Leaning In and Loving It; Or, WWSD?

pirat-games-3I just wrapped up reading Sheryl Sandberg’s hotly contested book, Lean In Lean In is the latest book about working motherhood to hit the shelves and it’s causing quite a stir. If you haven’t heard of it by now, well, let’s just leave it at that. You probably have heard of it by now.

And it seems like everyone has an opinion or take on the book, or maybe worse, Sandberg herself. I don’t really want to re-hash all the opinions or arguments the book has caused. I’m not being cowardly, (maybe lazy and tired), but really I just am not sure I’m going to add too much insight to the discussion of the biggest book on women working that’s come out since, well, I’m not sure when.

What I’d rather focus on is the positive I gained by reading the book. Because I gained a lot. Really and truly! Sandberg has an informative and pretty inspirational point of view. She was extremely lucky in her career, but also, clearly, she was very hardworking. She didn’t just get there because of favors that were called in. And hey, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably had a favor called in for you once along the way — is that such a bad thing?

Anyway, I digress. I’m thinking about this book a lot lately. It’s like “What Would Sheryl Do” in my head every time I’m on a call, in a meeting, trying to write a new business proposal. I sort of know WWSD, but here are some changes and observations about myself that I’ve made in just the short time since I’ve read the book. My own WWSD (See we even have the same initials!):

  • I don’t aspire to move all the way up the corporate ladder; I just want to be on one of the rungs. Even though Sandberg clearly speaks to women in executive positions, I was empowered by her message to continually go after your goals and to not settle.
  • I also have decided to speak up more. I used to constantly just keep my mouth shut because I was afraid I was being impolite or talking out of turn or because I was just nervous. So I loved the part of the book where Sandberg talks about how women never interrupt in meetings as compared with men. Now, I’m not advocating interrupting, but I am advocating being honest and speaking your mind appropriately and assertively. You cannot go wrong being true to yourself.
  • I’m not as nervous or resistant to asking my husband to pitch in and help when I need it for work. He’s most definitely the breadwinner, but I’ve been pulling in my share of the pie lately and if I need to work, he needs to adjust his schedule if he can. My kids generally like him better anyway.
  • I also know it was one of the lightest parts of her book, but I appreciated Sandberg’s examples of forgetting to dress her kids for school theme days, leaving work at 5:30 and logging on after bed, and generally feeling torn about where to be and when. Part of me knows that it is very anecdotal and meant to appeal to more of the masses, but that even someone with more help and resources than I can ever imagine still f’s up once in awhile with her kids.
  • The part that really resonated with me was how Sandberg identifies so many examples of how women screw over other women trying to get ahead in careers. It happened to me, I’m sure it happened to you, and I really want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone I manage, work with, or other. Easily implementable for me as my own business owner.

 

Did you read it? What was your key takeaway?

Back to School, Back to Mommy Guilt

One would think, what with the extra hours of “me” time, the schedules, the fact that our kids are learning, that back-to-school would be a celebratory time for many parents.

For me, however, it’s meant one thing – back to mommy guilt. Back to the routine with the nanny, the drop off, the pick up, and g-d forbid I miss one practice, outing, field trip, one anything once school starts. Back to school, back to mommy guilt.

Today, I had a meeting that started an hour after pick up ended. I thought I timed it perfect. I’d pick up my eldest from school, feed him a snack and head downtown for one last meeting of the day. I even planned to be home in time for dinner. Perfection. In my head, at least.

My son had nothing to do with it, however. He took one look at his friends playing on the field languishing leisurely with their mothers and proceeded to go off.

“I’m so MAD AT YOU MOM,” he said. “Why don’t you want to spend time with me?”

Dagger to the heart. See, if it was summer, he’d be by my side for most of the day, so sneaking out at 4 would be a non-issue. Back to school, back to mommy guilt.

Apparently my kids don’t separate well twice in one day. I can’t blame them; I’m fun to be around. Or something. Apparently, my kids think that the first day of school is that exciting. I guess I felt that way too one day long ago.

So how did I smooth things out this afternoon? By promptly bribing him with a treat from Starbucks. You bet I did. Because croissants trump everything. Even tears.

Tomorrow it’s back to school again, but I’m throwing the mommy guilt out of the carpool lane. Back to school, back to keeping things cool, indeed.

On starting a start up…

Emily had a great idea for me whenever I get into a writer’s block here: that I should talk about what it’s been like starting a company as a mom, and as… well… just what it’s been like.

It’s a great idea. Every day I’m living and breathing the growth, success and viability of the company I co-founded with Caitlin, 2 Moms Media. What started on a whim has grown to my half of a full-time, flexible job with clients, conference calls, meetings, stress, fun, late nights, early mornings, and most of all, fulfillment.

Luckily, I have the financial backing of my husband to see if this little experiment in being a business owner works. Luckily, I have in Caitlin a terrific business partner and friend who I can’t imagine doing this without. Luckily, my kids have adjusted to my work schedule. I try to do most things during the day when my eldest is at school, and to not miss too many bedtime routines.

But, starting this little (very little) startup hasn’t been all easy peasy. There have been weeks where the mom guilt of years past has reared its ugly head or when I’ve served the kids mac and cheese for the fourth night in a row or I just really needed to take that conference call from the bleachers during the tennis lesson. I have made school pick up. I have missed school pick up and sent my son home exhausted with a friend to buy me another hour of work time.

There are times where I feel that I’m not doing enough for the business. Not enough networking, not enough meetings, not enough WORK.

Still, three years later, it’s the same issues, the same debate, the same feelings. Guess that’s because, at the core, not much has changed. I’m still the same person; I still believe you have to do what makes you happy with your career, your kids, your husband – to the extent that you can afford to and have the ability to do it. In my world, even in my back to part-time working world, motherhood will always be my job #1. Ok, after that last email gets sent in the carpool line.

 

Is there really no room for women part-time in medicine?

I’ve debated this topic with my father, a physician, for over eight years now. He, an old-school doctor, established in his field, has always had a beef about women in medicine – that it’s not fair for them to take spots in medical schools and residencies, if only years later, they are to exit the workforce, or, work part-time.

As his strong-willed, feminist and outspoken daughter, I could not believe what I heard my progressive father say. He, who told me to always “be my own boss.” He, who always told me not to ever have to rely on anyone else “but myself.” He, who supported my every career move. How could he say these words?

Well, you can imagine my astonishment today when I read this Editorial piece in the New York Times called “Don’t Quit Your Day Job,” and written by a female anesthesiologist, Karen Sibert. The premise of her argument is that part-time medical work (the majority of which is taken by women) is bad for medicine because it’s hard for patients, hard financially on the institutions that provide the female doctors’ education and ultimately, bad for the industry because of the so few residency positions available to many hard working and educated young med students.

An excerpt from Sibert’s piece reads:

Students who aspire to go to medical school should think about the consequences if they decide to work part time or leave clinical medicine. It’s fair to ask them — women especially — to consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency. They must understand that medical education is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it confers a real moral obligation to serve.

She goes on:

You can’t have it all. I never took cupcakes to my children’s homerooms or drove carpool, but I read a lot of bedtime stories and made it to soccer games and school plays. I’ve ridden roller coasters with my son, danced at my oldest daughter’s wedding and rocked my first grandson to sleep. Along the way, I’ve worked full days and many nights, and brought a lot of very sick patients through long, difficult operations.

Patients need doctors to take care of them. Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work.

When I read it the first thing my competitive-self thought was, “damn, my father is now validated.”

But I have to think further about it before I really will concede too much ground. I don’t know the ins and outs of residency programs and med school applications and the finances behind Medicare. But, what I do know are my friends, who are doctors, some who work part-time and some who do not, and whether or not our medical world would be better off without them, regardless of their schedule, and their present commitment to their causes.

And the answer is no. I don’t know what the ramifications of women in the medical field will be down the road when I’m old, or g-d forbid, sick. But I can’t imagine that one woman’s choice to stay home with her children more would really impact the big picture of the care I’m getting at any particular moment. And I can’t imagine a world where the caring, thoughtful, smart and dedicated doctor friends of mine are not practicing because of the inflexibility of systems, procedures and old-school rules reinforced by Congress.

I’m not sure if Siber is an anti-feminist. I don’t know if she comes from the old-school world of medicine like my dad, but I appreciate her words. However, in the facile world I live in, I just don’t agree with them.

What say you? Can female doctors work part time, and do it well?

Paying to work

I’m at the precipice in my new career where I’m too busy to not be working until 11 pm every night, but not busy enough that I can afford more help so that I’m not working until 11 pm at night.

I’m paying to work. The cost of my childcare is just being covered by the revenue I’m generating.

And that’s before taxes.

This is how I think life is going to be as a quasi-consultant until my kids go to school full-time. You mean you thought I was raking in the dough? You thought wrong.

I’m finding that while it’s mentally challenging/ enjoyable, exhilarating, dramatic, funny and cathartic to be working, it’s not exactly lucrative. But little are the options for the stay-at-home-turned-semi-employed-freelancer.

How do you all do it? Are your kids just running around like mad while you’re fielding calls? Are you that efficient during nap time? Do you pull all-nighters like Janice? Do you fake it til you make it? Please tell me if you’ve figured it out.

I found an old blog post of mine about how part-time work is the devil. Ouch. I do see it’s ghoulish qualities, but now that I’m purportedly my own boss, I see the benefits too. Hey, I’m packing it up and high-tailing it to NYC tomorrow.

Which just means I’ll be up to my ears when I get back.

I’m gonna pay for this gig I got either way.

The not-really-working-yet-working mom’s guilt

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted just what I’m going to do with my career, or, lack thereof. See, this past Fall I decided I wanted to go back to “work.”

But “work” when you don’t have to “work” for a living has many definitions. I thought I wanted a real job in a real office where I could have set hours, a real paycheck and other benefits. So, I had a bunch of meetings, poked around job and social networking sites, but after a few months of that, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not quite ready to go back to WORK.

Instead, along the way, I’ve built up with my “business partner” various projects that are keeping us busy. Busy enough that we’re in the process of building our website which will lay out our offering (think marketing to moms, not a huge stretch), and sort of crystallizes in my head what I really want to do: help brands connect with real-life moms through experiential marketing, traditional PR, networking and writing. It’s not rocket science, but it’s taken a long way to get here.

And, for now, I’m happy.

But here’s the rub. All of my networking, business development, website creation, meetings for paying clients and such is slowly drawing me away from my kiddos activities. Already.

Out goes the work I produce, in comes the guilt. The not-really-working-yet-working mom’s guilt.

I’ve already had to cancel on my baby’s two mom-and-me classes for today and tomorrow due to a packed meeting schedule. The baby won’t know the difference, but I know what he’s missing. I’m trying to be good about staying offline at home when my kids are awake and want my attention. I’m staying up late at night sending the emails, drafting notes, connecting. I use my babysitter hours to do more work, but that just translates to taking kids on more errands.

It’s all coming full circle again, three years (wow) after I quit my job.  A reader asked me over email how it felt to quit work, because she was thinking about doing it. I told her I’d write my thoughts and opinion. I can only sum it up like this:

A mom is always working even if she’s not getting paid. A mom is always feeling guilty about something. You just gotta do what feels right for you and your family because that’s what matters the most.

So I’m going to keep on truckin’ for now. Because even though the guilt is there dangling above my shoulder, I’m feeling better than ever about my professional prospects. Now’s the time.

What say you all on not-really-working-yet-working mom’s guilt?

The Limbo Rock

Remember the six month itch I had a couple years back? Well, it’s back, but it’s for real this time and it could be called the My Baby’s Going to Be One Soon and I’m Starting to Freak Out About Having a Career Again Itch.

Or, as I’ll refer it to, The Limbo Rock. (Also, that’s a lot shorter).

I’m in limbo here, people.

I’m craving work. Like real, paid work. Yet, I don’t want to give up some of the flexibility I have by being home with my children.

I’m so torn. Many of my friends whose kids are older tell me to cherish my baby. And so I’m doing that. But they are also the ones who’ve managed to carve nice, flexible careers. And, they somehow managed to do it when their children were young.

So I feel like now’s the time. The baby is almost a year. (I know this isn’t “old,” but it’s not like newborn madness.) I have that ITCH. I want to do more.

But I want the cuddles when I want them. I want to be able to pick up my son from school and his activities. I want to be there for bedtime.

Do I give that up for a taste of an office? A meeting? A *gasp* paycheck?

I’m partly sure I do.

But, there’s the part of me that is worried once I get under that limbo stick I’ll fail and fall down.

I’m doing the Limbo Rock.

Part-time work is the devil

Sometimes I think I’m the expert on what it’s like to go back to work part-time after baby.  Sometimes I have a big mouth.  When those two sometimes collide, it ‘aint pretty.

So first, my apologies to the poor mom I talked to on Sunday at the benign street festival in my neighborhood.  Because really, I know you were just trying to have fun with your kids, and you really didn’t need me to lay into you about all negatives of working part-time. You’re just trying to scale back your workweek, and really, I get it.

But, in case you, or anyone else cares, I’m gonna lay it out there real nice and simple. I just don’t think part-time work works all that well. Especially if you’re trying to “scale back.”  You may think your company will be all sorts of grateful to you for giving them a day back of your salary, but really, going from four days to three days of work a week, just creates a scheduling and organizational headache for your colleagues and managers.

I worked a three-day workweek. I think it’s the devil. I may not have said it before, but with a year-and-a-half on the SAHM front, I think I have a new perspective on the matter.  I know at one time I said I loved working part-time, and so if you use this post against me I will come find and kill you (remember I am channeling the devil), but that was like a whole naive six months before my part-time love went down the reality drain.

I think staying at home for awhile now has opened up my eyes to the annoyance of some part-time jobs.  Part-time work alludes you into thinking you’re getting “the best of both worlds,” (that, by the way, is like one of those annoying new-mother sayings, like “just sleep when the baby sleeps.”) but in reality, you’re neither here nor there with work or home life. You’re torn on your days off because your client really needs you to be on a 3 pm conference call, but you really need to be at the mommy-and-me class. The part-time devil makes you think you’re getting some kind of good deal on the whole work-life situation, but if you’re like me, you just end up feeling stressed out and maxed out instead of productive and profitable.

Even though I think my part-time schedule started off grand, in the end it didn’t work out so well for me.  (Can’t you tell?) This doesn’t mean it can’t work for you, but I think there need to be some ground rules and expectations set up from the start before you try it. I tried to set these up in that old post I wrote about how you need to have an understanding boss, terrific child care, great coworkers, and a partner who has awesome benefits.  If I were to add to that today, I think my only piece of advice would be: don’t get sucked in.

Don’t let the devils of part-time work – conference calls on your days off, not getting paid for working over your alloted hours, only breaking even between work payment and child care, lack of promotions because of your reduced hours – get you down. If you can work it out to be just part-time, I think there is a fighting chance of succeeding. If not, I think you’ll just end up dancing with the pitchfork amidst a hot fire.

And this is why terms like “mommy track” still exist

I haven’t been very good in keeping up on my blog reading lately, but a recent post on the Wall Street Journal Juggle blog recently caught my eye. Actually that’s an understatement.

It pissed me off. 

Not-so-subtedly titled, “Subtle Ways to Help Avoid the Mommy Track,” the post gives some advice for how women can avoid the mommy track. Avoid it like the plague.

The author opens up her post by describing how:

“… some women may choose to scale back at work after having a child, taking on assignments that don’t require travel or extra hours. But others may wind up on a slower track without asking for it. Are there ways, beyond hard work, to keep that from happening?”

The post tries to frame being on the mommy track in a positive light, but the inherent premise of her article and the resulting uninspiring advice (“Keep wardrobe updated and appropriate (i.e. no frumpy suits)” – like moms are assumed to be frumpy! – is that the mommy track is bad and that being pegged on the mommy track is like being associated with lepers or something.

I swear I’m not being defensive, here. We all know that I wear my motherhood proud on my chest, on my desk, wherever.  And I am on the mommy track. I’ve turned down countless projects, assignments, client calls on my day off, because my personal time is personal to me. Has it slowed down me getting a promotion? Most certainly. Do I care? Not really, because I’m not in it right now to be the CEO. I just want to stay in the mix and try to figure out how to get the best of both worlds, which is like trying to climb Mount Everest naked. It’s near impossible. But I, like every working mom out there is just trying to figure it all out as I go.

A post like this furthers the imposibility and reality of making the mommy track work because it fuels the fire that there is such thing as a “mommy track” and that being on it is a bad thing – even if some of us choose it willingly.   It continues to create the divide between working moms and employers and doesn’t do anything to solve the serious problems of today’s inflexible and disappointing work environment.  The problem that most companies and managers don’t realize that creating flexible and understanding work schedules for your employees by letting them create their own paths – mommy track, daddy track, pet track, whatever –  is a better alternative than having your employees hide who they are because they are scared of losing out on projects, promotions and advancement.

So shame on the Juggle’s Ms. Munoz (a fellow working mom) for promoting the negative stereotype and use of a term that incites debate in all of us.  The mainstream media should spend its time focusing on helping today’s employers get a clue about what matters most to working moms today instead of promoting outdated fashion advice.  We can all afford to go get a new suit, but didn’t our moms always tell us it’s what’s on the inside that counts?

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P.S. In the vein of full disclosure, I should note that I do contribute to a website called “Mommy Track’d” but as its description states, Mommy Track’d is positioned as “a smart and entertaining resource to help manage the daily tug of war between work and home.” And I’d say, without making any judgments.

Just so you know…

In my short-lived working mom career, I’ve learned that telling a client you work part-time is about as fun as telling your boss you have to leave early because your nanny called and said you were out of diapers.  Luckilly, I haven’t had to do this much in the past year and a half, which I guess is bad for business, but good for my mojo. 

But just this week I acquired two new clients and have uttered my dreaded mantra:

“Just so you know, I work part-time.”

It’s my passive agressive way of saying – sorry, but I’m not always around at your beck and call.  And I hate saying it. But I have to.

Because what happens if I don’t set the expectations right from the start?  People will be let down and hard feelings will ensue.  This is why I can’t stay in the closet.  Because I can’t put on a facade when I’m not around 24/7.

So I was honest, and you know what? It wasn’t so bad at first.  Turns out one of my new clients is a mom too and she thought my schedule was “perfect.”

Too good to be true? Maybe.

After we basked in the afterglow of my “perfect schedule” she said:

As long as you’re around when we need you.

Touché.  Part-time really only works well part of the time.