Sunday, August 31, 2008

Working Parent in the White House

The selection of Sarah Palin guarentees a working parent with young children will be spending time in the White House starting next year. Barack Obama and his wife would bring two daughters, 10 and 7 years old. While McCain's children are all nearly grown, his VP brings 5 children, with four still living at home.

While there is much debate on which party will more likely support women's issues, it is interesting that little has been said about the obstacles for women (and parents in general) in the workplace. While the candidates themselves are working parents, I have heard little said about how challenging it is to raise their children while working in today's work world.

Much of the debate on Palin surrounds her views on issues such as abortion and teaching abstinence (see for example the blog discussion on Work it Mom). While I agree these are important issues, and I don't agree with Palin's stand, I would like to know more about what each party thinks about workplace flexiblilty issues. They all talk about families, but I've heard no discussions on creating a society where it is not such a challenge to raise children and have a job.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Back to School

Tomorrow my son starts kindergarten. He is going to a private school where I will drop him off each day so no bus ride. It is also the same school that he attended last year for pre-k, so it doesn't really seem like "real school" yet.

We decided to have him attend the private school because our local school district only has half-day kindergarten. Actually, it isn't even close to a half of a day, rather just a few hours. Half-day kindergarten is of course yet another obstacle for working parents. We were fortunate to have the private option.

While I am a little sad that my "baby" is growing up, I am actually a little more distressed at losing some of my flexibility. I've always had the ability to change my work schedule on occasion if I wanted to do something with the kids, or leave to go out of town or something.

I have also always worked out my work schedule so that I had at least one day off during the workweek. That day off was an imporant part of my stress management strategy. I enjoyed having at least one day during the week that I didn't always have to rush out the door. I also had that day to catch up on things around the house, helping me keep my life under control (well, sort-of).

But now he needs to go to school every day. While I know that most working parents are used to getting out of the house five mornings in a row each week, it is new to me and it is going to be my biggest challenge. I am sure by Thursday I will be really wishing it was still summer!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How We Adapt

I play sand volleyball. But not quite the sand volleyball you've been watching with the Olympics. Ours is more of a social league, but we do enjoy winning. Tonight, however, we did not win. And the most frustrating part is that we were beat by a team that was not as good as our team. We have a tendency to rise or fall to the level of our competition. After the first few serves tonight, we could see that the team we were playing was not strong. I'm not sure if we were feeling over-confident, or just mimicking our competition, but we just did not play well.

The same thing happens as I try to balance work and family. The busier I am with work, the better I do balancing between work and family. But when things slow down, I do not do as well. Over the summer when I took more time off from work, I couldn't seem to get it all in sync. I found myself falling behind on housework, cooking less and just feeling like I wasn't getting anything done.

I've heard it from others as well. I know a woman who is a writer by training, but is currently staying at home full time with kids. While her kids sleep a lot, and also have pre-school and other distractions, she can't seem to find the time do any writing. I suspect that if she was working outside of the home and busy trying to blance her work and family, she would be able to figure out where writing could fit into her schedule.

I think that as you get busier, you are forced to spend more time and effort trying to make sure everything gets done. If you are not as busy, it becomes easier to get side-tracked and not accomplish as much. And so as you rise to the challenges of balancing work and family, you may find that if you challenge yourself more, you may just exceed your own expectations.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sick Child Care

Fall is upon us and kids are heading back to school. Many working parents facing limited time-off for illness know that the fall/winter season also brings sick kids. Some parents face a real dilemma when they wake up to a child with a mild fever, or a bad cough. A child's illness can require a trip to the doctor's office, or some serious TLC from mom or dad. But more often, the child feels OK, but just shouldn't be around other kids. And so a parent must use a valuable day off (often a Vacation Day), to stay home with a child who is actually enjoying a fun day off playing or watching TV.

A couple of solutions exist that could ease parent's concerns, allow them continue to be producitve and save their time-off allowances. First, employers could offer some flexibility to allow employees to work from home on occasion. But another option is to find a sick child care center. Such centers provide care and comfort to mildly ill kids, allowing parents to get to work. Read a story of such a center here.

I know many parents say they would never use such a center. That is, they couldn't think of sending off a poor sick kid to someone else's care. And I agree to some extent. When my kids are really sick, I want to be there with them, keeping a close eye and providing lots of love.

But, there are many times that you can't even really tell that they are sick. They play and laugh and I sit thinking of all that I should be getting done at work. On a day such as that, I would feel fine with my child being in the care of a licensed medical professional who can keep a close eye. And also, I'm sure the kids would see it as somewhat of a treat to go off and recieve such special attention.

Unfortunately, such centers are not readily available. I am told that many hospitals and medical centers provide such a service to their employees. There is an organization that works to advocate for such centers, The National Association for Sick Child Care. But their websie shows their most recent newsletter as one in 2004, so I'm not sure that they are actually active. Perhaps it is a potential business idea for a budding entreprenuer?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympic Dreams

If you can imagine it, you can acheive it.
If you can dream it, you can become it.
- William Arthur Ward

I've had this quote posted above my computer for years. Tonight, I am watching the Olympics and I am reminded of the importance of dreams. Many profiled athletes discuss their gold medal dreams. And the look of blissful happiness as dreams are acheived is inspiring.

I believe that you must have dreams if you want success. But you don't necessarily need to have such spectacular dreams as a gold medal in order to be successful. I have had dreams of finishing graduate school, of having a happy family, of publishing a book, of getting the job I want. And I've found that if I set my mind to something, I do it. I think that dreaming and truly desiring something helps you acheive it because it helps you focus your efforts.

I've met so many people who are unhappy with some part of their life. Maybe they are at-home with kids but want to re-enter the workforce. Or they are stuck in a job they dislike, or a job with no flexibility. They tell me that they would like something different, but then I find they haven't really done anything about it. In fact, they haven't really thought about it more than in passing. If you don't want something enough to really feel it, to aspire to acheive it, then it probably won't happen.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Last Lecture

Before I get started in my full-time role at the college, we are sneaking away for a long weekend of family fun. One last outing of the summer. I am laying on the hotel room bed now without any specific plans for the next few hours. Just being in a hotel room is enough to keep the kids amused (we have refilled our ice bucket three times already this morning).

I hesitated in taking this trip because I thought that I really should focus on getting ready for the job. I wanted to wrap up some projects around the house and get ahead on some of the prep work for the classes I will be teaching.

But I'm glad we decided to do it anyway. I think I often get too focused on working and "getting things done" that I forget to have fun. I caught a segment about the "The Last Lecture" professor Randy Pausch on a news show last week. If you don't know him, he is the Carnegie Mellon professor that was selected to give their Last Lecture last year. It is an annual tradition where a favorite professor gives a lecture about whatever they want as if it was the last lecture they would ever give. The irony is that he had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer a short time before giving his lecture.

You can see the full lecture about how to achieve your childhood dreams on You Tube. Dr. Pausch lost his battle to cancer just a few weeks ago which was the focus of the news show I watched. He shared many messages, but what he made me think about is the importance of just having fun and actually enjoying the life you are leading.