Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Should you change your name upon marriage?

The question of married name versus maiden name in the work-place is a tricky one, especially in the US, where cultural norms have favored the woman taking the husband's last name upon marriage.  There are many opinions for, against and for hyphenating or combining √† la Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It becomes even trickier if one factors into account divorce, remarriage, naming of children and step-children, and loss of professional identity if a woman has published in her maiden name or has degrees or licenses in her maiden name. 

Reading this research published in 2010 by researchers from the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research, Tilburg University in Holland suggests that the penalty for a change - resulting from the opinion or prejudice of others - might be $500,000 over the course of a woman's career.  Smart Money has a good summary of the research methods here.  The title of the Smart Money article is "Are Maiden Names Worth $500,000?"  My first thought was - Are you kidding me? I wouldn't willingly pass up $500,000 to share my spouse's last name!

Now, back to the survey: The survey subjects were college students, and they were also in Europe.  But the application of the research to the US is supportable.  Women may be applauded for changing their names in support of family unity, but on the other hand may be seen as less dedicated to their careers.  This penalty may be an unexpected cost born by the woman - and her family. 

My recommendation on this subject is that any woman who has established herself in her career, made contacts and obtained professional licenses should keep that name.  An alternative would be to retain one's maiden name as a middle name and - like Hillary - use all three in daily use.  A third alternative would be to use one name professionally while changing the legal name to the husband's name: One big drawback to this last alternative would be that professional licenses may need to be in one's legal name.  A final alternative would be to keep one's legal name the same but use the husband's name socially: Thus, a woman would introduce herself as Susie Marriedname while keeping Susie Maidenname as her legal name. 

I have met many women with different last names than their spouse and/or kids and I must say that I rarely get confused.  I hope you have the same experience.  And I hope that over time, society becomes more accepting of whatever name one chooses to use.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Working and Parenting, 2011 Version

Recently, there have been a number of articles about the impact of children on women's career trajectory.  This one at the WSJ here talks about why women don't reach middle management.  Another WSJ piece, this one an opinion on why women's pay should lag that of men's, as the author thinks women have less investment in the workplace: In reality, some women are punished strictly on the basis of being part of their gender group.  This one reported in cnn.com (originally from parenting.com) on why women are working at home instead of working outside the home.   And the regrets of a stay-at-home work-at-home freelancing mom, more than a dozen years later. 

As for working at home and being an entrepreneur, there are many drivers:  Among the issues here are a desire to be present on the part of mothers.  Childcare costs.  The second shift, where women still - by choice or by coercion or by society's expectations - put in more hours at home than their male partners.  The glass ceiling in many industries.  And the inability (or the perception of inability) to do both jobs (paying job, out of the house and unpaid, in the home) well or even acceptably.

For the new generation, those of Gen X or Gen Y who have baby-boomer parents, they have the additional experience of being latch-key kids, which impacts in turn their perception of working while parenting.  Many aren't willing to make the sacrifice that might be required, no matter what the rewards. 

Add in the additional opportunities at home due to technology.  Work at home.  Telecommuting.  Writing books and blogs.  Entrepreneurship.  Working at home is acceptable now, whether it is self-employment or as part of a "real" job. 

Unfortunately, life is not a Petri dish. No parent can put in the variables of work/no-work/part-time-work, home/not-at-home and find out what their life, their kids, their finances will look like in 20 years.  So they muddle through.   

I do know that things are much better now than they were when I was contemplating combining motherhood with career.  Maternity leave was rare, paternity leave an aberration. Whole departments and companies had no working mothers.  Twenty years ago, I had a stellar employee who wanted to work to telecommute to save two hours of commuting time per day. She was going to be a first-time mom, and I argued and hit a brick wall.  That company lost a lot, and the employee also lost although her career wasn't derailed, just delayed.  Now I think I could get that type of arrangement approved for a good employee who had already proven him/herself, with benefits all around.  The question is: Would she want it?  Readers - what are your opinions?

Monday, March 28, 2011

To Sir, With Love

"Those schoolgirl days, of telling tales and biting nails are gone,
But in my mind,
I know they will still live on and on,
But how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?
It isn't easy, but I'll try,

If you wanted the sky I would write across the sky in letters,
That would soar a thousand feet high,
To Sir, with Love

The time has come,
For closing books and long last looks must end,
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend,
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong,
That's a lot to learn,
What, what can I give you in return?

If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start,
But I, would rather you let me give my heart,
To Sir, with Love"

This song speaks to me on so many levels.  Of course, Sidney Poitier was great, but the movie was made in 1967.  When Lulu sang her "thank you" song for "Sir," I was just a kid.  (Now it's a "Glee" song...who knew?)

But substitute the word "Sir" with "Grandpa" and the song could be sung for my father-in-law by my kids -
Edward (known as Eddie) and Susan.   And my gratitude is unending. 

When Susan was 12 weeks old, my husband quit work to stay home with her - and two years later her brother - until she was in second grade.  By then, Eddie was in kindergarten.  When it came time for Mac to return to the workforce, we would both be working and we dreaded keeping them in day care and school for 10 hours a day.  My father-in-law, Edward, was a neurosurgeon - an amazing brain surgeon and healer.  At age 69, he still worked 60+ hours a week.  But it was time to retire, and his colleagues and assistants would ask "What are you going to do to keep busy when you retire?" And he would answer: "I'm going to open a day-care." Of course, no-one believed him until he said "I'm going to open a day-care...for my grand kids."

The way it actually happened is fuzzy, but all I remember is that when Mac went back to work, Grandpa Ed stepped in.  He would show up at our house at 6a.m. every day.  We had horses and chickens and he would normally help me feed and water them and then I would shower while he unloaded the dishwasher - without being asked.  I would leave for work at 7a.m. and he would wake Susan and Eddie, feed them breakfast, help them dress and take them to school. 

Summer vacations, Holiday break, teacher in-service days (the bane of working parents), summer vacations, all of it - he was there.  Grandpa Ed would take the kids to his house, the grocery store, the beach.  He'd take them to summer camp or soccer practice or friend's houses. If they were sick, he'd stay home with them and if they needed to be picked up from school, he'd do that too.  Sure, if the kids were really sick, my husband Mac or I would stay home with them.  But for garden variety illnesses, Grandpa Ed would take them and nurse them.  He rarely missed a soccer game, a school event or a birthday party.  Grandpa Ed was Super Nanny. 

While Mac was growing up, his dad was practicing medicine.  But Mac reports that he never felt that his dad neglected him.  Ed never missed a game or important event.  He was the varsity football team physician for every home game for three years.  He came home for dinner and then went back to work or he came home, tucked his kids into bed and then went back.  Mac's sister said she never felt anything but support from him.  So it wasn't out of guilt that Ed stepped in - it was out of love.

Both Susan and Eddie grew up with three parents. They had the endless love and undying devotion of their Grandpa.  Whatever problems kids have with their parents - and all kids do - another generation acts as a buffer.  Unconditional love is very powerful. 

Super Nanny.  Grandpa Extraordinaire.  An angel and a blessing.  How can you express thanks for the devotion and dedication of that man?  Now that Eddie and Susan are almost grown, we don't need Grandpa Ed like we did.  And like all good things, our time together has changed.  Grandpa is over 80 now, showing the effects of age.  His cancer diagnosis in 2009 was devastating to Susan and Eddie, and as he grows older they are experiencing the loss of a parent in all but name.  It is heart-breaking, but it is life.  How do you say "thank you?"  Words are not enough.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Combining Work, Family and School

The NYTimes had an article this week entitled "What’s Your Biggest Regret?"  While I have some - doesn't everyone? - one of the biggest is that I didn't get my Master's degree before I had kids.  But when measured against the regret that I would have felt if I hadn't had my kids, it is minuscule.  Logistically, however, obtaining my Master's then pre-kids would have been a more efficient way to go. 

Also this week, the WSJ Career Forum had a blog post by Sue Shellenbarger.  The reader asked how to go back to school while also working and parenting and Shellenbarger asked for reader's tips and hints.  

Deep in the recession of 2000-2001, I decided that my skills needed an upgrade.  But with two elementary school-aged kids, I knew that I would have a hard time fitting it in, much less actually making it to class at night after 40+ hours a week on the job.  I began investigating online MBA programs and settled on one that was a mirror of an in-person degree at a well-respected private not-for-profit school.  This accredited program was taught by a combination of working professionals and full professors. 

The program stated that students normally should expect to devote 20-25 hours a week to studying and I then realized that I would only be able to take one class at a time, which lengthened the program for me.  There was also the issue of cost and I was lucky that my employer had a partial tuition reimbursement program with a yearly maximum allowance, so I ended up using four years' worth of stipend, but actually took slightly less than three years to complete.  My program had six sessions a year and required 11 classes to complete, so I took four sessions a year. And I ended up spending 25-30 hours a week studying. 

How did I accomplish what I didn't think I could complete?  Ingenuity and determination.  I studied on the bus during my commute.  I read on my lunch hour. Lost sleep was a given. During weekend drives to soccer games for my kids, I outlined points for research papers.

Thanks to the advantage of technology, I was able to integrate the school work into my life.  For instance, my daughter was going to a week-long soccer camp, and I wanted to take the four hour drive to drop her off, but I had a Business Law paper due the next day.  I hooked my laptop up to the car battery and typed in the middle seat of our car while my husband drove.  I had my notes all spread out on the seat.  Was it fun? No, but I got  a grade of 98% on the paper. 

What did I give up? Television, movies, novels, reading for pleasure, sleep and having people over for dinner.  But since I had breaks between sessions and took some sessions off (like the November/December sessions), I was able to relax and regroup during the breaks.  This might not work for you if your program has "cohorts," which are groups of students that go through the program together in lock-step.  Cohorts are great for getting to know your fellow students so that's a trade-off you'll have to weigh for yourself if you think you might not want to go straight through.  I still was able to "meet" many of my fellow students in a non-cohort program and still consider them colleagues five years later. 

One thing that I didn't give up was volunteering at my kids' school.  I was PTA Treasurer for two years and then PTA President for one year during the time I was completing my Masters.  Was I loony for taking on this additional burden? Yes and no.  I was able to develop time-saving techniques and shortcuts while working on my degree and these have paid huge dividends in my work and personal life. 

Studying side by side with my kids after work at our kitchen table became routine.  The kids learned that even adults have to do assignments that they don't want to do and they also learned by observing that learning is a life-long endeavour, not just something parents make kids do. 

An unexpected problem occurred was when my husband was diagnosed with a serious and potentially fatal disease about one year into my program.  I took two six-week sessions off from school at that time but since I had bought the textbook already - a 1200 page business law monster - I did all the readings in my spare time, mainly to combat nervousness about my husband's health and to quell my anxiety with something that I could control.  I could not control his diagnosis or disease.  In the end, the serious condition became routine and I was able to re-enroll.  Since I had already read the text, I was able to do really well in the class.  In addition, the thought of being the sole supporter of a household was certainly a motivation to complete the degree, though - an added incentive.

The graduate degree did catapult my career ahead the way that I intended.  I doubled my income in five years and I have more satisfaction from my career.  I have realized a long-term goal, which was to teach university and graduate-level classes myself: I teach online classes exclusively because my kids are still at home but hope to teach in person at some point in the future.    

My passion is mentoring and coaching others and the degree made this possible much earlier than I had anticipated.  I enjoy nothing as much as I do helping others to take on new challenges, offering a new or unique way of looking at a problem or road-block and reaching goals that are important to them.  Acting as a coach/consultant is rewarding in the way that speaks to me on a deeper level. 

In the ten years that have passed since I started my online degree, online programs and alternate programs for working adults have exponentially expanded.   There are some tricks to finding a program that fits your needs and I will cover these in a future post. 

Going back to school will use skills that you might not know that you have and will increase your ability to handle complex tasks.  It's a career move that I heartily endorse.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

If it takes a village...

After Hilary Rodham Clinton wrote It Takes a Village in the late 1990s, I had the opportunity to see a portion of that concept in action and to demonstrate to my children and extended family what it meant to me. And though I don't know if it made a difference in the life of a child - or her siblings - I'd do it again in a minute. 

The thrust of the It Takes a Village book was its implied sub-title ...to raise a child.  The "village" consists of the people in the community - those who interact with a child, for good or for bad, and impact the child's life, choices and outcome.  Though I was never a big supporter of Rodham Clinton, the concept resonated with me.  Raise your child surrounded by role models and people who will support the child and both the child and the community benefit.  Raise your child with no support or only bad influences, and your child will feel the lack or embody the poor habits and lifestyle of those who are around your child. In the bigger sense, voters fund school bond levies - even if they don't have kids of their own of school age - for various reasons, one of which is the premise that an educated society benefits everyone.  Of course, if the whole village abdicated responsibility for others' children, the society would collapse, even if the government stepped in and acted like "big brother."

The year was 1999 and my daughter Susan was in third grade and my son Edward was in first grade.  My husband, Mac, had a day off and drove the kids to their elementary school about a mile away: After dropping them off, he was driving back to our house.  As he passed an apartment house, he noticed a little girl about seven years old, crying, at the school bus stop that normally had about 20 kids.  It was obvious that she was terribly upset and had missed the school bus. Mac stopped the car, and at the risk of being seen as a pedophile or kidnapper, took the little girl - Emily or as she was called, Emmie - to our elementary school.  On the drive, she said that her mother had left because she was late for work.  Mac brought her to the principal's office, where he was told by the staff that he "should have just left her there."

That evening at dinner, Mac told Susan and Edward about Emmie and they confirmed that she was in second grade and was in the classroom next to Edward's class.  I was intrigued enough to look up Emmie's name in the PTA directory and noted that her phone number was unlisted. 

A few days later, Mac was late driving the kids to school: But as he passed the same bus stop, you guessed it - a crying Emmie was there, alone having missed the bus again.  All three kids got a ride to school that day and became acquainted with each other.  It turns out that Emmie's mom Sarah was a substitute teacher at a private school nearby that our neighbor's kids attended.  The next day I called the private school and left a message for Emmie's mom.

She seemed puzzled when she called me back. I explained that my kids went to school with her daughter and that they had given her a ride to school when she missed the bus.  I don't know if she even knew that Emmie had missed the bus or gotten not just one but two rides with virtual strangers.  I said that usually my husband or I was home in the morning and one of us normally took our kids to school before work, so that if she needed to drop off Emmie with us some morning, we'd be happy to take her to school.  Still a bit detached, she took down my name, phone number and address and we said good-bye. 

The next morning after my husband had left for work, I was in my bathrobe with wet hair getting ready for work: Mac had a Tuesday-Saturday job and I went to work later when he worked, so I was able to take the kids to school.  Drying my hair, I heard the doorbell:  On the front porch was a blond curly-haired little girl who just had to be Emmie. And her mother, Sarah, with the same long blond curls.  Squelching my surprise, I introduced myself and the kids and said how happy we were to meet Emmie.   My kids were also surprised but they took it in stride and introduced Emmie to the cat and showed her their rooms. They played nicely until it was time to leave for school, loaded up their backpacks and then I suddenly had three kids to drop off at school. 

The most interesting thing to me was that I was a Type-A mother.  My kids were blessed to have a lot of very involved grandparents and family in the area and other than preschool had never had baby-sitters other than family. To have a virtual stranger take care of my child would have been unthinkable to me.  To leave a child at a bus stop was unimaginable: Sure, they could take the bus, but we’d be there when the bus driver dropped them off.  But I knew that I was lucky.  We'd had job loss, health scares and other stresses but we were able to provide our kids with what they needed on a daily basis.  We had family support.  We contributed time in their classrooms, volunteered as soccer coach and team manager and hosted sleepovers, play-dates and pizza parties.  Both my husband and I worked corporate jobs but he started work early and got off at 3 to get the kids after school and I was able to start later in the morning so that I could take them to school, making up the time in the afternoon.   Whether through choices, luck or happenstance we were able to parent the way we felt was best.   

Emmie became a fixture at our house.  Whenever her mom had a substitute teaching gig, Emmie appeared at our doorstep.  I never knew when she would appear until the doorbell rang.  She told us of her life with two younger brothers and her mom – a wild and crazy existence.  Emmie told us that her dad – her biological dad – was in prison.  In all the time that I knew her, I wasn’t able to figure out if that was an eight year old’s imagination or the truth.  Her two younger brothers – all age three and younger - had a different dad, who had shared half-time custody of them with her mother.  One brother had a heart defect – which left him vulnerable to death at any time.  Another brother had asthma and needed costly medical treatment.  Truth? Or fiction?

Another strange fact was that she didn’t live by the bus stop where we found her.  She didn’t even live in the boundaries of the neighborhood school.  She wasn’t eligible to ride the school bus that her mom put her on. 

On school picture day, Emmie’s mom forgot to fill out the photo form and send a check: She was heartbroken.  Consoling her on the floor, I told her that I would write a check for her photos. When she forgot her homework, I became the parent who went to the teacher to explain and ask for forbearance.  If she was hungry, she had breakfast with my kids. 

The most annoying thing about being working parents with elementary school aged children is the “in-service” days, where teachers work but there is no class, or just a half-day of class.  As a manager, I could take days off at will to cover these days or I could have the grandparents take care of the kids. Emmie’s mom didn’t have that luxury.  So Emmie would spend school holidays with us and instead of having two to feed lunch, I had three or even more if the kids had friends over.   Shopping at the grocery store, I would ask Emmie what she could eat, and at her insistence I made sure that she had kosher food.  Pizza was vegetarian with cheese and soup was chicken noodle instead of beef.  She would refuse Easter candy and didn’t recognize Halloween as a legitimate holiday –for her.  My kids had other Jewish friends, so this was not new but the up-close and personal exposure did have an impact on my kids.

Emmie went strawberry picking with us, and learned how to feed our horses and chickens with me in the morning before school.  She attended our birthday parties and my kids attended hers.   

Eventually, Emmie became so comfortable that she let down all her defenses and treated our house as she would her own.  This is when my kids started to complain: Why does Emmie have to be here all the time?  Now, my kids were pretty forgiving but they, too, dealt with working parents who weren’t always rested and refreshed.  Wanting your mom or your dad to yourself after a long day at school or on a holiday wasn’t too selfish, was it?  Other kids had their moms home all the time!  “Why do we have to share on the days that Emmie is with us?  We just want to hang out and relax with our mom and no Emmie.” 

Emmie’s mom was clearly stressed.  Time and money – the two demons of working moms. She did have some family support and her other kids’ dad provided some care and support for those kids.  We spent some time talking at parties or afternoons on the patio and I got to know some of her challenges.  The logistics of single-parenthood and a career as a substitute teacher at two or three different school systems was tough.  But she seemed to make choices that seemed odd to me.  One of the main things was her blas√© attitude towards her daughter’s whereabouts.  I would always enquire about her plans for the coming year and asked if she had signed up for the elementary school’s before-school care.  Sarah said yes, that she was on the waiting list and Emmie should be able to get in the next year. 

At the end of the school year, I got a new job that required me to work longer hours with a longer commute.  My father-in-law was going to come over to our house at 6:30 in the mornings and take my kids to school at 8:45, while I was going to leave for work way before that - at 7:15.  My father-in-law had spent a bit of time with Emmie but wasn’t comfortable managing her along with my kids.  The time had come for Emmie to attend the school-based before-school program. In July at a party, I told Sarah about my new job and said that I was glad Emmie would be able to go to the before-school program, only to learn from Sarah that she was not on the waiting list and had hoped that we could take Emmie for another year.  Unfortunately, I had to be firm on my father-in-law’s behalf and said that Emmie was welcome to come visit on holidays when I was off work and we would love to see them often.  We never saw Emmie again.  Ever.  She was not at my kids’ school in the fall and they had moved out of their apartment.  Frankly, I don’t know where they went.      

What did I learn from this experience?  Perhaps the biggest conclusion is that I consciously made different parenting decisions than had others: I knew that on an abstract level but it was crystal clear that I couldn’t affect other parent’s decisions. Another was that I had a lot of love in my heart for other people’s kids: I remember as a teenager wishing that my parents could “adopt” my sister’s friend whose family was fractured and lacking. 

Emmie had a need and I wanted to fill it.  Was this a misguided attempt to solve the problems of others or the problems of society at large? Perhaps, but it also brought out the fact that I did feel the need to give back to society in ways that would enrich my soul. This experience helped to spur me into college-level teaching, long a dream of mine.   

And I’m conflicted about her mother’s role in the uncertainty that Emmie experienced.  I understand that she couldn’t afford before-school care but am uncomfortable that she didn’t even try to find someone to step in and do what we did.  More recently, I became fascinated by the movie The Blind Side and the efforts of the Tuohy family on behalf of Michael Oher. Michael’s birth mother also faced a myriad of challenges but in the end also was not able to fulfill her parental obligations.  Because of my own situational constraints – having to work for a living – I wasn’t able to make the kind of commitment to Emmie that the Tuohy family made to Michael, but their choice resonated with me.

I think Emmie did benefit from her year with us.  Perhaps nothing would have happened to her had she missed the bus again: We’ll never know if it would have been a kidnapper or pedophile or another good Samaritan who would find her, alone, at the bus stop.   Maybe she would have found another way to be safe before school.  But I was not willing to take that chance.   

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Growing Up with Harry, Hermoine and Ron

When J.K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in the US in 1998, my own Witch and Wizard were seven and five years old, respectively.  They spent their summers with their grandfather, who followed his own mother's tradition of reading to children. He had picked up a copy of the book in England.  Every day they would read an installment and by the end of the summer, they had read the whole book. 

Both my Witch and my Wizard in turn became prodigious readers.  By the time they got to the third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2000, the Wizard at age seven was able to read all three by himself, which is an amazing feat. Starting with the next book, we would go to the bookstore at midnight and stand in line to buy it first thing. The Witch and Wizard would then stay up all night reading the books while their parents - who had to work in the morning - went to bed. 

My own Wizard had a best friend, Wonder (short for Boy Wonder), who was also gifted and they both spent hours reading and imagining and running around.   Their fantasies were inspired, perhaps, by Harry, Ron and Hermoine but took flight in their own universe here in their own world.  Wonder even looked a bit like Harry as described in the book and was sharp as a tack.

Witch, true to her own form, was a sports nut but also a strong reader. Bright and talented and with a resemblance to the actress that plays Hermoine - Emma Watson - she bristled at the comparisons and hated that Hermoine's hair was characterized as "messy" and similar to hers.  I think, though, that Hermoine did make it easier to be "studious" and talented, and that may have influenced all the girls who were exposed to the books. 

As Witch, Wizard and Boy Wonder all entered middle school, the imaginative play gave way to school work and organized sports but the foundation of this imaginative crucible continued.  The movies were a focal point for all three kids and again, midnight expeditions to view the movies were organized and anticipated. 

The actors that played Harry, Hermoine and Ron turned out to be about the same age as Witch and Wizard and were certainly going through the same life stage at the same time. The last book was published as Witch, too, was finishing her high school career and looking to college.  Emma Watson started at Brown University the same year that Witch started at her university, a few hundred miles away on the same coast.  The last movie, Part II of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will premier the month after Wizard graduates high school.

All of this dovetailing is part of how I look back on my kids' childhood.  Perhaps not as exciting as Harry, Hermione and Ron's, but a time of exploration nonetheless.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yes, that's right!

I've decided to start a blog.  I have quite a few areas that I wish to explore.  Getting where you want to go.  Combining disparate areas of your life- career, parenthood, family - and achieving goals.  Going from home back to work or becoming self-employed.  Becoming a success...however you choose to define "success."  Managing transitions and challenges.  More later.