September 22, 2016

How to help your child find balance

                                        Momandson

 

My son has taken on too much. I tried to warn him a month ago when school first started. Now, he is going to bed too late and waking up cranky. He's exhausted and knows something has to give.

At the beginning of the school year, he wanted to take difficult high school classes. He wanted to start clubs at his school. He wanted to play travel lacrosse. When he told me all he wanted to take on, I told him to reconsider. I explained to him that giving himself time to chill out is important, too.

Balance is a hard concept to explain, a difficult one to teach and an even more challenging one to master.

At some points in our lives, we may have too much on our plates. At other points, not enough.

But as the next generation of young people try to find their way in the world, their lessons on balance are starting early. They want to participate on sports teams, excel in music, perform in competitions, take honors classes and hold part-time jobs. They have tons of homework, and little time to unwind.

What can we teach them about when to say no and how to prioritize what's most important? Are we willing to explain how too much structured activity can contribute to anxiety and stress?

When I was young, my grandfather explained to me his job was a lawyer and my job was a student. He taught me to put school first and to be a reliable student and assured me that education pays off. When I signed up for afterschool clubs and extracurricular activities, I knew that they were secondary to my school work. I think the clear vision he created for me of my top priority helped me all the way through college and into my first job.

Today our children experience the pressure of competition early and they need our help to know when to push themselves and when to ease up. We are going to have to teach them trade offs for the sake of time management, help them recognize activities that are habits rather than passions, and encourage them to make choices that are good for the family. Those choices might require taking only one piano lesson a week instead of two, or giving up one after school activity for another. These are the same types of tradeoffs we need to get comfortable with ourselves.

As my son considers what to take off his plate, we have been going over what he needs to do and what he wants to do. He is learning how to prioritize, a skill that will serve him well the rest of his life. I'm pretty sure that by helping my son rework his schedule to create balance, I am helping myself work towards it, too.

When we find ourselves stressed, rushed, multitasking, and feeling overwhelmed on a regular basis, we are receiving a clear signal that something needs to give and the entire family may need to readjust priorities. As I explained to my son, it's okay to take a deep breath and acknowledge when our lives are out of balance. What's not okay is to ignore it.

 

 

August 29, 2016

How to survive back-to-school as a working parent

Sommer davis
(Sommer Davis and her family/ Photo by Shannon Kaestle)

 

For years, I've heard people say it takes a village to raise a child. Most working parents will agree with that statement. But I haven't read much on how to build your village. So this week in my Miami Herald column, I set out to help working parents build a support team for a better work life balance.

If you're a mother or father trying to adapt to a new school routine, here is where you should look to build your support team:

Workplace: The least-stressed working parents have their employers on their team. In fact, at least 4-in-10 mothers and fathers say they cannot be successful as parents without a supportive boss, according to Bright Horizons’ Modern Family Index, a 2014 survey of 1,005 American parents who work at least part time.

When the boss is not understanding, try to find co-workers who you can rely on in a pinch. Barbara Baker, an assistant in a Cutler Ridge medical office, remembers the day she needed to attend an unscheduled parent-teacher conference but saw a line of patients waiting to be checked in. Her co-worker, another working mom, stepped up and filled in.

Community: Many working parents reach into the community to build their team by joining carpools, courting neighbors and trading favors with other parents and friends. A parent who travels often for work may ask for help driving their child to after-school activities in exchange for doing a weekend pickup from a “Sweet 16” party, for example.

 

Peggy Sapp, president and CEO of Informed Families, suggests take time now to build connections: “Some people think they are too busy, but it is worth it to take time at the beginning of school. Introduce yourself to other parents or offer to meet over coffee at Starbucks. Anything you can do to create a bond now is going to make it easier than a cold-call later when you need some help.”

Family: With nearly 70 percent of mothers in the workforce, you and your spouse need to work as a well-functioning team. Today more fathers are helping to make dinner, pick up kids from school, or even leave work early to handle emergencies. For others, family members such as grandparents or aunts are critical to their support team. Don't feel bad asking a family member for help, often they enjoy the time with their young family members.

Sommer Davis says her husband, Lawrence, a long-distance truck driver, is on the road for months at a time. For Davis, raising two daughters and succeeding as a public information officer for the Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department requires her parents’ involvement. "I am fortunate I am able to rely on them for assistance,” Davis says.

School: You might want to make your child's teacher part of your team, too.  On back-to-school night, put teachers’ contact information into your phone, along with contact information for after-school providers, bus drivers, coaches and any other school faculty who you can call for help. Some teachers will allow a helpful child (or teen) to stay in their classrooms after school for a short while.

As this school year kicks off, start now to assemble your team. You may need it sooner than you  think.

 

 

 

 

 

June 17, 2016

Father's Day: A working dad's perspective on work life balance

For Father's Day, I wanted to hear a dad's perspective on work life balance. I know firsthand that work life balance is a struggle for working mothers. But what about for working fathers? Are their challenges the same?

A friend calls Mason Williams a "super dad."  So, I asked Williams to share his thoughts on being a father and finding work life balance.  IMG_0161

What exactly does being a super dad mean these days? Williams explains:

Although he is the Chief Investment Officer/Managing Director for Coral Gables Trust Company, the 38-year-old Williams takes his parenting job equally as seriously. He says his children are his life – two sons, a 6-year-old named Jake and a 3-year-old named Luke. Williams, has been married for nine years to his wife, Ana Lucia, who is a stay at home mom. Ana Lucia makes most of the household decisions, but Williams says he's equally involved in the decisions regarding their children, so much so that he recently listed his son getting into a magnet program at the elementary school as a personal accomplishment on a recent awards nomination. 

While Williams' job is set up to be 9 to 5, it extends well beyond those hours. Often, he works 10-hour days. "We're small and entrepreneurial so it comes with the territory," Williams explains. "You have to make an impact all the time for the business to grow. It can wear on you at times, trying to find balance between work and being there for your kids. I struggle but I think it's important to find ways to be with them."

Like most professionals, Williams can't help but check email on the weekends. It's the best time to trade ideas with his colleagues, he says. "With the iphone, email is at your at fingertips and it's hard to put it down."

As the sole provider for his family, Williams says he puts expectations on himself that fathers of prior generations may not have experienced. Professionally, there is pressure on him to "do what I need to do at the office." At the same time, he also feels pressure to help at home. "When I'm not at the office I feel like I have an obligation to help with the children so my wife can take a break."

Williams realizes his generation of fathers are raising children in an era when technology has made parenting easier and more challenging. On one hand, parenting advice is at their fingertips. On the other, work is always in your pocket.  "I think it's far more stressful," he says. "My parents did not have a Blackberry or iPhone. They could shut down. It's harder for us to concentrate on our home lives when we're home, so that's added stress."

Of course, that's not Williams' only stressor. He says like any parent, his challenge is learning to stop, take a breath and spend time with his family. "I have to tell myself that project at work, or that email can wait. Prioritizing is huge challenge and I have had to learn when to put family ahead of work. I know if I help out at home, I have a happy wife and I have learned happy wife equals happy life."

Williams says as a parent, he gets involved with the time management of his children and the activities they take on. "I'm teaching my son why he should do homework first, so he has free time afterward."  Both the Williams boys are involved in sports, something Williams encourages. "We want them to be active. Our oldest is doing swimming and golf. Our youngest is doing soccer and swimming." One day, Williams even envisions an athletic scholarship for college for his sons like the one their mother, an avid golfer, received years ago.

With all the challenges dads take on today, Williams admits their children's accomplishments become that much more of their own personal achievements. Williams proudly tells me his son Jake has just been accepted to the Sunset Elementary magnet program for Spanish. 

Yes, fathers today are pulling the double duty that mothers did for decades -- and while it's a tough, they are reaping the rewards in the close relationships they are forming with their children.

Keep up the good work fathers, and enjoy your special day. Happy Father's Day to all the super dads out there!

 

 

April 29, 2016

Why Meternity Leave is Ridiculous

Looks like author Meghann Foye sparked a conversation — and a controversy — with the release of her new novel "Meternity."

Meghann thinks people without kids should get an extended break from work, just like their co-workers who go on maternity or paternity leave. She speaks from experience. Years ago, Foye took her own self-financed meternity leave to kick start her writing career. I understand where Meghann is coming from. Burnout is a big problem in this country and childless workers are at risk because the perception is they are available all the time.  Everyone deserves "me time" which is why many workplaces have vacation days and Paid Time Off. .

But Americans aren't even taking the paid vacation time coming to them. Every year they leave tons of paid vacation days unused out of fear for their jobs, or too big a workload or all kinds of other reasons.  So are people going to take three months off unpaid for meternity leave? Let's be real, they most certainly are not.

If you have the desire and some savings, whether you are a parent or a single employee, you can take meternity leave any time you want. It's called quitting your job, regrouping and forging a new path that gives you the work life balance you seek. In that sense, meternity leave already is available to all workers.

On the flip side, what's going on in this country with maternity leave is pitiful.

Right now, 1 out of 4 mothers only takes two weeks off to have a kid, despite the toll on their bodies and the sleepless nights. Why? They can't afford to take more than that because our nation has no national policy on paid parental leave. Let's focus on getting that first. Let's help parents get the time they need to bond with their newborn, establish a routine and get ready for the balancing act that lies ahead. That will make a difference in our communities and for our families.  

What are your thoughts on meternity leave? Is it an insult to new parents? If you could afford it, would you take it?

 

March 24, 2016

How Adam LaRoche got the work family conversation started again

 

 

                            Adam

 

 

Years ago I worked in a newsroom bureau next door to a charter school. Every afternoon, my co-worker would pick up his young son from school and bring him to the office to do his homework. While I thought it was awesome, I also kind of resented it because I thought that a mother who brought her child to the office every afternoon would get disciplined.

The topic of bringing your child to work became top of mind again last week when Adam LaRoche, a power-hitting first baseman, informed the White Sox that he intended to retire with a year and $13 million left on his contract. He made the decision after being told by club President Kenny Williams that his 14-year-old son, Drake, should appear less frequently in the clubhouse.

Initially, the White Sox welcomed LaRoche's son Drake and even outfitted him with a uniform and gave him a locker inside the clubhouse. Drake began traveling with his father during baseball season, receiving home-schooled lessons.

But Williams had enough of Drake’s constant presence and defended his position to ask his player to leave his son at home by saying, "Where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?"

The answer, of course, is hardly anywhere. And that got me thinking.

Some parents like LaRoche may want to bring their child to work. Some may need to bring their child to work. Indeed, as the Washington Post notes, “most people who wrestle with children-at-work issues do it for straight-up survival, not to form an unusually close bond with a child.” And, while it was LaRoche's choice to quit because he couldn't bring his son to work with him, some people (particularly mothers) have been fired for doing it. 

Fortunately, for workers who prove themselves valuable, businesses are starting to bend a little to keep their top talent happy.   Now, it’s up to each of us to ask for what we need to keep our work and home lives on track, convince our employers to give us those accommodations, and be prepared to make decisions based on the response to our requests. In Adam’s case, he faced a tough choice between work and family, and chose family. His decision resonated with baseball players around the country who rallied behind him when he quit, citing #FamilyFirst as the reason.

Tadd Schwartz, a father of two young children and owner of Schwartz Media Strategies, says thinks LaRoche should be able to bring Drake to work with him. Schwartz just allowed an employee to bring a sick dog with him to work. “Culture is critical and if an employee is productive and wants his or her son/ daughter (or dog) in the office and it's not a distraction then I'm fine with it. It’s called flexibility.”

I asked another employer what he thought about LaRoche's action and he told me doesn't think that anyone, male or female, should bring their child to work: "We're paying people to focus on their job, not their child. On an emergency basis, that would be different. But on a day to day basis it's a distraction for the parent and a liability for the company." 

I appreciate LaRoche's position as a father who travels a lot for work and wants to spend time with his son. I also appreciate the fact that LaRoche has America discussing this important topic. The movement to make workplaces more kid-friendly has been slow to take hold. But, as more men take on their fair share of childcare duty, I foresee fathers making the tough decision LaRoche made and more employers suffering the consequences for refusing to be open-minded. 

February 09, 2016

Will I Ever Stop Dealing with Mommy Guilt?

                        

 

                                      Guilt

 

I have become a clingy mother who just can't seem to shake mommy guilt.

Now that I have two children in college, I see the work life balancing act from a different perspective. It's almost like I need to spend time with my youngest son who is still in high school more than he needs to spend time with me. I savor the school events that with my older children used to seem like an interference with my work day. 

Later this week, my son will play his first high school lacrosse game. It was supposed to be an evening game. I had planned to attend a women's business event in the afternoon and make it to the game right on time. Of course, it's the best laid plans that go astray. I just received an email that they moved my son's game two hours earlier. 

My husband has agreed to skip lunch and leave work early to go to the game. But here I am feeling extreme mommy guilt. Will he remember that I missed his first ever high school sports game? Or will he remember all the class parties and awards ceremonies that I attended for many years of his life?

For some reason, moms carry around huge guilt when we have a work family conflict. While dads experience the conflict, too, they tend to shrug it off more easily than mothers do. 

Last week I participated in the Successful Mompreneurs Women's Summit, a two-day webinar produced by Jenenne Macklin with great tips from women entrepreneurs. Of course, the topic of mommy guilt came up over and over. Mommy guilt is the reason many of us working mothers weigh more than we should (we feel too guilty to  make time to go the gym). It's the reason many of us walk around exhausted (better to sacrifice sleep than time with our kids). And, it's the reason many of us are burning ourselves out as we try to build our businesses -- or simply earn a living.

The conclusion during the webinar was that it's impossible to completely avoid mommy guilt. It goes alongside the phrase "working mother" like jelly goes alongside peanut butter. But it is possible to evaluate why you feel the way you do and course correct if necessary. We need to separate the unproductive feelings of guilt from the kind that help us improve.

As a mother for 20 years, I know the reality is presence matters. It just does. So, when we have hard choices to make, I think each of us have to do the math in our heads to determine if we are there for our children more than we are not there. If the equation comes out favorable, we have to tell ourselves that our kids won't be scarred for life if we can't make it to everything.

Working mothers (and fathers) just have to let some things go without feeling guilty. We just do. So, I will go to my business event and I will make it to many other of my son's lacrosse games during the four years ahead. I can't pretend I won't feel mommy guilt for missing his first game, but I have a plan for dealing with it. I will explain to my son that my guilt is a sign I truly care about being there for him. And, I will back that sentiment with my future actions.

How do you find solutions to the work family conflicts that make you feel guilty? Do you think mommy guilt is an inevitable part of being a working mother? 

 

August 26, 2015

How to Survive a Mommy Tsunami

Your babysitter quits because her class schedule has changed. Your boss tells you he needs to move up the due date on an project he wants finished. Your child calls you to tell you his bus didn't show up at the stop and he needs someone to pick him up. Of course all of these things happen simultaneously and it hits you like a giant mommy tsunami. Ugh!

Mommy tsunamis are common this time of year when school and business gear up at the same time, triggering new routines and bigger workloads.


Joanna_Schwartz__Forbes_089I wish I could say I came up with the phrase mommy tsunami myself, but I can't really take credit. I heard it used when Karen Rundle interviewed Joanna Schwartz, CEO of EarlyShares, for a WLRN Segment on Women in Business in the Sunshine Economy. EarlyShares is a major player in the “real estate crowdfunding” industry. This is how Joanna, mother of two daughters, described a mommy tsunami to Karen:

"A mommy tsunami usually comes a few times a year --  usually at beginning or end of the school year when there is some transition in the troop movement of our household. When it happens you just want to say, 'This is insane, what the heck am I doing?'  But it has happened enough times and you get through it. It doesn't last that long. You recognize it and say 'Okay I am in a mommy tsunami and it will last two or three weeks and I will power through it.' I talk to a lot moms who have similar positions and we all relate to that very much."

Today, Karen, who conducted the radio interview, told me she has just been hit with a mommy tsunami. As the mother of a young daughter, she  is dealing with a series of unfortunate events that has challenged her work life balance and that she is trying to power through. Having lived through many mommy tsunami's my advice to Karen was "hang in there!"

To me, mommy tsunami's make us realize that the romanticized version of what motherhood should be existed only in some alternate universe. The reality of modern motherhood can be stressful and exhausting.

When you are hit by a mommy tsunami, little things make a big difference. For example, flexibility is one of them. As Joanna explained to Karen, the real challenge for working mothers have is when they are trying to balance the not being (able to be ) in two places at once...when kids need time at school or need to go to the doctor and they are stuck chained to their desk. She believes companies need to understand that work and family are interconnected and "to extent that you support someone's  family life you are supporting someone being a terrific employee."

Along with flexibility (or an understanding boss)  you also need is a mommy network. When the mommy tsunami engulfs you, you need to tap your network to find someone to vent to, someone to pass along resources or someone who will take your turn picking up the carpool.

Lastly, you need to turn to your spouse and scream, HELP! As I wrote in my Miami Herald column today, when both parents work together to divvy up childcare responsibilities it makes balancing work and family much easier. The new school year and adjusting to a new routine can be stressful for parents and children. Today, more than 60 percent of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents, according to Pew Research Center's 2013 Modern Parenthood Study. When dads exert the flexibility in their work schedules and pitch in with monitoring homework, driving to the pediatrician's office or attending a teacher conference it can make a huge difference in family harmony. 

As I noted in my article, many couples underestimate the sheer amount of coordination involved in modern parenthood — until their child is unprepared for a test or gets to football practice without his cleats. A little collaboration between parents can go a long way.

If you feel a mommy tsunami about to hit, brace yourself. You will get through it. Like Joanna says, mommy tsunamis are inevitable. You will never be fully prepared. Balancing work and family can be overwhelming, but it also has payoffs that are well worth finding the endurance you will need to survive.

August 21, 2015

It's that time: Do you get back-to-school angst too?

Today, I'm running around like a crazy lady, trying to get my kids back to school supplies and battling the crowds of last minute shoppers. On top of that, I'm talking to parents for an upcoming article on how they tackle back to school. The whole thing has got me feeling a little nerve racked. Each year, as the first day arrives, I feel a little anxious about new routines for my children and myself. This year, my youngest starts high school, my oldest two are off to college and my whole routine will change.

I figure it is a good time to bring back a blog post I wrote in 2010 about working parents and back to school angst,and ways for working parents to avoid being over-scheduled. With a little planning, it is possible to find work life balance.

Wishing all of you a smooth and happy school year! 

 

Backtoschool5
(From August 2010)

This week I have a knot in my stomach. I get it every year around this time as I prepare the kids for back to school. Like most parents, I want the school year to go smoothly. I want their school schedules to blend well with my work schedule and work life balance to be possible. For parents, back to school can be just as stressful as it is for our kids.

As I scurry around, setting up carpools, buying school supplies and stocking up on lunch box snacks, I worry about what's to come and I mourn the end of summer. 

With the start of school, kids want to sign up for extracurricular activities. Then, it is up to us parents to get them where they need to go. Sometimes, we drive ourselves over the edge trying to make our work schedules mesh with their activities.

 Here are a few tips you can use when juggling your work schedule with your children's activities:

* Gage your flexibility at work. Your employer may be willing to make an arrangement with you, even if it's temporary, to allow you to get your kids to practices if you come in earlier. This usually involves a conversation in advance.

* Consider proximity. The more activities kids can do at school, the easier it is on working parents. Get a schedule of team try-ours from your child's school. Some day-care centers have started to offer dance or martial arts classes during the day.

*  Let your child choose. Children inevitably are more successful when they choose the activity rather than a parent.  "If it's something they really want to do, they are more likely to figure out on their own how to get where they need to be," says Mandee Heller Adler, a Hollywood college admissions consultant.

*  Find a carpool. This is when networking with other parents pays off. When asked, most working parents are thrilled to split driving duties.

* Do the activity with your child. Attorney Valerie Greenberg enrolled in martial arts classes with her two kids. She found it the best way to combine exercise for her with activity for them.

* Look into online activities. Your child might want to take cooking lessons by watching online videos at home.

* Enlist multiple children in the same activity. This may seem like a no-brainer but it may require some compromise.

* Ask about flexibility. If you plan to sign up for gymnastics or dance classes for your child, find out whether they have make-up opportunities for those times when your work schedules prohibits you from getting your child to their activity.

* Lose the guilt. "Parents don't have to be at every practice or show," says parenting expert Laura Gauld of greatparenting101.com. Sometimes, stepping back has its advantages, she says. "Someone else steps up and can turn out to be a good mentor for your child."

*Know the expectations. While elite youth sports teams are popular, they require travel and mandatory practices. It's best to check into requirements before signing up for a major commitment.

 

 

 

June 19, 2015

Why paternity leave is the hot topic this Father's Day

Dadson

 


As we head into Father's Day weekend, the topic du jour is paternity leave.

We are hearing about who offers it, who doesn't, who takes it, who doesn't take it and why we should care about it. 

The bottom line is that when fathers take time off when their babies are born, they establish a lifelong bond, according to research. That's not to say fathers who don't take paternity leave don't bond. It's just that when they do take it, a pattern is established that's good for fathers, mothers and babies. It sets the tone from day one that dad will be involved in childcare.

One of the interesting trends we are seeing around paternity leave is even as national efforts are underway to promote more businesses to offer paternity leave, men are admitting they often are afraid to take it even if it's offered. They fear being stigmatized as someone who is less committed to work.

So basically, fathers are fighting two battles. One to get family-friendly policies approved. A second one to be able to use those policies without being penalized.

Both are worth the attention media outlets are giving them. Paternity leave is a family friendly benefit that fathers can claim for themselves. It moves the conversation about balancing work and family from being a "mother's issue" to being a father's issue, too)

This morning, I heard a report on paternity leave on NPR. I've seen articles in Fortune, in USA Today, in TIME.

Even celebrity entrepreneur Richard Branson has hyped the topic by announcing Virgin will give new fathers up to 12 months paid time off (if they qualify). 

 Lifehacker has drawn up a list of companies with the best paternity leave policies

I expect the conversation will continue well after Father's Day has come and gone. I hope it will continue because what's good for fathers is good for families.

Unfortunately, only about 14% of private employers in the US offer paid paternity leave, according to a 2014 survey by the Families and Work Institute. Right now, offering paid paternity leave is useful in the war for talent, but that's assuming fathers covet such a benefit and plan to use it. 

We have a long way to go to make fathers part of the work life conversation, but the discussion has begun and we are moving in the right direction.

Happy Father's Day!

 

June 04, 2015

Why high school graduation is tough on parents

 

                                    Grad

 

The day you become a parent your life changes. Everyone warns you this will happen and it's true. This experience is emotional in a way that feels odd and exciting at the same time.

Eighteen years later, a parent feel as emotional on high school graduation day as we do the day our first child came into our life -- maybe even more emotional. Regardless of how much we know it is coming, graduation day catches us off guard. Tonight, my oldest son, Jake, will walk across the stage and get his high school diploma and while he prepares for the pomp and circumstance with excitement, I face it with a strange, difficult to explain feeling.

I wonder if other parents feel as I do. I think part of it is bewilderment, the feeling that 18 years went by and I can't account for every day of those years. Part of it is fear, the feeling that I am getting older and entering a new phase in my life as my son is entering one in his and I don't know how it will play out. Part of it is excitement, the feeling that there is so much opportunity ahead for him, which I have learned from benefit of hindsight. Of course, part of it is pride, the feeling that I have shaped another human being and guided him to this day of accomplishment.

From having an older daughter, I know this life event is pivotal. Regardless of whether your son or daughter goes to college, high school graduation marks a change in the parent/child relationship. From this day on, you treat your teen differently,  You give him or her a little more independence and engage in conversations on a different level.

As a parent, there are so many adjustments as your children mature into adults and leaves home. It's not easy but you come to accept that you may not know where or how they are much of the time. They are out there living their own lives, and as a parent you can only hope for the best.

As I head into the auditorium tonight, I will look around the room and see the faces of little boys who played dodgeball in my backyard, now young men who shave, and drive, and like my son are leaving home to go make their way in the world.

Somehow, I feel as if watching them graduate will be happening in slow motion. I  honestly can't see the road ahead for any of us. But as strange as that is, it is also freeing. The responsibility for making sure my son's homework is done, he gets to his activities on time and he gets to bed at a decent hour is behind me. Tonight my son graduates, and in many ways, so do I. There's an interesting path ahead for both of us, and tonight we are one step closer to taking it.