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."


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Starbucks: So much more than just coffee

Anyone who knows me at all is aware of my Starbucks habit. Since what feels like the beginning of time - or maybe just after my kids were born - I have visited Starbucks almost on a daily basis. There were a few years when I wasn't working full time and tried to cut back on my expensive habit; during those leaner years, I may have visited a few times per week rather than daily.

Friends make fun of my little habit, relatives think I spend too much money on coffee and my husband - who I may add also has a Starbucks addiction - laughs at me. Even my children have learned that Mom often stops at my coveted cafe on the way to soccer, family outings, shopping, etc.

To this end, my daughter purchased the book Onward for me for my recent birthday. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it was written by Starbucks ceo (yes, he uses lowercase for his title) Howard Schulz and details "How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul." I just started reading it and only 25 pages in, I realized that for me, Starbucks is about way more than just coffee.

In the book, Schulz discusses that for him, Starbucks was never just about selling coffee. It was always about the experience. When you go into any of their locations and look around, you may see: professionals on their way to work, students working on research papers, Moms with their babies in tow, friends meeting up after going to the gym, the list goes on forever.

After I gave birth to Zachary and spent a year at home, it was a major adjustment, as it is for most new Moms, especially for those of us who were out in the workforce and were now at home full time. As wonderful as it was, there were times when I felt isolated and just needed to get out of the house. Going to Starbucks was a break in my day; a time when I could do something - even something small - for myself. And I always felt comfortable bringing Zach in his stroller.

Fast forward a few years and I'm back in the workforce, juggling kids and career. There is little - if any - time to slow down. I'm always racing between schools, work, back to school and managing things at home. So a daily stop at Starbucks is my small break in the day, a time to enjoy my own little tradition. And on occasion, I will grab a coworker for an afternoon coffee break or meet a friend for an after lunch latte.

Starbucks does not just represent great coffee for me; it's about a tradition, an experience that for a few minutes takes me away from all of my responsibilities and harried lifestyle. For some of us, that "tradition" or experience might be a daily run or reading the paper. Or, for commuters, it could be that half hour when you can read a book on the train. The point is that making that time for ourselves and respecting that tradition is critical for our well-being.

Thank you, Howard Schulz, for going beyond the standard coffee shop, for creating a place where people can have an experience, where they can feel comfortable and socialize while enjoying an amazing coffee treat. And go ahead, friends and relatives. Make fun of my grande non-fat latte habit...I won't be pulling out my Starbucks Gold Card for you!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Food for thought

I often hear my Mom friends complain about their kids' eating habits. One has a son who will only eat chicken nuggets - day in, day out, for lunch and dinner - chicken nuggets. Another Mom I know complains because her daughter only eats a few bites of food at every meal. Consequently, the doctor monitors the little girl's weight and they have goals like a positive weight gain of a half pound per month. Time after time, I hear similar stories.

Enter my family into the mix. We love to eat; breakfast, lunch, dinner, name it, we eat it. And none of this "few bites" business or only one type of food. My husband and I are not overweight but we're not skinny, either. Then there's Zach. The word beanpole comes to mind when I look at him yet he already cleans out my refrigerator. He's an incredibly active kid so this probably makes sense; he is always running, playing soccer, swimming, etc. Even my cat loves to eat. She is on diet cat food and can only have a quarter cup of food 2 times per day. Poor thing doesn't run too quickly these days...

And then there's my 6-year old daughter who is the real subject of this post. I think that she came out of the womb with hips. Brie is not overweight but not skinny, either. She's very tall for her age and is fairly active: soccer, swimming, gymnastics. She also loves to eat which I consider to be a good thing. And she doesn't eat junk food; in fact, none of us does. There are no chips in my house as a rule, no cake, cookies, pop tarts, soda. We eat protein and vegetables every night and I pack the kids' lunches every day to avoid the unhealthy meals served at school. And we all eat fruit daily.

Yet, with all of this, our doctor has now lectured me at our past 2 appointments about Brie being overweight. I have explained that while she is not a beanpole like Zach (who, BTW, is supposedly at the 100% for weight and is supposedly on the brink of being overweight!!!???) she eats healthy food and exercises daily. Yes, there are times when she may eat too much of something but it's usually fruit. And there are the cupcakes and ice cream at birthday parties that I feel are fine as treats. But overall, my kids are healthy and happy. So should I really obsess about the extra pounds? Should I instill in her the need to conform to a BMI chart and make her aware of the fact that she's not a skinny twig at the age of six? My answer is consistently NO.

I have been concerned about my weight since I was a young girl, as many of us are. And I would say that I still am. But I now try to focus more of my attention on leading a healthy lifestyle rather than what the scale says. Our kids - and more specifically our daughters - have many years ahead of them where they will also obsess over their looks and their weight, ideas imposed by society and their peer groups. Do we really need to start working on this when they're young kids?

Interestingly enough, when our most recent appointment was over, our doctor then proceeded to tell me that even though she and her family are vegetarians who eat tofu and vegetables all the time, none of them (including her) is thin. It's just the way that their family is. Hmmm. Food for thought, I pun intended.

Gotta go...I hear my cat meowing for her quarter cup of diet cat food...


Friday, June 17, 2011

Generations of Women

I grew up in the 1980's - at least that's when I was a teenager. And during that timeframe, I guess you could say that I was a typical teen. I wasn't overly wild and crazy but I had my moments and definitely liked to go to parties with my friends, get away with the occasional fib to my parents that generally consisted of staying out way too late and being in a few places that I probably shouldn't have been.

As a teen of the 80's, I dressed in pretty typical 80's fashion and definitely liked to shop. I went through my Madonna look-alike phase with the blond hair (I have good 80's hair even to this day) and rubber bracelets. And I had been known to don a miniskirt or two. In my 20's, I traded the Madonna clothing for more snug fitting items that showed off my then cute figure. And I spent my share of time in bars and clubs with friends.

Fast forward to 2011. Yes, I'm in my 40's and have 2 kids, a husband, a house, a career and rarely get out for a wild girl's night out. But recently, a few friends who I lived with after college and I went to Foxwoods Casino for the weekend to catch up, have some great food, and go out to a few bars. While we were there, we visited a club called Shrine. I had never heard of it but apparently it's a fairly well known locale for 20 somethings in the New England area. So, we made a reservation for dinner and then planned to stay there for dancing, drinks, etc.

After dinner was over, we went downstairs to the bar/club area. Of course we got there at about 9:30 so there was hardly anyone there yet. We sauntered up to the bar and were greeted by 3 female bartenders - of course they were young and beautiful. No surprises there. But what struck me was the dress code that consisted of a black bustier tied extremely tight so that they were overflowing along with some combination of fishnet stockings, garter belts, shorts (if you could call them that) or skin tight pants that were slung very low.

From there, the "club girls" began to enter. And every single one of them was wearing a very short dress with little underneath and 6" heels. In contrast, my friends and I were dressed in nice jeans, sandals and fitted T's or light sweaters. You can only imagine how we stood out in that crowd.

Another thing I noticed: for all of these unbelievably sexy outfits, every guy who was there looked like a "schlep" almost without exception. Jeans, flannel shirts, a few in button-downs but they were the exceptions. It left me wondering if these were just the temporary guys and that there would be some influx of Armani-clad men with great shoes and haircuts that would greet these glamorous girls. But they never arrived.

So what does all of this mean? I am not a prude by any means. I consider myself to be a very open-minded individual. But I can't help but wonder what these women are thinking when they dress like that. I am a firm believer in self confidence and looking/feeling your best. But does that mean that you have to look like a prostitute? Is it not better to leave a little to the imagination rather than letting everything hang out? And why don't the men feel compelled to dress up and look better for these women that I assume they are trying to meet?

I'm sure that my parents asked similar questions in the 80's. In their generation, men courted and were courteous of women. But things have certainly changed; women now compete with men on all levels and this shift has had an impact on how we interact with each other. But if that's the case, then shouldn't we have even more power to not give in to the sexual stereotypes? Doesn't that mean that we can use our individuality to be different? Or are we so desperate for male attention that we will use any means within our power to get it?

I don't know the answer but I think it's something we need to think about as women, especially as we try to be role models for our daughters. I personally hope that my daughter grows up to be the confident young woman I know that she can be - someone who is smart, funny, and beautiful both inside and out. And I hope that she understands that she has choices. At the end of the day, that's what it's really about to me. We have choices that earlier generations never even dreamed about. As women, it's our responsibility to take advantage of these to propel ourselves forward.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting Out of the Office

If you're like me, you're always trying to squeeze in the last few minutes before you have to race out of the office to pick up your kids. I just read this article out on the Working Mother Magazine website called, Exit Strategies: Getting Home. In the article, the author provides some tips on ensuring you leave the office on time. These include:

  • Protecting EOD time
  • Packing up your stuff in advance
  • Setting limits
I have a hard time with any and all of these. I'm always trying to get in that last email, that final finishing touch on my presentation. And heaven help me if I get stopped by a coworker as I'm racing out with my bag and coat in hand...then all bets are off and I'm racing out of the parking lot like a mad woman. I just don't know how to say "no" sometimes and then I curse at myself as I sit in traffic at 5:25 knowing that I will likely be late in picking my kids up. And that causes me immense guilt since I want to spend as much time with them as I can. And couldn't that last email have waited? Couldn't I have just told that coworker that we would have to discuss the topic tomorrow since I have to pick up my kids?

I'm reading a book called, Good Enough is the New Perfect in which the authors describe working Moms as either being in the Never Enough camp or the Good Enough camp. The idea is that for some of us, we can never find satisfaction because we are always trying to get it all done perfectly. And for others of us (I should say "you" since I unfortunately fall into the former camp), we have decided that we can't realistically do it all perfectly and have to accept that some things are "good enough" in order for us to enjoy our families and to have our sanity and happiness. I think that my obsession with getting in that last 5 minutes at work and finishing up those final conversations comes from the thought that I should be able to manage all of this and still get my kids on time.

But I can't. So I need to take advantage of those Working Mothers' tips listed above. I need to shut down my computer at 4:40 to ensure I can get out the door on time. I need to say that I can't stay for another 5 minutes to discuss that topic. These things would be a step in the right direction. So tomorrow, I'm going to try to be Good Enough and get out the door when I need to. I'm vowing to get in my car on time and pick up my kids well in advance of school closing. That last email will have to wait.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Leaning In: A Message from the COO of Facebook

If you have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I recommend reading the transcript from Sheryl Sandberg's commencement speech at Barnard College this week. During her address, Sheryl voiced her hope for the upcoming generation of female graduates to further the cause of women. She states that as far as women have come since our mothers' generation, we still see the inequality that women deal with, especially in the workplace. Although women make up at least 50% of college graduates, we are still in the minority when it comes to holding leadership positions within corporate America. No big surprises there; this is something that we have all realized by now. Sheryl encourages women to "lean in" - to think big about our careers and our contributions, to have confidence in our abilities.

But what I really identified with is this statement:

"Of course not everyone wants to jump into the workforce and rise to the top. Life is going to bring many twists and turns, and each of us, each of you, have to forge your own path. I have deep respect for my friends who make different choices than I do, who choose the really hard job of raising children full time, who choose to go part time, or who choose to pursue more nontraditional goals. These are choices that you may make some day, and these are fine choices.

But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make. Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this: Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually."

This is very insightful and so true. As women in the workforce who are mothers or mothers-to-be, it tends to be a slow process - this "leaning out." I am always struck by the fact that men who are fathers don't generally make these kinds of choices; they are mainly "leaning in," doing whatever they can to further their careers. And I say this with all respect, especially being married to a devoted, engaged father who spends as many non-working moments with his family as possible. But there truly is a difference. As women, it seems like we are conditioned to think about the future of our families - how our demanding careers may take their toll on our children, on our work-life balance. And some of us make adjustments based upon this conditioning - the less demanding job, part-time hours, working closer to home. Men don't seem to think this way which really proves that as far as we have come, the concept of women owning the job of "family" is still pervasive in our society.

Will it ever change? I think back to my childhood and then think about most of the families I know these days. Things have definitely progressed; I know Dads who have playdates with other Dads, many men who understand that they have to share the burden of days off from work to care for sick children and many Dads who attend their kids' school performances along with their wives. This is a big improvement from the families of the 1970's. So maybe there is hope; wouldn't it be great if we could all "lean in"? That would also mean that corporate America needs to catch on that we're not living in the 1970's anymore...but that's a whole other post.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hello Mommy Dearest

8:00AM: toughest point in my day. Trying to get the kids organized and off to school as my cell phone rings requires masterful multitasking. I answer the cell phone and it's call that I need to take. My dear children are standing in the kitchen, backpacks settled and ready to go. And then it happens...Zach decides he's thirsty and pulls out the milk. He spills it down his shirt as I try to wrap up my conversation. And then Brielle MUST have milk, too.

I get off the phone, letting the kids know that it's not time to be drinking milk but time to go. Okay - not so bad. Then, I get all of our stuff - usually about 6 bags total that I'm toting, pushing, carrying - into the car along with the kids. Whew...ready to roll. BUT, Zach has milk all over his mouth (yes, it bugs me) and as he starts to laugh, the gross milk and saliva mixture dribbles down his shirt. That's it...I'm done. Stick a fork in me and let me go. I slam the door, run into the house to get a paper towel, run back out to the car and let him have it. I'm screaming at him about taking care of himself and his appearance and wiping his face and shirt down. Needless to say, this was not one of my finer moments of motherhood.

Zach is quiet on the way to school - and Zach is never quiet. Only when he's upset. And then the guilt begins to settle in and I feel horrible. So I apologized profusely, give him hugs, walk him into school. I get back into the car and want to curl up on my bed as thoughts of Mommy Dearest run through my head. "No more wire hangers! And no more milk all over your face!"

Ridiculous, I know. This comes from the controlling part of my personality which unfortunately rares its ugly head at times when I'm stressed...and other times, according to my husband. On my way to work, I tried to call my husband and finally got him on the phone. The interesting thing is that I told him the story and wanted him to absolve me of my bad behavior. He wouldn't which is probably a good thing because I don't deserve to be absolved. But I do deserve forgiveness, I think. I'm human, as all of us Moms are.

When I came home tonight, Zach was there waiting for me and told me all about his day. So I can live through yet another "less than perfect" Mom moment and hope that tomorrow is better. I can only hope.