to start your own business. Doing so allows you to be the boss, and set your own schedule. You can determine when you work, and how much you work. You also have many options to do work on your own.

For example, you might want to become a direct seller and get started easily on your business venture as most direct sales companies provide lots of training and resources to their representatives. Check out the Direct Selling Association for information on becoming a direct seller and a directory of companies. If you choose this option, make sure you check out how many others are selling your product in your local area. You don’t want to enter a market that is already saturated.

If you have an idea for a business of your own, you’ll find there is a lot of help out there, particularly if you are a female. Look for local resources through your chamber of commerce, local colleges or universities or other non-profit organizations. Successful entrepreneurs are essential to local economies and therefore, there is typically a lot of local support available. Of course, there are also many resources available online. In fact, Jessica Hupp at Bootstrapper put together a list of the top 100 online resources for women entrepreneurs. Check it out here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Time Wasters

Time management is a must-have skill for working parents. The ability to organize your life and get everything accomplished that you need to each day allows you to spend the time you want with your family.

“Time wasters” create a huge barrier for many people in managing their time. Time wasters are useless activities such as watching TV and procrastinating that can quickly rob you of valuable time. My biggest time waster? E-mail! I have to admit that I am obsessed with checking my e-mail. If I am working at my computer, I probably check-in on my e-mail 4-5 times each hour. If I am not working, I still find time to stop by my computer every hour or two to check my e-mail. Why? I have no idea. I just feel the need to see what is new, if someone wants something for me, or if I’ve received a reply to any messages I’ve sent.

I haven’t actually tracked minutes, but I’m sure I am wasting a lot of time! I know I could cut back on checking e-mail and the world would not end. In fact, I was out of town for three days without e-mail access, and no tragedies occurred. So, I am going to continue working on cutting back.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-hour Workweek” provides some advice on controlling your e-mail use on his blog here. I haven’t read Tim’s book yet, but it is on my list to read. From the excerpts and reviews I’ve read, looks like he has some great ideas on how to find serious work/life balance. Anyone read it yet?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Asking for Flexibility

Many parents have told me that their company doesn’t “offer” flexibility. But what amazes me is that most haven’t ever asked for a more flexible schedule. The reality is, most companies don’t offer flexible work options until they start hearing requests for it.

So if you want flexibility at work, you need to ask for it. However, have a plan before you get started. Many parents make the mistake of waiting until they are overstressed and almost ready to quit before they ask for more flexibility. If you have thought of a way you could get your work done while having more flexibility, you should propose your arrangement to your boss.

I suggest preparing a written proposal for your flexible work request. Before writing your proposal, consider how your proposed arrangement will benefit your employer. That is, in addition to increasing your motivation, loyalty and productivity, how else will your company benefit? Could your change in schedule help provide better service to your clients? Could your reduced hours or work-from-home save your company money?

A desperate plea for a change will likely only return a negative response. However, a well thought out proposal that tries to anticipate any concerns may help you get the first flexible work arrangement at your company. But first, you have to ask.