Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/20/2008
Twenty-six months. More than 500 entries. Over 100,000 comments.
I've had more fun on this blog than anyone has a right to with a computer screen. I've laughed, spit out my coffee, cursed, cried, learned invaluable lessons about work and motherhood, and fallen in love with hundreds of people I've never met. But as my friend Lila Leff says about motherhood in her Mommy Wars essay, "I see it as one of the greatest chapters in my life. But all chapters lead to the next chapter, and there is nothing worse than hanging around in a chapter after it has already ended."
So it's time to move on, folks. I hope you'll understand that I need to focus on my memoir about surviving domestic violence, Crazy Love, which comes out from St. Martin's Press early next year. Please send me an e-mail if you'd like to stay in touch, or visit me at my Web site, or join my weekly discussions over at Mommy Track'd.
Thank you all for conducting a landmark experiment -- sharing what really goes on inside our heads when it comes to balancing (and unbalancing) working, raising kids, and living our lives. Your candor, humor and passion have changed me forever, and I hope you'll keep it up. I'll remember you always. Most of all, I've learned that moms, dads, babysitters, doctors, grandparents, teachers, bosses and the blessedly child-free care more deeply about parenting than I ever imagined. Thank you all.
Washingtonpost.com remains committed to continuing the work/family conversation. They're sure to figure out some interesting ways to keep us all talking. Stay tuned.
For now, a little walk down cyberspace lane, with a list of my favorite discussions:
Equal Pay for Equal Work * Worst Mother Ever * Breastfeeding at Work * Helicopter Parents * This Mommy Track May Go Somewhere * Teacup Generation * Stay-at-Home Dads * The Opt-Between Revolution * Do You Pack Your Husband's Suitcase? * Ladies, Freeze Your Eggs! * Who's the Decider? * Forty Years of American Parenthood Supermoms * The Lies Moms Tell * The End of Motherhood * We've Raised a Me Generation * Working Mom Secrets * Women of the Future * Parenthood: The Comedy * Why We Need Britney * All's Women's Fault? * I Am An Autism Mom * Post Partum Depression * My Baby or My Job? * $100K Nannies * Career Women, Beware! * Single Mom Seeks Play Dates, Blind Dates * Could You Be a Stay-at-Home Mom * Slaves to Our Kids * Can Moms Be CEOs? * The New Daddy Wars * Meow! * Modern Moms, Outdated Laws * Thank You Ann Richards * Sex & Success * Moms in Paradise * Raising Balanced Kids * Life After Mary Poppins * No Kids For Me * $900 Billion Women * People of Cleavage *
Posted at 07:10 AM ET, 06/19/2008
One Company Strikes A Balance
Only 16% of employers offer full pay for childbirth leave, down from 27% in 1998, based on a nationally representative sample of 1,100 employers by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. The average maximum length of job-guaranteed leaves for new mothers shrank too, to 15.2 weeks from 16.1 weeks a decade ago; leave for dads fell to 12.6 weeks from 13.1. Employers aren't deliberately targeting new mothers with pay cuts; rather, maternity leave has been caught in the crossfire over rising disability costs in general. Most maternity-leave pay in the U.S. comes in the form of disability pay, allotted for the six to eight weeks typically needed to heal after childbirth. New mothers are being hit by a cost-cutting move among employers toward paying only a fraction of full pay to workers on short-term disability, rather than 100% as was common in the past, as an incentive for employees to return to work as soon as they're able.
Discouraging news, certainly. But it's important to note that not every company has participated in this trend. And it's equally important to spread the news about companies that treat working parents with fairness and respect, so that we all can try to work at these companies, and send a message to others treating working parents justly is a valuable employee recruitment and retention advantage.
One employer that's striking the right balance is PricewaterhouseCoopers. The accounting and consulting company has 28,000 employees worldwide, with roughly 700 taking maternity leave each year. PwC offers two types of parental leave, depending on whether you are a primary care parent or non-primary care parent. (PwC has not yet designed Equally Shared Parenting policies, but I'm sure Amy and Marc Vachon will hop to it soon).
As long as you've worked for PwC for three months, you can use paid parental leave in consecutive weeks or in smaller increments, such as taking Fridays off each week, for up to one year. In additional to maternity disability leave or paid adoption leave, which covers eight to ten weeks of 100 percent paid leave, primary care parents are entitled to an additional six to eight weeks of paid parental leave; non-primary care parents can take three weeks paid leave. And, of course, PwC protects employees' jobs on an unpaid basis for the 12 weeks mandated by The Family and Medical Leave Act; plus, in some cases it allows unpaid absences for six months or longer.
PwC also offers free prenatal care, a lactation program, child-care discounts and referrals, emergency child care and reimbursement, private nursing rooms, flexible work arrangements, family sick days to care for ill spouses and children, and the Full Circle Program to stay connected to employees who become stay-at-home parents. Jennifer Allyn from the Office of Diversity explains why these policies are critical to the firm's success: "PwC recruits 50 percent women associates each year and we know we can't run this firm without women."
The company keeps adding new benefits for parents, including the recent launch of Mentor Moms, a 20-month voluntary program designed to pair experienced working moms with newly pregnant employees. Explains employee Maris Friedman:
"The Mentor Moms program started as a result of my own challenges trying to balance a successful career at PwC and my job as the primary caregiver to my two sons. After the birth of my second son, I struggled to find the right balance between my two jobs -- as a professional at PwC and as a mother. I was starting to feel like I couldn't make it work and that I was going to have to opt out of the workforce. One of my female partners reached out to me and began calling me once a week -- offering me a much needed sounding board, validation and assistance in creating the right work/life balance. This proved to be a lifeline and allowed me to find the right balance. I can honestly say that I feel so lucky to be able to have a successful career and be a good mother at the same time, and the mentoring I received proved invaluable during an extremely vulnerable time in my life. As a result, I started a grass-roots mentoring program which has now grown into a successful mentoring program across PwC. It is imperative that large corporations recognize the need to be 'flexible' and 'accommodating' with all parents, not just mothers."
I don't outline all this to suggest we should rush over to PwC. One company obviously cannot solve all work-balance problems. But seeing -- in detail -- how one large, multinational company tackles work-family support shows that all companies can do more to make it possible for parents to be good employees and good parents simultaneously.
What has your company done (or not done) to help parents? What do you think are the easiest, most affordable steps a company can take to make your juggling act more balanced? What is the biggest mistake you see employers making?
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/18/2008
Professional Help for Balancing Conflicts
Over the past two years, On Balance has dissected just about every angle of the shifting balance between work, family, guilt, ambition, economical self-sufficiency, caregiving and life. I have to say that getting a deluge of advice from On Balance posters is surprisingly helpful. But what if you need more, um, professional, help figuring out your particular juggling act?
Back in March Annys Shin of The Washington Post explored the new phenomenon of professional coaches who help women (and men) navigate the murky waters of raising kids and working without losing our sanity, in Work or Family? Yes. As we all know but sometimes tend to forget amidst the daily chaos, there are myriad options: working part-time, not working, going back to work, switching to a lower responsibility job, etc. For a few hundred dollars -- not much compared to a year's salary -- professional life coaches can provide perspective, data, brainstorming and impartial ears.
You can also find help and inspiration without leaving your cubicle or your kitchen computer. One good site -- on which I also write -- is my favorite MommyTrack'D, especially the Survival Guide section and Observations from the On And Off Ramps. Another is YourOnRamp, an online resource for women in career transition, providing a social network, career resources, and job listings for women on-ramping (entering) or off-ramping (exiting) their career. Co-founder and Business Development Director Hendy Dayton explains:
"Many women trying to on-ramp suffer a loss of confidence and tools and resources they really need to re-enter. While there are a lot of stories about women exiting the workforce and having a hard time re-entering, there are not a lot of solutions out there. We provide one. Additionally, one of the main reasons women have problems re-entering is that they have not maintained their currency while they are out. Our site facilitates this knowledge and networking so they remain educated, connected, and up to date on the latest lifestyle and business trends. We also serve those women who are looking to off-ramp for a period of time and want to proactively stay current."
These two sites, and dozens more online groups, life coaches and support groups, are run by moms who know all too well how hard the balancing act can be and are eager to help other women -- and men -- find the right solutions. Examples like this of women helping women is one of the reasons I find the cliches that "women are our own worst enemy," so empty. The reality is that women, in most cases, are our own best friends when it comes to supporting other women's different choices about whether to work or stay home, finding balance between work and family, breaking the glass ceiling, and getting through motherhood's many crises.
Have you ever used a professional coach to help find balance in your life? Do you have a favorite site? Has On Balance helped you? What's your formal or informal support network when it comes to balance?
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/17/2008
Rules for Ruling the Roost
By Rebeldad Brian Reid
The New York Times Magazine on Sunday ran a long piece on how household duties are divided. The article focuses on the idea of "equally shared parenting," a concept that is being lived to its logical extreme by On Balance regulars Amy and Marc Vachon. The story extensively profiles Amy and Marc, whose commitment to equality goes all the way to the folding of the socks (Amy gets the white socks, Marc the darks), as well as a handful of other couples, who have tried to live (with varying degrees of success) with similar arrangements.
Reading the piece, I was left with the impression that making equally shared parenting a reality meant instituting a set of fairly comprehensive rules about who does what and when. I understand why couples might want to swap child-care drop-off responsibilities based on work schedules, but I get nervous when smaller tasks start getting divided up.
I prefer to cook, and I hate to think that my time in the kitchen ought to be offset by my wife performing some other task to ensure we stay at 50-50. We do what we're good at, what we like to do and what we have the time to do. No hard-and-fast rules. No schedules taped to the refrigerator door.
This is not a flawless system, I have to admit. There's lots of room for stuff to fall through the cracks, which is not an uncommon event in my household, but it spares me from the tyranny of worrying that because today is Tuesday, the schedule dictates that I must (or must not) empty the dishwasher.
In my mind, the secret of Amy and Marc's success is not the rules themselves, but the conversations that lead to the rules. If you have a real commitment to equity (even if that means something other than a 50-50 division of household labor) and open lines of communication, do you really need to divide the laundry by color to have a relationship where everyone is contributing? How about those of you who are trying to have a balance within your relationship (kids or no kids): Do you formally divvy up tasks, and -- if so -- how is that working out?
Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/16/2008
Tips for Getting Kids, Spouses and Employees to Share
It often strikes me that children, spouses and employees act in surprisingly similar fashion when it comes to sharing. More accurately, when it comes to not sharing. Whether toys, money, responsibility or attention need to be divvied up, sometimes we're all children deep down. So how can we help our loved ones and co-workers discover the wisdom of sharing? Here goes.
1. Let them duke it out. Too often, we intervene too early and prevent people, even little people, from learning valuable lessons on their own. Toddlers can sometimes find the right compromise if parents step back. Ditto for competitive co-workers.
2. Make them take turns. Set a schedule for a favorite toy, seat next to mom, etc. With co-workers, it's time, attention and prized/hated jobs that need to be alternated.
3. Be fair and don't take sides. It's nearly impossible for anyone, of any age, to play fair in the sandbox in the shadow of blatant favoritism.
4. Be generous with the scarce resource. Figure out what the real fight is over. I once saw my children fight over a dirty dishrag -- proof that something else was at stake. If it's love and attention, make it clear there is enough to go around. At work, it's often public praise and recognition of each person's unique ability to contribute to the organization that's needed.
5. Make them execute a project together without you. Last week, I sent my two oldest children off to Kung Fu Panda alone. They had to walk to theater, buy tickets and popcorn and walk home together without me to keep the peace. As they left the house, I said, "If this works, you get to go to the movies together again." I also once had two managers, vying for the next promotion, work together on a complicated cost-saving plan. Zero fighting.
6. Don't sink to their level. Don't take credit for someone else's work or success. Make sure you set a good example.
7. Secretly tape record them fighting and play it back. (I've never actually done this, at work or home, but bet it would work.)
8. Share your toys. Let employees give part of an important presentation or give your co-worker the holiday basket from your biggest vendor. Do your spouse's most hated chore for a change.
9. Praise good sharing -- if you catch your kids or co-workers sharing, make a big deal of it. Compliment someone else who readily shares credit with others. In my family, I give kids an extra dessert serving or another small reward when they practice good sharing.
10. Make it fun. Gotta share chores? Fill a squirt gun from a solution of a gallon of water and a drop of dish soap. Let kids squirt windows and mirrors and wipe dry with paper towels. The work version, of course, is the employee picnic or off-site. Fun works.
What's worked for you, at home or work? Do you have good stories about times you or someone around you refused to share, no matter the cost? How did you resolve it?
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/13/2008
Naps and Balance
It is hard to believe that I am actually writing about naps and balance. However, today is Friday. We need some levity. Here goes.
For several years, naps have played a big part in my balancing act of working, raising kids, avoiding insanity, divorce, and a premature heart attack. But it wasn't always this way. In early motherhood, I tried (and mostly failed) to nap when my kids were napping. Usually, I was too desperate to squeeze in work, phone calls and laundry to succeed. I considered coffee one of the key ingredients to surviving as a working mother.
Eventually, the years of caffeination and sleep deprivation started eroding my health, concentration at work, and ability to speak civilly to my family and co-workers when under pressure. The magic solution came one day when I dropped all three kids off at their bi-weekly, hour-long computer class. I was parked in front of the storefront classroom. I thought: Why go to Giant or the post office? Why not recline the driver's seat and see if I can snooze?
I was asleep in less than five minutes.
Instead of a spare diaper, these days my computer backpack and purse have a stash of earplugs, a neckrest and an eye mask. I nap in the car several times a week while waiting for the kids at practice, birthday parties and play dates. When on business trips, I usually fall asleep before the plane takes off or the train pulls out. I've developed the ability to fall asleep in the late afternoon as the kids swarm around me in our family room. I also have, on more than one occasion, taken a short nap in the office sitting on the toilet seat in the bathroom. I was thrilled by confirmation that naps are good for you in the recent Nap Time in the Washington Post's Health section: but I didn't really need confirmation, since the results I'd experienced were so positive.
I can't overestimate how important napping is to being a good parent and productive worker. I have more patience and energy to meet my kids' needs in the late afternoons and evenings when chaos rules. I can put in an hour or two of work late at night. Napping gives me a reserve of energy and flexibility that helps me master the juggle on a daily basis.
What about you? Do you nap? Do you have another secret weapon in the juggling war? What are your tricks for finding balance?
Next week: Send me your Tips for Getting Kids, Spouses and Employees to Share Toys, Credit and Responsibilities so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/12/2008
Life in the Break Down Lane
"Go nowhere, do nothing," a yoga teacher used to chant in a class I took a few years ago. Every time she said the words, I burst out laughing. The concept was radically opposed to everything I'd ever done in my life -- and contrary to the hectic D.C. lifestyle I grew up in and continue to immerse myself in. What could I do besides laugh? But I have to admit, the words caught my attention.
Now there's apparently an entire range of support groups devoted to the concept, as reported on CNN.com's The Slow Movement. Groups include The Long Now Foundation in San Francisco; Take Back Your Time in Seattle; and Slow Food USA, a counterpoint to our fast-food culture. The groups advocate using time differently than our overworked, over-scheduled culture advocates -- to cook and eat food slowly, to gather with friends for no reason but to spend time together, to work and consume less.
"Time is the most precious thing we have," Edgar S. Cahn, founder of Time Banks USA, explains. "Every hour you live, you never get back. Time doesn't have any monetary value attached to it. One can't deposit a block of time in the bank or buy a loaf of bread with it. Yet it's essential to have enough of it to live well and make democracy work."
Some slow movement leaders also advocate to change public policy to give employees more leisure time. John de Graaf, national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, explains that the nonprofit group wants legislation guaranteeing at least three weeks of paid annual vacation for all workers, paid leave for new parents, and workplace rules limiting the amount of compulsory overtime. "Companies will actually profit more if they don't overwork employees because they will become healthier and more productive" he argues.
On a personal level, the "go nowhere, do nothing" approach helps me appreciate "doing nothing" with my kids. Simply hanging out has become as valuable (or more so) than taking them to an art class, play dates or the math enrichment program I used to consider paramount to their development. Work still matters tremendously to me, but I see, and feel, the value of having plenty of white space in my life.
What do you think? Have you tried to slow down in an effort to find balance in your life? What have you cut back on? If you could, what time-sink would you eliminate today? What has worked -- and failed -- for you?
Posted at 07:10 AM ET, 06/11/2008
Have You Cracked a Glass Ceiling?
On Saturday, after a fun-filled mini-vacation at a friend's farm in Pennsylvania, I drove three hours with three...um...boisterous kids in back, dropped two off at soccer games in the sweltering D.C. heat, and then my nine-year-old daughter and I headed for Hillary Clinton's concession speech in downtown D.C.
Why did I need to be there?
"Women like me usually run for president of the PTA or president of some nice arts organization. We don't usually get to run for president of the United States. At last, here's a woman who wants to play with the big boys, and she's qualified, and she's giving them a run for her money. And I love her for that."
Meghan O'Rourke recently argued in Slate's Death of a Saleswoman that Clinton lost her way in her campaign because she was too masculine. "Her problem wasn't that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn't feminist enough."
But listening to Hillary gamely, graciously close out her campaign, I had my doubts. My daughter, a passionate Hillary fan for two years, stood behind me on a stairway inside the crowded National Building Museum. We cheered our guts out as Hillary, Bill and Chelsea walked to the podium. My daughter put her arms around me and we had one of those priceless, timeless mother-daughter moments.
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time," Clinton said without a trace of regret in her voice. "Thanks to you, it has about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before."
In Sunday's A Thank-You for 18 Million Cracks in the Glass Ceiling, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank made the legitimate point:
"It will be up to the historians to ponder why Clinton waited until the very last day of her campaign to give full voice to the epochal nature of her candidacy. Through the Democratic primary race of 2008, she had played down the significance of being the first woman within reach of the presidency. It's tempting to wonder whether things would have turned out differently if she had embraced the theme earlier -- but there can be little doubt that her last speech of the campaign was also her best."
Each person who supported Hillary Clinton in her historic bid as our first serious female presidential contender weakened glass ceilings everywhere. Clinton's speech made me realize that the small cracks we make in our daily lives, juggling work and kids, matter. So I wonder: How many other cracks have we all made?
At Johnson & Johnson, I mentored two Latina women without college degrees who've both since advanced professionally; I imagine they will be J&J lifers and retire with many more stock options than me. I've written college and business school recommendations and advocated passionately for women at work who wanted part-time and flex-time schedules -- and gave many raises to women who deserved equal pay for equal work. I've encouraged men to take paternity leaves and consider stay-at-home fatherhood. Even writing over 500 entries on this blog in the past two years to me puts a few more spider cracks in the glass.
What about you? My guess is that simply by trying, in your own unique way, to juggle work and family, you've done it, too. You don't have to run for president to improve opportunities for women. What do you think?
Full disclosure: I contributed to both the Obama and Clinton campaigns.
Next week: Send me your Tips for Getting Kids, Spouses and Employees to Share Toys, Credit and Responsibilities so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.
Posted at 07:10 AM ET, 06/10/2008
What Dad Really Wants on Sunday
By Rebeldad Brian Reid
When I was a kid, I don't remember Father's Day being a commercial endeavor at all. Maybe a card was involved, or a sleeve of golf balls or a trip to the batting cages, but that was it. Flash forward a few decades, and now Father's Day has been given the consumer treatment. Even People magazine feels compelled to cut into its Brittany Spears coverage to bring readers a mammoth gift-ideas section.
I'm all for doing as little as possible to note the day. But if you really want to make a big deal of things, forget about gift-wrapping a new GPS unit and try out:
What about you guys: Is there actually anything you want for Father's Day?
Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/ 9/2008
Giving Your Kids (and Yourself) a Balanced Summer
Children dream of summer -- swimming holes, picnics, lazy days, cool movie theaters, outdoor concerts in the park, catching fireflies. One of the casualties of today's increased demands by employers -- coupled with our trend toward overscheduling kids with year-round activities -- is the relaxed pace of summertime. How do you keep summer's magic alive, without driving yourself crazy?
Here are my and readers Top Ten Tips for a serene summer:
1. Plan in advance. It seems paradoxical, but one prime ingredient in an easy-going summer is organizing ... in January. Some camps fill up quickly, plane tickets cost less in advance, beach rentals book early. So as soon as you've finished paying for Christmas presents, start thinking summer.
2. Work with other parents from school, daycare, or your neighborhood. Imagine a team approach for a group of working parents. Each leaves work early one day every two weeks to take kids to a local pool, park or picnic. Fun for kids, minimal hassle for parents.
3. Negotiate a temporary arrangement with your employer. Companies that oppose part-time or flex-time scheduling on a permanent basis may approve a three-month summer plan for you to come in early or stay late to accommodate your family responsibilities while school's out. You have nothing to lose by asking -- but ask early to avoid the appearance of poor planning or manipulation.
4. Send your kids to summer camps -- but not too much. Find local, low-tech, week-by-week day camps that offer flexibility without too much expense or long-term commitment. But don't overdo the camp angle. Last summer, I felt like UberMom for researching and booking several local week-long day camps, perfect for each of my three kids' interests and personalities. But three different daily drop offs and pickups -- and a change in routine every week -- took a lot of the fun out of my brilliant summer plans. I was grateful (too much so) when school started in September and predictability replaced constant change.
5. Take a weekend or week-long vacation to the beach or summer spot as soon as school lets out to celebrate summer's arrival and set a fun tone for the rest of summer.
6. Make a family rule: no laptops or Blackberries or Nintendo, etc. on family vacations.
7. Brainstorm on special summer projects. Teach each kid to cook a meal of their choosing. Help them make it once; older kids can try making a family meal all by themselves. Pick up special (easy) art projects for each kid. Put together a lemonade stand kit. Have a book-reading contest with a fun prize at summer's end. Spend Friday nights at an air-conditioned movie theater.
8. Summerize your routine. During one of my best summers we joined an inexpensive neighborhood pool that had a snack bar. Our babysitter took the kids there every afternoon, and I joined them at 5:30. We'd have a hot dog and hamburger dinner with popsicles for dessert, and change the kids into pajamas at the pool (they were all under six). A simple, low-cost change in our daily routine that made the summer festive and celebratory.
9. A special summer challenge: kids too old for babysitters or daycamp, but old enough to get in serious trouble if unsupervised. Many day camps have unpaid counselor-in-training programs for kids too old for the camp but not old enough for counselor jobs. Another good option: Send your oldest child to visit relatives or family friends for a week or so. Both teaches older kids responsibility and independence while lightening your child-care and scheduling load.
10. Chill your attitude. Although the thought of wearing pantyhose in summer is enough to make me cranky, I try to treat summer as a true break in the rush-rush chaos of working parenthood. It's a time to relax, to leave work early, reflect, sip iced tea and let the sweat drip. Over-scheduling and cramming work, quality kid time, vacations and relatives into one summer ruins the simple joy of summer.
What are your tricks and tips for finding summertime balance?
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 06/ 6/2008
Snapshots and Soundtracks
On Wednesday, Laura posted this comment:
"I was driving to the gym and I passed this convertible, top down, blonde ponytailed woman driving, with a friend in the passenger seat and a ponytailed girl in back. And I thought, now, THAT's Moxie Mom. Or, you know, at least how I like to think of you. :-)"
And this got me thinking: How do we see each other on this blog?
We've been posting and laughing and fighting and explaining ourselves to one another for more than two years now. But most of us have never met or heard one another's voices. It's like stopping by your neighborhood park to see what your friends are up to -- except we never actually see each other, or even know each other's real names. Over the course of more than 500 columns and 100,000 comments, I've learned a lot about how deeply we all care about juggling work and family, but I've never learned what any of you look like.*
So today, for our Friday entertainment describe your mental images of your most memorable On Balance posters.
*Actually, Fred sent me a picture. Such a sweet guy. Cute, too.