It's Okay for Your Graduate to Be Undecided

It’s even more acceptable to start college “undecided” today than when I was there 30 years ago.

As our kids end their high school careers, the constant question is “What’s next?” Not only are they asking this question themselves, it seems that everyone else is as well. As they answer the question “What are you going to do next year?” with what college they plan to attend, you can sometimes sense the apprehension. They know the next question: “What are you going to major in?” While it’s often meant as a conversation starter, this seemingly innocuous question makes some teens squirm. Some 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and, in today’s world of four year degrees priced at six figures, not having a clear focus is sometimes seen as being irresponsible.

I disagree. I think it’s even more acceptable to start college “undecided” today than when I was there 30 years ago. I understand that, especially with costs being disproportionately higher today, many parents are reluctant to fund four years of their teen “discovering himself” without a clear objective in mind, but I believe it is shortsighted to expect that such an objective can really be formulated at age 18.

Having worked with young adults for more than a decade, I also see the effects of parental and societal pressure on them in the form of depression, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense that they must succeed at all costs. For too many, failure at anything is simply not an option. The few students I have encountered without a clear answer to the common question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” seem to be distressed that they don’t yet have it all figured out.

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Around the time my oldest entered college, I saw a sign in an airport: “The top 20 jobs 10 years from now have not even been invented yet.” This made me pause and gave me a new way to look at the purpose and methods of higher education. In the 10 years since, the truth in that statement has been obvious.

Those over 50 browsing job listings will likely see many positions that have them scratching their heads. What exactly is a “performance marketing wrangler” or a “course mentor?” Other job descriptions are easier to decipher, but somehow don’t seem like “real jobs.” Technology has, in some ways, complicated our lives, creating the need for positions such as social media manager, content marketer, influencer, mobile app developer, and virtual assistant. Technology moves at such a fast pace that it’s likely that students graduating college may start jobs that were not needed or even conceived when they first walked onto campus as an undergrad.

Especially when you consider the ever-changing nature of business in the world today, it’s okay to be undecided. You don’t have to know at age 18 what you will do for the rest of your life. While some professions do require an early commitment (for example, careers in some fields such as teaching, nursing, and accounting involve certification tests before you can be employed), many of today’s jobs are flexible regarding what field of study you pursue. Even those planning on going to medical and law school have flexibility in what major they choose.

Up to 50 percent of students start college undecided. As one who started college with a clear path that changed dramatically after my first semester, in some ways I envy them. When I realized what I’d thought was my career path was not going to work with the life I discovered I wanted, I was lost. I had no reason to stick with the demanding major I’d chosen and had no idea what I wanted to study instead. I dabbled and ultimately found my way, but the interim was challenging. I felt like a failure.

I am seeing similar feelings in young adults today. Those who have a plan seem to have the next 10 years of their life planned out. Those who are undecided tend to mutter and avoid all discussion of college courses. When I ask what classes they are taking for fun, they look at me quizzically. The reply is generally that they have no room in their schedule for “fun” classes, they have to work on their major. Many of them seem to be hyper-focused on the goal and missing out on the wonderful learning opportunities in the interim.

Today, the pressure to have it all together is even greater. The level of anxiety and depression seen in teens and young adults has been on the rise; they seem to see uncertainty or the possibility of failure as a fatal character flaw. When college proves to not be “the best years of their lives,” many young adults assume that they are the problem. Too many are wasting the cherished opportunity of this age: to try something new with the possibility of failure (which is nature’s best teacher). We should encourage our kids to take the random class that “counts for nothing.” This may be the class that opens their eyes to new possibilities, that helps them find their place in the world, or at least provides four stress-free hours of classroom instruction.

This is the time they should be taking chances, stretching to see how far they can reach, and learning how to pick themselves up when they fall. Allowing them the luxury to explore new interests without the pressure of committing to a single topic not only reduces stress, it can also give them confidence to try new things. After all, isn’t that how the innovators of the world get started?

When Your Spouse's Line of Work Is Life-Threatening

As a supervisor at a metal foundry, my husband is in harm’s way every day. It’s an exhausting way to live.

First thing every morning when I wake up, I check my phone for a text message from my husband. Usually I get “Love you honey! Have a great day,” or something similar. But this morning, it was much more sinister.

“Hi, I have a bad feeling today. It doesn’t help we are pouring something extremely dangerous. So just wanted to say I love y’all so much.”

I tried to focus my eyes to fully digest what I was reading. I realized he had not sent it when he got to work as he usually does, but an hour later. My husband doesn’t carry his phone with him at work, which means he’d taken a quick break from whatever he was doing to send me that text.

I felt sick to my stomach.

This has been my life for more than three years now: constantly worrying about my husband when he’s at work, praying that he comes home safe, and breathing a sigh of relief when he walks through our door. He’s a supervisor at a metal foundry where he pours thousands of pounds of hot metal daily, the temperatures at an unbearable level.

Almost every day, he comes home with an explanation for a new injury, or a story of how he barely escaped a catastrophe. He often arrives with horrible burns on his arms or cuts and scrapes from a tricky mold they were pouring that day. My husband has more scars from his few years working at the foundry than I do from my entire life.

I hate his job.

Such is the life of any wife married to a husband who works in dangerous conditions. I try to convince myself that he’ll be fine, but I always worry anyway. I say quick prayers throughout my day for God to keep him safe.

In an article published last year, Time Magazine rated my husband’s job as seventh most dangerous in 2014. The fatal injuries per 100,000 people ranked higher than electrical power-line installers and repairers, electricians, construction workers, and even police officers. Understanding what my husband experiences every day, this doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Today, at lunch, my husband texted to let me know that one of his coworkers is on his way to urgent care for a sliced leg. Another coworker is in the hospital with a staph infection contracted after surgery from a work injury. My husband has gone to urgent care twice for pieces of metal in his eye. Two days ago, he asked me to bring him a new pair of pants because a sharp piece of metal had cut his open at the crotch. Luckily, it barely nicked his skin.

My husband’s lungs are damaged from metal inhalation; the masks they wear do not keep out the tiny particles. Some days he coughs black mucus for hours. He follows the safety requirements, but they’re not enough to prevent these incremental injuries.

Why does he stay? Why does he keep risking his life every day? Because he has a family to support. He’s applied to hundreds of jobs in various fields, as have I. We’re trying to find something that pays a livable wage. I am more than willing to give up being a stay-at-home mom – something that is extremely important to me – if I could only find a job to replace my husband’s dangerous occupation.

Unfortunately, in our area, if you aren’t in the medical or tech industries, jobs are typically low paying. There are plenty of them, but the average hourly rate caps off at 10 to 12 dollars per hour. That’s not enough to sustain our family of five. We’d have more success in other parts of the country, but we’re tethered to this area because we co-parent with our eldest daughter’s mom. 

Another problem we face: neither my husband nor I have college degrees. While that has not kept either of us from lucrative careers in the past, companies now prioritize education over experience. The majority of applications are now online, so there’s no honest way around checking “no” in the education box, which disqualifies us from many jobs. Job postings commonly state they will not look at applications that don’t meet the education requirements.

Every day after work, my husband searches the new postings on multiple job sites. When I have time between writing, starting a new business, and raising my kids, I also search the listings for a position that either one of us would be able to fill. We will find a way to get him out of there.

Hopefully soon, my husband will land a position that does not put his life at risk on a daily basis. Until then, I’ll wait for that precious moment every day when my husband makes it home okay.

What Happens When Kids Think Work is More Important Than They Are?

For a lot of families, spending more hours at work than waking hours with our kids is a way of life. But it doesn’t mean they have to feel less important.

“Dada, The Monkey King is tied up!”

My son was updating me on the latest going-ons in the lives of his toys, and catastrophe was afoot. His beloved Monkey King had been captured and there was, he assured me, no escape. Even when I suggested that the other toys might come to the rescue, he shook his head. There was no way.

“They can’t save him,” he told me. “They’re too busy. They have to go to work.”

After work, he explained, his toys would have to clean the house and go shopping for groceries. They simply didn’t have the time in their busy schedules to rescue a suffering friend – and so they had no choice but to leave the Monkey King to die.

It was one of those moments in the life of a parent that are equal parts cute and soul-crushing. My son had been watching us and forming his idea of how the world worked – and he had accepted that people who work are so busy that they have to abandon their loved ones.

Our culture tells us that a man’s primary role is to provide.

When I work, I think I’m helping my family. In my mind, I’m doing what I have to do to scavenge together the pennies my family needs to survive. I’m putting food on their plates, a roof over their heads, and paying for the education that’s going to give my son a better life.

In my son’s mind, though, I’m betraying him. I’m supposed to be his father, who loves him and plays with him, and I’m leaving him alone because there’s something else out there that is more important to me than he is.

This is how I was raised. When I was a child, my father worked all the time – and he taught me that a man should work hard to take care of his family. He would travel around the world for weeks at a time working. For one year he even spent his weekdays living in a separate town, working at a higher-paying job away from home and scrounging up the money his family needed.

Today, I’m the same way. When my colleagues call me “hard-working” they say it with a note of concern instead of admiration. My mind is constantly filled with worries about our debt and about the costs of our future, and I’ve gotten to a point where I feel like I’m wasting time when I squeeze in a full eight hours of sleep at night.

Talking about why money’s important doesn’t fix it.

When my son abandoned his favorite toy, I was forced to look for the first time at how this was affecting him. Huge parts of his day are spent with his grandparents while my wife and I work, and slowly he’s starting to spend more time with them than he does with us. He’s growing more attached to them and he’s learning from them – and not from me.

When I explained to him that Dada needs to work so that we can eat, I saw the cogs of understanding slowly turning in his mind – and it worried me. I could see him putting a price on all of his possessions and the idea of money being more valuable than all other things hit him like an epiphany. I scared myself, wondering, What am I doing to him? Am I turning him in to somebody just like me?

There are things my child needs more than money. He needs to be held more than he needs new clothes. He needs his father to teach him more than he needs new books. And he needs to know that his parents love him more than anything in the world more than he needs things.

Children need love more than anything else.

I can’t stop working. My family needs to live, and my child needs to be able to afford his future. Still, I can make the time I have with him count.

I need to let him know that he’s the most important thing in my life. When I go to work, I need to let him know that I miss him. When I’m at home, I need to play with and teach him – and let him see that this means more to me than money. I need to make sure that he’s getting everything that he needs, and that he’s getting it from me.

I haven’t perfected it yet. There are times in our lives when we struggle more and I have to work harder – and my son gets more distant. Still, there’s one thing we always keep sacred. Every night, no matter how much I have to do, I take him to his room, help him get dressed, and read with him.

And every night I kiss him on the head, wish him a goodnight, and remind him:

“I love you more than anything in the world.”

I Didn’t Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom—Then I Got Fired

The week before the end of my maternity leave, my boss called to tell me that as of my return to work on Monday, my position would be eliminated.

The week before the end of my maternity leave, my boss called to tell me that as of my return to work on Monday, my position would be eliminated.

After the shock had subsided, my first reaction was relief. I had spent weeks stressing about my daycare plans, how I would fit pumping into my already jam-packed work day, how I would function while utterly sleep-deprived. Now all of that was gone. Play with my baby all day? Yes, please!

My husband and I decided I wouldn’t look for another full-time job right away so I could take more time to care for the baby without the stresses of balancing my new family responsibilities with work. I looked forward to this unplanned extension of my maternity leave.

But as the day passed when I would have gone back to work, I realized a big part of my identity was also gone. I was no longer a magazine editor in the glamorous world of publishing. What was I now, besides a mom? I certainly wasn’t a “housewife.” I had little energy for housework or cooking, and I started to feel guilty when my husband came home each day. Shouldn’t I be greeting him with a martini as dinner wafted from the kitchen, and shouldn’t I be wearing lipstick and heels instead of yoga pants?

OK, so maybe my idea of a stay-at-home-mom came more from stereotypes of 1950’s homemakers than modern reality, but the question persisted, for me and presumably my husband, of what exactly I spent my time doing. Everything and nothing, it seemed.

I was feeding, changing, bathing, clothing, entertaining, educating, consoling and loving my son. I was not dusting, vacuuming, cleaning toilets, tidying or making gourmet dinners. I certainly wasn’t being what I had always thought I was: a career girl. That part of my life seemed to be over.

I joined a moms’ group, but we only seemed to be together in our isolation. We talked about being lonely, about being solitary in our homes all day, but still found it hard to get together more than once a week. Just getting out of the house with a baby was a project, and could be so stressful that it defeated the purpose of seeking solace with others.

Eager to find a new purpose—well, besides the all-important purpose of raising my child —I decided to start writing again, hoping to find a new path working from home. But every time I started working, my son would wake up from his nap, or stop playing contentedly by himself and cry for my attention.

As I struggled to type one last paragraph while he screamed, I realized I wasn’t being a very good writer or a very good mom. Trying to squeeze things in while taking care of my son wasn’t working because taking care of him was a job in and of itself. I found myself getting frustrated at him—my baby, the little being I had tried so hard to create and who now needed me more than anyone else. How could I not be content just being his mom?

Before I had kids, I once made a comment to my sister about how she had it easy because she didn’t work, except to take care of her toddler. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had!” she retorted. I scoffed at the time, but now, I finally get what stay-at-home moms have been saying for years: They do work, just not in the same way.

But what was I to do about my career? I still felt the pull to work, a little twinge of jealousy when I saw Facebook posts from my former coworkers about the fabulous events they were attending or heard about the cool new writing assignment they got.

But now I try to remind myself that my son will only be a baby for a couple of short years. Yes, I may feel like a slob most days, unshowered and covered in unspecified substances. But I made a choice to stay home with him, something that many working moms would be envious of as well. I am leaning out, and I am trying to embrace that. Staying home has changed how I view myself. But whether you work or not, becoming a mom does that to you.

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.

What Happened When I Created a Daily Priority List Every Day for a Week

I’ve tried to-do lists in the past, but I always made the mistake of jotting everything down. Keeping the lists short is what makes it work.

My inbox is a wealth of wisdom, life-hacks, and reasons to laugh, though most of the messages get delivered to my junk folder and get mass deleted. (Regardless of how worthwhile they are, ain’t no one got time for that.)

However, I was recently sitting bored on a park bench, took out my phone, and decided to take a gander. I don’t even know who Tony at coach.me is or how he ended up under my promotion tab, but I opened his email that read “How to Start Your Week Right.” It gave five bullet points of advice, but I stopped at the first one: create a daily priority list.

Tony says that productivity isn’t about smarts or willpower, but smart habits. Although I’m very motivated, there are things I just don’t want to do, like clean my house. There are also things that overwhelm me, and leave me not knowing where to start, like choosing which of my many brilliant ideas I should manifest first. There are also the things that I just can’t forget to do, like pay my bills, yo.

For a week, I created a daily priority list, with only three items on it – usually one was a household chore, another was a writing goal, and the third was random.

May 4, 2016

Clean bathrooms, Finish blog post on letter D, Meditate for 5 minutes

Cleaning bathrooms simply would not happen if it wasn’t on my list, because I don’t like using chemicals around the kids and when they are sleeping, I rather spend that precious time doing something more enjoyable. So yes, my bathrooms get superficially clean, but very rarely deep cleaned. But on this day, I did it- busted out the bleach and everything. You know what? It wasn’t only necessary, but it felt damn good.

Everyday I write because I prioritize my personal pleasures and goals these days. However, some days I just can’t focus on what I want to write about, and it stops me from accomplishing anything. Putting a specific writing goal on the list really helped my focus.

Meditation is something I would love to get in the habit of doing regularly, but it just doesn’t happen unless it’s a priority, or….on a priority list. Ommmmmmmmm

May 5, 2016

Replace ink cartridge, write about feeding schedule, put all laundry away

I used to think only suckers replaced ink cartridges and put laundry away, but now I know the deep sense of satisfaction that comes from an empty hamper bin. Cleaning my home seems to clear my mind, and inspire even greater creativity. Wow.

May 6, 2016

Pay Target bill, write about honesty or nursing, clean all windows

Yay to no late fees and windows you can see through!

May 7, 2016

Clean car, write about nursing or Mother’s Day, put laundry away

My car is like my bathrooms… never clean. But today? Ta-da! I’ve doing a lot of tooting of my own horn lately, and take my husband on tours of my domestic conquers. I think he’s legitimately impressed. I’m only putting one household chore on the list per day which isn’t draining or annoying.

May 8-9

No lists were made because we went out of town and my only goal was doing nothing.

May 10

Clean car, meal plan and make grocery list, write about weaning

I am so damn efficient. I’m doing things I wouldn’t normally do, but totally should be doing. Usually, I come home from a trip and leave everything in the car until my four-year-old decides he has no more pajamas he’s willing to wear then finally bring everything in and do laundry. (I really don’t know how I became a housewife.) Thanks to my buddy Tony’s advice, I brought everything in promptly, and organized it. Life really is easier like this. The grocery list is another new addition to my life, and it feels good to know what I’ll be making for dinner rather than winging yet another thing.

May 11

Go to post office, go to library, do paperwork for passport

All of these items are things I would normally put off. I’ve been meaning to do the passport paperwork for over a year now.

May 12

My mother-in-law came to visit, and our routine fell off the track which is both a relief and a grief. I like taking a break from the everyday norm, but I also miss the structure of my day. That being said, when our company leaves, I am looking forward to setting daily priority lists again.

I’ve tried to-do lists in the past, but I always made the mistake of jotting everything in the world down that I could and should possibly do. Keeping the lists short is what makes it work. Also, it’s important the items aren’t just for the house and kids, but myself, too. Balance is definitely a priority.

Report Shows How Entrepreneurial Moms Are Often Prevented From Reaching Full Economic Potential

Many additional challenges exist for mother entrepreneurs, including increased work-family conflict, biases, and lack of mentorship and social capital.

Mothers who are entrepreneurs are being prevented from reaching their full economic potential, according to a new report from the Kauffman Foundation titled “Labor After Labor.”

There are dozens of reasons for this, as highlighted in this eye-opening article from Lydia Dishman on Fastcompany.com:

  • The family factor affects mothers more than fathers, research shows.
  • Working mothers are viewed and more distracted and less productive, while working fathers are viewed as more stable because they have kids to support.
  • Other entrepreneurs are additionally faced with cognitive biases and greater family conflict.
  • Women founders face bias in their search for funding, they often start with about half the financing men do, and rely on personal savings and credit cards for seed funding.

The Kauffman report says, “Many additional challenges exist for mother entrepreneurs, including increased work-family conflict, cognitive biases, and lack of mentorship and social capital.”

Read the entire original article on Fastcompany.com: This Is Exactly How Hard It Is For Mom Entrepreneurs

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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.

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.

3 Things I Learned by Transitioning from SAHM to Working Mom

Recently I’ve made the monumental shift from stay at home mom to full time career lady. My first kid was born nine years ago, and while I worked for a small boutique in the years after his birth, I left the job and never went back after having my second. For the last three years, I’ve been knee deep in library story hours, music times, and wiping things. Wiping so.many.things.

A little over a year ago, I needed an outlet. Something that required me to use my brain for something other than making snacks and reading Good Night Moon over and over again. Like tens of thousands of women before me, I started a blog. But I made a promise to myself and anyone that would be so gracious as to take time reading, I wasn’t going to subject anyone to another crafty, recipe laden aren’t-kids-just-the-most-magical-creatures-fake-fest. I set out to be honest. Often, life with kids is awesome. Occasionally it blows chunks. (Literally.)

For a few hours each week, I would sneak off to a coffee shop and hunker down to peck out 600-1000 words on something that had me thinking. I harassed my friends to read it and they were kind enough to share it with theirs. The universe conspired to parlay those efforts into what you are reading right now.

These are a few things I’ve come to realize in this change.

1. I truly enjoy being around adults.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent the first years of my youngest’s life at her beck and call. Yet as much as I made a concerted effort to get out of the house and socialize both of us, I’d still find myself engaging everyone from cashiers to the mailman in inane conversation just because they spoke actual words. On more than a few occasions, I accusingly asked my husband if he washed his hands upon exiting the bathroom. When you’re with kids all day, it comes with the territory.

Personally, I love kiddos. Even ones that aren’t mine. They are startlingly honest, delightfully irreverent, and often easy to please. Plus, they’ll clear their schedule at the drop of a hat for an ice cream date. (Adults could really stand to learn a few things.) However, they’re terrible at discussing the intricacies of Breaking Bad, they sneeze directly into your mouth, and some days they rapidly fire questions that would make Albert Einstein feel like taking a nap in traffic.

Spending large stretches of the day creating something with intelligent, forward thinking people who don’t wear diapers (so far as I know, though this is totally unconfirmed) is fantastic.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Allegedly, that phrase was penned around 1839 by Thomas Haynes Bayly, but that’s a really strange name for a working mom. I’m going to have to credit Tina Fey instead, as that suits my needs better.

In any event, I am going to go on record and say that there’s no better feeling than a small person who thinks you’re cooler than Gwen Stefani (spoiler alert, children who may need glasses:this is not possible) launches like a flying squirrel into your arms before you can even take off your coat. That never happens when you’re nose to nose day in and day out.

3. I’m a better parent when I feel more financially secure.

There’s no debating that raising kids is expensive. There’s also no doubt that worrying about paying your bills can permeate every moment of your day. At its worst, it boils over and you cry because your kid spilled an entire carton of milk all over the counter when you have $7 dollars left in your account until next week. (I acknowledge that this is in no way the worst for some families. I am only speaking from my own experience.) On the better days, it’s just the way you hold your breath as you wait between punching in your pin and being handed your receipt at the grocery store.

Our needs are few. But knowing they can be met quiets that voice that can yell louder than two kids banging pots and pans while tap dancing.