Thursday, January 31, 2008


Earlier this week, I was a panelist at a luncheon program sponsored by our local YWCA titled "Creating Balance in Your Life." It is part of their women's leadership initiative that offers many resources and programs for emerging women leaders. (If you are anywhere near NE Ohio, you should check out their upcoming conference, and not just because I am a speaker! They have a great line-up including Sylvia Ann Hewlett who wrote "Off-ramps and On-ramps.)"

Anyway, a consistent point that was made in our discussion at the luncheon is that "balance" is really a misnomer for what working parents attempt to do in their lives. suggests that balance is an "equal distribution" of something. Do you ever really give "equally" to work and family? Do you want to? While I love my work, my family will always be more important to me. Managing work and family really involves trade-offs, time management, and sometimes sacrifice in order to try to do your best with each.

After some further digging on, I think that "harmony" might be a better word for what we are trying to accomplish. Harmony is a pleasing arrangement of parts. Isn't that great? A pleasing arrangement of parts. That is what I hope for, a division of my time and energy that is pleasing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Summer Vacation

Before kids, my husband and I traveled quite a bit. We've traveled throughout the US, making several vacations to warm sunny states down south and also further to the Caribbean. We've made a few tours of Europe, and often had more than one trip a year.

But post-kids, we haven't been anywhere! We've traveled separately to conferences and to a few girlfriend/guys weekends here and there. Dave and I also did one weekend away to Toronto to visit friends, and a couple of short overnight trips. But, we haven't had a real vacation in a long, long time.

So this year we are actually going to take a real family vacation. Our kids are big enough that we won't have to worry about naps, and they will enjoy traveling. In fact, we may even take two vacations! We've started looking at locations and booking rooms so I think it will actually happen.

Right now it seems difficult to imagine actually getting away from everything for at least a whole week. But that is really a silly thought. Am I that important that the world can't do without me for a week? Of course not- and I will be better at what I do because of taking a break.

When was your last vacation?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do you need family friendly work?

If you haven't read "I Don't Know How She Does It" by Allison Pearson, you need to pick it up. It is a great story (fiction) about a busy working mom trying to manage it all. Kate, the main character, works at what Sylvia Ann Hewlett (author of "Off Ramps and On Ramps") characterizes as an 'extreme job.' On a daily basis, Kate gets up and sneaks out the door before her young children can protest. Her kids are in the care of a wonderful nanny, but Kate often returns home after the kids are in bed. She travels a lot and misses a lot of important moments with her kids.

In spite of her lack of time with her kids, Kate is very much a loving and caring mom. I truly believe that it is not the time you spend with your kids that makes you a good parent, it is what you do as a parent. I really do subscribe to the cliche that it is quality, not quantity that matters. In fact, there are many stay-at-home parents that are quite neglectful of their children.

My concern for those that do work in extreme jobs is that they are missing out on some of the fun of being a parent. If it is all work, all the time, your time with your kids will often be hectic and focused on whatever activity is at hand instead of just enjoying them.

The one thing I've figured out about the whole work/family balance thing is that when you are away, you forget what you are missing because time flies by. Generally, I have been lucky to have a great work arrangement and spend all of the time I want to with my kids. But, I have had business trips that have kept me away for several days in a row, or workweeks where I worked more than full-time. During those weeks, I didn't really think about what I was missing.

When you are busy with work that is interesting to you, you can easily become consumed with your work and not think about all of those moments you might be missing with your kids. While five hours with your toddlers may seem to last a lifetime, five hours of exciting work goes by in a minute. As a result, you often don't realize what the valuable time with your kids that is slipping by.

I think ths is to some extent a good thing, guilt is not something you should spend your time on. However, the bottom line is that you can't get time back. Before you know it your kids will be grown and you will be staring at their empty rooms and wondering what happened.

So do you need family friendly work? While I encourage full engagement in your career, if it is possible to step back some and spend some time with our children, I think you should consider doing so. As Leslie Bennetts points out in "The Feminine Mistake," the time you spend raising your children actually turns out to be only a short period of your long-term career. So maybe finding some flexibility to spend more time with your kids now is something you should consider.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Online Education

This semester I am teaching an online MBA course for Tiffin University. It is a great opportunity for me, I can have some additional income without the need to commit another day or evening to go out and teach a class. I facilitate the course on my own schedule. For example, this morning, I graded a threaded discussion while my kids ate breakfast. Plus, I get to interact with some interesting students. This semester I have students from Ohio, to Nebraska to the Virgin Islands!

While online education provides a great work opportunity for me and other parents, it also provides a great opportunity for working parents to build their skills and credentials. Generally, the more credentials and expertise that you have, the easier it is to negotiate a flexible work arrangement. A company is more likely to give you flexiblility if it would be difficult to replace you if you left. Therefore, you can help position yourself better to demand flexibility by continuing your education.

The obvious problem of continuing education for parents is who has time? If you work full-time, missing your kids in the evening again to attend class may not be an attractive option. But now with the online learning option, you can continue to build your expertis on your own schedule. You can work on your courses after bedtime, or even while you are waiting to pick up your kids from another activity. Online education provides a great chance to get ahead on your own terms.

But beware of bogus online programs! There are many out there and you might find that you invest your time and money on a degree that companies consider a joke. Do your research to make sure that the online program you are considering is a respectable program. I suggest first checking out well-known local colleges and universities to see if they have an online option. If you do pursue a program at a university that only offers online courses, talk to your boss or others in your industry to see if they feel that the program is respectable.

Also, do your research on any program you consider pursuing. If they claim to be accredited, do some further research to determine who are they accredited by? Is it a real accreditation? The Council on Higher Education Accreditation ( has lots of information about accreditation including a great checklist to see if a program is considered a "diploma mill" which means that they basically hand out degrees for cash. Check out the checklist here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Importance of Work for Women

As I read more of Leslie Bennett's "The Feminine Mistake," I become more and more convinced that women in particular need to stay connected to the workforce after they have children.

The need to work goes beyond financial stabiliy; contributing to women's self-esteem and emotional health. Further, work for women creates more equality in the male/female relationship. I found some great quotes from social activists that made me consider these ideas further...

"I thnk that implicit in the women's movement is the idea that women will share in the economic burden, and men will share more equally in the home and the family." Betty Freidan

"Perhaps well-to-do women and unemployed ghetto teenagers have something in common. Neither group has been allowed to develop the self-confidence that comes from knowing you can support yourself." Gloria Steinem

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Maternity Leave

A friend who is considering having a second child asked me about how I handled maternity leave with both of my kids. My situation is somewhat unique as I mostly work for myself, so I could determine my own plan (however- if I don't work- I don't get paid!). I was also limited some because of my college teaching obligations, I can take a whole semester off, but I cannot start teaching mid-semester.

Most parents are limited by their employers policies. If an employer has more than 50 employees, new parents can take up to 12 weeks off for a new child, but it is often unpaid (under the Family Medical Leave Act). Smaller employers tend to offer even less.

Given the option, I chose a shorter maternity leave. My friend was suprised, and seemed to feel badly for me. As if I had no other option and was forced to begin working again. However, my decision was not a financial one, it was a mental health one.

I felt that if I went cold turkey on work for three months, it would be more difficult to transition back to work. Further, working could give me the mental break I needed from the all consuming role as the mother of a very needy newborn.

My son was born first and I was working on my dissertation. I didn't take him to a sitter, but I did start working on my project again within a few weeks of his birth. When he slept, I worked. Or sometimes if I needed to read an article for my research- I read it aloud to him if he was awake. The way the semester fell, it was around his 3rd month that I started teaching again, only one class the first semester back.

My daughter was born in the summer and the next semester started when she was around 5 or 6 weeks. Not wanting to wait an entire semester to get back to it, I taught one class. It was an evening class so she was in my husband's hands while I was away.

Other moms have said to me, "how awful" that I had to return to working so quickly. But for me, I think it worked out well. I was able to ease back into it, only really working a few hours each week. And those few hours of intellectual stimulation helped save my sanity!

I am often suprised at how judgemental people are about others' decisions regarding their children. While no one has flat out accused me of being a bad mom because I returned to work before I "had" to, I've felt the judgement of others and have even found myself apologizing or trying to justify my decision. But the truth is, I did what I thought was best for me and my kids. I know I won't always make the best decision, but does anyone ever do anything perfect? If they think they do, they are probably wrong.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Finding Time

All working parents are constantly battling the clock. It seems that there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done, and I am always exhausted at the end of the day. But yesterday I did have a little free time, and I started thinking about my schedule and why it is difficult. While I certainly do have challenges trying to get my work done, take care of the house and spend time with the kids, I do have some control of my time and could always do a little bit better managing it.

For example, how much time do I waste each week watching TV? Checking my e-mail unnecessarily? Searching for lost items around my house? I think we all could take some steps to use our time more wisely. Here are some things I am going to work on:

- Less TV. I tend to flip the TV on after the kids are in bed and find myself getting drawn into it quickly. I have a good 2-3 hours after bedtime that I often waste watching TV.

- Turn off the computer. Even when I have completed my work for the day, I tend to stop by my computer to check my e-mail again and again. I've found if I just turn it off- the temptation goes away.

- Clean out my closets. This weekend I cleaned out my pantry and already I've saved some time looking for things. If I took the time to clean out all of the closets/drawers/storage spaces in my house, I could save lots of time each day looking for things.

- Be more selective on meetings. I tend to feel the need to obediently attend every meeting for every organization/group I am involved in. Often though I end up getting there and realizing that I don't really need to be there. While there are often benefits for my involvement, I must remind myself that it is OK to miss every now and then.

- Keep a shopping list. During a typical week, I head off to a store at least a couple of times. However, it is often to pick up something that I forgot to get the last time I was at the store. If I could do a better job keeping a shopping list, I could probably eliminate a few errands each week.

These are all minor steps.....but I think they could help me find more time in my week that I could spend relaxing and enjoying my kids.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Kid's Perspective

My kids have always been my 7am alarm. However, over the last few weeks my 5 year old Hank has been sleeping in a bit. Of course the days he sleeps late are days that I need to get to work and he needs to get to school. I don't like to have to wake him, but I do so we can get on the road on time.

This morning, a Saturday when we have no where to go, he is up at 6:30am. Now for those of you whose kids get up at 5 or 6am every day, you probably have no sympathy for me. But I enjoy sleeping in and after several days of shaking my son awake to rush out the door, it was very frustrating to see his little face this morning waking me instead.

And so I asked him, why do you sleep in on school days, and not on the weekend? His response was that shcool requires extra energy so he needs the extra sleep. Staying home is just relaxing so the extra rest isn't needed. I thought it was a clever response from a 5 year old, but it also started me thinking, he might be on to something here.

I have always thought that the weekends were for sleeping in, but maybe it is more important to get up early so we have plenty of time to enjoy them. Once my kids are in school full-time, the weekends will be our only chance to spend the day together. So maybe we should get up early to enjoy?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On Ramping

In her book, "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps," Sylvia Ann Hewlett examines the non-traditional career paths many working moms pursue. Gearing down in their career when they want to spend more time on family, and gearing back up later. (Read a brief intro to on-ramping here).

Understanding the needs and desires of many working moms to step away from work at some point, many companies have created programs to help support moms (or anyone needing a career break) return to work at a later point.

Often called "on-ramping" programs, they provide resources and support to those who take a leave of absence in order to keep them in the loop professionally and make the transition back to work feasible. Programs vary, but may allow off-ramping employees to stay in touch via e-mail, or through a mentor that still works with the company. The programs also often offer some financial support for participation in continuing education to keep skills sharp. Once you are ready to return to work, on-ramping programs often offer flexible work arrangements to allow you to more easily transition back into the workforce.

When seeking a family friendly work arrangement, the availability of an on-ramping initiative provides solid evidence of a company's commitment to supporting working parents.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Many Workers Want Flexibility

I've suggested that parents need to start asking for the flexibility they want in the workplace, but employers are likely to hear flexiblility requests from other employees as well. I just read an interesting article about the projected labor shortage that the Information Technology profession is facing (see article here). The article discusses several strategies to attract and retain a diverse workforce, and flexible work options come up often.

Like parents, younger workers want more work/life balance. And older workers not yet ready to retire may seek flexible work options as an alternative to full retirement. As employers begin to see flexible work options as a useful tool to attract and retain diverse talent in the workforcce, such offerings will likely become more common.

If you work for a company not yet enlightened to the benefits of flexible work, you may want to consider partnering with others in your organiztion to ask for flexibility. There is often strength in numbers, but it is important to look beyond other parents to find others with similar interests. For example if you are looking for a job share partner, you might be tempted to seek out another mom in a similar role. But why not look to a senior manager that is near retirement? Or a younger worker that has lots of hobbies outside of work he wants to pursue? You might find success with an unlikely partner.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tips for "Smart Working Moms"

An article on MSN's lifestyle website provides some advice to "Smart Working Moms" which gives tips on how to still appear committed to your job even if you are working a flexible schedule. While I agree that it is important to make some strategic moves to ensure a flexible work arrangement is succesful, I am not sure I agree with all of the advice that the author Lee Lusardi Connor recommends (see article here).

I agree with some recommendations such as making sure that your co-workers and clients know your schedule, keeping your outgoing voicemail current, keeping your boss aware of your accomplishmnets, and making sure that you are flexible with your company too by altering your schedule when you need to in order to meet an important deadline.

But, I don't agree with some of the advice that includes strategies that try to convince your co-workers that you are working a regular schedule. Connor recommends some things such as working late a couple of nights a week so you don't get a reputation as someone who "has to leave," leaving your office lights and computer on when you leave for the day to make people think you are still there, and taking a longer lunch to run errands because no one is paying attention to your return from lunch (as opposed to leaving on time or early because people are looking).

While these clever strategies may be effective to fool others into thinking you are working more than you are, they do little to advance the acceptance of those working in flexible schedules. Instead, they help reinforce the idea that "face time" is what is necessary to be successful in the workplace.

The best thing you can do to ensure success in a flexible work arrangement is to make sure that you get your work done! By being productive and turning out exceptional quality work, you can convince your boss and your company that your flexible schedule is the right move.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Just say no to housework!

The other evening after the kids were in bed, I stayed up and finished some laundry and cleaned my house instead of spending my time indulging in a guilty pleasure like reality TV or a trashy novel like I was craving to do.

Why did I opt for the housework? Well, obviously we all need some clean clothes to wear and the bathrooms were getting kind of yucky. But, did I need to do the work that minute? Did I need to clean everything? Would it have hurt to maybe just do one load of laundry and save the cleaning for another time? Probably not, but I had invited some friends over the next day and just felt the pressure to make everything sparkle.

Every time I visit someone else's house, it always is in immpecable order. And this does not just include the homes of those who stay-at-home. In fact, many times my working friends have homes that sparkle even brighter than their stay-at-home neighbors. Many stay up late at night, or worse yet, get up at 5am to clean before they go to work. Many moms I know spend more time cleaning and keeping things tidy than they do enjoying themselves reading, or even sleeping.

And so, the circle of pressure continues. Because I see other women keeping their homes perfect, I feel the need to do the same with mine (although even after I clean, my still is pretty far from perfection). As a result, we all spend too much time cleaning and not enough time just relaxing and enjoying life.

So I ask you- please stop it! I know you have to maintain a certain level of cleanliness in order to create a healthy environment for your family to live in- but don't do any more than you absolutely have to. If we all gave up just a little bit of neatness together, then we could eliminate a little bit of the pressure.

So the next time I come to your house, I hope to find an unfolded basket of laundry by your couch, an overflowing trash can in your pantry, and a sink full of dirty dishes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More on Opting Out

Since I have never really considered opting out of the workforce completely, I guess I haven't really thought about why people make the decision. I have many friends who stay at home, and I always thought that they just wanted to stay home, and could afford to do so. But, it isn't as simple as that. According to Bennett in "The Feminine Mistake," it is not always just a personal choice. Some other reasons people make the decision to stay home:

- Their company was not family friendly. That is, despite their efforts to request flexibility, their company was unwilling or unable to provide an alternate work arrangement such as a flexible schedule. If you intend to return to work after having a child and just need some help managing; but your employer refuses to help, you might just quit in frustration.

- A boring or frustrating job. Some people that make the choice to stay home didn't really like their jobs to begin with. If you do not enjoy your job or your career, a baby that you love can seem like a much more attractive way to spend your time.

- An usnsupportive spouse. The reality is that two parents working long hours at stressful jobs makes it difficult, if not impossible, to raise a family. If your spouse is unwilling to alter their work responsibilites in order to help with family responsibilites, it may just be easier to quit and stay at home, even if you want to continue working.

And so, it isn't always as simple as a personal choice. Many stay at home parents feel pushed out of the workforce. While they cherish the chance to spend time with their children, stay at home parents often still have career aspirations. They just can't figure out a way to make it work.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Opting Out

I woke up this morning to sick kids and for once did not have a big trauma trying to get the day started. I had planned to work from home today, didn't have any important calls to make and don't have any immediate project deadlines. I was able to fairly easily take the day off and take them to the doctor's office.

While I was lucky this time, I was again reminded of one of the most challenging parts of working, particularly when your kids are young. Not everyone can just take the day off like I did, most working parents have to take a sick day. It is tough to have a back-up plan for a sick kid.

Sick kids are one of many obstacles that lead many parents, particularly professional women, to "opt-out" of the workforce and stay home. I have talked to many stay-at-home moms who have quit working in frustration. Employers with inflexible work environments, coupled with a society that lacks quality day care (particluarly sick child care) and school/activity schedules that conflict with most work schedules lead many to stay home if they can figure out how to make it financially. At times this has made complete sense to me. If your husband works and makes good money, why not just stay home?

Well, I finally started reading Leslie Bennett's "The Feminine Mistake" and I am starting to become more convinced that staying home is not a wise move. While it makes sense on every most other fronts, from the financial perspective, I don't think most women really consider the ramifications of a decision to drop out of the workforce.

While most stay-at-home moms I know have a happy marriage, divorce is not the only way to lose a spouse's income. Through death or disability, you could find yourself in a position that you need to support yourself and your children. And the longer you are out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in. I met a woman last year at a career search workshop that was devasted when her husband became disabled and she needed to return to full-time work after over a dozen years at home. She found that she was barely qualified for an entry level position, let alone the type of job that would replace her husband's income that he had grown to through twenty years of professional experience.

At the very least, stay-at-home moms (and dads) must take steps to keep their skills sharp. The best approach is to continue working at least some. A project here and there coupled with continuing education to keep expertise and relevant certifications up-to-date goes a long way to help keep you marketable. A decision to stay at home must also include a plan to keep yourself from becoming completely ecoomically dependent.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Next President

I don't usually like to debate political issues, as I don't always feel like I am completely informed. However, I am probably as informed on political issues as most other people who do go to the polls to vote. Further, you can't separate work/life issues entirely from legislative issues so understanding each candidate's agenda here is useful. The fact is that future legislation may be able to help create more family-friendly work opportunities.

While I consider myself an Independent, I plan to vote in the Democratic primary as I believe that at this time, a Democratic leader will serve us better; particularly on the work and family front. So far, I have been impressed with both Clinton and Obama, but I am undecided. Unfortunately, I am in Ohio which has a March primary, and often the candidate is already decided by the time I get a chance to vote.

I've done a bit of exploring of their respective websites and have identified their views on work/family issues. Interestingly, they both have some great ideas to improve work and family life. Both are in support of extending paid parental leave and also in supporting flexible work opportunities. Clinton does speak a bit more about the need for quality childcare, and she does have a history of working to support children. But, I am still undecided.

Read more about Obama's work/family views here. Clinton lays out her support of parents here, and addresses work/family specifically in a speech here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

We had a “family friendly” New Year’s Eve this year. We decided not to face the battle of trying to find a babysitter for an adult night out, and instead invited a few friends over to our house. The kids put up some decorations and we had just had some pizza and other munchies to eat. Everyone had a great time. Sometimes keeping it simple makes for the most fun.

As usual, today’s TV shows are all featuring stories about New Year’s resolutions. I’m not usually a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions, as I believe you shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to make changes in your life. But, New Year’s Day is as good as any day to step back and consider what is working and what isn’t working in your life.

For many parents, frustration stems from a work arrangement that makes managing family obligations challenging. If your work arrangement is causing you stress and not allowing you to be the parent you want to be, then today is the day to get started making a change!