Archive: May 2006

Couric, Vargas, Us? We're No Different

Newscaster Elizabeth Vargas enjoyed brief poster-girl-for-working-moms status when she became the ABC World News Tonight co-anchor alongside Bob Woodruff (four children) earlier this year. Weeks into the limelight, Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq; in January, Vargas announced she was pregant with her second child (she has a three-year-old son and two stepchildren). Along the way, the queen of TV working moms, Katie Couric (two children), decided to leave The Today Show (watch pieces of her last appearance this morning.) to anchor the CBS Evening News starting this fall. Note the good news: Most potential replacements for Katie's chair were working mothers -- Soledad O'Brien (four children), Natalie Morales (one child) and Ann Curry (two children). Meredith Vieira (three children), who was accused of abandoning her career when she left a coveted 60 Minutes job after her first child was born (see Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh for the back...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 31, 2006; 7:12 AM ET | Comments (80)

Guest Blog: Building a Stepfamily

Welcome to the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. Stepfamily Balancing Act by Anne Burt, the editor of My Father Married Your Mother: Writers Talk about Stepparents, Stepchildren, and Everyone in Between (including an essay by me). Anne's essays and fiction have appeared on NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Talk of the Nation" and in Salon, Working Mother, and The Christian Science Monitor. Anne lives with her husband, daughter and stepdaughter in Montclair, N.J. My second husband and I both have six-year-old girls. Just a few months ago, I returned to work full time. My new job (which brings in the health insurance...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 30, 2006; 9:00 AM ET | Comments (133)

Friday Free-For-All: Best Mom Advice Books

My name has gotten on some publisher's mailing list, so in the past three months I've received the following deluge of motherhood self-help books: Motherstyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths; How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Home Moms; The Working Gal's Guide to Babyville; and Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids. Clearly, the book industry has caught on to moms' angst. I'm just not sure if reading self-help books will actually help. My all-time favorites -- although not technically self-help or parenting books -- are Anne Lamott's diary of her son's first year, Operating Instructions, because she showed me how joyful, difficult and hilarious motherhood can be; and Dr. Anna Fels' Necessary Dreams, because it elightened me about how normal it is for women, myself included, to be conflicted about our ambitions. What do you think?...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 26, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The End of Motherhood?

A reporter for German Public Radio recently asked me a startling question: If the U.S. is so inhospitable to working moms, and European countries offer long maternity leaves, job security, and child-care stipends, why are American women having so many babies when European women are not? Turns out the "total fertility rate" or TFR in Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and Russia is far lower than the 2.0 TFR needed to replace the population, according to an article in Newsweek's May 29 issue. In the U.S. the TFR is 2.1 children for every woman. According to an article this past Sunday in The Washington Post, the birthrate is even higher in parts of Utah, Texas and even Loudoun County just outside Washington, D.C. (and doubtless in other pockets throughout the U.S.) I have two answers. First, motherhood is not a rational business. Most of us don't decide to have children because...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 25, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Lies Moms Tell

Parenting magazine just published a survey of 1,800 moms and the lies we tell. Turns out we lie most to our kids (89%), our husbands (87%) and our friends (72%). I'm stunned that "employers and co-workers" didn't make the cut. What do moms lie about? With husbands, seems we lie most about money (45%). Sex is a close second. With our kids, women say little white lies are a necessary evil (53%) and that the truth would just upset them. We lie to our friends about our husbands (36%), their husbands (18%) and their kids (33%). I'm trying to figure out if I lie, too. I don't to my kids -- even when it comes to my first marriage, the facts of life, and other difficult subjects. My husband? I don't lie to him, but I do omit a few things (price tags come to mind). My friends? What good...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 24, 2006; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Guest Blog -- Worst Mother Ever

Welcome to a new feature on On Balance, the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday, I'll feature the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. Worst Mother Ever By Lauri Githens Hatch, mother of five and staff writer at The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. We met when she wrote a review of Mommy Wars for her newspaper. Over most of my ten years of single motherhood, memory conveniently draws a veil. But, since we're dispensing with all that I-hand-ground-his-food-for-six-months sanctimony, I offer this: I'd been the single mom of a 2-year-old boy for all of six weeks --- the same amount of time I'd been in my first newspaper reporting job at the Buffalo...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 23, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (155)

A Man and His Shed

My favorite dialogue from "Lizzie McGuire," the Disney series my kids' glue their eyeballs to every afternoon, takes place when Lizzie's father discovers that her nine-year-old brother has dug a cave to hide from the women of the family. Son: "Do you ever feel like you just want your own place to chill, where no one can bother you?" Dad stares insightfully at the boy as if no one has ever understood him in such a profound way: "Every day of my life, son." Echoing this sentiment, last Thursday The New York Times ran a House & Home piece called "A Hideout All His Own: What's a man who craves his own space to do? More and more are creating retreats in attics, basements and sheds." The shed part cracked me up. But I see a larger truth here. Men need their own space. One of their primary male-dominated gathering...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 22, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (94)

Friday Free for All -- Our Best Moments as Moms

In response to repeated suggestions last Friday during our worst moments as moms, here we are on the flip side: Tell us one of your best moments. To get the discussion started, I'll tell two of mine. (It's much harder to write about my strengths as a mom than vice versa!) First, on Mother's Day my kids and I competed against each other for who could chew the most sticks of sugarless gum at once. The rule was that I had to double the kids' count. My personal best was 34 pieces of Trident Bubble Gum and I still lost to MJ who successfully masticated a whopping 28 pieces. My husband videotaped the event. It was disgusting -- I can still taste the buckets of sickly sweet liquid dripping down my throat. But it was a helluva lot of fun, and I sure hope the kids remember me in my...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 19, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (44)

Politicking The Working Mom Agenda

Happy Birthday, Kathleen Sebelius! Kansas's second female governor turned 58 on Monday. Two amazing accomplishments we all should thank her for. First, when she was Insurance Commissioner in Kansas, this working mom (she has two grown sons) instituted a policy similar to the Infants in the Workplace program run by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which allows employees to set up cribs in their offices and bring babies to work until they're six months old. A handful of other employers currently offer similar programs, including the Department of Energy and many credit unions and banks. Can you imagine how much easier it would be to go back to work if all companies adopted this program? To get ammunition to bring to your human resources department, you can turn to the Work & Family Connection, an information clearinghouse. Second, in honor of Mother's Day, Governor Sebelius worked with the Democratic...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 17, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

We've Raised A 'Me' Generation

My friend, Ann, a full-time working mom from New York whose kids are a few years older than mine, once warned of the perils of showering my kids with Baby Mozart, 24/7 flash card drills, and "help" such as doing their homework, cooking separate meals like a short-order chef and excusing them from household chores. "The world doesn't cater to individuals like that, and kids raised with too much attention have a really hard time once they get out of the house on their own." Turns out she's right. However, it's us moms -- working, stay-at-home and everything in between -- who pay the price, not our pampered kids (at least as long as we are alive to keep indulging them). The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition (subscription required) ran an article I found horrifying on Saturday describing the "Me Mother's Day" where 20- and 30-something kids bought themselves presents...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 16, 2006; 8:29 AM ET | Comments (195)

Mother's Day Chorus: Give Us Flexibility!

Along with the rosy-hued Mother's Day ads for flowers, chocolate and spa packages, Sunday's holiday prompted the media to fill up on Mother's Day editorials and high-profile public statements from reporters, politicians, and mothers about parents' and kids' needs. The most common theme -- hallelujah -- was the need for flexibility from employers. Some articles worth checking out: The San Francisco Chronicle profiles four working moms in the Bay Area who show that despite the hype, most moms are not "opting out" of the workforce. Instead, they're finding creative, flexible solutions to juggle kids and work. The four are Blair Christie, 34, vice president of investor relations at Cisco Systems, whose husband reduced his work hours to be at home in the afternoons with their daughters, ages 3 years and 8 months; NaNoshka Johnson, 43, who found that owning her own business gives her the flexibility to work from home...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 15, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Friday Free-For-All -- Your Worst Moments As a Mom

As we head off into the pink glow of Mother's Day this weekend, I want to give you (and myself) a true Mother's Day gift: the knowledge that you are not alone in the terrible things you (sometimes) do and say to your kids. We've all been there. Now's the time to fess up and share the worst mistake you ever made with your kids. To get this started, I'll go: Quite recently, overcome by stress and how much I hate driving around in city traffic with my kids bickering in the back of the car, I let loose. I called my son a complete idiot and screamed at the top of my lungs at my daughter to Shut Up. My voice was so loud I believe it shook my Ford Expedition. My kids did pipe down after that. Before you stop reading and start commenting, I've got one more...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 12, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (115)

A Celebrity Mom Guilt Trip

What do celebrity moms have to do with us regular ones? Most times, absolutely nothing. But the frenzied media coverage of famous moms' attempts to balance work and family does reflect how conflicted our society feels about moms who work. This cultural unease, refracted on the pages of a magazine with nearly four million weekly readers, makes it distinctly uncool for regular moms to feel good about working motherhood. Here are some tidbits about motherhood from the pop press lately to show what I mean. The Evening Standard features Madonna castigating herself as a "crap mother" because she works. (As if any of us need to punish ourselves for the inevitable tradeoffs between work and kids. The rest of the world does a good enough job on its own). "I'm always going, 'Oh my God, I'm a crap mother.' I want to get home and put my kids to bed...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 11, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (84)

More Than A Paycheck

Johnson & Johnson -- a company where I spent my late 20s and early 30s -- is often called a "Family of Companies." Surprising to me is how often this sprawling conglomerate does feel like a family. Fifteen years ago, when I was going through the dissolution of my first marriage, my job felt like a safe haven, a place of consistency amidst chaos. Once I'd rebuilt my life, Johnson & Johnson sent me to Australia, Brazil, Dubai, Argentina and Mexico, places where I met people and had adventures I'd never have had without work. When I became a mom, J&J showed me how work and motherhood can enrich each other, and when I had to move to Minneapolis for my husband's job, J&J let me work long-distance, part-time, from halfway across the country. The company supported me in myriad life situations. I recently was in New Jersey near the...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 10, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (44)

Work-Family Expert on Balancing

Stew Friedman is a renowned expert on integrating work and family. A management professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania since 1984, he's the author of Work and Family -- Allies or Enemies? and Integrating Work and Life: The Wharton Resource Guide. In 1997, Working Mother magazine chose him as one of America's 25 most influential men in having made things better for working parents. Naturally, I thought he'd be a good interviewee for this blog. What changes have you seen in the last 20 years in terms of challenges facing working moms, within corporate America, academia and entrepreneurial fields? SF: It's somewhat easier for women to feel accepted in positions of power and, very slowly, men are taking up a bit more responsibility on the home front. What are your suggestions for companies trying to attract and retain talented working mothers? Are the suggestions different for...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 8, 2006; 6:50 AM ET | Comments (47)

Friday Free For All -- A Working Mom's Secret

I was in New Jersey last weekend, visiting the small town where I lived when my first child was born. One of my former neighbors, who freelances for Johnson & Johnson, stopped by to say hello. It was a sunny Saturday. Downtown was filled with moms, strollers and multiple offspring. As we were catching up, I remembered that when I lived there, the average number of kids per woman was three or four -- pretty high compared with nearby Manhattan and other larger towns. During the week, moms ruled the town. You rarely saw dads during daylight hours, since they were all commuting into and out of New York. My friend surprised me with a confession: "You know, for years my neighbors never knew I worked. As a freelancer, my hours were flexible and I worked at home a lot. I pretended that I was a stay-at-home mom. You were...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 5, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (65)

News Flash: Taking Care of Kids is Real Work!

Fabulous facts released yesterday, just in time for Mother's Day: A full-time stay-at-home mother would earn $134,121 a year if paid for all her work, according to a study released Wednesday by Waltham, Mass.-based compensation experts Salary.com. The amount is similar to that earned by top U.S. ad executives, marketing directors or judges, according to a Reuters story on the study. A mother who works outside the home would earn an extra $85,876 annually on top of her actual wages for the work she does at home, the study says. The calculations are based on the hourly wages of a mix of jobs, including housekeeper, day-care teacher, cook, computer whiz, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, chief executive and psychologist. As all of us very tired moms/psychologists/janitors know, our work is far more than a full-time job, and overtime is the killer: The average stay-at-home mom reports working...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 4, 2006; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (139)

Good Mom Meet Good Employee

A female marketing colleague who now runs a medium-sized business told me over lunch recently about a conversation with an administrative assistant that speaks volumes about an-all-too-common working mom fears. The assistant approached my friend to share her fear that her new boss, a man, might not support her flexible schedule. She explained that her nine-year-old daughter has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The only 35-minute window when the child's medication allows her to concentrate enough to do homework is between 4-4:30 p.m. Mom has to be there to help. "What time do you come in?" My friend asked. "Eight a.m." "What time do you need to leave to meet her bus?" "3:10 pm." "So, you're asking to leave 80 minutes early each day?" "Yes." My friend later told her that it would be fine for her to leave at 3:10 each day. It would take too long and cost too...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (113)

Women of the Future

On April 12, The Economist ran a story about the future of the world economy lying in female hands. Among the facts cited: Girls now perform better at school than boys; more women are getting university degrees than men; women are filling most new jobs. Worldwide since 1970 women have filled two new jobs for every one taken by a man. Educating girls is likely the best single investment that can be made in to boost prosperity in developing countries. In the United States, men's employment rate has decreased 12 percentage points to 77 percent since 1950. Women's employment has increased from one-third to two-thirds in the same period. Women now make up almost half of America's workforce. Why? Since the 1950s, many formerly male educational institutions in the U.S. have opened to women, paving the way for women to get better paid, and more diverse, jobs. There's also been...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 1, 2006; 7:35 AM ET | Comments (92)

 

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