Smart Women Speak: On Going Back To Work

May 15, 2017

This is my friend Kelly. Kelly is a hard working nurse practitioner living the farm life with her husband and two children in Eastern PA. She is smart, kind, and always makes the best book club drinks.

Q: What is something you’d say to a new mom leaving their baby for the first time to go back to work?

A: The first thing I would say is: it will get easier and it never gets easier. Leaving a baby for a career outside the home is tough. It takes commitment. It takes help from a lot of people. Give yourself grace as you adjust to being a new mother, learning a new normal, and finding a new routine.

When I had my first baby, I didn’t make it easy for myself. I chose to go back to work full time at a brand new job in an entirely different role as an nurse practitioner. I wanted to quit almost every day. However, I vowed to make it 6 months, and with the help of some really great people in my life, I did. 3 1/2 years later I’m still working in that position and I just transitioned back to work after my second baby.

I still struggle with feelings of guilt for being away from my babies. That part never gets easier. However, I know they are loved so much when I’m away by their grandmas and I can love them more when I am home. That’s the sacrifice I’m choosing to make right now for them.

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This is Emily. Emily is a military ER doctor who recently returned from a 6 month deployment to Afghanistan. She is one of the bravest people I know.

Q: What would you say to a new mother who is about to spend a lot of time apart from their child to go back to work?

A: Leaving your baby for the day to go back to work feels like an impossible thing to do. Leaving your baby for six months to deploy to Afghanistan feels like it might actually kill you. I know. I’ve done both. The two practices that have served me best as a working mom are gratitude and perspective. A dear friend gifted me a gratitude journal while I was in Afghanistan, instructing me to find one thing to be thankful for, every day. It was hard. Some days, the only thing I could find to be thankful for was that the day was over, meaning I was one day closer to going home. Other days, practicing gratitude shed light on just how great I had it, even though I was 8000 miles away from my family, watching my baby grow up over FaceTime. I had my health and all four of my limbs. I had a family to miss. I would be going home eventually. These were luxuries not afforded to everyone. My time in Afghanistan has shone perspective on all of life since. Once you’ve survived six months away from your baby, an 8-hour shift in the ER is no big deal. It’s still not nothing. It still hurts to miss milestones and firsts. It still destroys you to see the disappointment on their faces when they see you in your uniform and know you have to go to work. No amount of perspective makes being away from your baby ever feel totally okay. For me, knowing I’ll be home in a few hours—instead of in a few months—takes a little of the sting out of it. It still hurts, but you wear that hurt like a badge of honor, as proof that you love your babies well.

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This is my sister Kelly. Kelly has a lot of different roles in life that are wonderful and noteworthy (wife, mother, professional, friend), but if I had to choose my favorite it would be: Life Of The Party. Which is why I chose this photo of her soaring like an eagle instead of something beautiful and posed that she would probably prefer. Funniest person I know.

Q: What is something you’d say to a new mom leaving their baby for the first time to go back to work?

A: I almost turned around. How could I possibly leave the baby I just met with someone else for 40 hours a week? It seemed unthinkable. The fear of having to leave my son at daycare started months before he was born. I knew I’d have a short six weeks with him to learn how to be his mom, learn how to be awake during the day after being awake all night, learn how to deal with postpartum hormones in public, and learn how to walk up and down a flight of stairs without wincing. It was overwhelming. It was hard. In my case, it was unavoidable.

Things to remember: It’s harder for mama than it is for baby (baby won’t remember; they don’t even know where their hand is). Don’t focus on the 40 hours away. Focus on the weeknight cuddles and those blissful 48 weekend hours. Focus on how you’re supporting your family and how it’s okay if that means being away from your baby during the day.

It will get better. It will get better. It will get better.

I treat my daycare provider as a third parent. She’s there all week to help me raise my baby. It’s takes a village and I am so grateful for that.

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Smart Women Speak: On Sexism In The Workplace

May 9, 2017

This is my friend Liza. Liza is an animal welfare activist and Capitol Hill professional in Washington D.C. She is also one of my oldest and dearest friends. If I had to describe her in one sentence, I would just steal it from Tina Fey. “She could go to a party and get a number from a wreath.”

Q: What would you say to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: Grow thick skin. Find yourself mentors. If you’re in a room full of men and women equals, don’t take on the role of getting everyone water or making copies. That’s not your job. Don’t take on the assistant role unless you’re an actual assistant. If someone makes a sexist comment as a “joke,” put on your best poker face and move on. Most of all, lift other women up. Sometimes we can be just as harmful to each other, and the best way to to change other people’s bad behavior is to model the better way ourselves.

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This is Bekah. For the past seven years she has worked in a cultural institution in Germany. From Bekah–> “Work in the cultural field tends to be more female dominated, however, all too often it consists of female staff with male dominated positions of power. I experienced structural and cultural sexism on a near-daily basis: unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments, degrading expectations, and devaluation of work.”

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: First decide what causes are worth fighting for. Outrage for every slight is exhausting. Spend time thinking about what is worth the emotional fight. For example, I decided that getting worked up every day because women were often stuck doing “housework” jobs like unloading the dishwasher in the staff kitchen was too much to fret about. If I was bothered by the state of the kitchen and chose to do something about it, that was my choice. On the other hand, I refused to let my ideas and contributions be commandeered by male co-workers in meetings. Thoughtful consideration of the causes worth going to bat for saved me from expending too much emotional energy on the subject and put me in control – I proceeded more thoughtfully and powerfully when I moved away from giving the same weight to all forms of inequality in the workplace.

Second, find your allies and stick up for your sister friends. There is power in numbers and in knowing that someone has got your back. Finding other like-minded people in my workplace (both male and female) empowered me to take action when necessary and appropriate.

And finally, change your changeables. Sometimes the greatest thing you can hope to change is the future. Live as an example of a strong, equal worker and those who are open and learning will see and accept. I worked with many interns in my job and saw that as an area in which I could influence job assignments and create a culture of workplace equality. We are the hope for the future.

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This is Betsy. Betsy is a hard working feminist living in Eastern PA. She has faced gender discrimination and sexual advances by two different managers in her career in the last decade. 

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman facing sexism in the workplace?

A: Always walk into the room projecting confidence and operating under the assumption that you’re (at least) equal to every other person. Always try to address sexism, big or small, directly with the person in private. Sometimes people are clueless, so try to teach. If that doesn’t work or it’s not safe, be brave and report it. The next woman might not be as strong. Don’t let anyone tell you to lighten up or get a sense of humor. It ain’t funny. Find a mentor you trust, male or female. The only way to change the culture is by being part of the change. Trust yourself. I’m lucky, I was raised by a career Marine.

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Five Weekend Links

May 4, 2017

 

1) In love with this little fox from Little Giraffe. So many of my friends have their Luxe blankets but I didn’t realize they made stuffed animals too! Softest, sweetest friend for my little fox cub. Making it our sole crib lovey. Thank you for sending it, friends! Would make a great baby shower gift.

2) Let’s All Stop Apologizing for the Delayed Response in Our Emails (bless)

3) A story sent from one of my readers (incredible)

4) Your Social Media Identity Crisis (made me laugh).

5) An FYI for anyone else who only shops online–> Shop Green is giving away an Amazon Gift Card (A group for finding great deals and brands for fair trade, eco-friendly, and socially conscious products) + Sale Rack will be doing a giveaway soon as well!

Have a great weekend!

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Smart Women Speak: On Drowning In The Tiny Years

May 3, 2017

This is Danielle. Danielle is a smart, funny mother of three who also happens to be my kid’s preschool teacher. The first time I met her, I was handing over my screaming firstborn while she patiently waited for me to excuse myself. If I had to describe her in three words they would be: Champion Of Women.

Q: What would you say to a mom of young kids who is drowning in the tiny years?

A: I would say to be clear on your parenting end game and to be yourself. In those early years, it’s so easy to lose ourselves as women. It’s easy to use all the examples of motherhood in the media, many of which are highly sanitized, and to feel pressured to “measure up.” We can be easily consumed by the expectation that we must be enjoying all of parenting and that our children must be eternally happy. That benchmark is both unrealistic and ambiguous to me. Instead, ask yourself what you hope for your child to learn from your example. What traits will they need to build their own meaningful, happy lives rather than expecting to find meaning and happiness extrinsically? Me? I want my children to see me as their mom but also a woman who is always learning, who has her own ideas, talents, relationships, and interests. I intentionally pursue a life beyond them to both nourish myself and to show them how to someday do the same for themselves. I hope my children to be kind, curious, balanced, brave, productive, and resilient. The people I know who possess these traits have all overcome obstacles in life. Every time my children are about to face disappointment or challenge, I remind myself that facing the pain of life also brings learning opportunities. I would also remind young moms that parenting isn’t hard because you’re doing it wrong. It’s just freaking hard. Those moms ahead of you that seemed to have survived the early years relatively unscathed? Look to them and trust you’ll be there too. They aren’t special or different; just further along on the path. They aren’t likely wholly unscathed either. Nor will you be. All meaningful things change us. But they’ve survived and grown. You will too. 

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This is Virginia. Virginia is a single mother to six and a second mother to many (including me). She is also the most generous person I know. Around her 50th birthday, she started what she calls a “metamorphosis,” which included a lot of self discovery and subsequently losing a lot of weight. Virginia is beautiful at any size, but her recent change made these pictures very fun to take. She hadn’t had her picture taken in over 30 years!

Q: What would you say to a mother of young children who is hitting rock bottom and struggling to care for both herself and her family?

A: After the divorce, I suddenly found myself in unfamiliar territory being a single mom to 6 children. It would be an understatement to say I felt overwhelmed, scared, inadequate and alone. Things to remember: You are not alone. Lean on family and friends. Find other moms in the same stage of life as well as moms who have been through it, and set up a support system for yourself. Also be a support system for someone else. Make meals, swap childcare, be a listening ear. Remind yourself that you’re human and doing the best you can. And make time for you. It may be small things like taking a hot bath after bedtime, reading a book you’ve been trying to finish, or just talking to a friend on the phone. Trust me, it’s not selfish–it’s necessary and life saving (for the kids too).

We only have our children in that dependent phase for a very short period of time, and I promise you will not regret one moment. Even the bad experiences are valuable life lessons. How we see ourselves is how our children will see us, so let them see the real you. Let them see you being kind, loving, giving, and accepting of others, but also as a person who gets frustrated, angry, sad and tired. It’s okay if they see a mom who doesn’t feel like making dinner or cleaning. That’s real.

There is no perfect way to be a mother. Remember every day is a clean slate, and when you know better–do better. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness are key. You are doing great!

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This is Kim. Kim is mother of three and one of my favorite people I’ve never actually met in real life. With this series I wanted to talk to moms with older children who have already been in the trenches, and whenever Kim gives practical parenting tips, I think: Yes, yes. Everything yes.

Q: What would you say to a mom of young kids who is drowning in the tiny years?

A: I can tell you when I started to enjoy it, but I think those ages vary with every kid and everyone’s (including mom and dad’s) temperament. Zoloft and now Wellbutrin helped me immensely. Perspective shows me that I worried a lot about things I didn’t need to. A three-year-old’s temper/attitude/aversion to tags/socks/anything not orange is not the end of the world in the bigger picture. One on one time with each kid is crucial (and a lot of fun). A couple years ago I started Mama Monday (date night with one kid at a time) and it’s my favorite night of the week. One on one time with your spouse is also important. Sometimes we need reminders as to why we married them, and our husbands are the only ones who REALLY get our kids like we do. You’ve got to stay on the same team, especially when the numbers are not in your favor. I know tough schedules can be a problem, so you may have to get creative. We used to have date night scheduled every Friday. We would put the kids to bed and then have dinner and a movie at home together. And of course, and most importantly, make one on one time with yourself. Missing your kids feels so good. Once a week we each have our own night to do what we please, no questions asked, no excuses.

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Smart Women Speak: On Career & Motherhood

May 2, 2017

Photo by Chris Keels

This is my friend Candis. Candis is the founder, owner, and creator of The Jones MarketShe is also one of the warmest and kindest people I’ve ever known.

Q: What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to pursue both a fulfilling creative career and motherhood?

A: I would ask them to define what fulfilling means to them. I would tell them that there is nothing on this earth worth having that doesn’t come with sacrifice. Decide what fulfilling is and then decide what things you are willing to sacrifice to get there. If you know what those things are you will see your goals, you will be able to reassure yourself why you are giving up things. I was willing to sacrifice sleep, personal time, home cooked meals, a clean house and time with friends to pursue my creative career alongside motherhood. I was not willing to sacrifice being home with them in their formative years until their Dad could quit his job and be home with them. So I worked late late nights and weekends and every time my body felt frail and sick from the lack of sleep and self care, every time I felt like giving up I reminded myself of what fulfilling means to me and what I was willing to sacrifice. And I carried on.

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This is my friend Carrie. Carrie is a writer, director, and student at Studio 4 in NYC. Currently she is writing a film with James Franco. She is also one of my best friends. When I’m with her, I feel known and understood. I also probably feel a little sick, because she is constantly forcing me to do things I never would have done otherwise.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to be a full time mother while also pursuing a career in the arts?

A: You can do it! You don’t have time or energy to do the things you think you should anymore – so just do what brings you life, what burns in your gut, no matter what others think. And prioritize. Cut out anything and everything that you don’t need or really really want. Your family, your passion, your spiritual life – those come first – those are what you and the rest of the world need you to focus on. We don’t need more people out there just floating along trying to look like they have it together, we need people with drive, with hope, and honest pursuit. We need people who are a total hot mess of life. We need people to wake us up, stir us, show us a broken stereotype that we are also capable of. I have so many people shocked that I’m both a mother of a toddler (and pregnant) and pursuing my crazy dreams. Many people love it, others don’t get it. Stand up for yourself. You have a backbone! You know what you want, who you are, who you love, what’s important – so just go for it. I’m not saying risk everything all the time – but know when risk is okay and take it. Even if other people don’t understand why- they don’t need to! Also: help other women. Do kid swaps or give script feedback, tell everyone about their art show or text them with encouragement. And stay determined. Rest when you need to but don’t you dare let go when you find something that sets you on fire. We all need to see it!

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This is Bethany. Bethany is one of those people who does a little bit of everything with great joy. The first time I met her I thought: please calm down. Now she’s one of my closest friends. Our shared interests include not making dinner and ordering complicated appetizers.

Q: What is something you’d tell someone who just left their career to stay home with their children?

A: Our society places value on the work that we do; all of our different jobs have literal and cultural capital. Being a stay home mom doesn’t rank high on either front. Let’s face it, there’s very little that’s sexy about staying home to care for kids. When I made the choice to leave my full time teaching career to stay home, I was pretty worried about how others would perceive me. For example: What will I contribute to dinner party conversations? Will I become…boring?

Listen, your work isn’t what makes you an interesting or engaging person. I had to stop telling myself my life had become boring. It hadn’t. Every day I have an opportunity to pay attention to the world and to my kids. Engage in it all. Be curious. Listen to podcasts. Pick up side hustles (I’ve done everything from cleaning houses to working in food trucks to teaching evening classes) and begin to see them as ways to learn about people and other types of work.
Staying home with my children has been hard and trying yet ultimately meaningful. It is a privilege to have the choice to do so and I’m learning to see this all as an opportunity to love and to learn.

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