While promoting my book I Love Mondays this year, a few reporters asked why I didn't say more about men helping on the home front. Why do women always have to change our behavior, they asked? One told me that I was letting husbands off the hook. Wait, what? I created a book of pragmatic strategies for working mothers that they can use right away without depending on anyone's permission or participation. Of course I believe spouses (if they are in the picture) should divvy up the grunt work, and this looks different for each couple depending on salary, schedules, and personalities. How exactly they go about this often complicated process is not the point of my book.
So it has been interesting to follow the attacks over the last week on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who is launching a "Lean In" movement that teaches women practical ways to climb the career ladder. From what I have read, the movement is based on her book of the same title, which comes out this March, and gives women advice on how to exude self-confidence and "lean into" work opportunities rather than pulling away. Immediately the backlash started--most vocal right now is Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter--insisting that Sandberg is a) too rich to be relatable to most women and b) that Sandberg's messages let companies off the hook for providing much needed family policies like flex time and family leave. According to Slaughter, Sandberg is "blaming the victim" by making women feel accountable for not getting ahead.
Let's not lump together Mayer and Sandberg just because they're both making news on work-life balance. One is contributing a potential solution to open doors for women, while the other has put into effect a policy that slams a door shut.
I understand Slaughter's point. After all, the U.S. is in dead LAST compared to other countries of similar economic development when it comes to work-family policies. We desperately need better policies. And Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! is not helping matters. This week we heard about Mayer's ban on telecommuting, which will deeply impact working mothers who need that flex time so they can continue to produce quality work while taking care of their children. If Mayer is using this ban to weed out telecommuting workers who are not productive, punishing everyone is not the way to do this. It is dreadful to me that the ban came from a smart, driven mom in the tech industry, who could have used her power for good.
So when I see the headlines today starting with "Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer," it infuriates me to see their names together. Whereas Mayer is taking a potential solution (telecommuting) off of the table, Sandberg is adding one. I haven't read Sandberg's book so I can't vouch for it, but it's hard to argue against teaching women practical skills that help us get ahead in the work world. We should also fight for more family-friendly policies in the workforce. I have no idea why these two goals are thought to be incompatible! And might I throw in that being rich hardly excludes one from being a role model that women can connect with (Um, Oprah). Plus, wouldn't we women want to hear from someone who has made it to the top? Who better than her to potentially advise the rest of us on getting our needs met at work?
So let's not lump together Mayer and Sandberg just because they're both making news on work-life balance. One is contributing a potential solution to open doors for women while the other has put into effect a policy that slams a door shut.
I LOVE MONDAYS TIP OF THE WEEK...
Two years ago, I was furious about something that a crew member did on the documentary I was making. I dashed off an email about this person's crude behavior to my producer, who I knew would feel the same. I let loose with a sea of exclamation marks and choice words, and felt significantly better when I was finished. I took a deep breath and hit send--and proceeded to send it to the crew member I'd just been bashing.
When I realized what I'd done, my jaw dropped cartoon-style, and I broke out into a sweat. I tried desperately to come up with solutions: I could tell the crew member that I'd sent this email to the wrong person; I could say I was in the midst of a flu that left me delirious; I could tell her it was all just a joke...but none of these made much sense. In the end, I had to call her and explain why I was angry while trying to undo the emotional fall-out of my ticking-bomb email. We never did really recover from that experience. I can tell you that this type of situation has never happened again. I triple-check whose name I type into the "To" field before hitting send. And if there is any thought that my email could create this kind of havoc in the wrong hands, I pick up the phone and leave no trail.
We are all susceptible to making email mistakes in our fast-moving minutes. For working moms--whose brains are overloaded with calendar dates, deadlines, requests, needs, lists, worries and ideas--it's even easier to make gaffs. There is no question we all need to slow down. But I've also learned that many of us aren't altogether sure about some basic email etiquette, so I was excited to talk recently with Barbara Pachter, an expert in business communications training, whose upcoming book is The Essentials of Business Etiquette (McGraw Hill). Barbara was kind enough to answer common questions about email manners.
Is it okay to use email to send a thank-you note?
In today’s business-casual world, an email thank-you note is acceptable. Email still doesn’t replace the personal quality of a handwritten note, but if you want the note to get to the person quickly, you need to use email.
Do I need to use a salutation?
Email doesn’t technically require a salutation, since it is in memo format. And when email first appeared, many people did not use salutations. Eventually, people started adding a salutation to appear friendlier and to soften the tone of their writings.
I received an email that clearly wasn’t intended for me. Should I let the sender know?
If the sender will be expecting a reply, you need to let that person know. One woman in a similar situation wrote: I know you’re very busy, but I don’t think you meant to send this email to me. And I wanted to let you know so you can send it to the correct person.
I need to send an email to a group of people. What would be an appropriate salutation? I have used, “Hi all,” but that sounds awkward.
You could use “Hello Everyone.” You could also just say “Hello.”
I never know at what point I no longer need to respond to someone’s email. Any suggestions?
If the person needs to know that you received the information, or the person has helped you, you need to respond. A quick “Thanks” is usually all that is needed.
Pachter & Associates is an international communications company providing group training and individual coaching in the areas of Business Etiquette, Assertive Communication, Presentation Skills, Women in Business, International Etiquette, Positive Confrontation and Business Writing. Visit www.pachter.com for more info.
On this last day of February break, I just want to say how wonderful it has been to get a much needed break from my daughter's endless math word-problems. I became an English major and journalist to get away from this sh*t and resent that these problems still haunt me. I'm just going to have to keep lying for as long as possible ("Sure I can do it, but it's important that YOU figure out how to do it.") Oh, the tears, the tears!
So the other night, while putting my 8-year-old daughter Risa to bed, she asked me, "Hey, mom. What's a bilch?"
Me: A what?
Risa: A bilch. My friend today told me that her sister keeps calling her a total bilch. What is that supposed to mean?
Me: Do you mean a bitch?
Risa: Yes! A BITCH!
Me: (sigh. stall. sigh.)
And that takes us to yet another parenting moment where we are called to actually think on our feet at the end of a long day. Why do the tough questions pop out during the nightly tuck in? Part of me wanted to say "That's not a word we use in this house" or "It's late and that's a conversation for another day..." but I also want to be the mom who my child knows will at least try to answer the tough questions. So I press on. I tell her that it's an extremely disrespectful name that some people call a female when they believe she is being mean or rude. Risa, seemingly satisfied, nodded and then proceeded to tell me about the cool barnyard owl she saw today at the nature program. Phew.
As I climbed into bed, I was dissatisfied with the over simplicity of my answer. The B-word is loaded with meanings, as we all know. "Bitch" is what women get called when they have power and aren't afraid to use it, even if it's used for good. It's what girls and women get called by others who are jealous of their looks, money, small waist or Ivy League smarts. It's what we get called when we are decisive and use clear directives rather than making our sentences sound like questions (i.e. "When I grow up, like, I think I want to possibly create a revolution and run the world?") It's what girls get called when they say no to a second date; won't help someone cheat on a test; don't share the favorite dessert they've been waiting for all day with the rest of the group. "Bitch" is pretty much a catch-all word for anyone with female parts whose behavior is getting in the way of someone else's needs...and we haven't even gotten to the verb definition yet.
In the end, it'd be easier to explain to Risa the hardcore swear words, such as the F-bomb, which may be crude, but is at least pure in its meaning.
I'm certain Risa and I will be revisiting the "bitch" conversation down the road with all its insidious complexities. It just didn't feel time yet. What do you think?
Take the vacation for real.
I remember taking a family vacation in Florida one year and agreeing to look over some work emails for the film I was making. How long could it take –— a few minutes, maybe? I’d wait until after my child was asleep and just get it done, no big deal. Except it was. I had all sorts of technical issues trying to open the attachments, my stress levels were on the rise, and I was up much later than I wanted to be on what was supposed to be a fun family trip. What the hell was I thinking? Well, it turns out that a lot of us moms stress out during family vacations and drive ourselves nuts.
A recent survey by Working Mother Magazine revealed that 75% of working moms check in at work one to two times each day while on vacation.
Given that this week is for many of us February break, my tip of the week is this: If there’s any choice in the matter, take the vacation and let go of work. The reason vacations exist in the first place is to help us replenish and unwind. It’s not healthy to go months on end without this. Says Dr. Stephanie Smith, a clinical psychologist in from Erie, Colorado: Vacations not only give us a break from the stresses of work and maintaining a household, but they “also give us perspective on how we might be placing too much importance on non-important things.” We can’t do that if we’re bringing our work with us!
Now I know for a lot of moms, it’s utterly unrealistic to take a vacation and not check in at work at all. Most moms check in with the office at least one to two times each day—and hey, if you have to in order to keep your job, then you have to. However, you can still set limits to safeguard your family time. Carol Evans, President of Working Mothers Media, advises:"It is essential that you limit the time that you are working to no more than 30 minutes a day.” This is your time to connect with your kids, and, unfortunately, you don’t get a do-over. So leave the laptop and the Blackberry safely back in the hotel safe if you're lucky enough to be traveling.
Three years ago, I made a documentary and got a call from my film producer Kerry telling me she had set up a meeting with a major production studio in LA that was interested in it. I needed to “fly across the country the following week. Was that do-able?” Um, YEAH! We discussed the details and when I hung up, I stood in my office making squeaky noises of delight and fist-pumping the air. And then I looked at my Google calendar and saw on one of the days I’d be gone “Risa’s ballet recital.” [Fist-pumping…over].
I considered asking Kerry to reschedule the meeting but knew full well that when a big-shot exec asks you to “take a meeting” about your project, you show up. So I began making to-do lists and organizing for departure. When I told my daughter Risa, then 5, that I was so sorry but wouldn’t be at the recital, she responded, “Wait, (sniff, sniff) you’re not going to be there?” [Dagger to heart.] I resorted to bribery, telling her that I would leave special gifts with Daddy for the big day, and call her before and after the performance. She perked up a little at the idea of “special gifts,” but still felt gypped.
The next week in L.A., I learned the valuable skill of how to hide knocking knees under a conference table while pitching my heart out to the studio big boys. (They ultimately said no, but I wouldn’t know until days later.) I walked out of that office feeling victorious for at least saying what I had planned without throwing up. I then bolted to a quiet spot and called Risa for all the details on the performance, and she shared in giddy delight how it felt to prance around on stage in butterfly wings, and, yes, she loved the fancy barrettes I left her! I felt equal parts guilt and relief she wasn’t mad at me.
It's not surprising that we see the world in black and white; we are highly rewarded for doing so at work, and it allows us to achieve our goals.
Flash forward to this past year, when I learned something better I could have done. While researching my book I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms, an expert suggested that I could have asked my husband to videotape the recital and then watched it with my daughter when I returned home. It never occurred to me (and I’m a filmmaker, for God’s sakes!). Risa and I could have oohed and ahhhed over her dance, and I could have asked how certain moments felt while doling out high-fives. It would have been so easy to do that.
We working moms tend to think in black and white. "I can either go to this meeting or see my daughter's ballet performance." "I can either take on car pool this week or miss my deadline." "I can volunteer at my child's afternoon Valentine's Day party or make it to staff meeting." It's not surprising that we see the world in black-and-white; we are highly rewarded for doing so at work and it allows us to meet our goals. But that’s not the skill needed for handling the tug of war between a career and motherhood.
What we need for this tug-of-war is to find “in-between options” that are “good enough” and to stop beating up on ourselves. If doing car-pool tomorrow means missing a deadline, what else can we do? Why not offer a parent a service in exchange for her taking on extra driving—like helping her with her taxes? If we can’t make the afternoon Valentine’s Day party, can we read a holiday poem to the class first thing in the morning? We working moms, who juggle not only work and kids but ailing parents, pet hamsters, friends, dying plants, and other obligations, are some of the most resourceful people in the world. We just have to slow down when it comes to work-parent dilemmas, and get more creative. Valentine’s Day has come and gone but let’s all give ourselves this decadent and lasting gift of gray.
When Kerry David and I started making Seeking Happily Ever After, a feature-length documentary that explores why there are more single 30-something women in the U.S. than ever, we had theories about why women are staying single longer and whether the trend would stick. We learned quite a bit along the way, and are often asked about our biggest take-away when it comes to love and relationships. In honor of Valentine's Day tomorrow, I'm sharing my own response.
I’m talking about the invisible walls you may have put around your heart over time without realizing it. At a certain point, just about all of us have had our heart put through a meat grinder, leaving us feeling vulnerable and wounded. It does not matter whether it was caused by a boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, parent or someone else we loved and trusted. It’s natural to put up a wall of resistance so that it won't--make that can’t--happen again. Once we get past the endless grieving—complete with baskets of wadded-up tissues, empty ice-cream cartons of Rocky Road, and a sprained ear from all the time spent calling friends—we conclude, “Well, I am not allowing myself to be that vulnerable again.”
The problem with that plan is that you can’t experience real love if there’s a wall around your heart. People can sense you being closed off right away, and read it as emotionally distant. To enjoy intimacy with another being, we need to allow ourselves to remain open. (This, of course, holds just as true if we are in a serious relationship or even married to the person). We must make an intentional choice to be courageous. Of course, we have to be mindful of whom we are opening up to; there’s no reason to do it with someone we don’t trust. But when our gut says this person is deserving, it's up to us to smash down those walls and take a chance, knowing we can survive it either way.
To read what my friends Kerry and Jacquie (the main character) had to say, visit Onely.org.
I LOVE MONDAYS TIP OF THE WEEK...
Perhaps you too are reeling from the news of yet another school-day cancellation (she grumbled from the Boston tundra, with clenched teeth, sore- shoulder syndrome, and massive creative-idea fatigue). If so, let's get swapping activities, parents, before cabin fever spikes again.
Here was my lifesaver yesterday: Fill spray bottles with massive amounts of gin and tonic...no, no, just kidding, ha ha, who would do that?! Fill spray bottles (the more, the better) with mostly water and some food coloring, and send your kids out to spray the great outdoors with snow as their canvas. In addition to entertaining the kids, the rainbow colors provide a needed break from the blinding white, which is oh so pretty for about one day.
Warning: Using just red food coloring will make it look like a gruesome murder was committed on your property (which is possible if school administrators call another snow day). Using just yellow makes it look like your yard is the communal dog potty.
Unless your kids need supervision, you can use this time to send work emails, try to meet your deadline, take a nap, or go fetal and weep because it's been four days now and enough is ENOUGH. While we adore our children, we can not be expected to bake one more batch of anything, play one more round of Yahtzee, piece together one more kitty puzzle, or sculpt snow igloos.
I came up with a new idea this morning: Throw a handful of change into the remaining snow mounds, hand my daughter and her friend shovels, and tell them to hunt for buried treasures.
Superintendent, please send us back to our regularly scheduled programming!
SNIPPET OF CONVERSATION YESTERDAY:
My friend T: So does your blog have an RSS feed?
T: You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?
Me: Of course I do.
T: What does it stand for then?
Me: Red Satin Sheets?
T: It's It stands for "Really--"
Me: Really strong sangria?
T: Really Simple--
Me: --okay, great. Thanks.
T: It's a mechanism that allows your readers to--
T: You need to find out if you have one!
Me: Will do.
T: Are you going to?
M: I have to go. My VHS tape is stuck in the VCR.
I cringed, like a whole lot of moms of only children, when I read that celebrity Elizabeth Banks of "The Hunger Games" told the staff of People magazine last month: "You don't realize how easy one is until you have two," she said. "Now I'm really a mom!" My first thought: Oh, no, you DIDN'T, Elizabeth Banks!
Days after reading that, a mom came up to me after a talk I gave about the work-parent juggle and said, "Thank you so much for saying that the juggle is hard even for parents of one child. People think I have it so easy as the mom of one. I feel like I'm not allowed to ever say it's hard."
Okay, here is the truth. In some ways it IS easier to have one child. There are less expenses for daycare, after-school activities, medical costs (probably, hopefully), saving for college, and so on. And there may indeed be less carpooling, lunches to prepare or pay for, school drop-offs, library books gone missing under the couch, and performances to attend. I have no problem admitting this is all true. Heck, it's part of why my husband and I wanted to have one child. Yes, wanted, people.
But being a parent is damn hard work regardless of the numbers of kids we have (and by the way, I don't hear parents of four saying to parents with two or three, "You have it so easy!"). A parent of one still deals with missing our child's soccer tournament due to business travel; rushing to the ER when the child sticks a raisin up his/her nose (twice); explaining at 2 AM that "the bear with the chicken beak under your bed was only a nightmare"; having heart palpitations when we can't see our child for a moment at the mall, witnessing our child get dumped over text by a first boyfriend/girlfriend, handing over the car keys when the permit is issued (gulp)...I could go on but I'm freaking myself out.
And the parents of one child I've interviewed over the past year will tell you in some ways it's harder to have one - such as Shelley R., who said, "There are no siblings to entertain an only child so we take on that role too! We're the ones playing endless board games." Leslie P. agrees: "I spent weekends practically pimping out my son because he was so social and there were no siblings to entertain him." We only parents are also labeled selfish routinely for "robbing our child of a sibling.'"
Please do not say we have it easy. It's dismissive, inaccurate, and demeaning.
The only thing worse may be saying that we are not mothers. I know Elizabeth Banks was speaking about her personal experience - that she did not feel like a mother until she had a second kid. She is allowed to feel however she feels. But when you put that sentiment out there publicly, you slam all of us parents of one, who, yes, are really parents even with just the one kid.
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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