November 16, 2016

How to Tap the Working Mothers Network

Moms network


One Saturday my editor called while I was shopping with my young children in the dollar store. He had questions in an article that was going to run on the front page and needed answers immediately. To be able to pay attention and give him the answers he wanted, I had to keep my children occupied and in my eyesight. So, I let them pull all the toys off a rack. Off the fell onto the ground in a big pile while my children were delighted.

It was an awful parenting moment that was punctuated by dirty looks from other customers. However, after a short while, a woman saw the distress on my face and began to engage my children in conversation while getting them to put the toys back on the rack.  When I eventually hung up the call and thanked the woman, she dismissed my attempts at gratitude and said, “I understand. I’m a mom, too.”

I have thought about that woman a lot over the years when I hear or see moms judging other moms. It’s easy to say, “I would never let my kid do that” or “What kind of mother is she?” but it’s much kinder to be empathetic and help another mother out. . At some point, almost all working mothers for working too much, or for not knowing about something that was going on with our children that we should have known. Those are the times when we need someone to tell us “I understand, I’m a mom, too." 

For me, balancing work and family is about doing my best on any given day, whether or not my best is what someone else thinks it should be. But I have learned that other mothers can play a huge role in helping me to do my best. 

A few weeks ago I interviewed a mother with a special needs son who recently went back to work. As I was talking to her it, she received a text with photo of her son at field day. A mother who was at the school for the event sent it to her. "This is awesome. This is what a moms network is all about," she told me.

While there are official mommie networks in some cities, I find it is the informal ones that most working mother rely on... you know, the mothers of your child's friends, the room mothers, other soccer moms, parents you meet at birthday parties. Every get together or interaction with other parents is an opportunity to build your network. 

Over the weekend, I ran into WPLG Local 10 television new anchor/reporter Neki Mohan at an event. Neki has a beautiful and feisty nine year old daughter. Neki told me she survives as a working mother because of other mothers. They drive her daughter places when she needs to work, and she drives theirs when she can. 

Neki-Carnival-JPG_776146_ver1.0_1280_720\

(Neki and daughter)

I have tapped into the mom network many times to find out who is the best children's opthamologist or what the standard holiday gift is for a teacher.  I also have given back to the moms network, picking up other children from soccer practice when their parents are running late, or giving suggestions on where to get the right supplies for a class project. To tap the moms network, you need to give as well as take. You need to be that mother in the dollar store who helps a mother whose child pulls toys off the rack, or you need to offer to have your child's friend over on the weekend if his or her parent needs to work. When you are there for other working parents, they will be there for you.

Yes, there are mothers who take advantage. Yes, there are stay-at-home mothers who prefer to shame working mothers rather than help them out.  But I would like to believe they are the exceptions.

I think we can all admit that raising children and holding a job is exhausting. That is exactly why creating and participating in the moms network can make all the difference between sanity and overwhelm.  Next time you see someone having a working mother moment, refrain from judgment, lend a hand, and offer these kind words, “I understand, I’m a mom, too.” When a working mother asks for help, give it willingly. Next week, you might be the one asking.

November 03, 2016

How to scale back at work

 

 

Work-life-button

 

One evening I checked my inbox around 10 p.m. and saw a brand new work-related email from my friend Susan. It could have waited to the next day so I wondered why she was working so late. When I questioned her about it the next day, she told me she regularly works that late and admitted to being a workaholic.

Flash forward and Susan is now a new mother who is struggling with work life balance.

“As a former workaholic, it’s so hard to scale back,” she confessed. “Before, I had that crutch that I could always stay late to finish something.”

Lots of women and men face the challenge of changing their work habits after becoming parents. Others need to change their work habits when they become caregivers. This week, my friend Lisa called to tell me her parents need more supervision. Her mother has been falling lately. She has decided to scale back at work to be there for her aging parents, but worries she doesn't know how. 

So how exactly do you go from full throttle to half speed? How do you scale back at work? 

Have a plan. When you plan your work day, don't include the evening hours. Know the top three things you need to accomplish before you leave the office and get them done.

Use time wisely. Drive or commute time is ideal for making calls before you arrive home. The goal is to walk in your door ready to focus on your loved ones at home.

Delegate. Most of us want total control over every aspect of our jobs. Sometimes, when we scale back we just have to be okay handing things off.

Raise your hand cautiously. Resist raising your hand or agreeing to take on anything your boss or team needs. You need to be much more intentional about what you agree to handle.

Manage Expectations.  You will need to be realistic about what you can accomplish when you work at a different pace. Instead of agreeing to a tight deadline, give yourself more time, and convey that new timeline to your boss or clients.

Reprioritize. Most people find juggling the demands of work and the responsibilities of family is an ongoing challenge, but the first step is recognizing your priorities have changed and you must change, too. It's easy to feel uncomfortable no longer being the go-to person for every big decision. But you can still be influential and have a home life if you take on the high visibility tasks.

Scaling back and finding the right work life balance is tricky, but it’s also doable!

October 31, 2016

How working parents can make the most of Halloween

                                           Halloween

 

 

For years, I scrambled to get home from work in time to take my children trick or treating. I planned my whole day so that as a working parent, I wouldn't get caught on deadline and tied up at work. Not only is Halloween one of my favorite days -- and nights-- but I loved the fun of the holiday and being with my kids and neighbors. One Halloween, I had to tell a good source I just couldn't interview him because he called as I was trying to get out the door to go home. Yes, Halloween can put work life balance to the test.

Make no mistake, whatever sacrifice you need to make at work to be home at a decent time to be with your children tonight will be well worth it! Now, two of my children are in college and one is in high school. I am grateful for every moment I spent trick or treating with my kids. 

Clearly, I am in a different phase of my life, but I'm still making the most of Halloween and I urge you to make the most of the holiday, too. Tonight, my parents will come over and sit in our driveway and pass out candy.  Instead of watching the thrill on my children's faces when someone tosses Hershey bars in their bags, I look forward to the delight on my mother's face when a small ghost or tiny witch thanks her for the treat she puts in his or her bag.

I have reached the age in which my friends no longer have their parents, or are managing issues around their parents’ declining health. While I long for those nights of trick or treating with little ones, I am wise enough to appreciate my time with my parents.

I realize that holidays like Halloween are about treats and fun but they are also about finding new opportunities to bond with family, friends, neighbors and even co-workers. I encourage everyone to view Halloween as the happy day it can be at work and at home and dress up, indulge in sweets or find a way to enjoy a break from routine with the people in your life. 

Make a deal with yourself not to sweat the small stuff today. If you kid sheds part of his costume along the way, no biggie. If you turn off the lights and a kid still rings your doorbell, be okay with it. If your co-worker thinks his costume is the greatest in all the land, let him gloat. If your mother in law feeds your kid a Halloween cupcake after he has eaten a ton of candy, let it slide. 

I encourage you to put whatever stress you have in your life aside for today. Years in the future, you will realize it was well worth it.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

September 16, 2016

How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Suggest We Make Work Life Balance Easier

RuthShould we be working at all hours all the time? Should any professional be at the beck and call of a supervisor or client after he or she leaves the office? These are questions we're going to be asking ourselves more often.

The answers aren't simple. In law or any profession, expectations for customer service usually mean an immediate response. Businesses will need to figure out how to give their professionals the work life balance they want and deserve, and please the customer.

When I saw this interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the National Law Journal, I thought she hit the work life balance concerns right on. She wants to see more action. Most of us do.

"Firms don't seem to be moving that fast to be flexible," Ginsburg said during a conversation with former U.S. solicitor general Theodore Olson before the D.C. chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel.

But instead of just complaining, Ginsburg gave solutions, which is why I truly admire this woman.

Despite major advances under the law, as well as new technology that facilitates remote work, law firms “don’t seem to be moving that fast” to allow new parents of both genders to balance work and home life, Justice Ginsburg said at an event on Wednesday in Northern Virginia hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Ginsburg said women and men at firms "should get together with each other and decide 'what we want' " in terms of workplace changes, and "make it known and illustrate by example that you can have a home life and a work life.Ginsburg gave a great example of how a firm can be flexible.

As an example, Ginsburg said a former law clerk of hers who now has three young children worked out an arrangement with an unnamed law firm to have a three-day work week. "They are delighted with her work," Ginsburg said.

While that's one example, there are others that include men and women. Yes, men and women need to discuss  'what we want' " in terms of workplace changes.  We need to see changes that help both genders be the lawyers or professionals they want to be and have a life outside the office, too.

Ginsburg has reminded us that the struggle for work life balance is real and needs to be addressed. Will firms heed her call to action?

 

September 02, 2016

How to find work life balance during Labor Day Weekend

                                               Chair

 

Here it is, the weekend we've been waiting for...three days of fun with friends, family or a romantic interest. 

Now, it's time for your confession....will you spend time this weekend looking at email, thinking about work or fretting about what awaits you on Tuesday morning?

Don't do it! 

Now, that's a lot easier for me to say than it is for you to do. Still, here are my 5 tips to find work life balance during the holiday weekend:

 

1. Stay present in the moment: If you respond to emails and texts while doing an activity with a friend, family member or boyfriend, you’re not really with them. Your divided attention works against you and forces you to be two places at once. Do one thing at a time, and stay mindful about that one thing. You will enjoy your weekend so much more!

2. Prioritize fun. Something you will try to tackle this weekend is probably not a real priority. Ask yourself which mundane tasks can wait so you can get to those that are more enjoyable.

3. Block off time for something special. What is something you've been putting off all year because you just were too busy? If that's a book you want to read, start it this weekend. If it's a movie you've wanted to watch, do it. If it's a television you want to binge, no harm in pulling an all nighter like you did when you were a kid. There's no better time than a long weekend to get to the task that will bring you joy.

4. Work toward a goal. If you have something big you want to accomplish, use the holiday weekend to take a small step to move forward. You don't have to run an entire marathon, but if that's your goal, run a mile and end the holiday weekend with a sense of accomplishment.

5. Be positive and worry free. Put your worries and negativity into a shoebox for the weekend. Agree with all those you come in contact with to be in vacation mode and think only positive thoughts. If you're used to working all the time, it can feel stressful to let go for a few days. Tell yourself everything will be okay and everyone else is powering down, too. 

For many of us, this weekend really is the end of summer. Enjoy all that it represents and don't feel guilty! Happy Labor Day!

 

Timetorelax
 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2016

A Back-to-School Tip for Working Mothers (and Fathers)

 

                                           Mom on phone

 

Today, I was interviewing an expert for a back to school article, when she shared a piece of wisdom with me that I wish I had thought of years ago.

She suggests creating a file on your phone with the email or phone number of every person your child comes in contact with during the school day. For example, the file would have the bus driver's number, the transportation department's number, the mother who drives your child to school. It would also have the teacher's contact info and the school's contact info. If you child is in aftercare, it would have the aftercare director's number or one of the care providers. If you child is in extracurricular activities such as piano lessons, the file would have the piano teacher's number or another parent whose child takes lessons the same day with the same teacher. 

The key is ALL the numbers are in ONE place. No need to search around and wonder whether you filed someone's info by first or last name or by topic or some other way. 

If the bus doesn't show up or you need to reach someone to reach your child, NO NEED TO PANIC! Making contact with someone who can help becomes much easier when everything is in one place and at your fingertips.

As much as our phones draw our attention away from our kids if we let them, our phones can be our lifeline when our children need to reach us, or when we need to reach them. 

It's also good to collect phone numbers of your child's friends parents. That could be a separate file on your phone. If you don't know all the parents, use the new school year as the perfect time to get to know them. 

There will be days that unpredictable events with our kids turn our lives upside down. Inevitably those days will be the ones in which we have a big presentation at work or our boss is riding along with us on a sales call. Getting our safety net prepared ahead of time can make all the difference in a working parent's work life balance!

What tips can you share with other working parents who are trying to keep it all together during the school year?

 

August 04, 2016

Do we work as much as we think we do?

Keyboard

(Photo by Jay LaPrete AP)

 
 

 

If you're like me, you feel like you're working A LOT. But are you as overworked as you think you are?

According to the American Time Use Survey, full time workers only put in about 40 hours a week, and only five minutes more a week than a decade ago.

What it doesn't account for, though, is how we work.

In this hyper-connected age, working hours might still be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the hours to do work can stretch from midnight to midnight, with emails zipping through the ether at the convenience of the sender, but not necessarily the recipient, as noted by Nick Coltrain of the Coloradoan

I don't know about you, I tend to interval work, which means I switch from task to task at home and the office, taking care of personal responsibilities and work responsibilities as needed. If your workday is anything like mine, you might sit down in front of your computer screen to start a project and become distracted by a new email. Then, you might work for an hour, and take a quick break to check Facebook.

The switching between personal and business tasks at the workplace has become so habitual that some researchers believe Americans spend as much as two hours of an eight-hour workday doing non-work tasks, whether or not we realize it. Two hours is a lot isn't it? Of course, no one can work 8 hours straight without going crazy. We all need breaks!

I think what makes me feel like I'm working so much is that even when I am at home and not actually working, I still feel the tug of work on my brain. It's that always on feeling that researchers say creates chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

In our desire for work/life balance, it's just as difficult to know how much time we spend on leisure activities as work tasks, in part because of the increase in smartphone use. The American Time Use Survey shows Americans spend about five hours a day doing leisure activity, with television watching accounting for more than half of that time. However, many people watch television with their mobile devices in hand and sporadically check work email.

When employers ask workers to manually track their work time, productivity improves, according to Fred Krieger, CEO of Scoro, a San Francisco productivity/project management software firm. If you really tracked the hours you work, how much do you think it would add up to? Do you consider multi-tasking -- watching television and checking email to be work or leisure time? It's kind of tricky, isn't it? But if we can improve our productivity by tracking our time, it might be worth doing.

What do you think your time diary would reveal?

 

 

 

August 01, 2016

Post vacation blues: Finding work life balance after your return

                                                         

 

                                                         Worker on vacation

I am boarding the plane home from summer vacation, a week of fun with my husband and kids, and I'm starting to get that familiar feeling. It's a sense of dread. On vacation, I spent every day for a week planning an adventure or enjoyable activity with my family and now I will return to laundry, email, deadlines and a daily routine that doesn't leave much quality family time.

I am fortunate I love my job as a writer. Lots of people I know hate their jobs, their bosses, their overall predicaments. I don't. Yet, I dread the post vacation blues, the reality of resuming a daily routine that imposes myriad demands on my time and a constant struggle for work life balance.

So lately, I've been reading up on how to avoid post vacation blues, or even just end-of-summer blues. I have figured out a few things to do differently this summer.

1. Know the benefit of a break. Whether you are job hunting, thinking of leaving your job or overwhelmed by your job, you need a break. Tell yourself it's okay to take a vacation and it's okay not to think about real life responsibilities for a short period of time. My new mantra: It's okay to chill out!

2. Make a game plan for the return. Spend some time coming up with a list of things that you can do after you return from vacation that will challenge you intellectually or physically. Those people who are constantly challenging themselves rarely appear to be depressed or negative, according to Andrew Griffiths and his blog on Inc.  I signed up for an online writing webinar a few days after my return from vacation this year. It gives me a learning opportunity to look forward to that I easily can fit into my work life balance.

3. Do more of the things you enjoy. Part of making that vacation high last is figuring out how to put more fun into your life. If it's spending time with your family you love, figure out how to make more time for them. If it's exercising you enjoy, get up early and go bike riding twice a week. If you enjoy working, that's a good thing, too. What aspects of your job do you like most and how can you do more of those things?  Some people have a hobby they enjoy like fishing or gardening but the last time they did it was 10 years ago.  As the summer comes to a close, plunge back into something you enjoy doing. For me, I love reading. I just created a library of books on my iPad waiting to be read on a lounge chair on the beach over the upcoming weekends after my return from vacation.

4. Ask someone "how can I help"? Commit to helping someone else either in your workplace, your business network,  your community, your children's school. If you want to feel uplifted, there is no better way.

5. Get in the right frame of mind.  Sometimes we focus on the piece of our lives that we find dull or difficult or exhausting. When you come back from vacation rested and happy, you can use that as motivation to re-examine your work life balance and your outlook. What are the things that made you happy on vacation -- sleeping in, touring museums, taking hikes, eating at new restaurants? All those things can be done wherever you live. You just have to make the effort to do them.

6. Change up your routine.  During your first week back from vacation, take a new route to work, sit in a different chair at the dinner table or eat lunch with a different crowd. Small changes often are enough to renew our zest for life and help us stay motivated.

Of course, if the post vacation blues are overwhelming, you may need more drastic measures. Vacations are fun because they offer a break from the tedium and familiarity of life, but if you're miserable being at work or at home, you may want to make big changes to feel happier. And, if it's any consolation, it's never too early to start planning your next vacation!