Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Creating Family Friendly Work

I had my first TV interview today! I was a guest on That’s Life with Robin Swoboda on the Fox channel in Cleveland. It is a local talk show that touches on a wide variety of “life” issues. I thought I would be nervous, but it was actually a lot of fun.

On the show I shared five strategies to create family friendly work:
1) Negotiate a schedule change at your current job (i.e. compressed work week, job share, part-time, telecommuting).
2) Get a new boss. Your company may offer flexible work options, but your boss may have discretion in deciding who gets to work in a flexible schedule. A new boss may be the key to getting flexibility.
3) Find a family friendly company. You may need to move on to a new company that has family friendly support such as flexible schedules, generous time-off and other benefits that support working parents.
4) Make a career change. You can also move into a career that allows more flexible work. Work that is more independent in nature can allow more flexibility.
5) Go it alone. Starting your own business can allow you to create family friendly work because you are the boss.

Watch the entire interview here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Setting Boundaries

My daughter is usually difficult at nighttime, so she goes to bed first and my son follows usually about a half-hour later. I often let him watch a cartoon during that half-hour, which gives me a chance to check my e-mail. Tonight a few minutes into his cartoon, he came and asked me if I would sit with him. Before I could respond, he told me that Daddy’s computer was over near the TV and that if I need to work, I could use it while I sat with him.

While I do think it is good that he understands that I have important work I need to get done, I feel badly that I’ve likely made him think that my work might be more important than sitting with him. Of course I stopped working to go sit with him, but I think I need to be more specific about when I am working and when I am not. And when I am not working, I need to not work.

Knowing when to work and when to not work is a challenge of working from home. A suggestion that Amber from SmartMoms shared with me during a teleconference we taped last week is that it is important to set some boundaries when you work at home. She doesn’t work on Sundays, but there are any number of rules you can set for yourself. The great thing about working from home is that you set these rules, not someone else.

By the way, if you want to work from home, I shared many ideas on working from home in the SmartMoms –SmartBusiness teleconference. It is part of their ProSeries on working from home, and you can hear it on their website here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Can you opt back in?

There is much debate on the ease at which you can return to work if you choose to "opt-out" and stay home. A recent article in the Chicago Tribute (see here), gave the perspective from both sides. Some say you can return to work, even after a significant leave, and just pick-up where you left off. Others say it isn't quite so easy.

I have to side with the latter. As an HR professional, I know many employers have big concerns with resume gaps. Depending on your field, a lot can change in just a few years and your skills and abilities can very quickly become obsolete. You may not have to start back at the bottom of the ladder, but you are most likely going to have to step down a few rungs to get back on. And those few rungs can be quite challenging to climb back up.

If you want to stay home, I think the best strategy is to have a plan of how you are going to stay connected in your field. Continue to attend professional meetings, network and read publications in your field. Take on some volunteer work to build skills. Try to find some contract work with your previous employer. The possibilities are endless. The key is to think about returning to work well before you ever actually want to return. The more planning you do, the easier you will find it to return.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who’s Watching the Kids?

I am transitioning childcare this month and I am a bit overwhelmed. My current sitter gave me six months notice that she was returning to outside work (bless her), so it isn’t a big shock. But we’ve been using the same at-home care provider for four years, so the change is still traumatic, at least for me!

The first problem is that because of the transition, the care has been very unreliable recently. My sitter gave me clear notice that she would be interviewing this month and would need some flexibility. I could have easily gone with our new arrangement earlier, but I thought it would be fun to have some time off. But of course, some great work opportunities have appeared during this time so I am mostly spending my time juggling.

They start at a day care center in a few weeks. I think it is more like an extended pre-school. My kids will be 5 and 3 and the center has a Pre-K and pre-school curriculum during the morning. Then lunch, rest time and the rest of the day is open play. They have a four-day option so I don’t have to pay for full-time, which is hard to find. I’ve heard nothing but raving reviews about the center, so I know we are making a good move. It wasn’t easy finding something that worked for us though.

I loved taking the kids to an at-home provider, particularly when they were infants. I felt good that they were in someone’s home getting lots of one-on-one attention. However, an at-home provider has some drawbacks, particularly reliability. For example, in addition to having to find alternate care when your own kids are sick, you also have to have a back-up plan when the sitter’s kids are sick. So, when it was time for this change, I decided to look for a center. Here are a few lessons learned:

- Talk to other parents! When I started looking for a new arrangement, I truly thought the kids would end up at a center that was very close to my house. Fortunately, I have a good network and was able to find parents that took their kids to this center. While it is a decent center, I learned things that I wasn’t happy with, such as the fact that they let the kids watch TV quite a bit during the day.
- Start as early as possible. When I called these centers in January, looking for spots in August, I thought that they would tell me to come back later. As it turns out, most good centers have waiting lists and I probably wouldn’t have a spot for them if I’d started later.
- Have a back-up plan during the transition. I don’t have one right now and I am really struggling to cover some days. I should have lined up a stay-at-home friend or a teenager on summer break as back-up care during this transition.

I’ve been talking up the new center to the kids and they are excited to start at the new school. I’m looking forward to the stability of a center that is always open. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Returning from Vacation

I have returned from vacation, a little rested and happy to be home. We only rented a cabin at campground an hour away, but the kids thought it was a blast. And it was just a few days, as traveling with preschoolers is still a lot of work. But it was enough time to feel like a break.

I also successfully abandoned work for almost the entire time I was away (I admit I did do a bit in the car). I left my computer at home, which I haven’t done in years. I’ve always envied others that can so easily walk away from work for long periods of time. The ability to turn work off in your head without a thought is one to treasure!

Sometimes I worry that I focus on my work too much. It sounds like a cliché, but this vacation helped reassure me that I have my priorities in place. Even when I am at home with the kids, it is easy to get distracted by a work issue, I am not always sure I am giving them the attention I should. But this weekend, I did successfully leave work at home. I was able to really enjoy watching and playing with the kids without wondering if there was something else I needed to be doing.

On the flip side, when I am away from my kids for a work reason, I think about them constantly. I call several times a day and have on occasion returned earlier than planned just to see them. The fact that I can painlessly separate from my work reminds me that I know what is truly important.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


As part of my pursuit to balance work and family, I am taking a few days off! Heading off to a family campground for the long weekend. Will be back on Monday, most likely with some amusing stories of survival!

Family Friendly Career

I read another article about the debate sparked by the recent Pew Research study I mentioned last week. (See article from the Indianapolis Star) Cathy Benko from Deloitte pointed out that the debate is short sighted in that often part-time work, or even staying-at-home is just one point in time. Stepping back for a bit may slow your career progress, but it does not need to stop it.

I agree and believe that your decision to pursue family friendly work should be part of a long-term career plan. If you scale back and work part-time, or if you choose to stay-at-home, you must consider what you can do during that period of time to make sure you stay on your planned track.

There are many things you can do when you scale back your career to help move it forward later. For example, if your plan involves changing your career, part-time work or time at home may give you an opportunity to take a class or start networking to make a career change. At the very least, you must stay up to date in your field, and keep certifications current if applicable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learning from Others

Many parents have found that starting a business from home is a great way to create a family friendly work opportunity. If you choose this option, it is up to you to learn on your own how to run your business successfully.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to learn from others. One upcoming opportunity is available from the entrepreneurial moms at Smart Moms-Smart Business. They are offering a free series of teleconferences that will help you get your business started, or develop it further. The first teleconference is this Thursday, July 19 at 9pm EST and features Suzy Strempke talking about successful strategies to work from home.

I will be sharing my advice on finding the right work-at-home opportunity next Thursday, July 26th. Check it out here!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dealing with Conflicts

Tonight I faced another potential work-life conflict, a work obligation at the same time as a family obligation. We had planned a small gathering for my daughter’s 3rd birthday, and then I received a call for an interview for a radio show at the same time.

I know some parents who tell me that they would never miss a family event for work. I also know some parents who wouldn’t give up a work opportunity such as this for any reason. I fall somewhere in the middle.

While I certainly wouldn’t miss my daughter’s birthday party, it really was a backyard gathering and she probably didn’t notice I wasn’t there for a bit. I was able to do the interview upstairs, tucked away in a bedroom. The radio interview was a great opportunity for me and it only took me away from the first half-hour or so of the party. I once again was able to do both without neglecting either.

I took the afternoon off and spent it getting ready for the birthday party, so it could get started easily without me. I then spent the interview completely focused on the interview, knowing that the brief time I was not there would not make a difference to her.

The general rule I follow is that I make my family a priority, without neglecting my work. While I respect parents that live by the rule to always put family first, I think that sometimes you can put work first without doing harm to your family. In fact, sometimes your family can benefit. If my book succeeds because of my efforts such as this interview, then my whole family is part of the success.

By the way, the interview was with Armin Brott who hosts Positive Parenting on KOIT- FM radio in San Francisco. He has a great show and you can find podcasts of previous shows on their website here. I think the interview went well, as did the birthday party.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Demand for Family Friendly Work

I didn’t plan to talk much about my book much on this blog. I’m hoping my musings on family friendly work would just intrigue you enough to get the book anyway. Plus, I have a lot more to say about the topic beyond what I covered in the book, so I need to keep writing. But please indulge me for just today as I talk about the book.

My book was just released a few weeks ago. However, it wasn’t due out until the end of July, so there hasn’t been a lot of publicity yet. I think that as the word gets out, the book will be a success (hopefully- please buy it to help it succeed!).

While I would like to attribute the pending success of the book to my brilliant writing and amazing wealth of knowledge, I think that the book (and any book on this topic for that matter) will succeed because it is needed.

As I’ve mentioned the book to people, I’ve been fascinated by the stories that I have heard about parents that have struggled to find family friendly work. I’ve heard about moms giving up their careers because they couldn’t get any flexibility at their company, and just assumed no other company would provide flexibility either. I’ve heard from frustrated dads that don’t get the same respect in the workplace as moms when it comes to parenting needs. Many people have just said that they have heard a lot about this topic lately, and it seems that more parents really are seeking flexibility at work.

The problem is, they don’t know what exactly to ask for and they don’t know how to ask for it. Well stay tuned here (or buy the book…), I have lots of ideas to get you started.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Moms Want Part-time

Pew Research released a study yesterday that found working mothers have a preference for part-time work (read full details here). The study found that roughly 60% of working moms indicated that they think part-time work is the ideal work arrangement. 21% think that full-time work is ideal, while the remaining 19% believe that staying at home would be ideal. Further, the number of moms overall that think working outside of the home is good for their children is increasing.

I’m not surprised by this trend. More moms and dads have tried part-time work, or have friends that have tried part-time work and they see the difference it can make in their lives. While part-time work obviously pays less than full-time work, the sacrifice is often worthwhile for parents. The extra time that part-time work provides often offsets the decrease in income, as families don’t spend as much money on conveniences such as fast food and help around the house. As more parents begin to request part-time work, more companies will start providing part-time opportunities.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Helping Others

I started my day doing yard work for my in-laws, and ended it helping my mom take out her trash. Did I do these things because I have loads of free time and needed something to do? Of course not, I haven’t had free time in years. In fact, spending my time helping them out was time away from work that I needed to get done.

Of course I help my family out because they are my family who I love and care about. But I also believe in karma. If you are always willing to help others, then they will always be willing to help you.

I often hear from other parents that they don’t have anyone to help them with their kids. Their family lives out of town, or if they are in town, they are rarely willing to take the kids. Or they don’t have any friends willing to help.

But if you look for opportunities to help others, eventually it will come around to you. To me, it is not about an even exchange. That is, I don’t expect a friend to take my kids for a few hours just because I took hers for a few hours. I just think that if I always look for opportunities to help my friends and family, someone will be available to help me when I need it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Flexibility = Control

When I talk to people about flexibility at work, I find many different perspectives on what it means. For some, it means the ability to pick the work schedule they want. Others want some flexibility to occasionally change their schedule to meet their needs, or the option to work at home. For me, it means that I can make my own schedule on a weekly basis.

The common thread in all of these definitions is control. Flexibility at work means having some control over where and/or when you work. The degree of control that you need will vary based on your personal situation, but a family friendly work arrangement requires some level of control.

In fact, researchers at the University of Minnesota that wanted to study work/family interactions, chose to study schedule control instead of flexibility (see article). They felt that control over schedule was a better measure to tap into what is important for parents.

So as you work on making your work more family friendly, consider how you can get more control over your work schedule.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Stop the Mommy Wars

The debate on whether or not to work is still a women's issue. The fact that men aren't faced with this dilemma is a complex story that I won't get into at this point. It is encouraging that more men are staying at home, but for now, we are only facing Mommy Wars.

The Mommy Wars is the ongoing debate on who is a better parent, a working mom or a stay-at-home mom? Much media debate has occurred on both sides and many variations on the argument exist. Generally working moms say they are better because they are economically independent and are teaching their children many things such as the value of hard work. Generally stay-at-home moms argue that they don't want their children raised by someone else and working is doing a disservice to your children.

I refuse to engage in the debate. I am a working mom, and think I've made the right choice for myself. However, I respect those that choose to stay-at-home. (I do believe, however, that stay-at-home moms should make an effort to keep themselves marketable to the outside working world should illness, death or divorce require them to return to work.)

I won't engage in the debate because I believe it is a waste of our time and energy. There will always be stay-at-home moms and working moms. What we need to focus on is finding more opportunities to create a middle ground. The middle ground, what I call family friendly work, is an opportunity to have meaningful work and spend the quality time you want with your kids.

More and more moms are finding that middle ground, however, many still insist on engaging in this debate. What bothers me the most is that there are many stay-at-home moms that are really working moms. For example, they might run an online business or do direct sales, but still advocate their view that only stay-at-home moms are good moms. In fact, in reviewing some articles on the topic, I found an ABC news article where one of the "stay-at-home" moms had started a magazine (see article)!

That is my goal in advocating for family friendly work. There is no reason to judge others on their personal choices. If you want to spend some time trying to build a better world for children, then use your energy to try to convince more companies to offer flexible work, or encourage more parents to start demanding what they need!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Working Online

The Internet has brought a world of opportunity to those who wish to stay home, but would still like to generate income. Many parents have been able to start a business while at home, without having to do direct sales. Many parents sell products they make or provide services such as graphic design, writing, or consulting. Others sell products they buy wholesale. The possibilities are endless.

One of the great things about starting an online business is the help that is available from others. Need help setting up a web page? Dealing with a difficult customer? Understanding local tax requirements? There are many parents working from home that are willing to help.

For example, I found some great ideas on how to promote my website through a listserv run by The MomPack. I’ve also found some great ideas on the forums on the Smart Moms – Smart Business website. There are many great parents online that have experience and are willing to share. Further there are many opportunities to network with other home businesses and exchange website links to get free promotion of your website.

As your business grows, you may want to also consider joining a work-at-home association for additional support. Check out Small Office-Home Office and also the Freelancers Union.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Staying Up Late

Tonight we met a few other families out for an Independence Day parade. It was a fun night out, the kids had a ball with their bags out waiting for candy. The entertainment gave me and my friends a chance to chat while the kids eagerly watched the upcoming floats.

After the parade, the community organizers were going to show a movie, starting around 9:30pm. This start time is a good hour past my preschoolers bedtime. The other parents were fine with the late night, but I'm not quite ready for the late night pursuit with my kids. In addition the fact that they aren't too fun if they don't get enough sleep, I had some things I needed to do.

I still count on bedtime as a time go get some work done. For me, it is often paid work. But for many other working parents I know, post-bedtime is often just a time to get laundry or other household work done.

It would have been fun to stick around for the movie. But, for now, I think I have my priorities in place. It isn't always easy to switch gears and try to get some work done, but it is the schedule I chose so that I could have more time to go out and do fun things with the kids.