Archive: April 2007

Upsetting the Stay-at-Home Mommies

Yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section carried a smart article called The Mommy War Machine that argued that much of the so-called "mommy wars" between working and at-home moms doesn't exist except in the media and among writers trying to promote their books. I don't disagree that media stories often oversimplify and sensationalize the problems facing American mothers -- but I also cannot deny that I see lots of evidence that women experience a "mommy war" driven by guilt, tension and understandable jealousy on both sides. There's another, even more debilitating war inside moms' heads as we struggle to come to peace with our choices, or lack of choices, about how we combine work and raising kids. This inner mommy war too often spills out in public disparagement of moms who've made different choices. Last Wednesday's New York Times' Mommy Books: More Buzz Than Buyers quoted Leslie Bennetts defending her book...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 30, 2007; 7:15 AM ET | Comments (453)

Stupendous Summer Vacations For the Whole Family

Summer is coming -- fast. Not fast enough for me. What does "family summer vacation" mean to you? For me, the trip is a rite of passage. During my childhood, this meant a 10-hour unair-conditioned car drive from D.C. to New Hampshire, the station wagon filled with cats, parakeets, snakes, junk food, suitcases and four sweaty, bratty kids (me being one of them). I don't understand how something so miserable could also be so unbelievably fun. I also do not understand how my parents survived each trip. I have no desire to repeat the experience as a parent. But here are my fantasy family vacations (that I have not, and may never, actually pull off): -- A camping trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas -- Renting an RV to tour the California coast -- A week at Hershey Park in Hershey, Penn. -- A private tour of Yellowstone...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 27, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work(-Life Balance) Day

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Today is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, which -- judging from the comments to last year's free-for-all posting on the topic -- is either a wonderful chance to give children some much needed perspective on their working parents or a day of headaches and lost productivity. TODASTWD is supposed to be a celebration of labor, a kind of informational job fair for adolescents. The official Web site for the event talks about how the event helps "build their self-esteem" and allows children to "discover there are limitless opportunities." But there's also a bit about helping kids "figure out how their future work, home, and community life fit together," but the site doesn't do into much detail about how TODASTWD is supposed to do that. Indeed, this blog is a testament to the fact that a huge number of adults have yet to figure...

By Brian Reid | April 26, 2007; 8:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Where Has Childhood Gone?

Last night around 7 p.m., on my way to book club, I drove through the neighborhood I grew up in. It was a lovely spring evening. Clean streets, trees with green buds, pretty cottage-style homes. Zero kids. When I was a child growing up there 30 years ago, the first warm, spring night meant one thing: Every kid from every house was out, playing in the street and on the sidewalks. Freeze tag, bikes, kick the can, hide-and-seek. I know where all the kids were. Same place as mine. Soccer practice. Piano lessons. Tutoring. Or in lock-down because the neighborhood was experiencing a wave of bombings, drive-by shootings and child abductions (not). Once at book club, one mom insisted that all the neighborhood kids needed to be inside because our world has become very dangerous. That schools forbid kids from walking or biking to or from school. That kids' nonstop...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 25, 2007; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Caring for Mom

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 original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Judi Nagle In 1997, my 75-year-old mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Fortunately, she lived in the area, she kept her marbles (most of the time) and most importantly, she had longterm care insurance . During the years of her illness, I got married and unexpectedly, at the age of 41, had a child. I continued to work at a job I loved. Mom lived in a facility that was nearby but difficult to get to. She hated that she would be remembered as a sick old lady. I was glad...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 24, 2007; 7:33 AM ET | Comments (0)

How to Wreck Your Career

Some working parents argue that becoming a parent makes us better employees: wiser, more seasoned, better negotiators, swifter prioritizers, more sympathetic managers. I'm sure some of this argument is true. But most working parents would also agree that kids are a major distraction from work, whether through sleep deprivation, mental and physical exhaustion, and unexpected absences from work due to calls from the school nurse (or principal) and children's sick days. Now there is a study out that tries to measure the correlation between parenting and productivity at work. Three Canadian universities -- the University of Ottawa, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and Hamilton's McMaster University -- collaborated on A Test of the Links Between Family Interference with Work, Job Enrichment and Leader-Member Exchange published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (subscription or fee required to read full text). "Interfering" factors included financial crises and caring for elderly parents, in...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 23, 2007; 7:40 AM ET | Comments (304)

If Your Shoes Could Talk

This has been a serious week here on the blog. Appropriately so, in a week when the topics have been the Virginia Tech murders, safety at work, home and school, and whether moms are sacrificing our financial future in the quest to be the perfect parent to our children. But it's Friday, and we've got to talk light. So, today, we're going to dig into...shoes. And I promise I'm going to work in the word "balance" at least three times, so no complaining that this entry is off-topic. A woman from New York City who worked with me at The Washington Post persuaded me a few years ago that a woman's shoes tell you everything about her personality and her approach to life. I've never looked at my shoes the same way again. I went right out and bought a pair of sexy high-heeled clogs with fake fur on them...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 20, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (434)

The Mistake in 'The Feminine Mistake'

By Rebeldad Brian Reid I feel for Leslie Bennetts, I really do. Bennetts is the author of this year's polarizing motherhood book -- The Feminine Mistake -- arguing that just about the dumbest thing a woman (or a man) can do is stay home with the kids. And she's a bit puzzled about all of the flogging she's taking online. Bennetts got some of that flogging during a washingtonpost.com discussion on Tuesday, and she is clearly irritated with the slings and arrows being thrown in her direction. After all, her book does a bang-up job of documenting all the things that can go wrong in the life of a primary caretaker: divorce, illness, inability to re-enter the workforce. Though it may be fair to quibble with some of the stats or raise the question of whether Bennetts is speaking to the experiences of women who fall outside of the usual...

By Brian Reid | April 19, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (471)

Red Flags at Work, School and Home

Cho Seung Hui, the 23-year-old in Monday's Virginia Tech rampage who killed himself and 32 others, was described in The Washington Post as an "eccentric loner." A quiet, apparently shy student on a large college campus, Cho's disturbed creative writing caused one professor to refer him to Virginia Tech's counseling service and another to alert university police, according to The Post. Interviews with his fellow students don't reveal much: An English major who largely kept to himself. Originally from South Korea, Cho graduated in 2003 from Westfield High School in Fairfax County. Essentially, someone whose behavior raised only a few red flags, which were ignored by authorities because Cho had made no direct threats. Yet so many people now ask a valid question: Could anything have been done to prevent Cho from killing 32 innocent students, professors and employees? This is the logical question in tragedy's aftermath. It's the most...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 18, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (340)

Reflection

In honor of the victims of yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech, as well as their families and friends, On Balance is taking a break from our scheduled Tuesday Guest Blog. The massacre was the largest shooting rampage in U.S. history. Its many victims deserve to be honored and respected. "Schools should be a place of safety and sanctuary and learning. When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community," President Bush said in a news conference yesterday afternoon. "Today our nation grieves for those who have lost loved ones." In the wake of yesterday's events, any sense of "balance" seems difficult to find....

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 17, 2007; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (513)

Do Older Dads Make Better Dads?

"This may surprise you," said David Popenoe, a director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. "But in many cases, older fathers' testosterone levels have dropped, so they to be more nurturing." That quote's taken from last Thursday's New York Times article He's Not My Grandpa. He's My Dad about late-life fatherhood. Turns out there's a tiny minority of dads who are older than 60 when their children are born. According to the piece, there are only about 2,000 or so births a year to fathers this age. But the reports from the dads are fascinating. "It's so pleasant," said 73-year-old dad Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a retired Harvard Medical School professor and the father of twin 10-year-olds. "My success as a scientist depended upon my neglecting my first set of children. Now that I'm retired we have a lot more time together." "I must say the feeling is...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 16, 2007; 7:15 AM ET | Comments (397)

Tax Man (or Woman) Cometh

This year we get two extra days to finish our taxes: April 15 falls on a Sunday, and April 16 is Emancipation Day, a holiday in the District of Columbia where the Internal Revenue Service is headquartered. But we still need to get our taxes mailed or e-mailed less than four days from today. So what are you doing this weekend? When I was in college, I insisted on wresting my taxes from my father, although I was still listed on his form as a dependent. A decade and a half later, motherhood took away my ability to give a hoot about who did my taxes. So now, in addition to changing the cat litter every Sunday, my darling husband does our taxes, along with a few other household chores. But I know many stay-at-home wives who handle the family's finances, including taxes. I'm sure every family has their own...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 13, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Taking Time to Smell the Roses (or Hear the Music)

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Gene Weingarten wrote a wonderful piece in the Sunday magazine last weekend, asking what would happen if one of the world's greatest musicians -- playing one of the world's finest instruments -- showed up at a Metro stop to play street musician for the better part of an hour. Would anyone notice? For the full answer, you need to read the whole piece, but there was one paragraph that really hit me in the gut: There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch....

By Brian Reid | April 12, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Alpha Girls

Last Sunday -- April Fool's Day -- the New York Times ran a front page article about a group of senior girls at Newton North High School outside Boston,For Girls, It's Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too (subscription or article purchase required). The girls are all "high-achieving, ambitious and confident," according to reporter Sara Rimer. They study Latin, are fluent in Spanish, have three years of varsity track, basketball, soccer, or another impressive sport under the belts around their slim waists. The pictures show them to be beautiful, thin, and athletic in addition to being articulate brainiacs. We are living in the age of the most empowered 17 year old girls in history. I'm not accusing the Times of getting this story wrong, or mocking these golden girls for their perfectionism. (Although I would like to see an article about high achievement among boys -- a seriously neglected media topic...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 11, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (478)

Religion in an Age of Balance

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 original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Lucinda Brown Religion is the framework of my life. My faith reminds me that I am not alone in the world, that I am part of a larger community to which I am responsible and from which I can draw strength, and that I can find hope in the face of whatever adversities life brings. These basic assurances, woven into the fabric of my life, have been invaluable as I've moved into new communities, faced unexpected health crises and dealt with the deaths of people near and dear to me. The...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 10, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (531)

It's a Logic Gap, Not a Pay Gap

The pay gap, again? This time Carrie Lukas, vice president at the Independent Women's Forum and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism," weighs in that the pay gap is actually a good idea in A Bargain at 77 Cents to a Dollar. "I have a good education and have worked full time for 10 years...throughout my career, I've made things other than money a priority. I chose to work in the nonprofit world because I find it fulfilling. I sought out a specialty and employer that seemed best suited to balancing my work and family life...I'm not making as much money as I could, but I'm compensated by having the best working arrangement I could hope for...Surveys have shown for years that women tend to place a higher priority on flexibility and personal fulfillment than men." Fine. Great. I agree -- kind of. I, too,...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 9, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (330)

Birthday Party Balance

It's Friday! No serious subjects allowed. So here goes: Earlier this week, I threw our five-year-old's birthday bash. Rented a moonbounce, invited a haphazard bunch of kids a few days in advance, served Goldfish, water, cake and ice cream sandwiches I bought at Safeway that day. No goodie bags. The weather was sunny and 80 degrees. I had as much fun talking to the parents as the kids did jumping around. Flash back five years before, when I threw my oldest child's fifth birthday party. In a Perfect Madness moment, I invited every kid in the class (with siblings, we had over 40 children). This required renting out an entire gym, which wasn't expensive but required complicated insurance waivers. On the eve of the big day, my husband and I created diagrams of the various simultaneous sport games offered so that every kid would feel included. The huge birthday cake...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 6, 2007; 6:30 AM ET | Comments (392)

Staying Anonymous in the Balance Battles

By Rebeldad Brian Reid In the past month, we've been treated to a wide assortment of guest columns: a 54-year-old's reflections on fatherhood, a childless employee's tale of discrimination, a Nevada mother's experience with a family medical emergency. Though disparate, these guest blogs shared one notable commonality: they were all written anonymously. A lot of time and thought went into these pieces (Fred's piece may well have been the best single post I've read on this blog), and they were published by the online arm of one of this country's most storied newspapers. To refuse the opportunity to attach a name to those efforts seem a little weird. (The anonymity in the comments is more understandable but less welcome - an opportunity to escape responsibility - and I'm thankful that most commenters stick with their nom-de-plumes.) I am left wondering if some of the reluctance to take credit reflects a...

By Brian Reid | April 5, 2007; 7:10 AM ET | Comments (362)

Emergency Childcare

We all seem to agree on one thing here: it's tough to work and take care of kids, especially sick ones, at exactly the same time. What we disagree about on this blog, and in this country, are the best solutions, and the degree to which companies should help employees balance work and childcare. In a bit of good news on the childcare front, last month The Portland Oregonian ran an encouraging article about firms who offer emergency childcare. "We're just hearing more and more interest about backup offerings," Sheila Niehaus said in the article. Niehaus is vice president for Knowledge Learning, one of the country's largest childcare providers with over 2,000 centers nationwide, based in Portland, Oregon. Employers need workers at work, regardless of whether their kids are sick or their childcare has fallen through. To offer solutions, Knowledge Learning has teamed up with Westport, Conn.-based LifeCare Inc. to...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 4, 2007; 6:00 AM ET | Comments (349)

Childless at Work

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 original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By MustangsII Last year I started a new job at a large contracting firm in Springfield, Va. During my interview and for the first couple of weeks into my new job, I was told I would be able to telecommute at least twice a week. I quickly found out that in reality, the only people allowed to telecommute in my department were mothers. Another new employee and I got up enough nerve to ask, after several months on the job, when we would be allowed to telecommute as promised. We were told...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 3, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bosses and Birth Control

I recently found myself in the ladies room of a large international consulting firm that operates in 49 countries. On the bathroom stall was a glossy flyer outlining the five things employees need to do to protect themselves from germs and viruses that can cause illness...and obviously cause employees to take sick days. When you employ 150,000 people worldwide, a few sick days per employee costs millions of dollars in lost productivity. It makes sense to me that a large employer is willing to spend money to keep its employees healthy (and hard-working). So, naturally, it baffles me that another large employer has gone to court rather than cover a prescription medicine that prevents employees from taking months and months off from work. That employer is Union Pacific Railroad, which last month received a favorable U.S. Court of Appeals response to a class-action lawsuit filed by its female employees. The...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | April 2, 2007; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (362)

 

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