Make The Big Picture, Little.
May 18, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments (1)

In the last year the most used piece of advice I have given is this – ‘The little things matter.’  The walk on the way to school, eggs together at the diner, the conversations at bath time – all of these seemingly simple activities mean so much in your relationship with your child.

Parents are sadly bombarded with pressure about which school, what activities, feeding only breast milk-the list goes on and on. Many get a skewed sense of what is important about being a parent and get caught up in the sweeping tide of anxiety about over achievement for their children and for themselves. They will admit, “I spend more time pumping when I get home from work than hanging with the baby, I have to get the milk.” “I leave the bath to the babysitter so I can check my email when I get home so I am not over-run with work when I get into the office the next morning.” Or “I spent every night in the last two weeks working on the school auction, I want her to see how dedicated I am to her school.” The frantic energy and the desire to do a good job is palpable.

We are on the wrong path here. The culture is pushing us to ignore the little things. Small opportunities for closeness with your child, looking at the world with them, just being. The big busy picture means nothing to them. And when you slow down and take time to think about it–it isn’t that important to you either.

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The Quality of Mood, Not “Quality Time”
April 6, 2010 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments (2)

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Tara Parker Pope’s recent piece Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown in her New York Times Blog Well, takes a closer look at the amount of ‘family time’ in the modern working-parent household. Citing research from the University of California and the Pew Research Center, she writes that time spent with children has actually increased for both mothers and fathers since the mid 1990’s (with mothers still doing the bulk of parenting). The post goes on to say that working parents still suffer from guilt, constantly worrying about spending enough time with their children. The main point of this article is to relieve this distress, and show that parents are doing a better job than they think.

Pope leaves us with important food for thought in the last paragraph of her article, and it is this finding that really caught our eye. She refers to Ellen Galinsky, President of The Families and Work Institute:

Dr. Galinsky notes that although working parents typically feel guilty for not spending more time at home, children often have a different reaction. In a landmark study published as “Ask the Children” (Harper, 2000), she asked more than 1,000 children about their “one wish” for their parents. Although parents expected their children would wish for more family time, the children wanted something different.

“Kids were more likely to wish that their parents were less tired and less stressed,” Dr. Galinsky said.

This excerpt indicates that the quality of the parents mood, not the amount, and nor the exact activity or “quality time” that parents strive for is most important to children. This should not be a big surprise, of course. Whether one had a stay-at-home mother, a working mother, a dad who was home at six, or a dad that spent most time at work, it is the emotional state of that parent that stands out over time.

The “Ask The Children” study is a road map for parents about what children really want. Children wish parents were more rested and calmer, less stressed. They need us to take care of ourselves as best we can, so that time spent together is not time for them to worry about us.

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A Father’s Perspective: If I Could Do it Over Again
April 1, 2010 · Posted in Fatherhood, Parenting, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off on A Father’s Perspective: If I Could Do it Over Again

fathers_kids_13Soho Parenting sent a survey to fathers about their hopes, regrets, and role models for fatherhood. Men ages 40-79 replied.  Every response had one thing in common. Each and every father wished they had, or did, work less. They all regretted not spending more time with their children.

A recent piece by Michael Winerip in Generation B in The New York Times echoes this. He reports on men who have small children while in their fifties and sixties. They feel happy to have children late in life, when the pressures of work and their own ambitions are less front and center.

“I was bad about this the first time,” said Mr. Albinus, who has a daughter, 37, and a son, 28, by two different women in his native Denmark. In his 20s he was building a career as a political reporter covering Parliament. “I had to be there long hours,” he said. On days he was supposed to pick up his son from child care, he often couldn’t. He would call his wife, who was also working full time, and they’d argue about how he never did his share. “I’d get to day care late, my son was crying, it was terrible,” Mr. Albinus said. These things leave scars; at one point, the grown son, now a film director in Denmark, stopped speaking to him for a year….“For my little son, I’m always there,” he said. “For my older son, I missed too many birthdays.”

One father in our survey lamented that his own father worked too much.  He set out to be different with his children, but somehow it turned into the same situation.  It is important to remember that even with intention and awareness, it is an uphill climb to really make a change from what you experienced as a child.

This is a heads up for parents to sit together and really talk about their priorities, values and plans. Children need their fathers and fathers need their children. See what changes you can make to insure that father’s time with their children is not optional or marginal. Not everyone gets a second shot.

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Can We Have It All at Once?
March 25, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off on Can We Have It All at Once?

10035790Mika Brzezinski, an MSNBC co-host on Morning Joe, has just published her book, All Things At Once. It is her story of career, motherhood and the quest for work/life balance. Though the book is not going to win a Pulitzer, it’s premise goes right to the heart of many professional women who are struggling and juggling.

Her main point is that you can BE all things at once–a mother, a wife, an invested professional–but not DO all things at once. This is great advice. Unfortunately, Mika doesn’t seem to be able to put this into practice.

She has two young children while working at an intense job at CBS and her husband works as a reporter as well. In the hand off from the sitter, Mika has a terrible fall while holding her four month old daughter. She has to to rush her unresponsive baby to the hospital. She says she fell because she was overworked, exhausted and scattered. She writes in her book that the experience was a huge priority shake up and rocked her to her core about how better to balance her life.  Strangely, it seems her resolution is, in essence, to hire a tremendous amount of help and delegate parenting tasks so that she can continue to work her more-than-full-time job.  Her identity is so completely tied up in working that a short stint at home is unbearable.

There is no question that women have a raw deal when it comes to choices about work. Men are not expected to put off, cut down hours or pause careers for their children. It isn’t fair, but who said life was fair? Kids need us. Not all day every day by any means.  Women can have meaningful, challenging careers and be totally connected to their children. It is the more than full time job, the sixty hour work week, the weekends in the office, the constant intrusion of work into home by email that get in the way of the primacy of the relationship with children. When you are trying to make decisions about your own balance, think about whether you want to model that ambition and money are more important than relationships. Think about how it would feel to hear your ten year old say that you love your Blackberry more than you love them–and mean it.

Overall, though I think the purpose of Mika’s Brzezinski’s book, All Things At Once, is to advise women to slow down, think carefully about choices, not put off marriage and having children and recognize that everything cannot be done at one time. It is really the description of her mother’s life as a parent, wife, and artist that is a healthy model of being all things but not doing all things at once.  Different areas of her life in ascendancy at different times. Even with her role model right there, Mika’s ability to prioritize seems compromised. Maybe the actual point of the book is how hard it is to do this in our culture, where workaholism, fame and money reign supreme.

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Insurance for the Hardest Unpaid Job In The World
March 18, 2010 · Posted in Fatherhood, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off on Insurance for the Hardest Unpaid Job In The World

life_insurance1ALERT! Women are still making 77 cents on the dollar! Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and the founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy has estimated that the penalty is 10% of income for every two years out of the job market, a loss that is never recouped. If a woman divorces, the Rutgers Divorce Project states, her standard of living decreases by 27% and a man’s increases by 10%. So between lower wages in general, no social security benefits for full time mothers, and divorce rates holding between 40 and 50%, what’s a woman to do?

Here’s an idea that you and your spouse can implement which takes these facts into consideration. Not romantic, but realistic and fiscally responsible planning. How about a Family Insurance Plan?  A self-made insurance policy for the mother who stays at home for a number of years. Each year you can put aside a percentage of the family income toward this safety net. We get life insurance so that our family is cared for if we die, so why wouldn’t we honor the work being done at home and protect your family financially at the same time.

Whenever this is suggested in Mother’s groups, women first get excited and then deflate- fearful about bringing this up with their husbands. Men and women alike have difficulty attaching a monetary value to being the family manager. More importantly, woman are worried that bringing this up feels like a vote of no confidence in the marriage.

On the contrary, this is a protective forward-thinking gift to the whole family. You address the financial sacrifice that women make by deciding to either decrease, or stop their work outside the home, and you protect your children from undue financial hardship. Sounds like a win-win!

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Anna Karenina’s Kid Went to Daycare
February 11, 2010 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Caregivers, Parenting, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments (1)

kramskoi-neizvestnaiaby Bethany Saltman

Ok, so it wasn’t daycare—it was a governess. And yes, I know Anna threw herself beneath a train and died, so it’s probably not going to help my cause to be comparing myself to her. But wait: Tolstoy, the original family man, believed that Anna loved her son so much that she was afraid to divorce her dull, mean husband for the fabulous (-ish) Vronsky because the kid’s life would be ruined. In the end, she was so tortured by having to choose between her son and her lover that she couldn’t take it anymore.

But Anna is no super-mom. Far from it. This is how Anna feels coming home from some lovely evening out as her son runs to greet her:

“Her son, like his father, produced on Anna a feeling akin to disappointment. Her fancy had pictured him nicer than he was in reality. She had to come down to reality in order to enjoy him as he was. But even as he was, he was charming, with his fair curls, blue eyes, and plump, shapely legs in tight-fitting stockings.”

My point is that EVEN Anna—depressed, obsessed, tragic, not exactly playing on the floor in stretchy bottoms—is portrayed by someone I respect as a loving mother. And I—nursing, feeding, playing, sure, a bit melancholy, sometimes down, but mostly pretty present, but sending Baby to J’s for home daycare 20-odd hours a week so I can teach, work, write, be alone, run, do this—feel totally guilty and shamed by the world (notice I said “feel,” not “am”—I don’t actually believe that everyone is scorning me, well, maybe a little).

The last couple of weeks I have been on break from school, and had this idea that I should not send Baby to J’s since I wasn’t technically working. For the most part she went as scheduled, but boy, did I pay for it in anguish. Turns out I worked my ass off—beating myself up is a full-time job!

This morning I dropped Baby off in my running gear, all ready for when I returned home. On the drive there I was prepping myself, wondering if I would lie if J asked me casually if I was going for a run. Would I say that I already went, embarrassed that I would do such a thing while my child in is the care of another? What kind of woman must I be?

She never asked.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, January 15, 2007.

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