May 09, 2015

Moms who work on Mother's Day

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(Molita Cunningham and three of her children)

 

On Mother's Day, when the most of us mothers are celebrating, some mothers are working.

Molita Cunningham is one of them. She's a 56-year-old home healthcare worker who puts in 12 hour shifts as often as she can get them. Cunningham needs every penny she makes because as a home care worker she earns about $10 an hour( and that's after 30 years into her career). Her shifts are unpredictable so when she has work, she takes it.

Molita's children are less than pleased that she won't be spending Mother's Day with them ( 3 of 6 still live at home).  "They put on a sad face and say 'Mom, you're never home. You're always working' and I tell them it's just me paying the bills and struggling,'' Molita says.

Molita works for an home care agency that contracts with hospice. Sometimes, she gets hired for private clients. She rarely turns down a job. That means she can't always be there for her kids. "There are a lot of things I don’t attend -- my son’s track meet, my daughter's dance recital, things at school. The kids complain that I'm always working. "

Molita actually is one of the workers who are outspoken about raising the wages of home care workers. Despite being one of America’s fastest growing jobs, home care workers are living below the poverty level, getting paid an average of just $13,000 a year. Almost 50 percent of home care workers rely on some form of public assistance in order to make ends meet. Women, who make up 89 percent of workers in the industry, bear the brunt of these low wages. They typically do not receive expenses such gas or benefits such as health insurance. And, their jobs are unpredictable -- some assignments only last a few hours. 

Molita has spoken out at several rallies for higher wages for home care worker who pushing for $15 an hour. "That's still not a lot but at least I could breathe better. I'm a single mother and there are things my kids need. It's hurtful when I can’t provide for them for my children."  A new report from the National Women’s Law Center substantiates the challenges these moms are facing.

On Mother's Day, Molita will spend the day with an elderly woman whose family lives overseas. She will cook for the woman and care for her until late in the evening. Molita says caring for the elderly is  hard work. "You have to bathe them, feed them, dress them, help with oral care....you have to be caring and compassionate to wipe feces off of a stranger. Not everyone can do that."

Molita hasn’t spent Mother’s Day with her kids in years. It’s a feeling that she remembers from her own childhood - her mother was a home care worker and she remembers not being able to spend time with her on Mother’s Day. Molita says some clients will allow her to bring her children with her on holidays or with them if they go to church.

Even with the challenges, Molita says of her work as a home care attendant: “The work I do is demanding, and it keeps me from my family more than I would like, but it’s essential. I love this work and I intend to keep doing it.”

Happy Mother's Day to Molita and to all the mothers who are working at restaurants, in hospitals, as home health workers and any other job that requires they be away from their families on this special day.  For those who do their best to balance work and family, you are all amazing people! 

 

May 07, 2015

Sheryl Sandberg, her husband's death, and her new work life balance

                                         Sheryl:dave

 

What a week it has been for Sheryl Sandberg. The news of her husband's death stunned the world. 

The official report said Dave Goldberg,  chief executive of SurveyMonkey, died from head trauma and blood loss after apparently slipping off a treadmill while vacationing with family and friends in Mexico. He was 47.

Sheryl has handled the hand she was dealt in a way that has moved many of us.

As the author of Lean In, COO of Facebook and someone who has credited her husband and his household contributions, for her ability to find some semblance of work life balance, Sheryl certainly will have some readjustment. Mostly likely, Sheryl has help at home (a nanny/housekeeper). Most high powered women do. But there are things only a parent can do and Sheryl will have to figure it all out. Single moms know that travel, late night work functions and work obligations become much more difficult when there is only one parent in the picture. As a single mother, it becomes more of a challenge to Lean In, even more so when the world is watching how you handle the rebalancing act and when you're dealing with grief.

If you haven't seen Sheryl's post on Facebook, I think all of you will find it inspirational. 

Sheryl writes:

I want to thank all of our friends and family for the outpouring of love over the past few days. It has been extraordinary - and each story you have shared will help keep Dave alive in our hearts and memories.

I met Dave nearly 20 years ago when I first moved to LA. He became my best friend. He showed me the internet for the first time, planned fun outings, took me to temple for the Jewish holidays, introduced me to much cooler music than I had ever heard.

We had 11 truly joyful years of the deepest love, happiest marriage, and truest partnership that I could imagine... He gave me the experience of being deeply understood, truly supported and completely and utterly loved – and I will carry that with me always. Most importantly, he gave me the two most amazing children in the world.

Dave was my rock. When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said it would be ok. When I wasn’t sure what to do, he figured it out. He was completely dedicated to his children in every way – and their strength these past few days is the best sign I could have that Dave is still here with us in spirit.

Dave and I did not get nearly enough time together. But as heartbroken as I am today, I am equally grateful. Even in these last few days of completely unexpected hell – the darkest and saddest moments of my life – I know how lucky I have been. If the day I walked down that aisle with Dave someone had told me that this would happen – that he would be taken from us all in just 11 years – I would still have walked down that aisle. Because 11 years of being Dave Goldberg’s wife, and 10 years of being a parent with him is perhaps more luck and more happiness than I could have ever imagined. I am grateful for every minute we had.

As we put the love of my life to rest today, we buried only his body. His spirit, his soul, his amazing ability to give is still with us. It lives on in the stories people are sharing of how he touched their lives, in the love that is visible in the eyes of our family and friends, in the spirit and resilience of our children. Things will never be the same – but the world is better for the years my beloved husband lived.

 

What advice do you have for Sheryl now that she's a single mother? Do you think her adjustment is easier because she has no money concerns or is it more difficult because she lives such a public life and will have her every move scrutinized?

 

 

March 27, 2015

Working parents: your boss may be judging you

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(Katharine Zaleski)

If people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their boss. How do you become a boss that workers refuse to leave?


The answer looks obvious from recent online discussion: Refrain from judging employees with an outside life.


In an apology letter to working mothers that set off a firestorm of online buzz, the president of an Internet startup gave a harsh account of how workers with family responsibilities are unfairly judged by their bosses.


As a manager at The Huffington Post and then The Washington Post in her mid-20s, Katharine Zaleski admits that she judged other mothers or said nothing while she saw others do the same.


“I secretly rolled my eyes at a mother who couldn’t make it to last-minute drinks with me and my team,” she wrote in a letter that appeared in Fortune. “I questioned her ‘commitment’ even though she arrived two hours earlier to work than me and my hungover colleagues the next day. I didn’t disagree when another female editor said we should hurry up and fire another woman before she ‘got pregnant.’


In a move that goes on in many workplaces, Zaleski said she scheduled last-minute meetings at 4:30 p.m. all of the time. “It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare,” she said.

Zaleski said she didn’t realize how horrible she had been until she gave birth to her own daughter. She now runs PowerToFly, a company that matches women who want to work from home with jobs in the tech field.

We all know that Zaleski isn't the only boss who has harshly judged a working mother -- or father. It can be easy to dismiss a working parent as uncommitted, a worker with elder care responsibilities as distracted, or a younger employee who wants to train for a marathon as lacking work ethic. It can be easy to call super early morning or schedule evening dinners with clients that can happen during the regular workday.

But you don’t need to be in a person’s shoes to be a boss who creates a workplace where employees thrive. A good boss thinks about the bigger picture and realizes people have lives outside of work -- and that allowing them to do both well makes them more committed to their jobs!

I find myself offering encouragement almost weekly to a working mother or father who feels judged by a boss for asking for flex time or wanting to leave by 5 to make it to their son’s soccer game. Their most common complaint: my boss will penalize me.

A report from Bright Horizons Family Solutions, an employer benefit child-care and early education company, reveals many employees - male and female - feel they can’t be open with their boss about family obligations. As more fathers want to be equal partners in parenting, they still feel they can’t express that to their boss, especially non-parents. Bright Horizons found about a third of working dads have faked sick to be more involved with their family, and one in four have lied to meet a family obligation, according to the report.


That could change.

As millennials become managers, many do think differently about work/life needs. They want to be more involved in thier children's lives and may make it easier for thier staffers to balance work and family without being judged.

If you feel like your boss or co- worker is judging you for having a life outside of work, it might be time to speak up. Communicate your accomplishments and the ways you show your commitment to your job. It's unfortunate to think that some managers don't see the value that working parents bring to a workplace.

Have you felt judged by a manager for having personal responsibilities or interests outside of work? How did you handle it?


November 24, 2014

Should I let my son come along on date night?

As my kids get older, I feel more grateful when they want to spend time with me. With one in college and the other leaving next year, I'm clinging to my 13-year-old because I know the time he wants to spend with me is dwindling. 

So, this weekend, instead of date night on Saturday evening, my husband and I took our son out with us. By coincidence (or not) he sat right between us at the movies and then between us at the counter at a sushi restaurant. The seat choice was his both times.

My husband and I looked at each other, smiled, and decided to say nothing to him about it.

We probably wouldn't have responded that way with our two older children. Until now, we have guarded our alone time. In our struggle for work life balance, date night is an important ritual in protecting our relationship. Now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves torn on sticking to this ritual. We realize we have lots of together time ahead and less time to spend with our son, especially while he still wants to hang out with us. 

With our son munching on popcorn in between us, we find ourselves coveting him and yet already seeing the inevitability unfold. Tomorrow my daughter will return home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday. While balancing work and family is easier now, I never imagined when she was first born the sense of loss that I would feel each time she returns to school. 

As your children grow up, you realize that the time will come sooner than imagined when you are compelled to release all that you have held fast to for so many years. And with the benefit of hindsight, you understand your world continues to shift.

Holding fast to date night every week, once a critical component of my work life balance, seems less neccessary. Suddenly, my husband and I see no harm in letting our youngest sit between us or venturing out with him in tow because now we can see our future table for two much more clearly than we ever thought possible.

Do you agree with our parenting decision to let our son come out with us on date night? Have you changed any of your parenting rules with your youngest child?

 

August 27, 2014

Work Life Balance When Your Child Leaves For College

I just have experienced work life balance in a whole new way. I took my daughter to college hundreds of miles away from home.

The reality of this life event is something for which a parent never can fully prepare. It is bittersweet realization: I have one less child to cook for, one less lunch to pack for school and one less schedule of activities to coordinate.

As I kissed my daughter goodbye, I reminisced about the night I got stuck working really late at the office and cried because my babysitter had put her to bed before I had returned home. I felt guilty and crushed that I had missed an entire day of my infant’s young life. If only I knew then that work life balance was less about one day and more about the next 18 years.

The truth is I enjoy the chaos that has ruled my life as I have juggled writing deadlines with chauffeuring her to soccer practice, sleepovers and movies with friends. It was through that chaos that I built a bond with her that will only strengthen as it evolves.

Now, I face a new reality: My daughter becoming independent doesn’t just mean that I suddenly have more free time. It means that my entire home life has shifted in ways I had not anticipated. Walking past her quiet bedroom, the change is a tough adjustment. But watching her explore her passions in life is going to be exciting.

With two children still at home, I am savoring the daily chores that I used to consider annoyances. I am packing lunches with a new appreciation and giving homework help with more enthusiasm. Suddenly, I see a future where my balancing act gets easier and my mom duties less needed. I’m not sure I will ever be prepared for that life transition. For now, I’m trying my best to shake off the feeling that my chest is a bit heavier and my house a bit emptier. 

 

July 07, 2014

Unplugging from technology: a daughter's perspective

On several occasions, I've asked my son a question only to realize he's glued to his smartphone screen and hasn't heard a word I've said. It's hard competing for a teen's attention when his entire social circle can be access by a few touches on a screen. 

One of the struggles with work life balance today as a parent is making time for our kids when our kids want to make time for us. My guest blogger today is Jamie Goodman (no relation to me).  Jamie's parents got divorced when she was 2 and her brother was 7. The kids now live in St. Louis. Over the years, her father, Rick Goodman of Pembroke Pines, he has talked to his children on the phone, and they've visited him in Florida. However, he found when they were with him, they were tweeting and texting and not talking with him as much as he hoped.

So, he invited his daughter on a summer trip abroad to connect more with her. Before leaving on the 24-day trip to Europe, Rick set some ground rules. Jamie had to leave technology behind. No smartphone and no computer.  Jamie journaled during the trip and her resulting book, "Jamie’s Journey: “Travels with My Dad,” recently climbed to #4 in the parenting & relationships category on Amazon.com.

 I hope you enjoy Jamie's perspective as much as I did.

Rick and Jamie

 (Above: Rick Goodman and daughter, Jamie)

 

When my father approached me with the idea to travel the world for twenty-four days without technology, my initial reaction was, “You’re joking, right?” Well, I assure you he was not, and after three months of planning we were to begin our journey.  Throughout our trip we had our fair share of arguments and moments where all we wanted to do was escape one another, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have changed my experience for the world.

Each day my dad and I documented the sites we had seen, the fights we had, the lessons learned, and advice to other parents and kids. For example one piece of advice I give is that, “ Most of the time dads can be annoying, so enjoy the days he isn’t. They don’t happen too often!” These short entries and pieces of advice paved the way for what is now my book entitled “Jamie’s Journey: Travels With My Dad”. 

Our trip, unplugged from technology, allowed me the opportunity to learn more about my dad and gave us the chance to reconnect and create a stronger relationship. From our journey I learned many things, but the most important being that you are never too old or too young to connect or reconnect with someone. It’s never too late.

Though my dad has lived in Florida almost my entire life, he has never missed a day of calling my brother or I. My dad never gave up on his relationship with his children, and this trip allowed me to show him that I had not given up on trying to reconnect with him.

For the next thirty days I am asking all of you to reconnect with one another, to put down your cellphones, computers and escape from technology. The only way we can truly connect with one another is to interact face to face, and that doesn’t happen when technology is involved. 

Click here to see Jamie and her dad on the news talking about experiencing one on one time. 

Rick's take away:  "It's never too late to reconnect with family members. There are so many ways to connect on a daily basis.(if you both leave behind your smartphones) You don't have to spend a lot of money. You can go to local attractions together."

So readers, hearing what Jamie and Rick got out of the experience, I'm wondering...Would you be able to take on Jamie's challenge? Could you go for 24 days without your smart phone?  

June 04, 2014

A working mom's thoughts at her daughter's high school graduation

Last night was my daughter's high school graduation. It was surreal sitting in the auditorium watching her walk across the stage. The weeks leading up to last night have been emotional for me. Peers have told me that the years go by fast but you get so caught up in the moment it doesn't feel possible. Then, you find yourself in an auditorium wondering how graduation day came so quickly.

Here's a column I wrote for today's Miami Herald about on thoughts as a working mother who has sought work life balance and realized I did okay as my daughter leaves the nest...

 

Carly and cindy

Years ago, I was driving home from work late at night and tears came to my eyes. A late-breaking news story had kept me in the office and I had missed the entire day with my baby daughter. As the sitter filled me in by phone on my baby’s day, I was overcome with guilt.

Eighteen years later: My daughter, wearing a cap and gown, enters the auditorium to the strains ofPomp and Circumstance to say goodbye to high school. That one day I missed with my baby long ago has become far less important, overtaken by a series of bigger moments that became the basis of our close relationship.

Around me, other parents also silently marvel at the swiftness of time and wonder if we have properly prepared our kids for their journey into the real world.

As mothers, our parenting “jobs’’ perhaps have been more complicated than those of generations past. Today, 68 percent of married mothers work outside the home (and among single, divorced or separated moms, it’s 75 percent). In a recent article, Carol Evans of Working Mother Media. said, “We have taken responsibility for our children to new heights of parenting, even as we have conquered every type of career known to men.”

Almost all working mothers and fathers, including myself, harbor some regret with our kids — a recital or tournament we missed, a day we sent our child to school with sniffles, that time we lost our temper after a difficult day at work. I regret field trips I couldn’t chaperone because of deadlines and car rides I spent on my cellphone with work instead of talking with my children.

As I surveyed fellow parents of graduates, I found that I wasn’t alone. The biggest regrets came from those who felt they shortchanged themselves by working too many hours, or sharing too little down time with their kids. Yet those at the other end of the spectrum who had devoted most of their time to kids also expressed angst; what will they do now?

If we have been good role-models, our success at combining work and family will inspire our children.

Fighting back tears, Donna Milfort told me that when her daughter gets her diploma this week, she will be especially proud that she has encouraged her to be independent and focused. Her daughter, Ashley, hasn’t had it easy. Milfort, a single mom, worked odd shifts at Wendy’s when her daughter was younger; now she works the night shift for the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport. Ashley will be the first in her family to go to college; her older brother is a part-time security guard, while her older sister works as a hotel clerk.

Milfort says she tried to make herself available to her kids, but Ashley, in particular, was always self directed. “I wish I had taken time to do more things with her, to travel to another city or take more family outings to the park or museums,” Milfort said. “But that part of our life is over. I can’t change that. This is the hard part … I’m going to miss her.”

Last week, Randee Godofsky Breiter watched her daughter receive her diploma and wondered, “How did we get here so quickly?” It was in that moment that Breiter made a vow. “I decided to soak in the moment. I don’t often do that often because I’m usually scattered between work and kids, and it’s hard to give all my energy to one thing, to one child. But I did my best to focus just on her.”

Over the past 18 years, Breiter, assistant director at FIU law school’s career planning and placement center, has gone from full time to part time. Now, she works both full-time with the university and as a part-time Kaplan University instructor, simply because she loves it. Her two children have become their own chauffeurs and rise for school to their own alarm clocks. While Breiter was never class mom, she believes her work ethic set a good example. “My daughter realizes that you spend more time with the people you work with than your family, so you have to like what you do,” she said

Dads like my husband, who balance work and coaching their children's sports teams, face their teens’ graduation day with similar introspection. More fathers today want to be more involved with their children than in past generations, but they struggle to break free of the constant electronic communication that keeps them tied to their work. On this day, they tuck away their devices to relish the seemingly-fleeting time with their children.

I think about the candy sales, the mad dash to sports practice and the parent-teacher conferences that have been so much a part of my life in years past. As some of those activities fall off my calendar, I realize that my daughter and I are both moving on to new adventures and adjustments.

As she flips her tassel and heads off to college, I hope she remembers not to accept what other people expect of her, to explore all options and do what she finds fulfilling. I’ve impressed upon her that hard work will beat out talent, that life never goes exactly as planned, and that it’s okay to make unpopular choices if she thinks they are right for her.

We all walk away from graduation with something. For some, it’s the lessons learned from juggling parenthood and careers. For me, it is motivation to appreciate the career and life choices I made and look ahead. The ultimate reward of working motherhood will be to watch my daughter pursue her passions — as I have mine — and to marvel at where the journey takes her.

 

March 19, 2014

Do singles get taken advantage of in the workplace?

Are you the one who is asked to stay late? If so, are you the one without kids?

Singles in the workplace say they are the ones who bear the brunt of the workload. They are the ones who are considered most dependable and therefore asked to do more. It was eye opening for me to hear their point of view as I reported the article below for The Miami Herald.

Do  you feel the tension in your workplace between parents and non parents?

 

 

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

 

Jennifer Verdeja, a massage therapist at a South Florida spa, talks excitedly about her job, until the conversation turns to the unfairness of her work schedule. “Just because I don’t have children doesn’t mean I should get the Saturday night shift every week.”

As businesses make more effort to accommodate working parents, the resentment from non-parents is mounting. Early results of a new study of 25,000 workers shows two-thirds of non-parents feel they carry an undue burden at the office and are expected to work longer hours than those with children.

The tension between non-parents and parents on job sites has been especially true in the private sector, according to Project 28-40, the largest ever British study of women in the workplace set to be released on April 2 by Opportunity Now, a UK workplace gender diversity campaign.

Sometimes the tension is subtle, exhibited in squabbles over who comes in on the weekend or gets holidays off. In other instances, clashes are overt, resulting in claims of discrimination that explode into lawsuits or force new policies.

Employers often unwittingly feed the conflict. While more than 70 percent of mothers are in the workplace, companies may forget that 42 million working households have no children under 18, according to 2012 U.S. Census data.

“The real problem is the structure of the organization,” says Donna Flagg, the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and founder of The Krysalis Group, a management consulting firm. She says managers often are terrified of someone throwing a discrimination claim at them and tend to tread carefully around pregnant workers or new parents. In doing so, they unwittingly create a double standard.

“There has to be an objective measure in place that applies rules equitably to everyone,” says Flagg. “Only a handful of companies have achieved it and most are a long way off.”

Sandra Rodriguez, a Miami market research professional, says she is often baffled by the accommodations working parents receive. “It’s as if they have a valid excuse for coming in late, leaving early and taking sick days.” A non- parent would be reprimanded for similar behavior, she says.

She also resents that the parents in her workplace receive more flexibility, and that she is expected to work more hours than coworkers who are married with kids.

“My personal time is less respected,” Rodriguez says. If there’s work to be completed after normal business hours, Rodriguez gets asked to stay late. “It’s like I don’t have anything important to do, so it doesn’t matter if they ask more of me.”

Alisha Forbes, a manager at a multinational firm who has no children, says she experiences similar expectations — and she resents it. “If we [non-parents] cannot stay late, contrary to the attitude that parents receive, there is pressure to come up with a valid reason to justify our unavailability.”

A 2008 British study showed that single women, in particular, were bearing the brunt of the new 'long hours' culture, with 40 per cent regularly putting in unpaid overtime — markedly more than single men of the same age (26 percent) and working mothers (17 percent.) Today, single women still argue that while the challenges faced by working mothers are being acknowledged, the extra burden being placed on childless women goes unnoticed.

Men without children have complaints, too. The notion that a “work-life balance” should apply only to working parents infuriates Stan D’alo, a South Florida customer service technician. D’alo found that when he wanted time off to participate in tae kwan do tournaments, his manager gave him a hard time. “They allow others flexibility because I’m dependable. I’m expected to make more sacrifices,” he says.

D’alo also resents that his parent colleagues try to use kids as leverage when asking for raises. “I have had people who work at lower positions whine that they should make more money than me because I have no children.”

Flagg said organizations still haven’t figured out how to allocate time off, dole out promotions and set rules around flexibility in a way that is fair for all. However, employers have come to realize that by making the lives of working parents manageable, these workers contribute more to the organization.

“There are responsibilities that having children requires and a reality to demands they place on you” she says. “But there’s a tension that is intensifying in workplaces. If it festers and is not addressed, it will gain energy and create a lot of ill feelings.”

Conversely, parents hold resentment too, the report shows. Only a third of the women (34%) believe that the opportunities to advance are equal between women who have children and those who do not.

Working mothers like Janna Montgomery, who has a special needs child and has used the Family Medical Leave Act, says single mothers are the ones that suffer most and, she believes, are automatically viewed as less committed.

In some ways, it’s a gender issue, she says. When a man has children, he gets promoted but a women has to work harder to just keep her job, she says.

Working parents also hold the widespread view that if they work flexibly, they will progress slower than their peers, regardless of contribution.

Leslie Smith, a partner in the Miami LAW office of Foley & Lardner, said firms like hers have begun focusing on making this a non issue. “Everyone has a perspective formed by specific instances or circumstances,” she said. “At law firms, attrition is a big issue.”

The goal has to be not only to keep lawyers, but to encourage them to work with each other. “We need collaboration and that means the working environment has to be attractive for all.”


 

 

 

November 18, 2013

Finding clarity during times of work life imbalance: A mommy lawyer's experience

How many of you have taken business phone calls when you're with your kids and had to figure out a way to mute background noise and come off as professional?

I have my hand raised. One day, Attorney Jennifer Westerlund and I were talking about the lengths working mothers go through to balance work and family and the crazy places where we have taken work calls while with our kids.  Jennifer has some pretty funny stories to tell. Recently, I received an email from Jennifer updating me on her career and her efforts to balance work and family.  The "balancing act" isn't easy and we all make compromises but I felt like all of you could relate so I asked Jennifer if I could share her email on my blog.

This weekend, I spoke on a panel to female college students at University of Miami. We talked a lot about compromises and opportunities for women. I wonder, especially after reading Jennifer's experience, if bigger firms and corporations realize that they need to help the talented women flooding into their businesses create balance. Will these organizations continue to let their dealmakers walk out the door? Do you feel the future for women is an entrepreneurs rather than leaders in the corporate environment? I'd love to hear your thoughts after reading Jennifer's balancing act.

 

Jennifer-Westerlund-328551-220

South Florida attorney Jennifer Westerlund

 

Cindy:

 

Hope all is well with you.  It has been a long time since I saw you last.  I just closed a large deal on Monday and I am reflecting on the craziness of the past couple of months and remembered the time I told you about doing deals from my closet floor…  No closet floor on this deal, (I was actually in my office) but mostly in NY, but the juggling act continues.

 

I am not sure if you know but I left my large, international law firm last February for private practice, to achieve better "balance" in my life (mainly to achieve some personal business goals that have been eluding me that I would not be able to achieve if I were working for a firm).  I continue to serve all of my clients, which is gratifying.  It is also extremely challenging, particularly as a corporate/M&A lawyer which is rare given the need for other disciplines. 

The deal I just closed was for my largest client (a billion dollar public company) which I have been representing for years.  The deal was a $325M acquisition of an industrial business from one of the largest companies in the world.  I did work with a couple of former colleagues from my prior law firm on some special issues not within my competency, but it was amazing that a sole female practitioner with an office outside of a major financial center had a front and center seat at the table next to basically 15 other men from the largest Wall Street firms in NY working day and night to close this deal.

It was like entering and exiting the twilight zone flying out to my former home of New York City and sitting at a table of high power executives from top flight firms and companies and working all night on seriously complex issues in tense negotiations, and then flying back to the chaos that is a suburban family with four kids under the age of 10 handling what I consider to be equally challenging and patience-testing issues like finding soccer cleats, sibling rivalry, homework etc. 

Actually, I am not sure which was more trying, but I do know that flying in and out for several days at a time really gave me perspective in seeing the two worlds independently of each other, as opposed to the norm which most of us professional women live with one foot in each simultaneously, where everything is jumbled.  I'm not sure if you have spoken to other women professionals who have had the same experience of achieving some sense of clarity during times of the ultimate imbalance (where you are either "on" or "off" with work/family due to traveling)?

There won't be another "Dealmaker" award for this transaction without a big firm's PR behind me, but I feel like I defied the odds a bit for women professionals who feel like they may have their feet stuck in the muddy waters of professional ambitions and undying dedication to family, afraid to leave the umbrella of a big organization and take a chance.  We can do it! 

 

Regards,

Jennifer Westerlund

jw@westerlundlaw.com



November 11, 2013

Female veterans struggle for work life balance

Female veterans face a different journey than men when it comes to healing the wounds of war. For those who are mothers, it takes a lot of readjustment back to home life. Imagine, for months or years you just worry about work and staying alive and then you return to home life where kids aren't used to your presence and you're not used to having to balance competing demands. 

I found this Parade Magazine story fascinating and wanted to share it with all of you. Happy Veteren's Day!

 

Women-vets-battle-all-their-own-ftr
Stacy Keyte, with son Caleb, now 9, returned home from Iraq in 2006.(Richard Foulser for Parade)

 

Women Vets: A Battle All Their Own

 (Parade Magazine)

 

While female service members confront the same problems as male veterans, they also face distinct struggles as women. Meet two brave women on their emotional journey from the front lines back home.

 

When Stacy Keyte was deployed to Iraq in 2005, her life as a young wife and mother had just begun to take shape. She had a 15-month-old son, Caleb, a happy boy who loved dancing around the living room with his mom; and Keyte and her husband, Charles, both members of the Texas Army National Guard, had started looking for a new home. But the day after closing on a house in Waxahachie, Tex., Charles was called up, too, to train other guardsmen to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Putting their family life on hold, the young parents entrusted Caleb to his father's best friend's mother as they went off separately to serve their country.

 

Keyte belonged to a military that was in the process of dismantling the barriers faced by women. Today 357,000 serve in the nation's armed forces, making up 16 percent of its strength. Over the past decade, more than 280,000 women have been deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We simply could not have accomplished the mission without them," says Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen.  

 

Stationed near Tikrit, Keyte handed out mail, organized awards ceremonies, and prepared hometown news releases. It wasn't technically combat, but that didn't keep her safe. Within a few hours of her arrival, Keyte was walking from the bathroom to her living quarters when incoming artillery shook the ground around her. The attack was followed by two weeks of sustained rocket assaults on the base, with few places to take shelter. "I always felt like a sitting duck," she says. "You just didn't know where it would land if it came in."

 

For any young soldier, these attacks would have been stressful. What complicated Keyte's experience was that she didn't always feel respected by the men around her. "We were definitely considered the weaker gender and they had no problems with saying that," says Keyte, now 32. "There was one noncommissioned officer who would not hesitate to tell me, 'You should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.'

 

When she returned from Iraq, Keyte realized how much had changed in 16 months. "I came home to boxes and an almost-3-year-old I didn't know anymore," she says. Caleb didn't understand his mother's disappearance and developed self-destructive tantrums and other behavioral problems. One night they went out for dinner and the host asked if Caleb needed a high chair or a booster seat. Keyte, who had missed many of his early milestones, didn't know. "I felt so guilty," she says. "You have so many expectations as a first-time mom, and sometimes life gets in the way."

 

Keyte also suffered from the inevitable psychic wounds of battle. "I didn't want to answer the phone," she says. "I didn't want to talk, because that took a lot of emotions." When a friend tried to hug her, she had such a strong startle response that she slapped away the woman's arm. "I was trying to make myself a hermit and stay inside my little shell," she says.

 

There's no foolproof formula for a successful homecoming from the battlefield. For Keyte, healing came from assisting other vets. In 2011 she became an outreach coordinator for Grace After Fire, a Texas-based nonprofit that runs peer support groups for women veterans and helps them find the resources they need. "There's nothing more rewarding than to watch these women come out of their shells," she says.

 

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