Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ironically, a Post on Working from the Stay at Home Mom

Lately, what seems to be “trending” online, re-tweeted or shared on FB seems to be a fair litmus test for what’s on people’s minds. So when a seemingly innocuous piece from a publication I’m willing to bet almost none of you read on a daily basis got a shocking amount of recirculation and sharing at least within my circle of friends, it got me thinking. The article was from The Atlantic (read it lately? exactly –didn’t think so) but I bet you read the article: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It’s a smartly written and illuminating piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter documenting her experience reaching the pinnacle of her professional experience and saying explicitly that the trade-offs between work and family are real. She goes on to discuss how the younger generation seems more keenly aware of these pitfalls and is consequently less likely to as aggressively pursue the very highest rung of their respective professional ladders, as they suffer no disillusion about their ability to “have it all.” Slaughter of course is right and we all know it, and her piece raises interesting questions about what we need to have in place to strike a better balance between work and family, and to make the sacrifices and trade-offs less obvious and extreme.

I have a good friend who knows this experience well. She has been at her company a long time. She is smart, hard-working, and well-deserving of the promotion that should have come to her years ago. Still, she realizes that by aggressively fighting for and getting it, she may be signing up for a trade-off she’s not willing to make. Does she want the promotion more than the ability to leave at 5pm every day and be home for dinner with her girls at 6pm? Is the professional success she’s earned worth the fundamental loss of personal flexibility her work schedule currently affords her? While I’m currently a stay at home Mom, I sympathized with her largely because my husband is currently struggling with the same scenario. He has aggressively pursued his promotion over the past year, but done so at a high price. The travel, the hours – the writing was clear: work first, everything else later. Ultimately, he got the promotion and was happy, sort of. But also kind of miserable because he’d spent the past year doing nothing but working and missed his home, his family, his kids – himself.
So it struck that me what we are really talking about here is not really just a working mom conundrum but a working parent problem and the greater question as a society that we have to answer, is how can we incentivize and educate our corporate culture on the idea that efficiency, more than hours clocked, and miles logged, matters more to their bottom line. What systems can we share out to promote the idea of working smart, not working long so that being effective and high performing in the office, doesn’t mean checking out at home?
I’ve always said that happy mamas make happy babies but I think the same fundamental precept is true here again: happy people make happy and ultimately productive workers. It’s time that we as a culture stop thinking in terms of trade offs and start structuring our time in non-traditional and more efficient ways to encourage working parents to go for that brass ring, while still being able to make the last out of their kid’s game. This group of women and men are struggling and subsequently stifling their potential contributions and innovation both at work and home.  The problem is not unique to women. Increasing flexible schedules and thinking on both ends will unlock our potential to be both great parents and leaders.

Friday, June 8, 2012

New Beginnings, Old Beginnings

So it’s that time of year again. Somehow we seem to be getting ready to move – AGAIN! And while I am excited to bring my family back to CT where we feel most at home, it is hard to say goodbye to some of the really lovely new friends we’ve made during our rather tumultuous year in NJ.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. I feel like there are approximately three types of goodbye-rs. There is type a), the completely unemotional, unattached goodbye-r who says au revoir without a single tear or tug of sentimentality; b) the no goodbye-r who never actually says it or closes the loop because they just can’t bring themselves to do so. I equate this one to feeling like someone clicks over to take another call and they just never click back to your conversation and everything feels just kind of weird and unfinished. And of course there is type c), the overly emotional person who is crying before they can say anything goodbye-r, so caught up in a flood of memories and nostalgia that the poor people who are the recipients of said goodbye feel so uncomfortable watching the display that in the end rather than ending on a nice note, it’s just all awkward and bad.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am type c: the overly emotional, crazy sentimental lady. I’m the one who receives random Kleenex from passerbys merely observing the exchange. I can’t help it. I’ve always been this way. But lately, I credit my husband for pushing my thinking on the nature of goodbye, and how I can force myself out of all three of the above categories. Whenever Phil and I go somewhere wonderful and I start to get sad and nostalgic about leaving (which by the way usually happens before I have even unpacked during the arrival – did I mention I’m insane?), he always reminds me that no matter who, or where or what, we’ll be back. There will be another time, another moment, and another memory. And that it is okay to let go of where we are because in the circle of life we’ll come back again. And maybe we will and maybe we won’t – maybe it’s just something we’re telling ourselves to make us feel better, but it actually works. He isn’t emotion-less nor is he emotion-ful and he does say goodbye, but does so with the optimism that there are more good things to come.
And so today as I looked at Dylan and Ruby’s wonderful teachers and felt that familiar lump welling in my throat, an amazing thing happened. I started to tear, but didn’t actually cry. And when Phil said he was sad to say goodbye to our friends at the preschool that has been like a surrogate family to our kids during our adventure in NJ, I found myself being okay with letting go of something great, maybe for the first time ever. I can let it go and admit that we were lucky to have had this place and these people come into our lives for the brief time we were here. And feel hopeful about what’s to come.

Monday, June 4, 2012

50 Shades of Grey, Time Magazine, and the Dumbing Down of Motherhood

I bet you and I hit the same 3-5 websites everyday to get our quick fix of news and cultural references. Maybe you’re a CNN and Huffington Post lady. Or maybe your cup of tea is Fox News or The Stir. I’d even bet that among your FB friends and twitter feeds, you’ve found yourself reading and/or engaged in one of the three following topics over the past few weeks: 50 Shades of Grey, the now infamous Time Magazine article on attachment parenting, and/or perhaps some sort of related discussion about a supposed “war” between working moms and stay at home moms. And it is starting to make me anxious to think that we, my fellow sisters, wives and mothers, are co-conspirators in a media-driven effort to make us more stupid, divided, and generally less focused on legitimate issues that matter to us and our families.

First – let’s call a spade a spade. I fell for it all. I monitored all the chats following the hype on 50 Shades of Grey while I furtively discussed among my female friends if I should take the plunge and commit precious child-free hours to this smut. When the Time Magazine article came out, I too jumped into the FB fray, reading blog post after blog post about the supposed merits or demerits of either the picture or the title. Mind you little or none of the discussion was actually about attachment parenting, as we stayed at the surface exactly where Time wanted us. And finally there is my favorite – the fake war between working moms and stay at home moms. We all devote a remarkable amount of energy to this one – defending a territory that doesn’t exist, attacking each other because yet another story hinted at friction that was never really there to begin with.
But you know what the truth is? It is all crap. None of these stories that all of us (and by us at least I mean me) have spent a good deal of time reading, discussing, digesting and disseminating, has anything to do with making any of our lives better. We are discussing what we are told to discuss. We are letting publishing houses and editorial boards drive where things go rather than the other way around. Why aren’t we talking right now online to each other or seeking to share more info about things like how to give yourself a breast exam, how to improve access to excellent education in our communities, increased info about what’s in our food and cosmetics, how to find ourselves (or at least not totally lose ourselves) in the middle of work, and husbands and children. And all of it matters regardless of your parenting technique (attachment or not), or whether you work or don’t. The reality is we all have more in common than not.
But we need to start by driving our discussions in more productive ways – ways that better our lives as moms and women and strengthen our collective voice in the civic discourse. The need is real. In a recent study by the Op-Ed Project[i], women wrote half or more of the editorials last year on “pink topics” gender, family, and style, but devoted a meager 11% of their contributions to politics. If we want to raise the level of discourse in a way that substantially improves the lives of ourselves or our daughters, we have to start with what we produce and disseminate amongst each other. We have to stop falling for what they spoon feed us. And start talking about what really matters.
Lastly, I don’t want anyone to read this as my declaration that I’ve lost faith in my devotion to pop culture and other fun stuff. Trust me: Andy Cohen is still my homeboy. Rather, it’s more of a reflection on my part to at least try to seek out and share more stuff that really matters to us, in addition of course to the latest 411 on my Real Housewives J

[i] http://theopedproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/the-byline-survey-2011/