Friday, January 17, 2014

The Never Ending Parenting Guilt

As adults in today’s society – and especially as parents – we are truly bombarded by the media about parenting skills: how you should feed your baby, how to know if your toddler is developing at an appropriate rate, making sure your student is ready for middle school, etc., etc. The list goes on forever.

I have been an avid consumer of all of these articles and some have offered helpful advice. In the midst of this, we see reality shows on TV that purposely exploit the habits of less-than-stellar parents to drive adults to see the other side of this equation, thus also driving TV ratings. So on one side, we have the advocates for perfect parenting and on the other, the networks that seek to shock by showcasing “bad parents.” Interesting, right?

Well, in the past 2 days, I have read 2 articles that both focus on how my habits, formed over several decades, are potentially leading to the ruin of my children’s development into mature, capable, productive members of society. Clearly, I’m not letting them manage challenges on their own without my intervention, I remind them to do things too many times, and I am too quickly trying to solve their problems. I suck, don’t I? As if I didn’t already know that I’m not perfect…

This also leads me to analyze my own childhood; I’m an only child of two wonderful and incredibly overprotective parents. They provided me with every possible advantage but they were/are clearly risk-averse, often yelled, and guided me in specific directions. Was that a bad thing? From what I can tell, I’m a fairly responsible, caring person with my share of flaws but I think I’m doing okay.

So here’s a tip for you, psychologists, TV stations, media, and others who seek to tell us all about how we may be holding our kids back: NO ONE is a perfect parent. We are all flawed and we all had parents who were flawed in one way or another which also contributed to our own parenting styles. Let us not forget that there is such disparity in the world – on a daily basis, we see “overparenting,” as well as “underparenting.” In the end, most parents that I know are doing the best they can. We are working, attending soccer games, navigating through middle school hormones, trying to grab a little time with our spouses now and then…the list goes on forever.

As far as I can tell, I’ve got 2 fairly well-rounded, healthy, happy kids. Do I tell them 50 times to be careful when they go sledding? YES! Do I yell at them when they don’t put their stuff away? Sometimes…okay, often. Do I try to help them before they ask for help when I see them struggling? Yes, sometimes. Does all of this mean that I’m creating little people who will grow up not knowing how to be self-sufficient or independent? I don’t think so. Does it mean that they will grow up having flaws? Most definitely! They will have to face the things that we all do: making friends, getting dumped by a girlfriend/boyfriend, mustering as much self-confidence as possible when they enter the job market, and, finally, becoming parents themselves. But hopefully the things that I have taught them, despite my shortcomings, will help them as they navigate the world. Now it’s time for me to go – I need to remind my 11-year old to clean his room for the 50th time.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm Bored! And other common complaints...

It's summer here in New England. It's around 90 degrees with pools and beaches on the brain. And it also signals another critical moment - the end of the school year. Today is the last day of school in our town and kids are screaming with delight. Summer? Bring it on!

I'm excited for the kids - for the swimming lessons they will take and the tennis they will play; the time with friends and hopefully some family vacation time. It's all great stuff. Until...

The words are uttered; first day home - after all the swimming, play time with friends, hour of "media time," dinner with grandparents, etc. "I'M BORED."

Really? You're bored? You mean, there are actually 10 minutes of the day that someone hasn't coordinated some perfect activity for you to do and you cannot find one thing to occupy yourself? And I won't even mention the billions of dollars we have spent on toys, books, sports equipment, you name it.

When I hear these words, I often find myself thinking back to my own childhood. I was an only child and, thus, pretty independent. I can recall playing, doing artwork, and reading. And there may have been a few occasions when I complained to my parents that I was bored. But in the end, they didn't jump up from what they were doing to come up with some amazing activity for me to do. Don't get me wrong - I was taken on awesome vacations, to amusement parks, played with friends, etc. But I had no grand expectations that someone would come up with some new and exciting activity for me if I had a spare hour in the day.

I have to admit that when my kids utter these words, I feel pressure - pressure to be some kind of Super Mom whose kids are always happy and smiling with lots of productive projects and fun time. But then I also feel like I shouldn't have to account for every moment of their days and that they need to become more independent and figure out what they can do on their own - and that doesn't involve some electronic gadget to keep them occupied. Have we done this to ourselves as parents with all of the playdates, sports and hip-hop classes? Are they wrong to expect that we will entertain them EVERY MOMENT of the day?

Our society has changed drastically in regards to parenting; in my opinion, some is for the good and some is not so good. When our parents were kids and even when we were kids, I feel as though we fit into the "fabric of the family." While there may have been extracurricular activities and sports, I feel like our parents really drove the schedule and how much we did or didn't do. These days, it seems quite the opposite - at least in our home. Everything surrounds the active and social lives of our kids.

Don't get me wrong...nothing is more important to me than my kids' wellness and happiness. But sometimes I feel that as a society, we have shifted our priorities so much that we may be doing our children a disservice by making them believe that everything is about them. What happens when they get out in the real world? Everyone talks about how the younger generation of twenty-somethings have a sense of entitlement...but can we blame them?

So what do we do? While our kids are young, we need to instill a sense of independence which sometimes means not catering to their every whim and making them understand that they have to figure it out on their own. I have a bad tendency to respond to their complaints with, "Go read a book!" or "If you don't have anything to do, I'm happy to give you something to do!" - which usually means a cleaning task. But I realize that I may need to help them start problem-solving by figuring out what their options are. They could select an art project, maybe a nature walk outside, or a toy that has been on a shelf for a while. By showing them how they can find other options, hopefully they may start to do this on their own in the future.

What do you think? How do you respond when your child says, "I'm bored!" I would love to hear your thoughts.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Time to Take Root

It's Friday morning and I'm in my living room/home office in front of my laptop with my coffee. My dog and cat are both looking at me like, "What are you doing here right now? Why are you home?" And then I panic because I feel like I'm supposed to be somewhere else. But I'm not...because I'm in my home office working but in a very different way than I have for most of my career.

I have decided to leave my well-paid, challenging, full-time job with a very desirable company to become a marketing and social media consultant. While some are "Leaning In," I am most definitely Leaning Out. If you're scratching your head wondering why, you can bet that I'm about to elaborate.

I have spent years - almost eleven to be exact - juggling schedules, cursing like a truck driver while stuck in traffic on the way to daycare, explaining to managers why I have to work from home for the day so that I can attend a school function that takes place at 11AM on a Monday morning, yelling at my kids because they want my help with homework while I'm trying to get an important project completed, etc. I could create pages of these situations that arise daily. But you get the picture.

I have also had all different work arrangements: part-time, full time with a day working from home, 4 days per week. And while some of these worked very well (like part-time), they always went away, usually because the role became bigger and more important so full-time became a necessity. I have had flexible managers and those who haven't been so flexible. A few companies were forward-thinking and others more traditional.

Lastly, I have tried all methods of childcare and organization methods. We have had babysitters, after-school care, nannies, etc. We have connected with some of these caregivers and not so much with others. In the end, the good ones always seemed to go away too soon, usually because they were moving on to other things in their lives. And we were left to start a new, frantic search for a replacement. This process always took months, involved outreach to friends, signing up on websites, etc. We always made due in the end but never without a lot of finagling. Oh, and the message boards, big post-it calendars, apps, lists, etc. that I have purchased/downloaded/written to organize our lives! I could fill a room with them (note: I should have a tag sale).

Through all of these years and situations, one feeling has remained a constant: a desire to make my life and my families' lives less "crazy." I will admit it - I have a type A personality and I yell...a lot. The more hectic my life gets, the more I feel out of control. And this has taken its toll on me and on my family.

Enter the decision to make a change...and the challenges that this brings about. I love to work - I love the work that I do. Marketing and social media are ever-changing, challenging and in great demand. So I want to keep doing what I love and to continue working with great people but I also want to create a calmer, more supportive environment for my kids and my husband.

So, here comes the next phase of my life. Earlier in this post, I called it "Leaning Out." But I don't really think I'm doing that; I'm just "Leaning In" in a different way - a way that hopefully leads to a greater sense of control while still contributing financially and continuing a great career. Years ago, I read Carol Evans' book, "This is How We Do It." It talks about how women make changes throughout their lives to support their families' needs. It's the new reality and it's here to stay. For all working families, you know exactly what this means. And you can do sometimes have to take risks and be your own advocate. But you can do it.

So there you have it. I'm a consultant, an entrepreneur. I'm filling out all kinds of paperwork for my LLC, I'm talking to clients, I'm Tweeting. And then when my kids get home from school, I'm doing homework, going to soccer practice, playing cards and walking my dog. It's the new me.

My new company is Take Root Marketing and my website will be live soon. My plan is to also blog about my experiences in establishing my new company in the hopes that it might inspire others and may also (hopefully) assist other entrepreneurs who are getting started. I will post more details when I  have them.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Get ready for change...again!

It's August. That means we're all trying to get in those last few weeks of summer to enjoy our vacations, get to any of those places we vowed we'd get to this year and ensure that our kids have fun before the back-to-school craziness begins.

For me, this August is really about panic. It seems like we are always going through some kind of scheduling and/or childcare adjustment. But this year, it's worse than ever. My son who is only 10 is going off to middle school; MIDDLE SCHOOL with 13-14 year olds who are basically about to enter high school. I was a middle school teacher so I definitely have first-hand experience. You know what's going through my mind - my sweet, little boy is going to get thrown to the wolves. And he will be taking the bus which will make it even more anxiety-provoking. On top of this mental turmoil, I will now have 2 kids in 2 different schools with  different schedules + after-school activities all while trying to manage the demands of a challenging career.

So I'm trying to figure it all out; after school programs, babysitters, working from home. You name it, I've thought of it. But the plan is not yet solidified because there are so many details to be worked out. So, yes, I'm in panic mode.

All of this leads me to a one main conclusion. As a society, we don't truly honor working families. We don't support them beyond giving some lip service to family values and flex time. We either stay home and sacrifice our desires to have challenging careers in order to be good parents or we work but know that it's frowned upon when we leave early for a soccer game or a school play. Our country is almost at the bottom of the list when it comes to maternity/paternity leave benefits - doesn't that say it all?

This is a fundamental mindset. I applaud companies like mine who are flexible and bosses like mine who are incredibly supportive. I know I am fortunate and can work through my scheduling challenges because of these factors. But this is definitely not the norm. While as a culture we have recognized small wins in this area, like companies who are family friendly and school systems that offer after school programs, this issue requires more visibility and serious policy reform. I desperately want this issue to be heard and want to get more involved to make it happen.

What do you think? Can we change things? What organizations are out there that can help? If there are any, I want to learn more about them and get involved.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Social Media and Our Kids

I am a social media marketer by trade and have spent the past 7 years engaging in social media strategy and practice, in addition to other marketing activities. Still, I am very passionate about how online communities and sharing capabilities can connect brands with customers in a way that nothing else really can. And I also enjoy the personal connections that I have been able to maintain as a result of social networking.

But I'm also a parent of a 9 year old and a 6 year old. Both use electronic devices to play games and my son is now starting to use the Internet to do online research for projects. Within a few years, I have no doubt that he will start to have interest in online communities like Facebook and others. As a responsible parent, I'm concerned about how my children will use these social networking platforms as they get older. Between the stories we hear about online predators, as well as cyber bullying, we can't help the instinct to protect our kids.

So here's an article that I read today that I really enjoyed entitled, Friend Me or Else: A Parent's View of Teens and Facebook. In this article, Catharine Taylor provides some wise advice on how parents can allow Facebook use in a responsible way. She offers up some tips like insisting that kids use avatars in place of profile pictures and ensuring that they don't publish information like what town they live in. Now, I haven't been a teen in a while (thank God) and my kids are not yet at this stage so I'm sure that these suggestions would be met with some protest. But even if you can agree to at least a few of these guidelines, you have at least sent the message to your kids that you care what happens to them online and that you plan to be involved.

So I say let them use's the way that we communicate and it's here to stay. Let them benefit and learn to use it responsibly.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

What we can learn from Steve Jobs

Today I pre-ordered my iPhone 4S. I have been anxiously awaiting the launch of the iPhone 5 but alas it appears that it will not happen for a while. And then tonight I read the news - the death of Steve Jobs. I know that I should not be surprised but I was...and saddened at the loss of someone who was a true innovator and leader.

As I read an article about his death that also detailed some of the lesser known facts about his life, something struck me. I did not realize that this man who by all accounts was brilliant, forward-thinking and driven did not take a typical path. For instance, he dropped out of college after his first year and he quit his job at Atari designing computer games to backpack through India, also indulging in mind-altering drugs. From there, he met up with the other original founders of Apple and the rest is history. But the point is that he did not follow that straight line to get there; he let his passion and drive point the way to his future and ultimately his success.

In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the commencement speech at Stanford stating:

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do," he told the Stanford grads in 2005.

"If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on."

Part of me wonders if Steve and I were buddies in a former life because this is my mantra, as well. "Don't settle." Those are words that I try to live by. Life is too short and prescious to do otherwise. But I know so many people who do settle - people who are talented, smart and have a lot to offer. It shows up in so many ways: work, personal relationships, etc. Sometimes the best things are worth taking a risk. Those risks could include accepting less money for a job that is more satisfying, walking away from a disfunctional relationship, saying NO to taking on that next project in order to fulfill personal needs...the list goes on forever.

Steve knew this and he lived it. And sadly his life has been cut short. But he didn't settle. And neither should you. Be willing to take chances and change what isn't working. The returns are so much greater than the risks in the long run.


Friday, August 19, 2011

When Working Parents Get Carried Away

I just came across an article on the Working Mother website entitled, "Sticky Situations: Toddlers in the Workplace." In this article, the writer responds to a reader question that indicates she wants to bring her toddler to work but is unsure if children are welcome. The writer responds that if the policy is that children are welcome, then it should be okay.

Here's my response: NO, it's not okay. Let's all remember why we work. Our companies have hired us to do a job that is supposed to contribute to the mission of the organization and ultimately, the bottom line. And we accepted the position because: a.) we probably require the salary and (hopefully) b.) we have chosen to have a career that challenges us. My guess is that for 99% of us, that agreement did not include the ability to bring our children to work.

Don't get me wrong...I certainly think that the workplace needs to be flexible. Without the flexible schedule that I enjoy in my workplace, I could not properly attend to my children's needs and I would never be an "unavailable" parent. And there are times that our kids are sick and we don't have childcare options; there are times when our kids are on vacation and we aren't. So I do think that having the ability to bring our children to the workplace when we don't have another choice is a nice thing.

That all being said, I believe that as we continue to lobby for flexible workplaces, job sharing options, and part time positions, we have to keep in mind that there are certain priorities. Let's focus on that flexibility while understanding that we work for companies who have responsibilities to shareholders and are focused on achieving certain revenue goals. Let's keep our "eyes on the prize" rather than pushing the limits of acceptable policies like asking to bring our kids to work. Most of us still have so far to go on the bigger issues so let's focus on those and call attention to the issues that really matter rather than getting bogged down in the "nice to haves."