For the first 45 minutes of reading Brigid Schulte's book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, I was engrossed. I did nothing but read and take notes. I soon learned that I was using a strategy that she uncovers in her exhaustive reporting on the time pressure that working moms and dads across the country feel in juggling home and work responsibilities: pulsing. That's 30, 45, 60 or 90 minutes of intensely focusing on one activity, for maximal productivity.
But soon enough, the phone rang and interrupted my reverie. Then I remembered I had forgotten to send an email to my daughter's Odyssey of the Mind team, which I coach. And the spell was broken. Such is the life of a working mom, or any modern worker, really, with time chopped up into confetti by the many demands placed on us.
Schulte, a Washington Post staff writer, takes a journey from time confetti to time serenity in Overwhelmed, a painstakingly researched investigation of the overload that many families face. In the vein of Katrina Alcorn's book Maxed Out, she combines memoir with facts, figures and stories about other people and organizations. It's a compelling read, and powerful indictment of our busy-for-the-sake-of-it society.
If you read the book, please let me know what you think!
"The grass is greener" doesn't hold just for working moms and stay-at-home moms eyeing each others' stain-free grownup outfits and leisurely walks home from school with envy. It's true for kids as well.
The other day I was herding a group of children out of an elementary school classroom after an enrichment meeting, dropping off some at the on-site after care and leading the others for pickup by their stay-at-home parents at the school's front door. One little girl looked wistfully at the kids joining the after care activities and said she wished she could go to after school care. "But my mom doesn't work," she concluded sadly.
Maybe we working moms aren't the only ones getting guilt from our children or our internal voices. Instead of guilt from missing our kids' soccer practices or not baking cookies after school, stay-at-home moms may feel bad about family finances, not keeping the house clean enough or the like. Neither of these guilt-ridden perspectives should take hold, in my opinion. We make the best choice for our family and ourselves, and then live with the consequences. If fallout becomes more than we bargained for, we make different choices.
Each person has a different yardstick to measure her worth as a parent, and it works best when you're the one doing the judging. We each have our own list of things that make us a good mom: hopefully the ones that count. The more I've been a mother, the more I refine that list and fit it to my values and my family's values.
What's your recipe for being a good parent? Is it getting home for family dinner most nights? Or traveling for work only twice a month? Perhaps it's not measured by numbers, but knowing that you're the one that your daughter confides in when troubled, or seeks out for a hug when upset. It's a deeply personal question, and one that we should answer for ourselves -- not based on what the others think.
The nightly tussle over the homework is a familiar scene in many a household. You know the drill. The kid resists sitting down at the beautifully organized homework center. The parent gently reminds while cooking dinner and simultaneously taking a work call. The kid drags his heels. The parent develops a splitting headache and loses his or her cool entirely.
Sound familiar? If not, you're probably one of those parents whose children independently complete their homework the instant the door slams shut behind them after school, then ask if they can help set the table. Yes, we all hate you.
For the rest of us, there comes a time when we ask, "Whose homework is it anyway?" It's easy to get caught up in what the teacher thinks of our parenting and to expect perfection from our children in the to-do lists we create for them. The homework is really their business. While we have an obligation as parents to carve out time in the schedule for homework and give them a quiet place to do it, they're the ones who benefit from completing homework problems - or suffer when they neglect the obligation.
For working parents, there's the extra challenge of creating a consistent homework routine when children are in aftercare or with a babysitter. How do you balancing your responsibility as a parent to facilitate homework with the reality that it's ultimately the kids' obligation?
Do you ever wonder, "Is it me?" when you run into a roadblock at work? Academic Joan Williams is here to tell you that it's not all in your head. A new book What Works for Women at Work, written with her daughter Rachel Dempsey, dissects the four ways that gender bias undermines working women, and gives a range of options for fighting back.
For an article for Working Mother on the book, I spoke with nearly a dozen high-ranking executive women, all of whom had experienced one or more of the four barriers. Fortunately, they all had overcome them -- giving hope to us all that with some savvy, we can also surmount these obstacles. Hint: becoming defensive and bitter doesn't help.
How have you found that being a women -- and a mother -- has held you back at work? What strategies have you found to climb the career ladder successfully?
A recent Pew survey found that 40 percent of U.S. households with children are headed by a breadwinner mom, that is, a woman who earns more than half of the household income. And a new poll by Working Mother Media gives us insight into who those breadwinner moms are: only 29 percent became the top earner in the family by choice, versus 59 percent of the breadwinner dads. Only 46 percent are pleased by that circumstance, versus 75 percent of fathers.
The reasons behind those feelings aren't hard to discern. A majority of both breadwinning moms (74 percent) and dads (72 percent) believe that society feels more comfortable with men being the primary earner. Two-thirds of breadwinner moms are single mothers. Only 60 percent of breadwinner moms are happy with the division of household chores, versus 76 percent of dads. Still, 72 percent of the moms surveyed are happy with their relationship, as are 80 percent of the dads.
When my husband and I first got married, he was starting his own business and I supported the family for a couple of years. A few career changes later, he's the breadwinner, although we couldn't survive without my income as well. Throughout it all, we've divided chores, child care and other tasks based on who has the time and expertise needed -- which I feel is a fair method. I've never felt that who makes more money affects who has more power in the marriage.
How is the earning power divided in your household? Do you feel it influences your relationship?
Last week, U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rose DeLauro proposed federal legislation that would create paid family and medical leave, allowing workers to receive partial income when they need to take time away from work for a major health condition, the birth or adoption of a child, for military caregiving or other reasons that currently qualify for unpaid FMLA leave, which became law 20 years ago. The FAMILY Act would build on the state paid leave programs that already exist in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
"When a young parent needs time to care for a newborn child - it should never come down to an outdated policy that lets her boss decide how long it will take - and decide the fate of her career and her future along with it. When any one of us - man or woman - needs time to care for a dying parent - we should not have to sacrifice our job and risk our future to do the right thing for our family," Gillibrand said in announcing the legislation. "Choosing between your loved ones and your career and your future is a choice no one should have to make."
Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through an employer and fewer than 40 percent can access such leave through disability insurance. That leaves many families scrambling and short on funds, when it comes to a serious illness or addition to the family.
"No legislation would do more to make this a family friendly nation than the FAMILY Act," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "It is simply unacceptable that millions of Americans work hard every day, yet are one birth, accident or illness away from financial devastation because our public policies fail to provide paid leave."
Of course, the introduction of legislation is no guarantee that it can pass through the full Senate and House. I'm sure I won't be the only working parent eagerly watching to see the fate of this proposal!
It's bad enough that after the holidays, we're faced with keeping New Year's resolutions and returning to work. Now, the tax forms begin to arrive in the mail and remind us of the odious chore ahead before April 15.
For working moms with a nanny or housekeeper who earns more than the threshold, that means reporting the income paid to that household employee, creating W2 and W3 forms, and paying nanny taxes. Fortunately, it's not so complicated -- just a few simple math calculations. Putting together the entire tax return is another story!
Do you use a nanny tax service or do you just crunch the numbers on your own? For those working parents whose children use day care centers, remember to save receipts as well so you can claim child care tax benefits.
It's so hard to strike the right balance as a supportive but not hovering parent nowadays. We've always encouraged reading and our home is full of numbers and words, but we didn't ever drill our kids with workbooks or practice sheets outside of school. We figured they had enough time sitting at a desk during school (and for their required homework.
Then last year, the staff development professional at our child's elementary school said casually in a curriculum meeting, "Well, of course you should be practicing math facts at home." Um. I guess we missed that message in the kindergarten orientation packet! Since then we've put multiplication tables on the walls and added some practice materials to the girls' backpack stations.
We're also a regular presence at the elementary school, volunteering in the classroom and as coaches for soccer, academic teams and Girl Scouts. Having the regular interaction with staff, administrators and teachers builds relationships that will help support our children's academics and provide a foundation for future conversations or requests.
Both my husband and I have worked out flexible schedules so we can be involved in our children's education and school. But we also realize that ultimately, each child will determine her educational path based on the effort she expends and the seriousness with which she takes school. We are careful not to make school more important to us than it is to the children.
So even though we may suggest that they use math manipulatives and practice books, we don't require it. (In fact, it seems to be more effective to casually place something academic on the kitchen counter. 9 times out of 10 the kids will pick it up themselves!)
How do you support your child's education? Do they welcome your input or seek to keep you at a distance?
This year, I am full of energy for New Year's resolutions, for once. With a big college reunion coming up, there's added incentive to stay healthy through the cold winter months ahead.
And thanks to Susan Wenner Jackson and the crew at Working Moms Against Guilt, I wrote down my resolution to be in better touch with old friends in 2014. (That means you, Julie, Rayenne and Tami!)
What are your resolutions for the coming year? There's such power in stating your goals out loud, or committing them to paper, whether for your career, your family, your relationships or yourself. Don't miss this opportunity to take stock and plan for a better year ahead. Make it concrete and make it happen.
Sometimes it's clear that you have a bad boss: outright abuse, insufficient management or the like. I recently heard a story about one employee who didn't hear a word from her (remote) manager for her first five months in the position.
But sometimes, the signs that you have a bad boss can be hard to read. You may experience a gradual decline in your self-confidence, an uneasy feeling that the best assignments are going to other people in the organization. It could even be an absence of a sign: such as when you network internally, you never hear that your supervisor has been singing your praises.
Sometimes you never realize how bad it is until you quit your job and experience the workplace with a new supervisor, one who supports your work and gives you the autonomy and resources you need to succeed. Where the concept of managing up is superfluous because your boss is such a proactive manager. That's when you can look back and see all the signs of a bad boss in the rearview mirror.
Have you had a bad boss? Please share your story!