4 Women Who Are Redefining the Concept of “Working Mother”

In her speech introducing her husband at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama told the audience that, during her first term as First Lady, her most important title was “mom-in-chief.” This statement was met with extended applause.

I love Michelle Obama. I love the causes she stands for, from fighting against childhood obesity to supporting women’s rights abroad to addressing poverty. When I go for runs around DC, I often jog past the White House and imagine Michelle Obama doing 50 push-ups and then rewarding herself with a homemade bowl of lobster mac and cheese, and this image inspires me for another two miles. I simply adore her. There’s no question that Michelle Obama’s work is a significant force in the fight for equality.

I know that Mrs. Obama loves and cares about her family, but her nod to “mom-in-chief” is a familiar move, one I’ve found myself making. Many successful professional women feel constantly inclined to say, “but of course my kids come first” or “first and foremost, I’m a mother.” When you look at the Twitter profiles of some of the world’s most successful women, their bio often follows this formula “I’m a mother, a wife, and also a [insert incredible, globally significant accomplishment and title here].”

Listen, being a mother is an important (and difficult) job. At this very moment, I am listening to Elmo sing a song about tricycles for the fourth time in three days. This morning my son walked into the kitchen with a box of tampons and demanded to know their purpose. And there are times, particularly when I’m reading Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site for the fourth consecutive time, when the gravity of my maternal responsibilities—the fact that I am responsible for turning this person into a productive member of society who will raise a family of his own—consumes me. Being a parent makes you learn about yourself and your morals and your definition of success and happiness.

But my role as a mother is not always my most important role. And certainly saying that other roles and responsibilities are important does not diminish the importance of parenting. Unfortunately, many working parents—both mothers and fathers—feel inclined to constantly qualify their accomplishments, saying that, of course, nothing is as satisfying or rewarding as being a parent. Sure, my Saturday mornings with my son are much more enjoyable and rewarding than a four-hour conference call. But a brand workshop with a client I love that leads to a creative breakthrough? Hands-down more satisfying than pushing my son on the swing. And that doesn’t make me a bad mom.

 

Keep reading on The Muse.

4 Ways Even the Busiest People Can Be More Mindful

It was Thursday evening at 6:30, the second hour of the period of time that many working parents begrudgingly refer to as “the grind:” the three or four chaotic hours between our arrival home from work and bedtime, in which we must make dinner, eat dinner, and relish our limited time with our children before bathing them, wrangling them into their pajamas, reading umpteen bedtime stories, putting them to bed, and preparing for tomorrow morning.

As usual, my body was performing a number of tasks while my mind was churning through dozens more. I was cooking dinner, talking to my husband about his workday, playing with my two-year-old son, and mentally writing a list of all the things I needed to do before I turned in for the night.

Part of me became aware of my son’s voice, “Look, Mama! Look, Mama! Look, Mama!” above the whistling of a kettle (I am perpetually boiling water for coffee). In one swift motion I closed the dishwasher I’d just finished loading, turned off the kettle, and crouched down to attend to whatever my son was trying to show me.

“Look, Mama!” he repeated. My vision was suddenly obscured by the wings of a stinkbug. He thrust the dead bug into my face, so close that I could see the speckled details of its wings, the tiger stripes of its antenna. Behind it, my son’s perfect dimpled knuckles were smeared with paint from his daily crafts, and behind his hand, his eyes surged with wonder. In this moment, he was intently focused on a single effort: showing me a fascinating thing he had discovered.

Read more. 

Happy Galentine’s Day!

galentines day 3

Galentine’s Day is a holiday made-up by fictional character Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler’s character in Parks and Recreation) that I celebrate in real life.

In the first season of Parks and Recreation, Leslie announces that she celebrates the women in her life on the day before Valentine’s Day every year. Since then, many women have followed suit, and now more than ever we need a nationally-recognized day to celebrate the amazing things that women are accomplishing.

So in the spirit of Galentine’s Day, I’d like to recognize (and recommend) a number of fellow female writers who are close to my heart. Read them. Love them. Celebrate them. Share them on Twitter.

dawn lonsinger

Dawn is a poet, an essayist, and a teacher. She held my hand through two cold, icy years of graduate school, and she once told me, in an anesthesia-pain-killer-fog as I was driving her home after she had her wisdom teeth removed, that her tongue is like an animal. Beautiful and accurate.

All of the contributors to Women’s Media Center.

Women’s Media Center is a non-profit progressive media organization that “works with the media to ensure that women’s stories are told and women’s voices are heard.” Their blog explores how women are (or aren’t) represented in the media industry, from Hollywood to the sports media industry to the advertising industry. It’s an incredibly powerful collection of thought leadership.

Shoko Wanger (and her Non-Career Advice) 

Shoko is a freelance writer living in NYC (and long-time family friend) that authors the brilliant and generous blog Sho & Tell. Her Non-Career Advice series is a collection of advice from a variety of people in a variety of occupations that has nothing to do with career-building or making money. Women are seldom offered advice that’s not beauty or career related, so Shoko’s series is refreshing.

Carol Gilligan

I’ve never met Dr. Gilligan but her work inspired my undergraduate thesis and sparked my interest in feminist theory. We were, however, once in the same line for the ladies’ room during a conference and I shakily told her that she could go ahead of me because “I didn’t really need to go that bad,” which I hope conveyed that she was my idol and that I attribute most of my success as a writer, mother, and thinker to her. Go read all of her books. 

Hey, Professional Women, Replace Your New Years’ Resolutions with These

new-year-586148_640We’re nearing the end of January, the time when most people stop pretending that they’ll actually stick to their New Year’s Resolutions. What was on your list this year? If you’re like most women (this one included), your list includes some variation of these every year: eat more salad and less carbs, organize more and buy less, exercise more and watch less TV.

But these aren’t really resolutions–they’re just things we need to be working on all the time. They’re a given. This year, instead of abandoning the same tired goals, resolve to make meaningful changes in your professional life. Start with these:

Ask for more money. Stop giving ranges.

I’ve hired a lot of people over the past eight years, and I’m always perplexed by (1) the tendency of women to give salary “ranges” instead of salary requirements and (2) the tendency of women to low-ball themselves, and then later regret it. If you want to make $100k, ask for $115k (at least!), and if you want to make $75k, don’t say “My range is $65-75k,” because, in that case, you’ll be getting an offer for $65k.

Break free from the “busy addiction.”

I wrote about this in my recent article for The Muse. Too many of us are creating a sense of constant burn out and overwhelm because we’re obsessed with seeming (and feeling) busy. To begin to change your mental habits and start implementing real change in your life, follow this simple tip I learned from my friend Sumi Krishnan (Executive Coach for entrepreneurs): At the end of your workday, ask yourself “What are two things could I have had someone else do today?” Tomorrow, delegate those tasks.

If you can’t read more, read better.

Every time I see a fully grown woman reading The Hunger Gamesa tiny part of me dies. There’s nothing wrong with reading light novels for pleasure, but there are millions of engaging, funny, enjoyable books out there that are truly better than books written for young adult fiction. Few of us can make as much time as we’d like to read, so, please, choose wisely. Here are some examples. 

Expand Your Definition of “Me Time.”

There’s an alarming cultural consensus that “me time” for women should exclusively include spa days, shopping, or self-beautifying. Women seem to have this mantra ingrained into their minds: “If you look good, you feel good. And that’s good for the whole family.” The implied statement, then, is: “If you don’t look good, you won’t feel good. And your family will suffer.” This isn’t true. I enjoy a good mani/pedi as much as the next gal, but I refuse to let our culture’s obsession with beauty guilt-trip me into thinking that I need to spend my free time tweezing and waxing. “Me time” should include intellectual endeavors, meditating, time with friends, or just sitting around watching horrible television. Make time for what makes you feel good, not just look good, whatever that might be.

4 Ways to Break Free from Feeling “Too Busy”

America began to acknowledge its cultural obsession with “busyness” a few years ago, when Tim Kreider wrote the now legendary piece “The Busy Trap” for theNew York Times. Nearly three years later, while our culture certainly hasn’t changed, an admitted addiction to busyness has at least transitioned from groundbreaking journalism to mainstream conversations.

While I fall into the category of people who are typically the biggest busy-worshippers (a working mom, educated, middle class), I always assumed that I wasn’t a part of the crowd. I write about media and culture and parenthood, for goodness sake! Surely, I couldn’t blindly succumb to a cultural trend.

But then, over the holidays, when my great-aunt asked me how I’d been doing, the words, “Good—but so busy! Crazy busy!” sprung forth from my mouth, and I realized that I’m just a drone impersonating a self-aware person.

Keep reading on The Muse. 

How to Explain Your Job to Virtually Anyone You’ll See This Month

’Tis the season for awkward conversations with people you haven’t seen in a year. And while it’s impossible to predict the array of inappropriate questions you’ll receive during the uncomfortable, crowded holiday gatherings you’ll be required to attend, one inquiry you’ll hear at least a few times is, “So, what do you do again?”

3 Work-Life Balance Lessons I Learned from Men

For many career-loving parents, the holidays come as a welcome reprieve: a chance to enjoy a few slow weeks at work, unwind with the kiddos, and stuff their faces full of seasonal treats. Many parents look forward to the holidays.

But not me. And it’s not because I don’t love my family. It’s because—and there’s really no nice way to say this—I suck at the holidays. My weaknesses as a parent and a professional woman seem to become more pronounced when combined with the smell of a newly cut Christmas tree or a freshly baked pie. I over-plan, over-commit, and shop at the last minute. I worry about work when I’m at home and worry about home when I’m at work. I essentially spend the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years looking (and feeling) like a tightly wound ball of tinsel.

This year, though, I’m determined to handle things differently. My son will turn two just a few weeks before Christmas, and, unlike the past two years, he’ll actually understand what all those presents under the tree mean. I want to enjoy the holiday, not plow through it.

I’ve also come to realize that the stress I—and many other working moms—feel over the holidays is essentially just a concentrated version of the work-life balance challenges we struggle with all year. It’s as if the holidays are a final exam, an end-of-the-year evaluation of your ability to be both a mom and productive employee.

My go-to move for guidance is to poll my extensive network of like-minded career-loving moms. But, after spending a few minutes studying my husband’s placid expression as he perused our crowded—unmanageable!—list of holiday commitments, I decided that I needed to speak to some working dads. What are they doing that I’m not?

Here’s what I learned.