The Power of Being a Pioneer in the Unknown of Your Life

More often than not, starting over is not at all linear. (Life isn’t either, for that matter.)

“Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.” – Nick Hornby

Starting over is strangely liberating. It scares and excites in equal measures. It strips you of your ego. It makes you confront your worst fears and insecurities, forcing you to look them in the eye and work through them. It reminds you that the thing you left behind is not the be-all and end-all of your existence. There is more to you than the composite of your past achievements and experiences.
But still, you feel frozen. You’re at level zero, and when you look up, you wonder how you will ever get where you need to be. The goal seems so far away. For a moment, all you can think of is running. You’d rather be back in your sanctuary, doing exactly what you had been doing till now, safely traversing the trajectory you set for your life.
But the ground beneath you has already shifted. That trajectory is fading. Life as you know it has already morphed into the unknown, and you know in your fluttering heart that you need to change, too. You’ve done the math. There is no turning back.
Sometimes, starting over is just as straightforward as learning to count from zero to 100. You put in the hard work and progress from zero to 10, then 20, then 30. You acquire new skills on the way and notice that counting is a simple pattern of zero to nine repeated over and over.
Soon, your speed increases and, eventually, it becomes instinctive. By the time you get to 100, you no longer have to think through each number. It comes naturally. You can even extrapolate further without any help. And just like that, you are no longer a beginner, and your fear of failure is long gone, vaporized by your confidence in the known.
If only it were that simple.
More often than not, starting over is not at all linear. (Life isn’t either, for that matter.) It is a devious, meandering route – a board game of “Snakes and Ladders”. The target is the same, but the path is anything but smooth. On a good day, life sends you skyrocketing from two to 55 in one step. On a bad day, you find yourself bitten by a snake, spiraling down from 97 to 40 in one move. You sprawl there wondering if you’re destined to fall short of your goal.

To you, I say, stop right there with your negativity and self-doubt. Go rediscover your spirit of wonder and adventure. Seek out your inner child and channel her sense of resilience, awe, and curiosity.
Do you remember the first time you were handed a keyboard or a paint brush? Did you turn pale with fright because there were so many notes to play and so many rainbows to color before you could call yourself an artist? Or were you excited by the possibilities held within those black and white keys and those little magic paint bottles?
I bet it was the latter. If the snakes in the game did not bite or the ladders did not climb, wouldn’t it be a drab and lifeless game? Where’s the fun in that?
So, to you, the brand new mom, fiddling with the send button on your resignation email, wondering if you’re cut out for a domestic life, or if you’re sacrificing your identity at the altar of motherhood…
To you, the SAHM, biting your nails as you dust off your old resume, wondering how you’ll ever explain the “gap” in your work history and whether you’re even qualified anymore…
To you, the WAHM, who’s decided to move your work life from home into a new full-time office setting, wondering whether this feeling of being an imposter will ever leave you…

To all of you, I say it’s okay. I know you are afraid. I understand. It’s scary. But please, please, GET ON WITH IT. Leave behind your fears and bring your inner child to this game of chance.
Then start over.
Yes, you’re at level zero – a rookie again. And yes, it’s a humbling feeling. But that is a good thing. You’re a newcomer, a pioneer in the unknown. There are no benchmarks to surpass, no preconceived notions of what your kind of success should look like. You may not feel it now, but this is the best place to be because you are free from expectations, yet brimming with life experiences.
Go find your groove. Go strike your balance. Go with pride, go with confidence, go with child-like enthusiasm, one baby step at a time. But please, do go.
The next time you start over, remember this exhilaration, these butterflies in your stomach, and know that you have been here before, and that starting over is not so bad, after all.

Is Part-Time Employment the Ideal Situation for Working Parents?

Most mothers say that working part-time would be their ideal situation. Morning snuggles and afternoon trips to the park, sure, but are there drawbacks as well?

When I finished grad school – pregnant with my first child – I decided to focus my job search on finding a position that was part-time. Torn between working and staying at home, I wanted to see if I could maximize the best of both worlds. After many months of searching (which included being turned down for a position because I was pregnant), I eventually found a part-time job doing research in my field.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays I headed to the office, and on Mondays, Fridays and the weekend I stayed at home. Life was certainly more hectic on the days that I worked – dinner was more likely to be microwaved than home-cooked – but overall, I had found a balance that worked for our family. I had plenty of time to meet the demands of my job, while still having time for trips to the park, pediatrician appointments, and tackling the ever-present mound of laundry.

It’s not surprising that most mothers say that working part-time would be their ideal situation. In a Pew Research survey, almost half (47 percent) of mothers say their ideal situation would be to work part-time, compared to 32 percent who want to work full-time and 20 percent who would prefer not to work at all outside of the home. Granted, about half (46 percent) of the women currently working full-time prefer their current situation, but a large portion (44 percent) say they would prefer working part-time hours. 

There’s good reason for many mothers to prefer part-time work. A study from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development found that mothers who work part-time might be experiencing the best of both worlds. In the study, part-time working moms (those working between one and 32 hours per week) were less depressed and had better health than stay-at-home moms. They also experience less work-family conflict and had more opportunities to be involved in their children’s school than full-time working moms.

For me, working part-time allowed for a built-in degree of flexibility that working parents need. If my child woke up with a fever on a day I typically went into work, I shifted my schedule, kept him home, and headed to the office later that week instead. If I wanted to take a few days off to visit with family, I could work extra hours one week to have more free time later. While not all part-timers have flexible schedules and childcare, my position gave me more work-life balance than if I’d been in the office 40-plus hours a week.

For our family, I found that I was willing (and able) to sacrifice a bigger pay check for a greater work-life balance. While being “busy” has become a symbol of success and prestige in our culture, I didn’t relish the stress that accompanies it. According to a Pew Research survey, 40 percent of moms employed full-time report always feeling rushed, compared to 29 percent of those working part-time, and 20 percent say balancing work and family is very difficult, compared to just 11 percent of those working part-time.

But, as I found out when my second son was born, there are some major downsides to working part-time as well.

Although I was only working three days a week, I was paying for full-time daycare. The only center in my town that offered part-time spots had a wait list that, three years later, I am technically still on. Paying for two children in full-time care with only a part-time paycheck was a big financial strain.

Many part-timers run into similar problems. Part-time employees, especially those in low-wage jobs, are paid disproportionately less per hour than those working full-time, according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin. The fact that many bosses still prefer employees who work the traditional nine to five (or who can stay well past five) over those who need flexible schedules helps to contribute to the gender wage gap. Part-time workers are also less likely to receive benefits such as retirement, health insurance, sick leave, and vacation.

In the end, my paycheck didn’t justify the expense of childcare, and I decided to stay at home. Having been on both sides of the equation – working mom, stay-at-home mom – I see the benefits and drawbacks to both. Working part-time gave me the best of both worlds, from the lazy mornings snuggles and trips to the park on sunny afternoons, to doing work I loved and contributing to our financial well-being.

Mothers today are faced with seemingly insurmountable demands – bosses who expect their full devotion, a society that thinks women should stay at home, paychecks that are smaller than their working father counterparts, unaffordable childcare, a lack of paid sick leave and, of course, the desire to do whatever is best for their children. Part-time employment isn’t able to solve all of these problems and, in fact, can make some of them worse. But it can give working parents a greater degree of flexibility in addressing them.

The workplace developed in an era when there was typically a mom at home to meet any and all of her children’s needs. But as women have joined the workforce and fathers have become more involved parents, it’s become apparent the old nine-to-five doesn’t work for everyone anymore.

Dear Corporate America: SAHMs Are a Great Untapped Resource

Corporate policies and expectations that put a company first, above all, often push mothers out of the workforce. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Dear Corporate America,

You are missing out on an entire population of dedicated workers. These people are bright, devoted, hardworking, intuitive, and compassionate. They have no problem starting work at the crack of dawn, and going to bed long after midnight.

Need someone who can persevere through mental exhaustion and burnout? Need someone with fine-tuned project management skills and the commitment to see a job through to completion? I personally know tons of people who fit the bill. Tons of us.

We are moms. An army of mothers, at home, underutilized.

Why, you ask?

Well, for one, you have a stodgy idea of what a worker looks like. To you, an employee is a “steady” nine to fiver, who works in the office during “business hours” because you believe they probably aren’t working if no one is looking over their shoulder. They must be fully indoctrinated with corporate policies and expectations because the company comes first – perhaps even first and second.

Your unrealistic expectations in this modern world are keeping you from taking advantage of an amazing untapped resource. 

Limiting working from home

While great strides have been made on improving work-life balance, it is still so far from where it needs to be. I have heard plenty of stories from my highly educated and experienced mom friends to add to my own.

I spent three years working from home at a major company in the pharmaceutical industry. It was tolerable only because I was grateful to have such a flexible arrangement. But I paid for that flexibility dearly when most of my department was let go. The only people retained were those who worked onsite at corporate headquarters.

Beyond this, there is a stigma related to flexible work: that we really aren’t working hard like the rest of your in-house employees. A fellow team member once chided me that I must enjoy sitting home and watching my soaps (when in fact, I don’t watch any TV at all).

As a remote employee, I often felt more committed to completing my work than my peers. I can’t count the times I stayed online to get more done after my coworkers had left the office at five. I freely “gave” this additional time because I didn’t have a commute. I willingly put in extra hours after the kids went to bed to meet deadlines.

I loved my work. I took pride in getting it done. My superiors gave me star ratings during the years I worked at home. Yet I was never considered for a promotion. I would have had to “come into the office” for that.

Providing inflexible hours

Every family has a different situation. Lots of moms are the primary household manager. Those moms may never feel like they can commit to a full-time, in person job again.

Many moms have a career that becomes secondary to their husband’s career, perhaps due to income disparity or maybe just based on family beliefs. Bosses lift their eyebrows when women have to stay home with a sick kid, again. They might even ask if the husband will be taking his turn.

These mothers may have enough time to work a kick-ass 20-hour remote position when the kids go back to school, or maybe spend two to three days at the office. How open is your organization to filling employment needs with truly flexible work?

Sometimes a shift from traditional working hours is all it takes. Instead of working nine to five, a mother may need to work from seven to three. I know many women in this position. But the stigma against the mom who has to leave early every day to be available when the kids get home from school is real.

Did you not notice that this mom got to work long before her manager arrived in order to get her work done? Did you not notice that she signed on from home again in order to finish any remaining work?

Requiring too many hours for salaried workers

I recently met a mom who gave up two lucrative offers for tech jobs at a large consumer goods company. Instead, she fills her time and pockets selling jewelry at home parties for Stella and Dot. Yes, you read that right.

Why? Because both offers were for salaried positions that were considerably more demanding than a standard workweek. One hiring manager said it would be a minimum of 60 hours, and the other required 80 hours per week.

Eighty hours per week? For a mom? For anyone?! That many hours means you need to hire two people. Period.

Sure, I bet you’ll find someone willing to do it. Temporarily, maybe. But good luck getting that from Millennials, who are entering the work force with demands for work-life balance.

Expecting 100 percent devotion

I cannot remember a time when employers were truly loyal to their employees. It’s a bygone era that disappeared long before I joined the workforce. In big corporate, no matter how hard I worked, I was always merely a number. A number that produced numbers.

How can you demand that any employee – especially a parent – be 100 percent committed to your organization if you are not willing to be devoted to them? I can promise that you will never be a priority over my family’s needs, and I suppose, in your eyes, that makes me a bad worker.

On the flip side, your bottom line means more to you than my family, hence your choice to lay me off when I was eight months pregnant. Where’s the loyalty in that?

This letter is from the perspective of a working mom. It doesn’t even begin to touch on employment pains for single parents or stay-at-home dads.

Do the math, Corporate America. With a few conscientious changes, you could have access to an incredible hidden workforce. Don’t believe me? Try us.

What I Tell My Kids About Working Moms

My husband, kids, and I were driving home from the park a few weeks ago when my son pointed at his friend’s house. “Is Jack’s daddy staying home today, too?” he asked. I said he probably was since it was a federal holiday and most people didn’t have to go to work.

“Are all the daddies staying home today?” he asked.

“Mmhmm,” I replied, only half paying attention to his question. And then it dawned on me – in his worldview, all daddies go to work and all mommies stay at home to take care of the children. That’s the way it works in our family, as well as most of his friends’ families.

I attempted to explain to him that yes, daddies were staying at home today, but so were some mommies who didn’t typically stay at home. I mentioned to him that in some families the mommy always goes to work and the daddy always stays at home.

“Mmhmm,” he replied – this time, only half paying attention to me.

While my point – that not all families look like ours – might have sailed over his head, it’s a conversation  I want to keep having with my sons.

My family might as well be on the cover of a Land’s End catalog. We’re both white, my husband works in a professional field, and I stay at home and love to knit, bake, and sew. We’re involved in our church, and our two strapping young boys enjoy playing catch in the backyard. There isn’t a golden retriever, but only because my husband is allergic to dogs. We might not have any modeling experience, but our family certainly has that quintessential all-American look about us.

Except for the fact that we really aren’t the all-American family.

Families have evolved over the past several decades, moving farther away from the 1950s Stepford suburban model that my own family still happens to resemble. Fifty years ago, nearly three-quarters of children were born into their parents’ first marriage; today, less than half of children are, with a larger number being born into single parent, cohabitating parents, or re-married households.

Parents today also have fewer children than they did in the 1960s, are older when they have their first child, and mothers now have far more education. But perhaps the most noticeable difference is that more mothers are working outside of the home.

In the 1970s, when record keeping of mothers in the workforce first began, less than half of women with children under the age of 18 worked outside of home. While the media – and our society’s collective memory – has glossed over the fact there was still a sizeable number of working mothers then, the numbers pale in comparison to today’s figures. Now, over two-thirds of moms work outside of the home, and in 40 percent of families, they’re the main breadwinners.

While my own family’s arrangement is certainly on the more traditional side, with my husband bringing home most of the bacon and me doing most of the frying, it doesn’t mean I think it’s the best choice for everyone. I want my kids to understand that, too.

I worry that because my children will grow up thinking the working father/stat-at-home mother family is normal, they will also infer that it is preferable. This isn’t a far jump to make; in fact, 75 percent of Americans don’t think the best situation for children is when a mother works full time outside of the home. Although more women than ever are pursuing careers, our society still raises an eyebrow when mothers drop their kids off at daycare.

Because I do most of my socializing with other stay-at-home moms who are available for playdates during the week, my kids have mostly been exposed to families that look like ours. Occasionally a father might show up for library story hour, but for the most part they live in a women-and-children-only world. With very few examples of different types of families in our day-to-day lives, I have to spell it out for them.

When my son asks if we can go over to Jack’s house on a Wednesday morning, I point out that we can’t, because Jack is at daycare. “His daddy and his mommy go to work, just like your daddy does.”

When we swing by my husband’s office, I tell my kids, “Did you know that Daddy’s boss is a mom? She has kids and she goes to work!”

When my son sees a picture on our fridge of him at daycare, I tell him, “You used to go to daycare when Mommy was at work!”

My overly upbeat observations about women in the workforce are typically met with a “Yeah, okay, Mom” attitude. 

Nevertheless, I feel like they are important to vocalize. Not only do I want my boys growing up to be men who respect women’s career choices, but I want them to know that they have choices, too. Currently, only 16 percent of dads stay at home full time. Only a quarter of those do so primarily to take care of family; the rest staying at home because they’re unable to find work, disabled, retired, or in school.

Being a stay at home parent has been a challenging, rewarding, and satisfying move, and I hope that my boys would see it as an option for them as well.

There are other types of families I hope they will grow up seeing as normal – families with two mommies or two daddies, families with one parent, families with lots of children, families with none, families where the parents’ skin colors might not “match.” But simply being exposed to different configurations isn’t enough for kids to intuitively know that these differences are acceptable, especially when their own family might differ substantially. They need conversations, too, opportunities to ask questions and work out their own feelings. They need to hear it from their parents.

Please Stop Telling Me the Dishes Can Wait

No, I’m not losing sleep over a single knife in the sink. I’m up to my eyeballs in obligations and the dishes have been piled for days.

“Girl, the dishes will be there tomorrow.”

“There are more important things than a clean house.”

“You could spend your whole life cleaning, and you’d still be behind, why not spend a little more time with your kids, instead?”

“I know you want to keep things nice, but it’s just as important to take care of yourself.”

“How often does your bathroom really need cleaning? Honestly!”

All of these are delightful pieces of advice, friendly reminders to parents (but mostly to moms) that life is short, and there’s really no need to spend all of it doing boring chores. Before I say what I’m about to say, I want to stress that I understand that these tidbits of wisdom come from a very good place, a place of kindness, and caring, and even love.

Maybe these tidbits are extremely helpful to some mothers. Maybe, for some moms, a platitude like “the dishes can wait” is exactly the gentle and nurturing reminder that she needs to give herself a freaking break once in a while, accept that she can’t be perfect, and let her hair down.

It’s just that, for me, and (I suspect) plenty of other moms like me, they feel a little bit um, off.

I’m a mother to a toddler, and I’m told he’s at one of the most “intense” ages there are. Intense doesn’t have to mean bad. It happens to often be a really fun age, actually. He’s learning new things incredibly quickly, he’s getting better at communicating every day, he’s affectionate and loving, and he no longer needs to be carried 100% of the time. It’s great!

But, of course, he’s also loud, obstinate, clingy, and requires pretty much constant supervision because, yes, he will take things out of the garbage and eat them and, if you are extremely lucky, those things will be food.

I’m also, frankly, really freaking busy. I’m not busy in that, “You ever notice how our culture glorifies being busy and everyone says they’re busy these days?” sort of way.

I’m busy in that, “I am bone numbingly tired and I have not stopped going since seven in the goddamned morning and there is no way I will finish all of the things that were on my MUST DO TODAY THIS IS URGENT list before I inevitably pass out” sort of way.

I’m extremely lucky to be doing this whole parenting thing with a fabulous partner, but that fabulous partner and I both have to work, and the money that we make goes for luxuries like bills and the occasional food item, so we have no money for childcare. That means that we are constantly trading off. One of us is caring for the kid, the other one is working, and vice versa. All of the many household tasks required to keep a family of three going (six if you count the cats) have to happen in the spaces in between, or, often, in the hours right after the kid goes to bed.

I’m going to level with you for a second: It blows.

And I get stressed. And I complain. And it is right then, when I am complaining that the house is a mess and I’m never going to catch up and I had twelve things to do today and accomplished three, it is exactly at that moment when someone tells me – sweetly, earnestly – that the dishes can wait.

I know the dishes can wait.

I know the dishes can wait because they are already waiting. I know the dishes can wait because they have waited for as long as they possibly can. I know the dishes can wait because three times today I had to wash a child-safe plate before I could get my 1 year-old something to eat.

I understand very well that the dishes will still be there in the morning, because they always freaking are. Almost every morning, I get up, and I stare at the dishes that are still very much there, and I curse.

The same thing is true for nearly every other chore that folks are encouraging me to put off a little longer. Trust me, I have already put it off as long as possible. If I’m complaining about it? That’s because I can no longer get out of doing it. And it isn’t because I’m lazy – although, I might be lazy – it’s because I have too many things to do than can actually be accomplished, and so my life is a constant exercise in bumping things down to a lower priority until they become really, really urgent.

I think part of the problem is the image that we have in our head of motherhood, and of womanhood in general. When I try to summon some image of who the “the dishes can wait” platitudes are for, one face swims into view. It’s Aunt Petunia, from Harry Potter. In the books, several mentions are made of Aunt Petunia’s “surgically clean kitchen” and at least one reference to her “pre-bedtime wipe down of all the kitchen surfaces.” And I’ve known people like this. There are people who just can’t fall asleep until they know that all their stuff is clean and in order.

I’m not like that. Most of my mom friends are not like that.

Our kitchens are not “surgically clean” (seriously though, do NOT do surgery in my kitchen) and the surfaces only get wiped down when something gets spilled directly on them, if that. We are doing the best we can, but we are treading water. Our houses are messy and we know they are messy and we know they are probably going to stay messy for a very long time. We aren’t demanding perfection of ourselves, and we really don’t need to be reminded that perfection isn’t required.

When we complain about the dishes, or the laundry, or the bathroom, it isn’t because we’re trying to stay 100 percent on top of all the household tasks and we’re worried we might slip just a tiny bit behind. We aren’t stressing out about that one knife with a little peanut butter on it in the sink.

No, when we complain it’s because we desperately want to have enough energy tonight to wash a couple of coffee cups, so we don’t have to do it before we drink our coffee tomorrow morning. We’re hoping to wash the toilet maybe once a month, preferably before our in-laws come over this time. We’re wishing like hell that we had time and energy to vacuum, because wondering what’s sticking to the baby’s feet is getting kind of old.

When we talk about the dishes we feel like we should be doing, what we’re actually talking about is the desperate – and often hopeless – desire to get just a tiny bit ahead. Or maybe it’s the desperate desire to just not get any more behind. We aren’t forgoing valuable family time because we’re obsessed with having a clean house. Rather, we’re working our butts off to have a house just clean enough so that, once in awhile, we can actually take some family time.

I want to not have to fish a sippy cup out of the sink before I get lunch for my kid. I want to be able to run a bath without thoughtfully touching the inside of the tub first to see if the grime is really “too bad” this time.

If you want to say something helpful when it looks like I’m struggling, I understand, and I appreciate it. But please, refrain from telling me that the dishes can wait. Because the truth is that they’ve already waited exactly as long as they possibly can.

Believe me, if I could possibly spend any less time on the housework, I would.

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.

When Your Spouse Travels for Work: A Supermom Survival Kit

Taking on the role of solo parent while your spouse is out of town is not always easy, but there are a few things you can do to ease the burden.

He hugs the kids goodbye, one by one. He kisses you last. He tells you to hang in there – he’ll be home soon. And that he loves you.

You hear the garage door close as he pulls out of the driveway. You take a breath. You’ve done this before. You know what’s in store for you. You know not every day will be terrible, but you know that some days will be tear-filled and God-awful. And you know that you’ll do your best. For him. For your kids. And for yourself.

This is the life we live – those of us whose spouses travel for work.

I’m lucky in countless ways. I have three vibrant, healthy children. My husband provides a steady income. He may not always be here physically, but he is safe. We are not hungry. We love our home. We order takeout. We take vacations. And we pay our bills.

I know how fortunate I am. I would never equate my life to that of a military spouse or a single parent as their hardships are far more stressful than anything I have to endure.

But I admit that it pushes me to my breaking point when I am the sole caregiver for five weeks straight. When I’m alone to handle dinner, bath, bedtime, nightmares, homework, housework, yard work, grocery shopping, soccer practices, Cub Scouts, changing light bulbs, killing spiders, and wiping runny noses. It all falls on Mom when Dad is gone.

I don’t count myself an expert on many things. But being a wife to a husband who travels often is one area where I’m more “experienced” than most of my friends. If you’re in my boat, trying to stay above water, staring at the calendar and counting down the days until his return, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned (often the hard way) that might help ease the burden.

Don’t feel pressured to do all the things

Sure, you still need to get the kids to school. And to the doctor. And buy groceries. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of your list, cut it down.

You don’t have to volunteer for the pot luck at school. It’s okay to bail out of a play date and stay home in your pajamas. Let the kids watch three hours of “Paw Patrol” today. You can do all the things tomorrow.

You should do some things

Busy is good – a healthy level of busy. It will pass the time faster to have events on your calendar.

Take the kids to the library. Invite friends over for pizza. Visit the zoo. Check your local parenting magazines for events, festivals, hot air balloon shows, model train exhibits. Go apple picking and visit the farmers market. Another day can be crossed off more quickly if you have plans.

Try to fill the void for your kids

I know, I know. Isn’t there enough on your plate? But this is tough on them, maybe more than they let on. In our house, my husband is the fun parent while I am the disciplinarian/teeth brusher/vegetable server/bedtime enforcer.

So when he’s away for a few weeks, I need to put on my fun pants. I try to step outside my comfort zone. I wrestle my boys and play baseball in the street. Yeah, my kids might know I’m faking, but I am trying.

Give yourself some grace

You can’t do it all. Your kids don’t want a harried mother who expects herself to be amazing 24/7. Which means they’ll probably have to hear “no” or, “you’ll have to wait until Dad gets home,” on occasion.

In our house, Dad is the video game player. I loathe video games. I’ll take on a slew of fun activities with my kids – crafts, sports, books, Legos, hikes. But Mama doesn’t do video games. Sorry, boys. You’ll have to play solo and tell Dad all about that awesome level in Mario Kart that you beat when he calls later.

Ask for and accept help

This one took me years. Years. My girlfriends would offer, “Let me know how I can help!” and I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Please take them. All three. For several hours. Feed them whatever. Let them watch R-rated movies. I don’t care. I just need some quiet.

That’s what I wanted to say, anyway. But I never did. Until one day a friend demanded I bring my children to her house so I could get a break. She told me I better not come back for several hours and that she’d be feeding them dinner.

It was not easy to agree. I had to overcome tremendous guilt in admitting that I did, in fact, need help. But I’ll tell you what. It was a glorious three hours. I came home, ate chips and ice cream, and watched three consecutive episodes of “Law and Order.” I felt like a whole new woman.

Avoid resenting your spouse

Resentment is a sneaky little devil, isn’t it? It creeps up around you and before you know it, you’re shouting angry, ungrateful things at the person you love. You have to fight it. It’s a marriage-killer.

But that doesn’t mean you hold it all in either. You can certainly vent to your spouse about a long day or admit you are struggling. The difference is you’re not blaming him. This isn’t his fault. He’s working, supporting your family, and probably exhausted like you.

It’s also important to talk to your kids about why Dad is away so they don’t feel resentful. Dad loves you. He misses you. He is sad that he’s away from you. These are words your children need to hear, and respond to. Write letters, draw pictures, send gifts, call and FaceTime often.

Treat yourself

These are long days. If you manage to score a babysitter, go to a coffee shop. Order a ridiculously overpriced latte and enjoy a good book. Get a pedicure. Go to a movie by yourself or with a girlfriend. Cheat a bit and order pizza or give the kids cereal for dinner. Skip the bath.

This is hard work. You deserve a night off.

Be proud of yourself

This is most important. You and your spouse are a team. He’s off kicking ass someplace while you are at home doing the same.

After a long day, when the kids are in bed and you’ve read the last book, said the last prayer, and sang the last song, sit down to a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got this.

Hang in there, Mom. He’ll be home soon.

How to Tell Your Boss You Need to Work Part-Time

Two parents with 40 hour work weeks can be hard for families to juggle. If a part time schedule would suit yours better, these tips can help you get it.

Before our son was born, my husband and I took a hard look at our schedules.

We thrived as a couple holding down full-time jobs, but we wanted to carve out more time together as a family of three. We wanted to find more balance than our busy schedules allowed while still enjoying the personal and financial benefits of employment in our chosen fields.

After weighing our options, my husband and I made the decision for me to seek a part-time schedule.

According to an article on WorkOptions.com, the quickest (and arguably the most reliable) way to get that coveted part-time, professional schedule is to create that arrangement in your current place of employment. Making that dream a reality means convincing your company of the merits of your part-time plan.

Here are some tips for navigating that corporate road:

1 | Assess your options.

Many companies have existing, written policies regarding flexible working arrangements that clearly spell out the options – part-time schedules, flexible working hours, job sharing arrangements, compressed work weeks, telecommuting, and more. If you can’t track down a formal document, ask your HR department for information.

Keep in mind that while your company may offer a variety of flexible working arrangements, those available to you in your position may be limited. If anyone in your department or within your job level has an existing flexible work arrangement, see if you can pick her brain about the options available and her experience in securing her flexible schedule.

2 | Consider the company climate.

Do some under-the-radar legwork to gauge how hard a sell it will be for you to present your case for a part-time schedule. Get a feel for management’s willingness to offer part-time work.  Does your company advertise its desire for flexibility, or does the company culture frown on remote and part-time work?

Choose your timing well. If half of your team just quit, a merger is looming, or you just entered the busy season, your employer may be reluctant to reduce your hours. 

3 | Make yourself invaluable.

Your company will be most inclined to offer you a flexible work arrangement if they value having you as an employee.

Establish goodwill with your manager and impress influential colleagues with consistent, timely, professional results and a great attitude. If possible, time your pitch for part-time work so that it comes on the heels of one of your accomplishments.

4 | Ask for more than you need.

Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, assume that your company will want to negotiate your arrangement.

It’s likely in their best interest to have you working a full-time schedule in the office every day.  If, at minimum, you need one day off a week, ask for one-and-a-half or two days off.

5 | Address potential pitfalls upfront.

Pick a schedule that will give you the time you need while proving the least detrimental to the company.

For instance, if you’d like to work from home or take off one day each week, propose doing that on your department’s least busy day. Provide a number where you can be reached during your time off in case of legitimate office emergencies. Offer to set up out-of-office messages that let your colleagues and clients know when you’re out, when you’ll return, and who can assist them during your absence.

6 | Request a short-term commitment only.

Don’t force your manager to commit right off the bat.

Propose a one-month trial period of your desired schedule. Alternatively, suggest working a 35-hour-per-week schedule for a set period of time before dropping to your desired 30-hour-per-week schedule to ease the transition. Proving that you can dazzle in your new schedule will go a long way to getting final approval.

7 | Create a written plan.

Requesting a part-time schedule requires face-to-face conversations with your manager. Come armed, however, with a written summary or email one after your initial meeting. Your manager may need to reference the details later and will need the information for potential discussions with upper management and HR.

8 | Plan for the process to take time.

Don’t ask for a response right away, particularly if you’ve taken your manager by surprise with your request.

Assume that you’ll need several, hard-to-locate managers and HR representatives to sign off on your plan. If you can get your manager in your corner during that initial meeting, you’ll have someone speaking to your objectives in discussions.

9 | Know your limit.

Don’t threaten to quit, but aim for a win-win with your manager.

If you need to drive home the importance of your request to your manager, emphasize how much you enjoy your work, how you think you bring significant value to the company, and how you really can’t sustain a schedule any more involved than whatever your limit is.

If you still can’t get the schedule you need, thank your manager for his/her efforts (even if they were minimal) and quietly begin to plan your exit.

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Society is Free-Riding Off the Efforts of Lead Parents

An interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, who says that the work of lead parents should be valued as an incredibly important investment in human capital.

I sat with three friends at dinner not long ago and cried as one of my most vibrant, talented, loving friends described how “worth less” she feels as a stay-at-home mom.

Not worthless, but worth less.

As in, the work she’s doing (and yes, it is work) is not valued by society, her peers, and sometimes even her partner (who is a wonderful man). She’s unsure of what to say when people ask that awful question, “So, what do you do?” She feels judgement from the most unexpected places. Worst of all, she judges herself. 

I was an at-home parent for the first eight years of my kids’ lives. I’m five months into the transition back to paid work, and I now understand the corresponding challenges facing a lead parent who works outside of the home. We all have our struggles. I know that.

But our culture sees what I’m doing – going to work five days a week, receiving a regular paycheck – as something of value, and therefore (presumably) views me differently as a result.

During those eight years at home (which is an almost-hilarious misnomer), I frequently questioned my worth and constantly wondered if I was doing a “good enough” job raising our two kids. I knew intellectually that I needed to be able to answer that question for myself, from within, but practically speaking, I wanted someone else to say, “Hey, you’re really kicking ass at this job. And you know what – what you’re doing is super important.”

And then I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 story in The Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

Here was an incredibly accomplished woman who left a job at the State Department because her family needed her. And she was being judged for it. Slaughter continued to lay out the policy and cultural issues impacting the valuation of caregiving in her brilliant book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.”

When we first thought about producing this podcast, Jessica and I wrote one name on a piece of paper and said to each other, “Just imagine if we could talk to her.” That name was Anne-Marie Slaughter.

In this episode of “Where Was I…?” Ms. Slaughter reminds us that, even “from a (public) policy point of view, there really isn’t anything more important that we do” than caring for our children. “In a way,” she says, “society is free-riding off the efforts” of lead parents. “The very least we can do is provide the social respect and prestige.”

What Are the Keys to a Successful Nanny Share?

If having a nanny seems too indulgent or is out of reach financially, nanny sharing may be the alternative that’s right for your family.

When first-time mom Nicole planned to return to work as director of strategic accounts for a commercial interiors manufacturer in New York City, she figured a nanny for her three-month-old son would be the best fit for her and her husband’s schedule.

Organized and poised, Nicole had begun to do research for a responsible caregiver almost as soon as she became pregnant. The first thing she did was go online but quickly became overwhelmed by the myriad childcare apps, websites, as well as the cost.

The second thing she did was call Bonnie, another new mom about to return to work as a food and beverage manager, who was also actively searching for childcare for her six-month-old son. The moms share a zip code. They share a nearly decade-old friendship. And they share something else — family: they are sisters-in-law.

When Bonnie expressed a similar frustration, it was her brother, Nicole’s husband, who applied logic: It’s the same problem — there should be one solution. So the families added something else to the share list: a nanny.

I interviewed the two career-committed moms at Bonnie’s home, and the signs of a close-knit family were apparent. It was a Sunday, and aside from their husbands and babies —affectionately referred to as bro-cuz — several cousins, aunts and friends had gathered. Not to mention three small dogs that barked in syncopated rhythm every time someone entered the room. Still, Bonnie and Nicole were unflappable.

They were co-hosting an informal presentation as consultants for a line of safe beauty products, a side venture they both agree was a result of their nanny share situation. “We see each other every night, and after the nanny’s shift, which is 9:00 a.m.. to 5:30 p.m., we take the boys to the park or a nearby restaurant. And we talk about everything,” Nicole confessed as we sat down to chat.

The sisters-in-law strike the perfect balance of serene and spirited, so when Nicole’s college friend first pitched the beauty sales idea to them, they had nothing to lose…and discovered something else to share.

The nanny share evolved as a solution to a mutual problem. What was your original childcare vision?

Bonnie: Originally, my mom, who lives about 15 minutes away, agreed to babysit part time during the days that my husband and I worked the same hours. But three weeks prior to my return to work, my schedule changed and our hours became less flexible. In retrospect, that vision wasn’t realistic. It would have placed an enormous responsibility on my mom and added pressure to her own schedule.

Nicole: I was going back to work around the same time as Bonnie and after exploring all the options, was most comfortable with employing a nanny to work in my home. That’s when it occurred to us that a nanny share might work.

How did you go about the search? What special qualities and certifications did you require for a nanny share?

B: We were lucky because Nicole had found a few candidates via Care.com, word of mouth, and the doorman — whom she liked. She set up a meeting and we were all in agreement about the one nanny that met our needs the best. She was CPR certified for babies. She was open to discuss past experiences handling emergencies and was thoughtful about what she would do in a hypothetical situation.

N: She came highly recommended from another family in the neighborhood who was moving out of state. A mommy recommendation is better than any résumé.

Does the nanny split the time equally between your two homes? Do you have duplicates of everything? How did that impact your budget in both positive and negative ways?

B: Yes, the nanny splits the time equally and we alternate weeks at each other’s apartment. We do have duplicates of some things in each apartment or different versions with the same function. We realize as the boys grow that we need to make parallel changes both necessary and fair for both sets of parents.

We had to fast track the baby-proofing once we saw that my son was so active. That meant we had to baby proof Nicole’s apartment, too. And it’s usually the nanny who brings these things to our attention. For example, when it was time to adapt our strollers into double strollers, Nicole’s model was much easier to maneuver and had room for the diaper bag.

N: Since the boys are so close in age, we really have a mindset like mothers of twins. Researching parents’ reviews of strollers that accommodate a second seat would have made that change smoother. 

As far as the budget, the nanny’s total salary is over 30% more than the going rate for one child. The two families split that total in half. Even with the added cost for duplicate items, we figured that our savings surpass the cost of what each family would have to pay two nannies each week.

What is a typical day like for the boys? What nanny rules did you set at the beginning? Does the nanny do other tasks, such as housekeeping or care for a pet?

B: The boys’ eating and sleeping schedule dictate the day. My son takes longer naps, so we adjusted the schedule in order for the boys to go outside in the morning. We listen to the nanny’s suggestions, too. We don’t wear shoes in our homes anymore. We all agree it is a good decision for cleanliness reasons, especially as the boys begin to be more mobile. The nanny does help out with light housekeeping that’s baby-related, such as cleaning bottles, taking out the trash, and occasionally doing the boy’s laundry and bedding.

N: Weather permitting, she takes my dog out for a walk once a day.

About rules, we are extremely conscientious about keeping a tidy home. Our nanny is mindful of that, too, even with two boys and our mini schnauzer. She is also cautiously respectful to maintain the lines between the two separate residences. For instance, the nanny got a call from the doorman who said that my brother-in-law’s friend was coming up to see the babies. She was in our home that week so she played it safe and refused to let the friend in. Later, we laughed heartily about it — our dear friend not as much — but at the core appreciated her gut reaction. I guess that’s an unspoken rule: To think like a mother with safety first.

Speaking of your partners, has parenting been a 50-50 relationship so far? Who does the nanny call if there’s an issue at home?

B: My husband and I have a 60-40 spread on our end. (laughs.) He’s a great father and very involved in all aspects of our son’s life. He stays in touch with the nanny and so do I. She group texts us photos and videos of the boys daily.

My work day begins at 7 a.m. so my husband handles mornings on his own, gets our son fed, dressed, and then drops him off at Nicole’s apartment if it’s their week. In the evening, I pick up our son. I prep all the baby food and formula, clean his bottles and toys, restock the diaper bag, and do the laundry. In an emergency, I believe the nanny would contact me first. My husband thinks so, too.

N: Although my husband initiated the nanny share idea, drafted, and revised the contract — we pay the nanny on the books — ours is more like 70-30 when it comes to the daily baby tasks. I’m still breastfeeding, pumping breast milk at work, storing and freezing breast milk. (She pauses.) Maybe it’s 90-10 (laughs.)

But in all seriousness, we are four parents committed to each other. We have to be flexible and honest as couples in order to make the nanny share work. We have to be open and really listen to what the other partner is saying, ebb and flow off each other, to stay balanced.

How has the nanny share helped you as working moms? In what ways has the nanny share experience been advantageous for your babies?

B: The share definitely helped to pave a smoother transition back to work. We know that the other mom is there and it’s a nice feeling of security. Sharing the emotions of going back to work and the whole roller coaster of feelings once the ride began has allowed us to vent, show support, and figure out things together.

N: For our babies, being together every day is the best advantage of all. They have the benefit of sharing a relationship that is the closest to a sibling. They are each other’s first friend. They play side by side and learn together. And they will eventually fight. Other than twins, there is nothing quite like this experience.

What is the contingency plan if one family has to cancel for a day?

B: Both families pay their share to the nanny at the end of each week. If one family has to cancel we would still pay her. That’s in the contract. If the nanny needs to come late or is sick, then she would make up the time. If one family needs the nanny for overtime, then that family would pay her.  Of course, in a pinch, we call upon the services of someone else we share: Grandma.