The Highs and Lows of Working at Home

It’s all fun and games until your “co-worker” maniacally smashes crackers into the carpet.

Sometimes, working from home feels like the best of both worlds. There’s an opportunity to think about something other than my children all day, every day. I can avoid the steep costs of daycare, and, of course, make some money.
Other days, it seems like the worst of both. I have to squeeze in my working hours on top of taking care of my children full-time. In the middle of the winter, I can go days without leaving the house. I don’t have co-workers to stop by for a quick chat, and so I end up talking my husband’s ear off the second he comes home.
I work from home, freelance writing and working on small projects for my former employer, for about five to ten hours a week. As soon as I had told my former boss that I would be happy to help them out, my oldest son promptly stopped napping. That change pushed my work hours into the evenings, during those precious “they are finally asleep and I all I want is to sink into a long, hot bath” hours.  
I’ve tried other schedules, but to no avail. Occasionally I’ll set up activities from listicles with titles like “27 Screen-free Activities for Toddlers,” hoping to check a few tasks off my to-do list before my sons get wise to the fact that I am not giving them my undivided attention. Those activities last exactly as long as it takes for me to boot up my computer.
In fact, just a few moments ago, I tried to let my son play quietly beside me while I took a work call. Within thirty seconds, he had unscrewed a tub of Vapo-rub and jammed it into my nose. Luckily, my boss is also a mom and didn’t mind the interruption, but now every breath feels like I’m standing in Siberia.
The siren call of working from home has bewitched mothers for decades, promising women the ability to have it all. You can have a career, earn an income, all without having to sacrifice a precious second of your kid’s childhood. The sidebars on every website I visit scream offers: $21 an hour to type! $35 to transcribe! $18 to answer the telephone! All promising I can remain in the comfort of my own home.
And my home is comfortable. There is no fighting over the office thermostat. No one giving me the side eye if I’m wearing the same yoga pants for the last three days. No need to eat my lunch from the office vending machine.
But my co-workers are a different story.
They are cute, sweet, and darling, but they are also busy, loud, and constantly underfoot. They cannot resist the temptation of attacking a keyboard that I am using, climbing onto my lap when I have a phone call, or asking me a litany of questions whenever I sit down at my desk.
“What are you doing?”
“Why are you working?”
“Why do you have to work?”
“When will you be done working?”
“Can I play with the computer?”
“Why can’t I play with the computer?”
“Please, can I play with the computer?”
“But I said please!”
Let’s just say I’ve decided to only work when the kids are awake if my husband is home, or if I’m under a deadline.
There’s plenty of stay-at-home moms with a side hustle. According to a survey from Redbook, 62% of stay-at-home moms say that they contribute financially to their household. About one-third of the women surveyed said they work regularly.
A good portion of this work exists outside of the traditional economy. Stay-at-home moms help pad their family’s finances watching a friend’s kid a few days a week, making jewelry for an Etsy store, or buying and selling goods on E-bay. Of course, there are also the modern Avon ladies, selling everything from high-end, non-toxic makeup to flashy leggings.
What many of these women have realized, is that when your home is your office, you get to have a foot in both the working and the home world. I know that hammering out a few articles a week on my keyboard in the evenings isn’t the same as holding down a full-time gig.
My financial contributions to the family budget may be fairly modest, but without a massive daycare check to write each month, I can bring home comparable pay in far fewer hours. Mostly, however, I enjoy thinking about something other than enriching pre-literacy activities and vegetable recipes my kids might actually eat.
But I miss the office.
My husband thinks I’m crazy when I say that, because a good chunk of the forty plus hours he is in the office he wishes he could be at home with us, wearing sweatpants. If I had to do it all day, every day, I’m sure my tune would change. Nevertheless, I find myself missing putting on real clothes and talking to real adults.
For now, working at home a few hours a week has helped create a better balance for me as a mom. My evenings might involve less Netflix binging than I would like, but sacrificing a bit of free time for pursuing something I love to do is worth not knowing what happened in the last season of House of Cards.
If you’re a mom, you’re working. No matter if you are in the office, taking care of children, or at a computer – we are continually pursuing a better life for our children and our family. So whether your officemates are your colleagues, or are knee high and begging you for crackers, here’s to finding a balance that works for you.

Parenting and Work: The Ultimate Balancing Act

Becoming a parents often requires a corresponding change in work-life balance. Allowing yourself to make that change is the first important step.

There was a season in my life (pre-kids) when I worked 12- to 14-hour days as a high school English teacher, which isn’t hard to do with all the grading, committees, and assigned duties. Picture a hamster furiously running in one of those exercise wheels; that’s about how each day felt for me. But I noticed a strange sense of pride each time I logged a 10+ hour work day. It was a productivity high – similar to the fabled runner’s high.

At the end of these days, I wrote down all I had accomplished, often in the form of Facebook status updates (too many characters for tweets). Each “like” perpetuated my belief that productive was synonymous with successful. If I went a night without working, I berated myself for being lazy and vowed to work harder the next day.

I compared my resume with my colleagues’ and pushed myself to have more conference presentations, more publications, more teaching experiences, more awards. It didn’t really hit me that I would need a change until my husband and I began pursuing our license to become foster parents five years into my career.

During some rare downtime in one of my composition classes, I was casually chatting with a small group of seniors who were curious about what I did outside of school. I walked them through a typical week in the life of their English teacher. They knew my husband and I were hoping to become foster parents. Eventually, one of my students interrupted me.

“Uh…how are you going to have time to be a parent?” she asked. “You know you’re going to have to give a few things up, right? Kids are a lot of work.” The other students nodded along in agreement.

According to the The New York Times, “Fifty-six percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding.”

High-profile, successful women like Shonda Rhimes (producer of popular TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal”) and Arianna Huffington (editor of The Huffington Post) have spoken publicly about finding this balance and the destruction that occurs when we don’t. A 2016 article from the Pew Research Center reveals that 52 percent of working fathers find maintaining work and home life balance difficult.

My student’s questions hovered over my head like an impending deadline throughout the remaining six months of our foster parenting classes. When my husband and I accepted our first placement, we knew something needed to change with our pace of life. I wasn’t ready to leave my full-time job, but there were a few changes I made right away to prepare for the growth of our family that ultimately paid off.

First, I changed jobs. More specifically, I changed schools, trading a high-pressure suburban school 35 minutes from my house for a large, urban school that was only a five minute commute. My student load doubled, but I went from having to plan for three classes to planning for only one. Of course there were new challenges, but I acquired more time since the commute was much shorter.

When I made the switch, I set more realistic work and personal life boundaries for this new season of life. I ditched the work email app from my phone. Initially, it felt a lot like cutting off my right arm, but I knew that I spent too much time checking emails and responding to students and parents during the evenings. Instead I set aside a specific chunk of time each day to respond to my emails and let my students and parents know of the change. I expected backlash, but for the most part, people respected the boundaries.

I became a fierce defender of my time and adhered to schedules whenever possible. Because I allowed myself to stay only 45 minutes after contract time each day, I learned to use my pockets of time wisely. I tried to save all of my extra work for after the kids’ bedtimes, but I also gave myself grace, realizing there are certain times of the year when I just needed to grade papers or plan lessons when my kids were awake.

When this happened, I rallied my kindergartners and had them help. They often organized papers, “graded” essays with me, or helped me create manipulatives for a lesson. There’s something to be said for kids who see their parents work, but there’s a delicate balance to this. I never want my kids to feel secondary to my work. Adjusting my schedule allowed me to spend more time doing more things that filled me up, like time with my kids, exercise, and hobbies.

Life progresses in seasons. There is a season for working 10- to 14-hour days, but for most, this season cannot be easily maintained once kids enter the picture. If you’re finding tension in juggling work and home, consider what steps you can take to achieve better balance.

The most difficult change to make in embracing a better work and personal life balance is often internal. We have to believe that our worth is not determined by how much we accomplish, professionally or personally.

Why You Should Give up on Achieving ‘Work-Life Balance’

What if we stopped trying to solve this equation? Instead, we embrace the fact that there is no magical work-life balance formula.

“Mom! The Monsters!” was the pick for our bedtime book last night. The story opens with the main character describing his fears: “Once upon a time, I was very, very afraid at night. I was afraid because I thought they were hiding in the dark. Hairy monsters with sharp teeth who smelled like dirty socks.”

The character is afraid of the dark and the monsters that are hiding in his room. Throughout the story, his mom vacuums up the monsters (dust bunnies), washes and irons the ghosts (towels and sheets), sweeps the ogres away (breadcrumbs), and tidies up the witches (closet).

He ends the story by talking about how tough his mom is: “That’s why I’m not scared of anything now. Monsters, ghosts, witches, and ogres don’t come to my bedroom anymore: they are too afraid! Because they know that their biggest nightmare lives in my house… my mom!”

After I finished reading the story, my son turned to me and said, “No matter how busy moms are, they sure are good at taking care of stuff.” His take-away that night was that moms make it happen, no matter what.

This idea got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with my daughter after a long day at work. I had just walked in the door and could hardly wait to take off my high-heeled boots. As I tugged my sweaty, swollen feet out, I must have sighed loudly because she turned to me and said, “Is being a mom hard? It seems like you do so much.”

Her comment seemed so fitting because, like most moms, I struggle with finding work-life balance. This mythical idea that the world of work and the world of motherhood should just magically come together and women should be able to do it all has put a lot of undue stress on moms who are already doing the best they can.

We assume when we hear the phrase “work-life balance” that the two entities somehow live in harmony. The reality is, work and home life are going to collide; it doesn’t mean you have to give one up in order to save the other, it just means that you need to be aware of it and not put extra stress on yourself when it does.

A woman who I admire greatly once said to me: “I am from a different generation than you. I am sorry that many women of your generation feel this pressure. I think when we moms from the 70s told our girls that they can do anything, we forgot to make sure that they understood that they don’t have to do everything.”

I go back to her words often; finding comfort in them now that I’ve realized that work-life balance is not an equation I have to solve. I wonder what would happen if we shifted the goal from being balanced to being centered? What if we start telling ourselves that we don’t have to have it all?

Anne-Marie Slaughter says it perfectly in her article, “The Failure of the Phrase ‘Work-Life Balance‘” in The Atlantic: “The notion of balance summons an image of a see-saw or a scale, a stable equilibrium in which people have the right amounts of different things that they want. It is the ultimate expression of having it all – just enough of this and just enough of that.”

The truth is, I have spent many years believing that I have to do it all, and in the process I lost myself. I wonder what it would feel like to finally let go of the notion that we need to have it all? What if I, instead, embrace integration and being present, over this idea that we must have equal parts home and work.

I’ve spent too much time modeling for my daughter that women should strive to have it all and in the process, I’ve also taught her what it looks like to live a life full of anxiety, worry, and disappointment.

As I begin to make this journey towards being centered, I find encouragement and peace in the words of Slaughter: “Balance is a luxury, something only the very luckiest can ever attain. Equality – of the activities that are equally necessary for our survival and flourishing – is a better framework, as it demonstrates why care is something everybody needs to do and everybody needs access to. That’s not about balancing work and life. That’s about valuing all the activities that society needs for humans to flourish.”

Why I’m Happiest When I’m Leaning Out

Sometimes it takes some starts, stops, and rearrangements to find the balance of work and motherhood.

“Wow,” I thought as I looked around the VIP crowd at a grand opening party. 

I was 22 and had just graduated from college. Instead of taking the popular route and gallivanting through Europe, I chose to jump start my career in public relations and advertising with an unpaid internship. I spent that summer learning the ropes of event planning, facilitating media requests, and boosting my resume with name-brand clients.

I missed out on adventure travel, and stories about hopping from hostel to hostel, but I was thrilled when my unpaid experience landed me a full time job in advertising. I thought I’d hit the first job jackpot when I got an offer from a large, international advertising agency. 

My first couple of years at the agency were spent working long hours on tedious projects. I was less than thrilled with the actual work itself, but enthralled with the perks that came along with the role. I played foosball with my creative coworkers and took full advantage of all the socializing at work.

The agency was known for throwing epic parties on their deck that offered sweeping views of Puget Sound. I loved feeling like I was a part of it all and, before I knew it, our client began offering me tickets to local sporting events, movie premieres, and hip, city happenings. I began traveling for work. I went to San Francisco and Boston. I reveled in client dinners eaten in restaurants I’d otherwise never dine.

But the hours were long and all consuming. I began to question if my current career track was really what I wanted for my future.

After getting married and moving out of the city, I traded in the travel and exclusive event invitations for a predictable job. I gained valuable industry experience, but found myself bored and missing the adrenaline rush my former job provided. I pursued my master’s degree to fill the void, fully intending to put my new education to good use in a more vibrant role.

My well-laid plans didn’t quite come to fruition. Our daughter was born shortly after I graduated with my master’s degree and my mother heart strings pulled me to devote my time to her for a while. But the lure of the fast-paced career stirred in me a couple years later when I got the opportunity to work on a global brand on their advertising team. Soon after I was dining at trendy restaurants again and meeting with magazines and agencies from New York and Los Angeles.

Working was energizing. It was fascinating to be involved in such, high-profile, international campaigns. But I was also sacrificing for it. I’d regularly tell my daughter I’d see her at swimming lessons but find myself caught up in unexpected meetings. I would be hours-late to a long, over due date night with my husband because I was tied to my desk desperately trying to make a crucial deadline.

One Sunday afternoon I was prepping for my work week while my husband and daughter played happily together. It dawned on me that this wasn’t how I wanted to be spending my Sunday afternoon.

I decided it wasn’t worth it. I was missing too many critical moments that meant more to me than any exciting job ever could. I was pregnant with our son, and I knew I didn’t want this type of work stress with a new baby and a three year old to manage at home.

I walked away from it all, opting to take time off and then return a year later to work in a less pressure-filled environment.My current schedule is regular and predictable. I’m home every night for dinner and bath time.

Sometimes I long for a little more thrill during my work day. Sometimes I crave an after-hours launch party. But then I remind myself of all the perks of my current gig. It’s a flexible job that allows me to work from home when I need to.

I’ve been able to spend time in my daughter’s classroom, and not a single work crisis has kept me from my family since I began this role. Every day I leave work on time, and every day I melt when I return home to see two smiling faces.

I have the work-life balance I want but, more importantly, I realize that my role as a mom is my best job yet.

Letting Go of Trying to Do It All – and Getting so Much in Return

One day, I just looked at the cards I was dealt and said to myself, “So what if the house gets messy? So what if you have to hire a babysitter?

“I honestly don’t know how you find time to write, blog and teach with all the things that you do.”

“You just amaze with all the publishing stuff that you’re doing. I’m just too old to change my life.”

I get these emails and Facebook messages from other bloggers and authors who are in awe by how I manage to “squeeze” blogging, writing, teaching, mothering and probably something else I’m currently forgetting into a twenty four hour period.

They all want to know my magic recipe for making it work.

So when do my needs come first? When do theirs? In the midst of a push-pull life, I learned I wouldn’t be able to take forward action without learning how to let go.

“You make it look so easy,” they clamor. But they don’t know how I struggle to let go and just write with young children at home. Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my children, but I also need a certain number of hours to write and prepare for authorship as a memoirist. I fought for that space two years ago with my then baby, and it’s a constant struggle. I used to be able to write well at coffee shops, but now, I need the safety and space of my own house to write. In the back of my mind I’m always thinking, “What trouble could she get into? Who’s with her? What’s she doing?

This situation got even further complicated on the weekends as my husband works in retail. It’s usually just my eleven-year-old son, my two-year-old daughter and myself. So the pressure is on me to make sure the house is not falling apart and everyone is somewhat happy.

I used to constantly hover over her making sure she wouldn’t get into physical trouble. I used to be able to live for her naps, but now she hardly naps and so I’ve been busy trying to come up with ways to entertain her so she doesn’t fuss and cry, “mommy, mommy!”

I waited for the perfect “nap-time,” but that never came. So eventually, I learned I’d have to make due writing in short chunks of time when she played by herself. I would ask my son to watch her. I tried waking up early to squeeze in quiet time.  I even tried staying up late.

Occasionally, another mother who also had a toddler would watch both of our children. How I wished that these small gifts of time to work uninterruptedly would be more frequent!

One day, I just looked at the cards I was dealt and said to myself, “So what if the house gets messy? So what if you aren’t with her right now? So what if you have to hire a babysitter?

I came to the realization long ago, that if I wanted to change my life and take my message and books to the masses as a speaker, I would start with baby steps because that was all I could do. Look at all the well-known speakers and authors and yes, the author mommas too, and you’ll learn from their stories. It took them years to put their dreams into action even though their Facebook photos show them enjoying the glamorous life.

But even taking those baby steps wasn’t easy. From behind the closed door, I often heard the voice of “fear” telling me to hang out with my kids. And yes, I felt guilty. I hear screaming and fighting and doors slamming. That’s when I intervene. I need to nurse, change diapers and feed. It’s always hard to switch between writing and mother and mother and writing  – the pressure’s on me.

One day, I just looked at the cards I was dealt and said to myself, “So what if the house gets messy? So what if you have to hire a babysitter?

But I had to trust my instincts that writing made me a better person and thus, a better mother. I had to give myself the one thing I needed each day – time alone and to write. After I was able to do that, I would be more present with them.

I let go of being with my children all the time

Right now, I am writing this piece behind closed doors. I just told my eleven-year-old son to play with his sister so that “mommy could get some writing done” and I’ll probably tell him the same thing later this afternoon. I even allowed him to do a “lego” game for fifteen minutes on the ipad. Sometimes I hear them laughing and having fun and then I think: It’s okay to let go.

Five minutes later, I hear my two-year -old daughter shout and cry, “Mommy!” Apparently, my son did something that aggravated her. At least I got to write that paragraph. It’s okay to let go.

I let go of resentment and anger

A biggie. I woke up at 5 am this past Sunday so I could get some writing done, excited for the precious quiet time to write, when suddenly my two year old screams “mommy” which can only mean one thing: thirty minutes of nursing. I woke up early!

I trampled into her bedroom lifting up my nightgown instead of opening my laptop. Ugh. But eventually she went back to sleep and I slowly crept down the stairs to where my writing pad was waiting for me on the dining room table. And I got to write for a good hour before I heard her little feet pitter-pat down the carpeted stairs. It’s okay to let go.

I let go trying to do it all

I outsource when I can. Instead of baking cakes, I order them. (I do bake challah for our Friday night meal, though.)

I outsource the cleaning, computer repair, and grass mowing – anything that will help me “buy” more writing time.

I delegate the cooking to my husband. I don’t crowd my son’s schedule with extra activities that will tie up my schedule and stress me out.

I put more responsibility on my son to work harder with schoolwork.

I try not to compare myself to other parents and caregivers who are able to do the things I can’t right now.

It’s a trade-off. I remind myself that I’m investing in my second career so when I’m become an empty nester, I won’t be empty in my soul.

Letting go means being at peace with yourself and your decisions. I do not have the perfect writing conditions. I am just like every other parent out there trying to figure it out. It’s okay to let go.

In truth, it all boils down to commitment.

By letting go, I was able to write and publish a memoir, deliver a podcast series, write an essay every week for a writing course, write commissioned articles for clients each week, prepare lessons and grade student papers and enjoy family and girlfriend time and even catch up on some much needed sleep.

So, how do us driven moms get it all done? Like this:  If you want something so badly, you just have to find a way to make it work and you’ll get it done. If you have the courage or the perseverance to take action day in and day out, you might even see proof that your dreams are coming true.

How I Got Fired From My Job For Being a Mom

I was fired for speaking my mind about my needs as a new mom. I was a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

When I became a mom I was tutoring for one of those companies where rich people send their kids.

Well, actually, when I became a mom I was on unpaid maternity leave from my tutoring job because tutoring jobs almost never hire full-time tutors, and that means you don’t get benefits like maternity leave when you work for them.

I was a dedicated employee. I showed up on time. My students liked me. I kept working until the week before my due date. I did things like play indoor Frisbee and basketball as motivators for my students, even late in my pregnancy.

When I was on maternity leave I received several messages from students who were desperate for me to return.

Things were going well.

businesswoman

 

But when I came back, I was not welcomed as kindly as I’d hoped.

My availability had shifted a bit, as it does when one has a baby, and I was hoping to ease back into the job by only working three or four days a week. I didn’t think this was a big deal because even people who had been there for years were only available three or four days a week.

But I still offered the necessary time slots and even took on unnecessary hours.

I was instructed to pump my breasts in the bathroom, which really bummed me out at first until I looked it up and realized IT’S THE LAW TO NOT MAKE MOMS DO THAT.

So I brought up some different location options with my supervisors. One told me that the toilet scene had worked for another girl who had worked there before.

I guess I was supposed to buck up and be like her. But instead I said that it just wouldn’t work for me. Not because I have a lot of clout at this place, but because I knew I had the literal law to back me up.

They couldn’t say no. But they could and did make me feel weird about bringing it up. I was made to feel like I was being needy and annoying.

Thankfully, the next day when I came to work they had set aside a tiny room for me to use for pumping. I felt like they were suddenly a little bit scared of me for standing up for myself and knowing my rights, because they kept asking how I liked it.

They wanted to know what I thought of the fancy “new curtain” they put in the room so that no one could see me pumping through the window. I was like, “HEY FIVE MINUTES AGO YOU WANTED ME TO DO THIS ON THE TOILET, so forgive me for being apathetic.”

As the weeks went by, my hours started to get cut, supposedly because there weren’t that many students.

Meanwhile, the company was hiring more tutors. I also noticed on the schedule that tutors who had been hired after me were being given hours that were in my availability range.

Just because I had become a mother didn’t mean I had become an idiot.

I realized then that I was being “phased out.” But I wasn’t going to go without a fight, so I worked my ass off.

As I said before, I was no slouch when it came to teaching (I have many years of teaching experience under my belt), but I started to work even harder, saying all the right things and schmoozing with all the right people. The company gave evaluations to its tutors every week or so, and I was hitting those bad boys out of the park.

If I was going to get “phased out,” I was sure as hell going to know it wasn’t because I was bad at my job.

A few weeks later, I wrote an email to my boss saying that I could use more hours and asking if there was anything I could do to increase my hours.

My boss responded by saying that it was really just the current need (including two full paragraphs on the number of students and the hours they came in for tutoring, etc.).  At the end of the email, he mentioned that I should look to my recent evaluations to see any changes that needed to be made.

He then copy-and-pasted the text from my most recent evaluation with a few things upon which I could improve.

Of course, having worked there for a year at this point, I knew that all evaluation sheets included sections for things we should continue doing and sections for areas where we needed improvement.

I had been told on numerous occasions that there were always areas where everyone could improve, so the improvement section always needed to be filled in, no matter how well the employee was doing.

I knew that this was just his way of saying “there is always more to work on!” and that if he actually had a concern about my performance, he would have

1. Emailed me about it first, and

2. Brought it up in person with me at some point.

But he didn’t. My performance wasn’t the issue. I actually thought, “Okay, maybe they aren’t trying to phase me out.” I supposed I could have been imagining it.

I had done what I needed to and requested more hours, so I was confident that my boss would at least do what he could to help.

Going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.

Not so. On the next schedule, my hours were even less than they had been before. Not more; not the same amount; but less.

And the time slots were, yet again, being filled with recent hires.

I knew that my availability wasn’t exactly what they would have hoped, but this was unacceptable. I was already making pocket change at this point, so going to work was just a strange ritual that had almost no return on investment.

damn

Thankfully my husband came home from his job before I had to go to work.

If childcare had been necessary,  I would have been making something like $158 a week.

I was furious. The people I had so enjoyed working for pre-pregnancy now seemed to wish I didn’t exist. I felt like now that I had a consistent life and wasn’t young and new and shiny and willing to put up with the lack of consistency in the schedule, I was being thrown aside.

My employee friends kept asking me why I was taking so much time off and I had to tell them that it wasn’t on purpose. I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.

But I was not going to let that happen. If I was going to be dispensed, at least I was going to speak up about it.

So I responded to my boss’ email with a much longer one. To this day it is one of the writings of which I am most proud, though only two people (my husband included) ever saw it up until this point. I have pasted a bit of it here below:

“I believe we hold the highest standards in terms of our students and their needs.

I do think that this circumstance (and perhaps a few others) prove that _______ could use improvement as far as holding those same standards of for its employees.  What I mean to say is that I think if you considered this a little more, you would see that it is just as important to give the employees the empathy they deserve (in my case that would mean understanding that I am using the tools I am given to get the childcare I need, which happens to come at the cost of some availability).

I also believe it is important for ______ to produce consistency in the entire office, which means trying to retain its team members and incentivize their stay.  In my case that means seeing that I am one of the tutors that has been at _______ for the longest time.  I am sure that the company would prefer to avoid a high turnover rate, and thus would rather retain those team members who have already put in the time to deserve their place.  I consider myself one of those people.  Therefore, I think it would behoove the center to put those values in place for me in this circumstance.  I also think that, though my schedule is inconsistent, there are ways that the center could still fill in the gaps each week – whether it be doing office tasks, preparing for events, or other necessary jobs.

Regarding my performance, I am aware of the necessary refinements that were written on my year review documents, and I have made improvement since then (c.c. my most recent evaluations).  Please let me know if you have questions!

Best Regards (I didn’t really mean this at this point),

Brigitta”

I sent this email out on a Tuesday, and returned to work the rest of the following week. During that time my boss was conveniently out of the office or on calls during all of the hours that I worked.

The following Wednesday I was told to go to my boss’ office. I was relieved, because I thought it meant he wanted to have a conversation about my email.

But he didn’t say anything about the email. Instead, he told me I was fired and handed me an envelope with information about how I was allowed to talk about the company.

I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.

I was being treated like someone who was dispensable because I spoke my mind about my needs.

I looked in the envelope and found a form that had been filled out the previous Wednesday (the day after he had received my email) that noted that I was to be let go. I had been fired for a week now, and he had only just gotten around to telling me.

Furthermore, the reason for my termination was “poor work performance.” I laughed aloud to see this sit on my desk on top of my recent evaluations (filled to the edges with things that I had been doing well and with only one or two notes about improvements that could be made).

One week prior I was an employee who was only getting cut from the schedule because of the company’s current need and now I was being fired for “poor work performance.”

All of this because I knew I wasn’t being treated fairly and spoke up about it.

Stylish filing cabinet office storage in empty offive after hour

My husband urged me to file a complaint against the company with the EEOC. So I did. All of my fellow-employee-friends agreed that I had been unjustly fired and offered to be references for the application.

After months of back-and-forths, the case what shut down because, as I suspected, the company’s requirement to record areas for improvement’ in every evaluation basically meant that the company always had evidence on file to support “poor work performance.” They had the paperwork ready at any given time to fire someone for no good reason.

It was difficult to accept that all of the work I had put into my job had culminated into being fired for speaking my mind about my needs as a new mom.

When I look back I see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

I tell myself to look back on my time there as a learning experience that gave me a way to make money during my transformation into being a mother. But most of the time when I look back I just see the struggle of being a working mom in a place where moms are not the preferred employees.

I see the cowardice of company leaders who are tired of dealing with people who speak up for themselves. I see the pain of this happening a hundred more times for a hundred more moms like me in the future.

My story is not a traumatic one. I know other parents have had it far worse than I. My story is a simple one that can easily be played off by them as “poor performance” and by me as my having a job that “just didn’t work out with my schedule.”

But I choose to tell it like it really was for me because I know there are other stories like it that deserve that same reality check.

The All Of It All

There will never be a time when I stand on my mountain of “all” and declare it conquered. Instead I will gulp in anticipation of how to proceed.

So often I try to “do it all” in the most over-used, traditional doing-it-all way: I try to act as both a stay-at-home mom and a full-time-working mom.

For those of you that are thinking “Hey, Einstein—the laws of physics and gravity and the time/space continuum actually prevent that from being possible.” Well. Yes.

Apparently you are right.

Many weeks start off innocently enough—with a few planned doctor appointments and volunteer obligations at my children’s school, carefully scheduled throughout an already busy work week of meetings and presentations.

But then a myriad of unscheduled things undoubtedly occur, like sickness (which mean more doctor appointments). And snow days. And unexpected deadlines. And broken printers. As a result, I spend much of those weeks running around in crazy circles, punctuated by frequent exclamations of “$#@$*&!!!!!!!”

Other weeks start off crazy to begin with, like this one: I’m trying to be prepared for a third week of work travel in a row. I’m trying to contribute to the many Parent Teacher Organization opportunities. I’m trying to keep up with the house, which is laughable.

Two weekends in a row of yard work have left the floors and surfaces smeared with dirt that I am too tired to mop up. Bags from a trip to the store three days ago have been forgotten on the floor. Bags from my last week of travel are yet unpacked, making packing for this week’s travel difficult.

I’m trying to prepare for the weekend ahead, which contains a beautiful explosion of celebrations. I’m trying to keep up with this week’s laundry even though last week’s laundry is still not put away. I’m trying to tackle my inbox, which is teetering dangerously close to neglect. And is that a scratch in my throat?

I’m trying to be mindful of checking in on my friends who so desperately need checking in on during extraordinarily difficult times. I’m trying to figure out how to fix the stinkin’ TV when it’s bedtime and the kids just HAVE to watch their usual bedtime shows and the satellite goes out.

I’m trying to fit a shower in.

I’m trying to follow up with the insurance, drop off the casserole for the neighbors with the new baby, finish the overdue report, fix the broken bike, tend to my sort-of-sick daughter, get situated for next week’s fourth-week-in-a-row-of-travel, and do my nails which are ragged and mulch-stained.

And oh, crap when is the last time I fed the fish? … and do I have directions for where I’m going today… and SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE? It’s enough to make you go bat-cuss-crazy.

So how do we balance weeks like this? How do we manage to keep it all juggling? How do we “do it all” when all the laws of nature are conspiring against us?

Here’s what I think: trying to do it all is not only treacherous, it’s impossible.

There will never be a time when I stand proudly on top of my mountain of “all” and declare it conquered. Instead, I will continue to look at up at that mountain from a place that feels far, far away—so far away that I have to strain my neck to see the top—and I will gulp in nervous anticipation of how to proceed.

At least I hope I do.

For when I look at the “all” before me, all I can really think is this: how blessed am I? How blessed to be able to have to deal with all of those things, and more? How delightful to be given so much to tackle? How rich, how full, how beautiful this chaotic and messy life?

As the wonderful poet Mary Oliver says, “it is a serious thing / just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.”

So, to my list and beyond, I say: Here I come! I’m climbing up that mountain, one “all” at a time. I’ll do some of it well and some of it sort-of-okay and some of it terribly.

But I will keep at it, every day. I will show up, arms wide open, gloriously trying. And, in the end, I think that’s good enough for me.

Because on those starting-off-innocently weeks or those starting-off-crazy weeks, when it’s 5:00 am, and I have a huge mug of steaming coffee next to me, and the house is quiet save the creaks and groans of the walls and floors that contain so much beautiful chaos, and my sort-of-sick daughter and my oh-then-I-must-be-sick-too son are curled up together in my bed, probably with at least one foot or hand squarely in my wonderful husband’s face, well all I can think to say is thank you.

How can you embrace the “all” in your all today?

 

Grieving a Due Date

Dealing with the grief of a miscarriage is even harder when trying to manage the interplay of work and family life.

I found out I was pregnant early in the morning on the Friday before Labor Day. I grinned as I asked my husband to read the digital test out loud and immediately began to imagine what life as a family of four would be like.

That afternoon I bought my son the customary “big brother” tee-shirt and snapped a few pictures to send to my family who, after finally noting the script across my boy’s chest, called with their laughter and teary congratulations.

I told a few close friends, I started a “new baby” folder on my desktop with a list of potential names, links to baby bedding and articles about sibling bonding.

And then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone.

I knew I was pregnant for just a week before the doctor called to say that the pregnancy was likely ectopic and that my levels weren’t rising like they should be.

My best case scenario became miscarrying naturally. I cried, my husband cried and my family cried. My toddler continued to pat my belly and whisper “baby, baby” long after there wasn’t any baby at all.

I had a miscarriage before I had my son, I was ten weeks along when it’s little heart stopped beating and I had the D&C to remove it, and, at the time I didn’t know how I would move past the grief. This time though, as devastated as I was, I moved forward more quickly.

I took my son for a walk a few hours after I started to bleed, we went to Music Together as I cramped. I shut my office door at work but didn’t take any time off. There were likely several reasons for my brusqueness regarding this miscarriage. I was further along last time and had had more time to settle into the thought of motherhood. I had a toddler this time, one whose daily care removed the possibility of curling into bed or sleeping away the hurt.

The first time I wondered if I would ever be a mother, this time I had a trust that things would work out eventually because my son, beautiful and perfect, wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t lost my first pregnancy.

What surprised me in my grief, though it shouldn’t have with the amount of thought I put into it before I got pregnant, was the loss of my May due date.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]For me, it’s not enough for someone to tell me I should stop and smell the flowers; that my kids will be grown before I know it and I should remember to pay attention to them now.[/su_pullquote]

My husband is a teacher and I ran a youth development program that, while active over the summer, is much more time and labor intensive during school months. I’d had my IUD removed in late spring and charted my cycles all summer to make sure that I had a great shot of getting pregnant when August came.

When it actually worked, and I became pregnant just when I wanted, I couldn’t believe my luck- it seemed my husband and I really would be able to spend the early months of our new baby’s life together as a family.

Thoughts of a shared leave with my husband excited me, but the primary driver of my desire to have a May baby was that it would be the least disruptive time for me to step away from work, which, in turn, would allow me to feel less guilty about getting pregnant in the first place.

I’d started my position with the organization just over two and a half years before, I was fresh out of graduate school and eight weeks pregnant with my son. I told my boss of my pregnancy at my thirty day evaluation with an apology and promise that I would work extra-hard until my due-date and return full-force eight weeks later. As my belly grew, I felt I owed my office mates, people who I had met just months earlier but who would, for the time I was out, be doing my job, a constant apology.

I wondered if I should get them thank-you cards or some sort of gift of appreciation but I wasn’t sure what was appropriate. It never crossed my mind that it was my offices lack of maternity leave policy or willingness to hire a contract worker that would leave my colleagues with extra work, not my pregnancy alone.

It never crossed my mind that it was my offices lack of maternity leave policy or willingness to hire a contract worker that would leave my colleagues with extra work, not my pregnancy alone.

In the twenty-one months since my son’s birth I’d become more comfortable with my colleagues and with my own professionalism. The quality of my work was evident and I felt confident that my co-workers would be happy for me should I become pregnant again.

Still though, I had a nagging fear that others will resent me for stepping out, if only for a brief time, or that in my absence I’d miss something that left me perpetually behind, unable to keep up with my colleagues who don’t have kids.

This May baby was my good faith effort to show that I was a team player, that I was willing to do my part to minimize any disruption that my brief leave would cause. We had started trying again right away after my first loss but when the May baby disappeared I didn’t know whether I should try again, or if I should I wait, an entire year, to try again for another spring due date.

If I were to be successful in getting pregnant right away, I would likely deliver in the fall, the most labor intensive season of my work. If I were to wait though, and try again for a spring baby, there would be a chance I wouldn’t get pregnant in time or that the next baby wouldn’t stick either.

The loss, and decision making process regarding trying again, brought to mind larger questions about the weight each should carry in the interplay of work and family life.

A part of me wanted to simply disregard any influence that my job calendar might have on my childbearing- I would be, after all, creating life, which is a pretty big deal. I loved my job though, and wanted to ensure that it got done well. A larger part of me than I’d like to admit also cared a lot what others thought, I wanted people to like me and feared that they won’t if the birth of my baby forced them into longer work hours.

After recognizing that the plans we make for pregnancy may be more fragile than we would hope, my husband and I decided to start try again.

We calculated and we planned but, ultimately, life happened. The growing of a baby is both unpredictable and miraculous and I just didn’t want to wait. In the months following my loss, when I saw another woman pick up her newborn or caress her growing belly, I felt an actual ache. I felt ready to become a mother again, for the flutter of kicks from the inside out, for the tightness of contractions, for newness of a just-born baby, all flexing fingers and blinking eyes.

I wanted my son and his future sibling to be close in age and I wanted to leave room for more babies after that if I so chose. In the moment, these desires seemed more pressing than the opinions of co-workers or the timing of the eight week’s I’d be out of work.

We began trying right away despite our concerns about work and, in the funny way life works, my husband and I both switched jobs within months of our loss but have yet to get pregnant.

Though neither of us are now in positions with a clear “least-bad” time to step away with a newborn, starting anew has brought to light new concerns. Now, we worry that if we get pregnant soon, which we hope we will be, we won’t have worked at our organizations long enough to build up the goodwill that negotiating a reasonable leave requires. And again, I worry what people will think and how my co-workers will feel about my potential absence.

As it turns out, being a working parent is hard and there really never is a perfect time to have a baby.

It’s been five months of trying and we’re hoping that it won’t be much longer. Until then, we’ll work hard, plan as best we can and hope that when we do become pregnant our co-workers will be happy for us, our bosses will help us make a plan for leave and we’ll grow a happy, healthy baby.

Readers, as you planned your pregnancies how much did your work, or work schedule, impact your plans?

The Countless Distractions of the Work-From-Home Parent


Working from home seems like an ideal setup. Except, of course, for the millions of distractions.

At first glance, working from home seems like the ideal situation. You wake up and sit in front of your computer, probably still in your pajamas. The Today Show or your favorite Pandora station plays in the background.

If you are a work-from-home parent, you may be able to walk your children to and from the bus stop or drive them to school. If you have flexibility, you can attend field trips or volunteer in the classroom by completing your work in the evening hours.

There are no neckties, no morning make-up routine, no rush hour traffic, and no having to write your name on your yogurt to prevent it from being lifted from the break room fridge.

It seems like an ideal setup, except, of course, for something you didn’t expect: the countless distractions that come with working from your house.

The “really quick” call from Mom.

No matter how many times you try to explain to your parents that even though you are technically “home”, you actually do have a job. Without fail, as you are settling into your work day you will get the call, “Hi! Really quick, I can’t get on the internet, can you tell me what is wrong with my computer?”, “Sorry! Really quick, did you ever send me those pictures from Thanksgiving? I want to make a photo book. By the way, how do I use that Shutterfly thing, again?”

The dogs.

They need to be fed. They need to be walked. They want to sit on your lap. They bark incessantly at the squirrel in the backyard or the jogger that seems to be getting her marathon training miles in by running up and down your block.

The refrigerator.

It calls out to you for breakfast. It calls again for lunch. You spend ten minutes debating whether to toss or reheat that slightly suspect to-go box of pad Thai. You find yourself running to the fridge for a quick snack, or a drink, or just to stare inside.

The UPS guy.

He rings the doorbell and your dogs go crazy. You grab the package and remember that these are the gorgeous new shoes your ordered. You take the gorgeous new shoes out of the package, try them on, and they’re too tight. You are disappointed. You walk back to your computer to print out a return label, then repackage the gorgeous new shoes and set them aside to take to the UPS Store. You keep a piece of the bubble wrap for later.

The lawn guy.

He is mowing right next to your window, or possibly cutting down a tree with a chainsaw, or maybe he just has 16 lawn mowers that all run at once. The dogs are barking again and you need to get on a conference call. You pull your laptop into the closet and pray that no one else can hear the commotion.

The laundry.

On your way to the bathroom, you realize that the laundry hamper is overflowing. You decide to toss in a load to wash while you work–multitasking! But first, you have to first sort the laundry. 10 minutes later, you have 5 piles of dirty clothes on the floor and one in the wash. Later you will have to come back to move the wet laundry into the dryer. That is when you will decide that you might as well toss in another load.

Door-to-door religious groups.

They ring your doorbell and the dogs start barking again. You don’t answer and hope that they will give up and leave. But they don’t. After 10 minutes, you walk to the door and kindly explain that you are working, you have already accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, and can they please go so that you don’t get fired and end up knocking on their doors trying to sell them meat from the back of a truck.

Facebook.

It’s lunch time, so you decide to peruse social media while you eat your leftover Thai food. You could have sworn you just checked Facebook this morning, how have you not reached the 8 a.m. posts yet? If you stop scrolling now, you might miss something important. Your cousin Linda still has not forgiven you for that time you didn’t “like” her pregnancy announcement.

Text messages.

Friend: “Whatup? What r u doing for lunch today? Wanna meet at Panama? Ha ha, autocorrect–PANERA.”

Daughter: “Mommy, I left my science folder and I have a quiz in 5th per. Can u bring it to me so I can study at lunch? Pls, pls, pls??? UR the best! Pls?” Target: “Click here for mobile coupon!”

Husband: “Hey, Babe. What r we doing 4 dinner? Skipped lunch. STARVING.”

Dinner.

Figuring out dinner ranks as the worst workday distraction. Do I want chicken? Fish? Steak? Frozen pizza? Tacos? Meatloaf? Spaghetti? Beef Stew? Do we have carrots? Are we out of onions? Do I have time to use the crock pot? Why didn’t I think about dinner earlier?

As it turns out, working from home is not as easy as it seems.

Your boss may not be hovering over you, but your laundry always is.

Keeping Up With the Herd

Making the surprising choice to forgo maternity leave and return directly to work. That is, to become a wildebeest.

Back in the nineties when I worked at Microsoft there was a vice president in charge of my division, who I’ll call “J.” Even though she never cracked a smile or ate lunch with us non-management types, I was somewhat in awe of J. We were both in our thirties, but while she had quickly ascended to within elbow-rubbing distance of Bill Gates, I slaved away in a windowless office trying to produce websites for people who still used dial-up connections to get on the internet.

Then J got pregnant.

As she strolled the hallways on her way to some presumably important meeting wearing absurdly expensive suits I watched her growing belly with growing interest. I privately aspired to being a working mother just like J, but being as I was still a newlywed, I was in no great rush.

During a meeting on a Thursday morning J’s water broke and she was rapidly whisked off to the hospital.

Five days later she was back at her desk.

“She’s like a freakin’ wildebeest,” I may have uttered a tad too loudly, because my officemate turned around and asked me why I’d just referred to our boss’s boss as an ungulate.

Wildebeests, I explained after tossing a handful of Skittles in my mouth, are migratory. They’re constantly on the move in search of food and water. Nothing stops them; not even giving birth. Mere minutes after a wildebeest drops her calf, it’s up on its legs, keeping up with the herd, because if either of them were to fall behind, chances are they’d get eaten by a lion.

“So, you know; it’s like she dropped her calf and just kept going.”

“Ah. I get it. That’s funny,” she remarked before going back to her keyboard.

Sure it was funny, but I just didn’t get why J chose to hire a nanny instead of hanging out at home with her newborn. Granted, the US has about the worst policy on the planet when it comes to maternity leave: in fact, the US, along with that well-known democratic society, Papua New Guinea, are the only two countries that aren’t legally obliged to offer paid time off for new mothers. But hello? This was Microsoft, not Wal-Mart.

When I ran into J pumping her milk in the women’s bathroom I felt really sad for her. I’m never going to be like J, I said to myself as I peed, the hum of the breast pump mingling with the whoosh of flushing toilets. Unless my financial situation was dire, I would never put work above my baby.

Five years later I ate my words; gobbled them up and swallowed. I was six months pregnant when my agent sold my first book to a hotshot editor in New York City. Not taking any chances, I waited until the contract was signed before divulging my impending motherhood.
“That’s lovely news, Lisa,” the editor cooed into the phone on a rainy November afternoon. “When are you due?”

“February.”

“Okay; no problem. I’ll be sure to get the edits to you before the baby comes.”

I thanked her for being so gracious and generous, then hung up, patted my belly, and waited for her emails to start rolling in.

Loy was born February 23. On March 1, just as I was just beginning to glow with maternal bliss, I finally received my manuscript, shot-through with red marker. The attached note said: “As you can see there is a substantial amount of work to do before the book goes to print. I hope to have the rewrite back from you as soon as possible.”

Since my husband worked full time I suddenly had to make a choice: I could ask the publisher if they wouldn’t mind delaying the release of the book so I could bond with my baby; or I could hire a nanny to take care of her, and GO BACK TO WORK.

I went back to work.

Every morning after I breastfed Loy I handed her over to Melissa, a sweet-smelling twenty-year-old woman whose father was the pastor of the Baptist Church down the street. Then I’d edit until Loy’s cries made my breasts leak, whereupon I’d hit SAVE and wander upstairs to sit in my rocker and nurse her. Fifteen minutes later, I’d put my sleeping infant in another woman’s arms and head back to my office.
For eight hours a day, five days a week I didn’t read to my baby or cuddle her. I didn’t change her diapers or sing her songs. Instead, I worked.

I didn’t need to work because of money. I chose to forgo maternity leave and let someone else watch my baby because, well, because I wanted to be a writer; not a full-time stay-at-home mother.
I’d become a wildebeest.

Just like J, who I had judged so harshly all those years ago. It shouldn’t have mattered that she reappeared so soon because she was afraid of losing her place in Microsoft’s power queue, or because she missed wearing stylish clothing, or simply because she loved her job.

To be sure: a lot of new mothers don’t have a choice in the matter: nearly one-quarter of American women are forced to return to work—some as soon as two weeks after giving birth—almost always for financial reasons.

Instead of hurling insults behind J’s back I should have celebrated the fact that she had a choice. I should have high-fived her when I passed her in the hall, congratulating her for having both the means and the tenacity to travel down the trail of her choosing.

I should have told her how lucky she was that she got to do what she wanted to do.