Archive: January 2008

Preconditions for Balance

By Rebeldad Brian Reid I sometimes fall prey to the idea that attaining work-life balance is like assembling Ikea furniture: If I can just get all the right parts and follow the directions (say "no," get organized, put the spouse first), I should have a brilliantly stable life. Obviously, it doesn't work that way for me, and, looking around, just doing the "right" thing isn't enough for most of the people I meet. It seems to me that there are some preconditions you have to meet if you want a balanced life. If you don't have these things in order, no amount of balancing will get things under control: You Have to Like Your Job: It doesn't matter if it's unpaid work at home or a six-figure position with a corner office, you have to like what you do to have any shot to balance. I had a gig once...

By Brian Reid | January 31, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Botoxing Your Resume

Two weeks ago, we wrestled with ageism and the workplace in Dangers of Looking Your Age. Last Thursday, the New York Times jumped on the bandwagon with Nice Resume. Have You Considered Botox? The focus of the article was a wildly popular new book, which debuted on The New York Times best-seller list at #8 in the advice and how-to category; as of post-time, it ranked #11 on Amazon. Written by former Glamour beauty director Charla Krupp, a columnist for More magazine, the book is How Not to Look Old. The book jacket explains its reason-for-being: "Looking hip is not just about vanity anymore, it's critical to every woman's personal and financial survival!" The Times article pokes plenty of fun at the book's scary chapter headlines: NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE...FOREHEAD LINES....NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE....YELLOW TEETH...NOTHING AGES YOU LIKE A SAGGY BUTT (okay, that last one was my contribution). Charla Krupp...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 30, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (97)

Post-Divorce Balance

Welcome to the "On Balance" 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 Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Page Evans Driving from the airport to his family's lake house, the panic set in. Racing heart, sweaty palms, shortness of breath. "I don't think you understand," I told the man I'd been dating for a year. "I'm afraid of your children. You're gonna have to take me back to the airport." Obviously, I'm not the first person to date someone with kids. We're both divorced with children from our previous marriages, so meeting and spending time with each other's families is a...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 29, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Law Firms Flirt With Flexibility

Much to the frustration of ambitious working moms with legal degrees, law firms -- particularly the largest, most prestigious ones -- have eschewed work-life balance. Hard-charging women stormed the gates of law schools starting in the 1970s, entering the profession in record numbers. Ironically, "balance" decreased dramatically at the same time. Billable hour quotas have risen from roughly 1,200 to 1,600 hours a year in 1965 to 2,000 to 2,200 annual hours today, which translates to 42 hours a week (requiring at least 60 hours per week in the office). Industry practices have long included partnership tracks based on seniority, not performance; salaries and bonuses based on billable hours instead of revenue generation and miserly family-leave policies. But red flags in recent years are finally forcing the profession to question whether it's time to restructure billing practices, schedules and partnership tracks. They include a grassroots rebellion by students at Stanford,...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 28, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Stepparent Two-Step

At a party recently I met a fascinating man. An adventurer who had been with the Peace Corps for several years, he had returned to the States and reunited with his long lost first love from high school, who in his absence had married, had a daughter, and divorced. A very romantic story. Then I asked what it was like to be a step-dad to a 15-year-old girl. "Awful," he said. "A totally impossible job. I am completely a third wheel, unwelcome, unthanked. But I love her, she's a great kid, and obviously I'm really happy about being with her mother. Everything I do is like training for a marathon. My goal is that in 10 or 15 years, all my hard work will pay off and we'll have a great relationship." Good grief. I was surprised (and you know me -- thrilled) by his candor. It is really difficult...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (61)

The Money Date

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Economically, things are looking bad. The Post has put the unraveling of the stock markets on the front page nearly every day this week, George Bush is huddling with congressional leaders on a stimulus package, and the Federal Reserve just made the biggest one-day cut in short-term interest rates since "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was the number one song in America. So it's probably a good time to start talking about finances. Or -- since you probably don't want to take any financial advice from me -- it's time to start talking about talking about finances. After all, money is the number two reason for divorce, and it's not hard to imagine why: it's easy for the embarrassment of financial troubles to lead to a breakdown in communications, which sets a whole relationship into a downward spiral. I was speaking to a...

By Brian Reid | January 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Work-Life Surprises

When my husband and I got married 12 years ago, we both were in our early 30s, just out of graduate school, getting our toes wet in new careers, and in loooove. We figured we had a good life plan that included two strong careers, a rent-controlled apartment in New York City and plans to have five (count 'em, five) kids together. Looking back, it's hard not to scream "What were we thinking?!?!" Because, of course, life since then has been one surprise after another. If I could time travel, I'd go back and whisper to myself: Honey, fasten your seatbelt, the roller coaster ride is about to begin and you're not getting off for the next decade. First, we had trouble having a baby. Then, in two years we had two babies. We moved to New Jersey, back to New York City, then off to Minneapolis. My husband changed...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Are You Blended?

Welcome to the "On Balance" 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. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Gina Chen A fellow mom recently explained that "balance" or "juggling" has been replaced by "blending" -- the new term for what we parents do, trying to perform well at our paid jobs while keeping our kids fed, healthy and safe. I immediately Googled it. Sure enough, the term comes up in many mainstream publications. The idea, I guess, is to put a positive spin on what we do rather than make it seem like the crazy calisthenics it is most days, at...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 22, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (39)

Dangers of Looking Your Age

During Wednesday's discussion about younger parents, we kicked around age-related bias. The biggest questions: When does ageism start at work? And what can you do about it? For the record, age-related discrimination at work is illegal in hiring, promotions and firing decisions. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects employees 40 and older. My research on stay-at-home moms who return to work has found that ageism starts to kick in around age 50. However, like a lot of bias, it's tricky to prove. Ageism affects both men and women. It's a surprise to many employees because until it affects you, ageism is easy to ignore. Age-discrimination is particularly shocking for stay-at-home moms who left the workforce in their late 30s or early 40s, before ageism was on their radar. They try to go back to work in their late 40s or early 50s and find ugly surprises. Women...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (60)

Can You Teach Kids About Balance?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Last week, Leslie asked about the utility of work-life balance classes for all of us, an idea that seemed to be relatively warmly received. But it got me thinking: If classroom education about balance is good at age 30 or 40 or 50, what should we be teaching our high school kids about it? Our sixth graders? Kindergartners? There seem to be a couple of keys to the whole work-life thing. One is organization. It's nearly impossible to maintain a rich home and work routine when things are a mess. And the second is compromise -- the ladder-climbing workaholics invariably sacrifice personal or family time to get that corner office. There's no trick to emphasizing organization with kids (though getting them organized is a whole other matter), but I have a hard time teaching the idea of compromise. I can't see the benefit of warning my...

By Brian Reid | January 17, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (69)

Young Parents, Dumb Parents?

In the 20+ years of my career, the conventional wisdom for ambitious working women has been to wait as long as possible before you have children. Invest in your education and get as many promotions under your belt before your belly expands so much you can't put on a belt. Then have your kids (max: two) close in age so that you can compress the most intense phase of child-rearing. It was survivalist advice from early feminists. For many of us, it worked. Lots of moms I know found it easier to juggle work and raising kids because we waited until we had a modicum of career and economic security--insurance against the prejudice everyone told us we'd experience as working moms. But the unforeseen side effect was the creation of a different prejudice, this time against women who had children before age 30, prejudice that goes something like this: Didn't...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 16, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (157)

Homework Help

Welcome to the "On Balance" 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. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Julie Lenzer Kirk The other morning at breakfast my 10-year-old daughter announced, "If I get a bad grade on this paper, it is your fault." Ugh. Right for the jugular of the guilt-ridden working mom. Thankfully, that did not describe me anymore. I gave up guilt years ago when I realized that I was in control of how much guilt I felt. Prior to this revelation, my daughter's comment would have had me erupting into a screaming tirade, much as my similar announcements...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 15, 2008; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

Birth Business

I used to think pregnant women who wanted to give birth at home were nuts. Now, I'm not so sure. Over the weekend I watched talk show host Ricki Lake's new documentary, The Business of Being Born, just released by Red Envelope Entertainment and International Film Circuit and getting lots of chatter in newspapers such as the New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and the mommy blogosphere. The film advocates a few extreme views I disagree with. Many ob-gyn doctors, as well as moms who've given birth via Caesarean, are portrayed as uninformed buffoons. Some natural birth proponents argue on-camera that there is a medical conspiracy in our country trying to "cheat" women out of giving birth naturally; that our obstetrics system is in crisis, a category I'd save for places such as east Congo and Iraq; and that women who have babies without "intervention" love their infants more...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 14, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Can You Teach Work/Life Balance?

Survey Methodology: The 2007 "State of Work-Life Balance" survey was conducted online in November 2007. In total, 341 people qualified for and completed the survey. All participants were employed at the time of taking the survey.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (35)

The Playdate Paradox

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Ahhh, January. It's that wonderful time of year when, freed of holiday obligations, everyone is returning to the usual social patterns. For the kids, that means that return of playdates. For me, that means the return of sweaty palms from thinking about playdates. I'm sure you know the problem: There is a certain assumption about reciprocity when you schedule a playdate. No one wants to be that parent that can never be bothered to allow other children in their home. But as someone working full-time for pay, my ability to host kids after school is a bit more limited than I would like it to be. I certainly don't want to say no when my daughter is invited over elsewhere, but I do feel a bit of trepidation about figuring out how to return the favor. Clearly, I'm not without options: The weekend playdate is always...

By Brian Reid | January 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (77)

Playroom Pitfalls

It's a mundane aspect of parenting that few parents-to-be deem important enough to discuss in advance: what kind of playroom to have in your home? Saturday's Washington Post explored different options in Room to Romp. Now that the days of fenced-in "playpens" have largely disappeared, many parents find their homes deluged with kids' toys and the question quickly becomes: Do we want a playroom, or do we let the entire house become the playroom? Part of my "balance" is that I never wanted our home to be overtaken by kids' paraphernalia , no matter how brightly colored or well-designed. During 10 years of motherhood spanning two apartments and two townhouses, I've found myriad solutions that worked at the time: keeping toys out of sight in storage boxes and coffee table drawers, limiting toys to the kids' rooms, and giving each child a large cubby in our kitchen. At one point,...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (59)

Soccer Mom

Welcome to the "On Balance" 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. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life. By Maggie Leifer McGary It all started when I went to see my 11-year-old daughter's championship soccer game. Soccer is not my bag; for the most part, her dad attends practices and games. What does that say about me as a mom that I don't make every soccer game or hockey match? In today's kid-centric society, admitting I don't feel it necessary to attend every sports event is tantamount to announcing that I'm a crack addict. As I was watching the big game, I...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 8, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

Passing a Girl the Ball

A year ago, an Outlook article in The Post Is America Too Racist for Barack? Too Sexist for Hillary? posed the hypothesis that the two Democratic front runners, both minorities, faced different challenges due to their minority status. While being a white woman establishing herself in the 1970s and beyond helped Hillary Clinton in her education and career, being a black man would help Barack Obama more in terms of national electability for the presidential office. "Compared with Clinton, says George Lakoff, a linguistics professor and Democratic message guru, 'Obama clearly has it better,'" the article reported. "While many Americans have a sincere sense of sentimentality and nostalgia for... outdated gender roles, a much smaller number have that kind of feeling for racial segregation. There is a sense that, by electing a female president, the nation would be meeting a standard set by other liberal democracies; the election of a...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 7, 2008; 8:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

PTA Do-Gooders

Continuing with our New Year's Resolution theme, I wanted to cite some truly good deeds done by a group that often gets picked on in the mommy blogosphere: the school parent teachers association, or equivalent group. Sometimes, the parents become so enthusiastic and strident that they make good cartoon targets, especially for those of us who might feel a tetch guilty about not volunteering. But a few dedicated parents can make an incredible difference in the life of the school, its children, teachers, and the very parents who poke fun at the uber-volunteers. Here are three examples from my life: In the 1970s, my mom single-handedly started an after-school sports program at my elementary school in D.C., Horace Mann, that provided cheap, incredibly fun activities for boys and girls for more than two decades. She hired a sports teacher who organized co-ed softball, kickball, soccer, capture the flag, gymnastics and...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 4, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (43)

Resolving to Get Organized

By Rebeldad Brian Reid Thanks to all who bucked Leslie's anti-personal-resolution stance and offered up their New Year's resolutions yesterday. My last really successful New Year's resolution came on April 19, 2005 (I run chronically late). My desk at the time was set up according to an organization principle I held dearly: the pile. I had two piles flanking my monitor, each over a foot in height and teeming with journal articles and medical claim forms and credit card statements and half-finished thank-you notes and unreadable receipts from who knows when. "Of course I know where it is," I'd brag whenever my wife asked me about this or that, "it's in the pile -- right at arm's length!" My wife didn't buy it. And, deep down inside, neither did I. So on that April 19 -- with New Year's Day-level clarity -- I resolved to get my act together. I...

By Brian Reid | January 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (19)

New Year's Resolutions

2008 already? I hate New Year's Resolutions. They often seem so lame, narcissistic and cliched, hopeless even before the year starts. But given that most cliches turn out to have at least some truth in them, I thought we should give it a whirl. I'm all for hoping that you can change your life and our world for the better. However, if I could "resolve" anything for 2008, it wouldn't be losing weight or some other minor change in my life (although I have plenty of flaws that need fixing). I'd shoot much higher. My New Year's Resolutions would be that: 1) No one would abuse a child ever again. To me, this subset of domestic violence is one of the single biggest problems our culture faces, leading to medical, legal and judicial intervention, higher crime rates, and perpetuation of a cycle of violence as some abused children grow up...

By Leslie Morgan Steiner | January 2, 2008; 7:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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