« July 2008 | Main | September 2008 »

10 posts from August 2008

August 29, 2008

Can Sarah Palin balance it all?

      Sarah_2                    John McCain has made an interesting choice in Sarah Palin as his running mate. Now, we're about to find out the country's position on whether women can balance work and family. Palin, a former beauty queen, has proved she's competent as a politician. She's won over the voters in Alaska to become governor. But 'm confident that regardless of Palin's accomplishments, being the mother of five will be a big strike against her. The naysayers will ask, How can she raise five kids and help run the country? Her supporters will ask the same thing.

      The truth is, unlike Hillary, Palin's kids need mommy in a big way. They are Track, 19; Bristol 17; Willow 14; Piper, 7, and baby Trig, 4 months old and born with Down Syndrome. After her recent pregnancy, Palin proved herself Pro-Life, then returned to the office three days after giving birth. Did that raise eyebrows? If it didn't in the past, it will now. As the first female running mate on a Republican presidential ticket, Palin will once again be reminded of what she likely already knows: even in the year 2008, the rules are different for men and women, for fathers and mothers.

      Voters will ask the first question out of my mouth: Does her husband work? The answer is he does. He's a commercial fisherman. Outside the fishing season, he works for BP energy corporation at an oil field on Alaska's North Slope. The next question will be: who takes care of her children? Regardless of the answer, the country wants it to be mommy. And, the reality is, it is mommy. Even if it isn't. Most working mothers know that when a kid gets sick or acts up in school, mom is the one who gets the call. When little Trig takes his first steps, mom gets the call. Mom wants the call. Can Palin take the call when she's in the White House?

         With Palin, McCain chose youth. He chose smarts. He chose competence. He also chose a mother in the throes of raising kids. Is the country ready for that? I doubt it.

       Do you think Palin's family responsibilities will hurt her chances making it to the White House? Did McCain make a wise choice?

August 28, 2008

Mom and Dad the chauffeur

The subject children's activities comes up often in my discussions with people about balancing work and family. We talk about how hard it is to coordinate schedules, get kids fed and where they're supposed to be, and get out of work in time to play chauffeur.

Dr. Gaby Cora, a board certified psychiatrist, medical doctor, wellness coach, mom, spouse and author of Leading Under Pressure has some advice on this topic. Her private practice in Miami specializes in helping people maximize their health while building their wealth.

Dr. Cora agreed to write about this issue for my blog. Following is what she said.

Cora Here we are again, beginning a new school year. As school starts, many working parents feel like they are about to burn out just thinking about planning and implementing after school activities for their children. While many parents are looking forward to their children going back to school, others dread the hectic schedules they have coordinated for their children to be successful.

Many working mothers with a full work schedule often undertake this task, although some dads do this too – run all over the city, picking up and dropping their kids at tutoring classes, tennis lessons, dance classes, soccer activities and so on until they feel completely exhausted by the end of the day. Many end up having a quick bite in the car as they have no time to stop and eat. Some parents will go back to work and many will stop their own exercise activities as they get busy with the kids. In addition to this, after a full day at work and going back and forth, homework time becomes a nightmare, with parents scrambling to get whatever is needed for a science project or just plainly policing their homework.

It is clear the increasing pressures all of us experience in the workplace are also experienced in the homeplace.

What can we do to effectively manage our time and coordinate our children’s activities?

1)      Plan ahead: it will be helpful if you have an overall plan in place. What is your work schedule like? Do you work extra time? What is your child’s school schedule? Can you collaborate with your partner or another parent to carpool?

2)       If you are feeling pressure, remember your child may be experiencing pressure too: if you feel like you are running out of breath, realize your child needs resting time too. Allow your child to have some recreational times as well as to develop good sleeping habits.

3)      Motivate your child to experience diverse activities over a period of time. You may sign up your child for sports, music, dancing, acting, and tutoring, but not for the same day. Encourage your child to take one activity per day in addition to their regular school schedule. Ensure they have plenty of time to do their homework, interact with friends, and have dinner as a family. This simple concept has been proven helpful to help children succeed in life.

    Do you plan your child’s activities before their school year begins? Do you and your partner collaborate with carpooling? Are you able to tap other parents to carpool or help out with the driving? Do you have any rules about how many activities your kids can do?

August 27, 2008

Spying employers?

      Remember the stories about employers sneaking around, taking photos of their workers gardening while they were supposed to be on sick leave? In the latest twist on employer spying, an article in The National Law Journal says some employers are once again going the Magnum, P.I. route. Convinced that workers are abusing Family Medical Leave Act, they are hiring private investigators to help prove it. (FMLA  is the law that lets you take up to three months off for childbirth or family illness)

    Employee rights attorneys are calling the surveillance harassment. Chicago attorney Charles Siedlecki has a claim against Spyart AT& T and says, "I don't think people on medical leave should have to be afraid that if they leave their house, that if they run out to get a pizza, that they're going to be fired."   Arguing against that, management attorneys say that by using surveillance , employers are sending a stern message to workers seeking FMLA leave: "We're not just going to take you word for it.'' (Apparently one employer's surveillance has caught an employee on medical leave for migraines out bowling and mowing lawns.)

   So far, it's not looking good for employees who are fighting back.  For now, courts appear to siding with employers, the article says.

    I definitely would not want my employer sneaking around spying on me. But I do realize some workers think FMLA is a golden ticket to the movies while the employer must hold their job open for them for three months. What do you think about this latest strategy to keep workers honest? Is it going too far? Or has it become necessary in this land of sneaky employees?

August 26, 2008

What's worrying American Workers?

    As we head into Labor Day Weekend, Adecco has released it USA Workplace Insights survey. Workers were asked what worries them about their job. Of course, gas prices topped the list of concerns, beating out a stagnant paycheck and work-life balance which took second and third place.

     Personally, I still gasp at the pump every week,  but I think a stagnant paycheck is just as troubling. I just learned my employer won't be giving raises for a least a year. I hear the same thing is going on in other industries and workplaces. It's no wonder Adecco found that only (25 percent) claim to currently be saving for unemployment with the majority (58 percent) having no intention to start putting money aside for potential job loss.

   Most of us aren't surprised to learn that the survey found workers feel less appreciated this year. With layoffs in many industries, I think morale has taken a hit.  The survey found while the vast majority of Americans continue to feel appreciated at work (75%), this number has significantly dropped from 2007 when 91 percent of those polled felt they were either very/somewhat appreciated at the office.

   What worries you at work? Would gas prices top your list?

August 25, 2008

How do you stay organized?

Michelle_2   Back to school. Just those three words give us reason to feel overwhelmed. Last week, for my Miami Herald column,  I brought in professional organizer Diane Hatcher to give a busy mother of four some back-to-school organization tips. The busy mom, Michelle Hurst, is co-owner of a bookstore, and a full-time college student. Like me, she struggles with keeping everyone's schedules straight and being on the same page with her husband about who needs to go where. Hatcher suggests Hurst needs her own personal calendar (for work and family activities). But she also wants her to keep a master calendar in the kitchen for everyone to look at each day.

      In response to the article, I received an e-mail from Miami reader Carolyn Sutton with this sage advice: " I use the calendar on my yahoo! mail to keep track of everything from cello lessons to Dr. appointments to Girl scout meetings. I share it with my family through the yahoo software, and my husband has the ability to update it as well. Often he will sit down with the Dade County school calendar and enter all the holidays and early pickups. I can also schedule yahoo to send me reminder emails for the important occasions. It can email me however many days ahead of the event (up to 2 times) and since I always check my email, this is the best option. You can also schedule recurring events - like meetings or orchestra rehearsals for instance to be every Sunday from 1-3 for 8 months. It also helps you to plan ahead."

     I'm wondering if anyone else has some tips they want to share for staying on top of your commitments? How do you avoid missing your child's soccer game or showing up for a business meeting on the wrong day? Do you rely on electronic devices?

August 21, 2008

The results of an e-mail free vacation

   After returning from two-week off, I have new thoughts on e-mail free vacations. They are good while the last. But when you return, you pay. Big time.

    The task of sorting through more than 3,000 e-mails clogging up my Inbox when I returned was challenging and time-consuming. But by not mentally checking in, I actually relaxed. My husband, on the other hand, checked his every day. Although he claims he relaxed on vacation, but I could tell from his body language that he didn't get the mental break that I enjoyed.

    In May, CareerBuilder came out with a survey that said 25 percent of all workers plan to stay in touch with work via e-mail while on vacation this year. It noted that the trend was growing. In his post on the Workforce blog, Making the case for e-mail free vacation , John Hollan calls it a troubling trend. Columnist Mike Cassidy of the San Jose Mercury News recently went on vacation and made a personal pledge to himself to “check out from work without checking in. He found it was so worth it.  Cassidy  makes this point: Way too much of the e-mail we deal with each day is pure, unadulterated crap that doesn’t really help us to do our jobs any better.  He says, “I’ve scanned the first few lines of the e-mail that I let pile up. Two-thirds of it is junk."

     I have to agree with him on that.

     Were you able to get away this summer? Did you completely unplug, and was it worth it? Or did you peek at e-mail while away?


August 20, 2008

Keeping the marriage counselor away

Couple       Too busy for sex? This month's Best Life Magazine features Charla Muller, a former corner-office PR executive and mother of two, who found herself up to her eyeballs in kids and carpools and keeping up the house. The lack of intimacy wasn’t causing them to drift apart, exactly, but they weren’t really feeling the mojo in their nearly 10-year relationship either. So, Muller decided to give her husband a unique 40th birthday gift -- herself! She gave her husband the gift of sex every day for the next 12 months.

     Initially, Muller's husband, Brad, thought it would be a lot of pressure. But they say the experience transformed their marriage. Charla just published 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy. In the end, after factoring in sick days, out-of-town business trips, and other chinks in the schedule, the Mullers figured they got things done an average of 27 times a month.

     Here's what they said the learned from the experience: Kindness counts "We had to nurture each other throughout the day so that we could come together in the evening and be able to find worthwhile intimacy.'' Television must go off "Banishing the remote until after lovemaking was a key decision." Make a game plan  "We had to plan by the day and by the week. It's a lot easier to negotiate intimacy when you're talking about it." Establish house rules Muller laid down the law with her then 5- and 7-year-old children. "A closed door is a closed door. Just like kids have nap time, mommy and daddy have quiet time." Quickies Count "It's not like every night is a three-course meal, but we have to eat."

     Is your relationship suffering from your lack of work/life balance? What do you think of Muller's gift? Too much pressure for you?

August 18, 2008

An odd welcome back

    Tropical storm Fay has given me an odd welcome back from two weeks of vacation. I had geared up to read e-mail, check voice mail, blog and still make it to school in time to pick my little one up on his first day of second grade. Instead, schools are closed, I've pawned my kids off on my sister and I'm in chaos land here at the newspaper.

    It's days like today that remind me there's an important key to the work/life balancing act: a network of resources a working parent can turn to when in a pinch. Family is great but parents of your kids' friends can be helpful, too. I may have to call on some of those parents tomorrow because public schools are closed again. I have been strategic over the years in helping stay-at-home moms with driving to activities in the evenings so that I can call on them when I have a work/kid conflict during the day. It's a tip Maria Bailey, a working mother of four and founder of BlueSuitMom.com passed on to me when I was pregnant with my first child.   If I really needed to, I could bring my kids to work. I'm fortunate my employer has provided a room and a screening of Wizard of Oz for parents in a bind.

   How are the rest of you South Florida working parents coping? Is the balancing act difficult this week?

August 12, 2008

Dara Torres and her Olympic Balancing Act

Dara So you think your work/life balancing act is exhausting. Imagine if that balancing act includes a quest for a gold medal.

There has been a lot of talk about Dara Torres, a Florida girl, and a 41-year-old swimmer who came out of retirement and is going for the gold in Beijing. Dara is the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games and oldest female swimmer in the history of the Games. Even with all the noise about her age, two days ago she anchored the US team that won silver in the women's 4x100 meters freestyle relay.

Dara says motherhood inspired her comeback but it also requires this Olympian to do the same balancing act as other working moms. Dara trained even while sleep-deprived with a newborn. She competed in relays with her baby in a carriage poolside. She told Women's Health: "I get out of the pool after a workout and look on my BlackBerry to see if the nanny called and to make sure everything's okay. My child is always on my mind."

Women's Health magazine says this diehard Olympic swimmer is proof that (1) your body can be rock-hard at 40; (2) a baby doesn't have to slow you down; and (3) when it comes to any goal, it's all about how bad you want it

When Dara qualified she said the trip to Beijing would be  "bittersweet," because she will need to spend up to a month away from her 2-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace.  Such a prolonged absence is something Dara said will be "real hard emotionally.'' I heard her in a TV interview Monday night and she spoke about how regardless how she performs at the Olympics, she can't wait to get back and spend time with her daughter. In an interview with Matt Lauer, she said: “You really just have to find a good balance. I consider myself almost like a working mom, even though this is really a lot of fun, what I’m doing,” she told Lauer. “There’s so many moms out there who work 9 to 5 and then have to take care of their children. I feel like I’m one of them. I always put my daughter first, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

      I'm inspired by Dara. Are you? Do you think her balancing act is more difficult than most working parents? Will there be more pressure on her to put her career first as she rises in celebrity status?

August 01, 2008

Vacation Quandary

   Blogger Cali Yost wonders why people don't use their vacation time. A new poll conducted for an organization called Take Back Your Time found that “69% of Americans support a paid vacation law with a large percentage favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more.”  The poll also found that “among Americans, 28% took no vacation time at all last year and half took a week or less.

Cali notes these three trends:

1) People don’t get paid vacation (according to 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics, that represented about 25% of workers)

2) People don’t take the vacation they have (according to a 2006 Steelcase study 61% of employees took their allocated vacation)

3) People take vacation but work while they are on it (in 2006, 55% of men and 43% of women took work on vacation)

I think Cali has a good point when she says: "if you wait for a “good” time to take vacation, it never seems to come.  You just have to schedule it." As I head out on vacation, I'm overwhelmed with all the work it takes to take a break from work. I'm told that's a major reason some people opt not to take vacation.

One executive I spoke with had an interesting vacation approach. He vacations on the west coast where it's three hours behind. He wakes up early. Puts in a full day, and still can be done by 2 p.m. west coast time, which is (5 p.m.) east coast time. He has all afternoon for fun.

Why do you think people don't take their vacation days? Any tips or strategies to share for dealing with the vacation quandary.