Category Archives: stay-at-home moms

Where in the World It Pays To Be a Working Mother

I get a kick out of all those lists–and there are a ton of them–that that rank cities against one another based on some interesting set of criteria. In the past week, for example, I’ve checked out the Top 10 cap-and-gown cities, otherwise known as the most educated cities; the Top 5 cities for extreme couponers, or other people who are equally as cheap; and the Top 10 graveyards for geezers, which some might call retirement Meccas. There are even rankings of rankings, like this one from Area Development Online, which is a list of the 100 most desirable places to do business, based on what markets made the cut on the greatest number of related lists.

But this week was the first time I had ever seen this list from Forbes of the 50 best cities for working moms. I don’t know where I was the past two years to have missed the earlier compilations. My guess was last year I was too busy breastfeeding and the year before that I was probably too busy being in denial about being pregnant. But anyway, I took a good, hard look at this year’s rankings.

I was happy to see that Forbes added a few new metrics to its ranking criteria, stretching the evaluation beyond the obvious issues of jobs, safety, and education. Commute and childcare are definitely two huge issues for me as a working mom in our nation’s capital and definitely two of the major reasons that I work mostly from home with occasional appearances at the office. By including these factors into the evaluation, I think Forbes did a good job of leveling the playing field between true major metro areas (think Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., etc.) and those metro areas that I would consider second- or even third-tier cities. I mean, seriously, would Buffalo, N.Y., really have made anyone’s top list of places to be a working mom if there wasn’t some value attached to the cost of doing business (childcare) and time (commute)?

There were certainly other surprises on the list. Columbus, Ohio, for example, came in a No. 2 on the list, thanks to short commutes and cheap child care options. And Milwaukee also was a dark horse winner at No. 4, with short commutes and good medical care helping its final standing.

However, I wasn’t too surprised to see Washington, D.C., break the Top 10. It’s really hard these days to find a better place for jobs. Judging how full the restaurants and bars are every night, it’s clear this town knows no recession. Plus, it’s a great place for professional women. I remember reading this Richard Florida article a few years ago that mapped out which metro areas had female surpluses, so to speak; D.C. was running neck and neck with Philadelphia for the title, with 50,000+ more single women than men. So, it makes sense that some of those single women would eventually marry and start families but stay in the area because of the jobs.

But I’m not sure I would agree with D.C. ranking high on education. The survey gave the city a No. 4 rank for greatest expenditure per pupil. But spending lots of money doesn’t necessarily equate to good schools. In fact, in general, public schools in the district are atrocious; it’s actually pretty embarrassing. Traditional public schools are being shut down all the time because of failing test scores, leaving public charter schools to pick up the slack. But they can’t handle the capacity, so situations akin to those documented in the film Waiting for Superman are very normal. Kids basically need to win the lottery to go to the best schools.

Looking more closely at where the District ranked on the individual metrics, I saw that there was a real divergence between the pros and cons of being a working mommy in D.C. The city scored in the top 10 on four out of 8 metrics–female earning potential, jobs, schools, and healthcare; in the middle of the pack for safety; and in the very bottom of the heap on cost of living, childcare, and commute.

Given the costs of housing, no matter whether you rent or own in the area, I pretty much expected D.C. to fall in line behind San Francisco, nearby San Jose, and New York City in terms of expensive cities to live in, although I would’ve thought Boston and Chicago might have been a little pricier than D.C. perhaps.

But I was totally shocked to find that what I know anecdotally about the cost of childcare and commute times was actually confirmed by data. (It really is as bad as I think it is.) D.C. ranked No. 50 for cost of childcare with the average annual cost of full-time childcare coming in at $18,200, according to NACCRA, and No. 49, second only to New York, for commuting.

So, if I’ve got this straight, it’s great to be a traditional working mom in D.C. if you want to make a lot of money but spend a ton of it on childcare because you’re stuck in traffic. It’s no wonder that working from home is so the best option for mommies like me.

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Filed under childcare, daily life, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Revenge of the Mom Jeans

Yesterday I got a promotional e-mail from American Eagle about a program that they are running called Old Jeans, New Hope. The idea is that the company is asking people to bring old, worn out jeans to any American Eagle store for recycling; the jeans are then turned into insulation for homes in communities in need. In exchange for a denim donation, people will receive 20% off store purchases.

Although I think this is a great recycling program, the program promotion reminded me of a post I’d been meaning to write for awhile now on my new favorite jeans.

Between being a mom to a toddler and working from home, I nearly live in jeans. Consequently, I own a lot of pairs of jeans. I’ve bought more expensive brands like 7 For All Mankind and also really cheap kinds like the Mossimo junior jeans I picked up at Target for less than $14 this past summer. Although when you find a great pair of jeans, they most often are worth whatever they cost–7’s for example really do make anyone’s butt look good–I do kind of get off on finding deals on less expensive jeans that fit just as well as the pricier pairs.

My latest find was at American Eagle. I don’t usually shop at American Eagle, mainly because in my head it’s in the same category as Abercrombie & Fitch. And frankly, I’m too old for how short the shorts are, if you know what I mean. But I had a twenty-something friend visiting from France who just loves American-style clothes and she wanted to do some shopping at American Eagle, so I went with her to the store.

I had been wanting a new pair of dark wash jeans and they had about a gazillion pairs on display. At the time I visited, the store was running a promotion where all jeans were around $25. So, I figured why not try a few pairs on. Never having tried on AE jeans before, I didn’t know what I needed or even wanted in terms of style and size, so the sales associate grabbed about five different styles for me in what she estimated was my size.

I kid you not, I have never tried on five pairs of jeans and had them all fit really well. There was no gapping in the waist above the derriere region and there wasn’t four inches of excess material drowning my ankles. And the pockets were big and sat low, just the thing for minimizing assets. The fits were so good I debated buying all five pairs–I mean, really, when you find good jeans you just have to buy them. But then I decided that was a little excessive since I had just scored on some Target jeans a couple months prior. So, I talked myself into just buying two pairs. But which ones?

Making Moms Look Good

I was well stocked in the skinny jean department, so I had tried on the Slim Boot, Original Boot, Hipster Flare, Favorite Boyfriend, and Artist styles. After trying every single pair on at least two more times to determine what was a good versus great fit, I finally decided on the Favorite Boyfriend and Artist jeans. As you might imagine, the Favorite Boyfriend are a bit more relaxed, although they are pretty low rise, and the Artist have a little bit of a trouser twist on the classic jean.

About the only drawback I’ve found after wearing one of those pairs probably four or five days out of the week is that I think I would’ve maybe gotten a size smaller. The denim is kind of light and soft, which I like, but it also means that it sort of stretches out after a few wears, especially with all the bending and running I do chasing a toddler around all day. But that can be said for a lot of jeans, so I don’t know that I would really categorize it as a negative for these jeans.

And I’m definitely not the only mom who’s fallen in love with AE jeans. I was recently stocking up on some makeup in a department store when one of the sales reps at a nearby counter came up to me and asked, “Are those American Eagle Artist cut jeans?” Turns out that mother of two also recently purchased a few pairs and was loving that she got a whole lot of mom jean for the money.

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Filed under fashion and style, mom style, moms, shopping, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Stay at Home or Work? Every Mom’s Big Decision

As I was trying to shovel applesauce into a screaming toddler’s grimacing mouth the other morning, I saw this news segment on TV that asked: Who’s got it worse, working moms or stay at home moms? According to a University of Washington study, stay-at-home moms are more likely to be depressed. But the caveat is that those working moms who try to be super moms–meaning they have unrealistic expectations of work-life balance–were more depressed. The big takeaway being that any way a mommy slices it, she’s likely to run up against depression at one time or another.

I have thought a lot about this question over the past couple of years, as I struggled to decide whether to stay home full time with my wee one or go back to work. I’ve also seen a lot of mommy-friends come up against the same big question–and come up with different answers. But as I look across the spectrum of full-time moms to full-time professionals with kids on the side, one thing is clear: No one has it easy. Each work-life permutation that I’ve come across has moments that are positively overwhelming and definitely worthy of a whimper or two.

Of course I’m painting with a very broad brush, so bear with me, but most of my stay-at-home mommy-friends’ struggles stem from the fact that they are indeed home all the time. While it’s wonderful that they get to spend every waking moment with their precious wee ones, many of them seem to feel that they’ve lost a little of their shimmer and shake along with their connection to the working world. They’ve got a good grip on all things domestic–their laundry baskets aren’t overflowing and the litter box doesn’t stink–but finding things to do and places to go with the wee ones other than the grocery story and Target isn’t exactly easy. Hooking up with playgroups, classes, and activities can be as much work as dating or interviewing for a new job.

Life for working moms, on the other hand, is seriously programmed. From the moment the alarm rings to moment the last kid is in bed, it’s go-go-go time. In a way that’s good because a day can just fly by,  but one small glitch and the wheels are nearly going to fall off. There is absolutely no time for stuff like misplaced keys, runaway dogs, or flat tires. (My mommy meltdown of the week was over a broken back gate.) There’s so little time to take care of the basics that anything that requires extra, special, or immediate attention feels like a way bigger deal than it probably truly is. But having way too much to do in way too little time is the reality.

So, whether its about feeling invisible or inadequate, life for any mom, regardless of employment situation, can be stressful if not downright depressing. This realization begs the question whether there can really ever be a good work-life balance.

One of my brother-in-laws had a very good “dad” response to that question. He said that he knew he was close to striking that point when he felt like he was just doing in his estimation “good”–not fantastic or great but not bad or terrible either. It sounds a little depressing, but I get what he meant. It’s like if he was being a super star at work, he knew he wasn’t being the dad he wanted to be. And if he was being super dad, he probably wasn’t putting in the time or effort at his job that he should. So, when he was doing well enough, that was balance. I guess that makes him the good-enough father before there was the good-enough mother.

While I think that’s a truly honest assessment of the situation most young parents find themselves in, it’s not exactly prescriptive. The best how-to advice I ever heard was unsurprisingly from my best friend. (It’s always funny to me that you never really have to go far for good advice.) As an executive at a well respected, Fortune 1000 company, she’s definitely corporate to the max; however, she’s also a great mom who adores being with her kids, so she knows all too well how delicate that balance between a successful career and home life is. As I was blubbering to her about my decision to work or not to work, she finally told me the way she would have it, if she could: work 3-4 days a week, with the flexibility to work from home, and limited travel. And it dawned on me–isn’t that the way most mommies would have it? You’re home enough, but not too much, you have a little bit of income, and you still stay connected to the world that’s 18 and older.

But sadly, few of us are afforded that luxury of flexibility and those that have it cherish it. A lot of school teachers have a pretty good gig, working the same hours that their kids are in school and then summers off. But I learned recently that most female doctors only work three days a week because of this issue of family, and I instantly regretted my career decision. I certainly could have made a lot more money for the years I spent in school and have as close to a perfect work-life balance as possible. But I’ve got to imagine, or at least hope, that maybe the business world is in the process of changing to accommodate families needs to have moms and breadwinners. Maybe by the time Gen Y decides to have kids, the flex schedule will be more commonplace than it would seem today. Because the reality, at least according to that University of Washington study, is that as a mommy, you’re far from escaping depression at some point, no matter if you’re at home or at work.

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Filed under baby blues, family, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Keeping Up with the Alpha Moms

As I was flipping through the local paper this evening, I came across a reprint of an article from the Chicago Tribune, called “High-stress Motherhood.” Given my recent crisis of confidence in believing that I can actually succeed at being a working mom, I decided this article was probably meant for me.

I am totally mom Alice Domar, who so perfectly describes what it’s like trying to balance job demands with child demands:

“When you’re at work you feel guilty that you’re not at home, and if you go home at 5 or 6 p.m. to pick up the kids from day care, you feel guilty you’re not at work—or you do what I do: You have your Blackberry in hand, and every time you get to a stoplight, you check your email.”

I totally always feel like I’m running to just keep up, which makes wonder how only 40% of working moms report feeling rushed, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. What do the other 60% of them do for a living that doesn’t seem to make significant demands or add a certain level of stress to life?

Don’t get me wrong; I like my job and I like being busy. I find what I do both challenging and interesting. But while there are good days where everything feels under control, there are those other days, which usually end (at least for me) in some sort of mommy meltdown, a glass of chardonnay, and a call to my mom. At that point, I can hardly count myself one of those moms who report that they are happy despite their frazzled lifestyles. In fact, it usually takes me a couple of days to get over that this-is-too-much-for-any-sane-person feeling.

I fully acknowledge that I add a certain degree of undue pressure on myself. That’s just in my DNA; I have never really done anything half ass. Anything that I consider worth doing, I do to the best of my ability. But this article made me consider this:

As biology nudges the modern mom into the traditional position of comforter-in-chief, she starts to contend with the dazzlingly high domestic standards promoted by everyone from Martha Stewart, to HGTV to your friendly neighborhood alpha mom.

First, I just have to say that the term “alpha mom” is really funny to me, hence the title reference. But that aside,  maybe women, and especially working moms, are unknowingly being set up to try and fulfill unreal expectations. While husbands and moms definitely help share the burden of doing it all, they aren’t the teams of people that go into making every Martha Stewart or HGTV project a success.

But even though we may recognize that fact, it doesn’t necessarily stop us from wanting it all or striving for it. Does a reality check ever really kick in? Or do we as moms just live feeling inadequate in perpetuity? Gosh I hope not.

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Filed under daily life, depression, emotions, family, infants, mommy care, moms, stay-at-home moms, working mom

I’m Not Stupid, I’m Just Still Pregtarded

Last week, work took me to San Francisco for a housing trade show. (This is also why I went radio silent on my posts.) In my pre-mommy days, I used to absolutely love, love, love these types of trade shows because I could work them like no other. I had nearly every minute of my waking hours programmed with meetings with new and long-time sources. It made for some really long days, but I would come home with a boatload of story ideas and a fat stack of business cards, each name and company affiliate already committed to memory by the time my plane landed back in D.C.

But that was then and this is now. And now, my mommy brain doesn’t work like that. It can neither process nor retain anywhere near the volume of information that it used to just a year ago.

An embarrassing case in point: I was standing with a long-time source/friend when another source happened upon us and stopped to say hello for a few minutes. I immediately recognized this person and was actually glad I had run into him by chance, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. And it wasn’t like I had only met him once or only talked on the phone with him. No, this was someone I saw fairly frequently over the years at events like this and while his face was more than familiar, I was drawing an absolute blank when it came to his name. After chatting for 10 or 15 minutes, he left and my friend said to me, “Who was that?” All I could say was, “I don’t know; I can’t remember.” I spit out like five facts about this person and his company, but the one really important piece of information–his name–was not in the list. My friend looked at me with disbelief, and said, “You carried on a conversation that long and you don’t know him?”

I tried to explain that I did know the person, but it’s really hard to convince anyone that you know someone when you can’t conjure up a name. So, I just came clean and said that ever since I had baby, my brain hadn’t worked quite right.

Pregnant women always talk about pregnancy brain, so when I was a mommy-to-be, I was completely prepared when I started spacing out on stuff all the time. I chalked it up to the fact that your brain can’t function at full capacity when you are growing another human inside of you. In fact, I used to call it “placenta brain.” (Although someone recently had one better; he said his wife became what he called “pregtarded.” Love that.) But I had no idea that it would be more or less permanent.

Now, being unable to remember sources is so not a good thing when you’re a journalist. And realizing that’s where I am made me wonder whether I’ll ever really be as good at my job as I used to be.

This question also got me thinking about all those stories you hear about working women who get passed over for promotions after they have kids. My initial reaction to those stories always was: “That’s so unfair!” But could it be possible that placenta brain rather than management bias was more to blame in some of those cases? I mean, how realistic is it to earn a promotion on past performance when going forward you’ve got very real limitations on how much time and effort you can put in?

It sounds awful to suggest that, but when I really look deep, I can’t say for sure that my job performance post-baby has not suffered in some way. I mean, some days I feel like I’ve still got it. But other days, it feels like I’m running just to keep up. (And then there are still other days where I think I might be sucking at both my job and being a mommy.)

And then it sort of occurs to me that maybe why some of these women get so ticked off at not advancing in their careers post baby is because they’ve been getting the shaft all along. Maybe pre-baby they were killing themselves to be a superstar, with the hope that someday all their hard work will pay off in a big promotion. And then baby comes and they realize that someday is today. They know it’s impossible to keep up their pre-baby pace–working moms just can’t stay until 10pm working every night anymore–and they’ve also got some perspective on what’s reasonable when it comes to work versus what’s possible given the realities of babies’ needs. Working at break-neck speed just doesn’t pencil without some real advancement; these women need more incentive to make dealing with the BS of an office worth spending time away from their babies.

But now that my brain won’t go back to working right–I’m convinced that once you go pregtarded, you can never go back–it’s hard to see how I will be as smart, fast, or competitive (my company’s internal tagline) as I used to be. Although I’m sure, in reality, my brain is probably functioning at the same pre-baby voltage, I know its power is being divided to more outlets, reducing it’s end capacity. So, while it’s a relief to know that I haven’t just spontaneously lost a bunch of brain cells, it’s a little depressing to consider that I maybe have peaked in my career given the amount of stuff–spouse, baby, pets, house, job and all the detours that come along with them–I have to process on a daily basis.

The good news, then, is while I may not be as driven and strategic as I once was thanks to my plaguing case of placenta brain, the one work aspect that does improve post baby is efficiency. It is an upside to realize that even if I’m doing less great work, I’m getting more of it done in a shorter amount of time.

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Filed under babies, daily life, first year, parenting, post-pregnancy, pregnancy, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Why Time Is Never on a Mom’s Side

I saw this newspaper clipping on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday, and I couldn’t resist the urge to write about it. (Read the article and you’ll understand.)

But in case the print is too small, I’m going to summarize: Basically someone without kids writes in to an advice columnist asking why her stay-at-home mommy friends never have time to gab anymore. She asked:

“What is a typical day and why don’t moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home for nine hours a day (plus a few late work events); I manage to get it all done.”

I bet more than a few stay-at-home mommies want to deck this chick after reading that. The columnist’s response was classic. I personally loved the part where she talked about how moms not only do all the errands-type stuff single people do, but do it all while carrying a kid and the requisite accoutrement to ward of every mishap from a blowout to a meltdown. But her conclusion was a kicker:

“[Having kids] is also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn’t judge you, complain about you or marvel how much more productively she uses her time.”

I agree that perhaps this advice-seeker needed to be put in her place mommy-style.  But if I honestly think back to my single days, I probably wondered something similar. However, I wouldn’t have dared openly ask the question. Even I knew a comment of that sort would warrant a mommy-slap that would make any head spin.

I can definitely identify with the columnist’s first explanation of why moms never have enough time to do much more than just cover off on the basics–everything takes three times longer with kids. How true. Most of the time, as a mom, yes, you are trying to accomplish many of the same simple tasks that baby-free folks can handle during their lunch hours or on their ways home from work. But those tasks are so much harder when you’re lugging baby and gear.

Going to the post office, for example, totally stresses me out. So does going to get clothes altered. These are regular errands, but with a baby, they are not simple in-and-out stops. They are major outings that require moms to bring all manner of food, clothing, and shelter for baby, not to mention entertainment. That’s a lot of work for a book of stamps or a pair of pants.

But it was the columnist’s second answer to the advice-seeker’s question that was an a-ha! moment for me. While there is the whole question of logistics when going about daily life with baby in tow, there is this whole other major undertaking going on, one that’s so big picture, it’s often overlooked. It’s the fact that, as moms, while we’re trying to make sure the mortgage is paid, the fridge is stocked, and the animals are fed (along with the gazillion other things that make our lives liveable), we’re also trying to raise good, caring, productive people for society.

That’s the biggest challenge in the world. And I know that I definitely forget that as I’m melting down because I can’t find my keys, the baby’s crying, the dog won’t get in his crate, and I know that we’re going to be at least a half hour late to wherever I was supposed to be at that moment. I focus so much on the feeding, bathing, diapering, and entertaining of baby that I admit I often forget that I’m also teaching him how to be the person he eventually will be. (Just writing that makes me get a little misty.)

When I think about how big of a task that is on top of handling the myriad of minutia that fall under the category of life maintenance, no wonder moms have no time to spend a half hour gabbing with a friend about things like office gossip, new crushes, and fad diets. (Thank god for texting.) That half hour is critical brain rebooting time. (And by rebooting, yes, I really mean showering.)

But all this to say that I’m really glad this advice-seeker asked such a seemingly stupid question about what moms do all day. The answer was a nice reminder of not only all the little jobs I do, from walking the dog to getting the oil changed in the car, but also of my most important job–to raise a healthy, happy, curious, creative, and kind little boy. When I think about that I guess I can live with the fact that I didn’t cross everything off my to-do list today.

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Filed under babies, daily life, education, family, infants, moms, parenting, stay-at-home moms, working mom