Thursday, July 17, 2008

Secret Life of a Soccer Mom

Did you see the reality show on TLC called The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom? The basic premise is that a stay at home mom gets a glimpse at ‘what her life could have been like…’ had she continued with her career.

In the two shows I watched, the wives left high pressure jobs to stay at home with their children. In one episode, a doctor’s wife gave up a promising career in high fashion nine years ago to care for her three daughters. In another, an up-and-coming chef decided to stay home with her two boys. To both these women, I say, good for you—great choice!

The show, though, can’t leave well enough alone. It upsets the balance these families have worked for and plops these women right where they would have been had they stayed on their career trajectory. The fashion designer has one week to design three new dresses and show them to professional buyers and a stylist. The chef has to create three recipes and serve them to a table of food critics. All the requisite ups and downs, tears and triumphs of reality-TV ensue. Ultimately, both women thrive on the adrenaline, succeed at their tasks and are offered full-time jobs. The hitch is that they need to accept the job within one day and start immediately. It’s all or nothing.

And this is crap.

First, I want to scream at these women that this won’t be their only opportunity. It’s not now or never. The world is changing, technology is evolving, demographics are shifting. There will be other opportunities. Maybe not with this particular designer or restaurant, but keep up the networking, keep your skills fresh and other opportunities will come. And all it takes is one right opportunity.

Worse, though, the show trivializes the sometimes heart-wrenching decisions that many families make when a mother chooses to work full-time. It negates the fact that others don’t have the luxury of a choice…look at the nurses, the teachers, the secretaries who run the world each and every day. The show takes the husband (or partner) completely out of the equation. This is wrong because in relationships, life-altering decisions are not made in a vacuum, they are not made based on what is good for just one person and they are certainly not made in one day.

(Oh, and who’s going to watch the kids on Monday when mom goes to work? I know it took me three months to find full-time daycare for my son when he was an infant, yet these people can make it happen over a weekend.)

SLSM deceives the stay-at-home moms out there who are fed this glossy image of what it means to go back to work. Sure, for one week, the dad is happy to stay home while his wife is “at a spa” and then of course he’s proud that she ultimately succeeds in a highly competitive environment. Oh, she’s complete, they say. Yay.

Show me the picture six months later. Show me these families getting up each day before dawn, making breakfast, coordinating showers, getting the kids dressed, doing drop-off, working 8+ hours, fighting traffic, barely making pickup, cooking dinner, bathing the kids, reading stories, giving hugs, cleaning the kitchen, crawling into bed. And then show them doing it day after day after day after day after day.

Show me these families haggling over who takes Junior to his dentist appointment. Fighting over who can cover pick-up so the other can do the late meeting. Juggling the business trips and covering the soccer practices. Show me how supportive these husbands are six months later when the adrenaline wears off and their wives are too tired to cook, to clean, to pick up the laundry, too tired even to watch reality-TV.

Let me expose the dirty little secret of a working mom: It’s a grind.

This show doesn’t do anybody any justice. Being a full-time working parent might be a lot of things—creative, fulfilling, necessary—but it isn’t glamorous and it sure isn’t easy. Maybe once we open up about this “secret”, we can stop pining for what could have been and just be happy with what is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jumpstarting my career...some good advice that I wish I had taken

(Note: I first wrote this piece last December, when I attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women. This is when I started to blog for my company...now I'm taking some of these blog posts public.)

One of the sessions I attended at the MA Conf for Women was "Jumpstart Your Career." I chose this because I recently came back to work full time and also took on a new role (and promotion). I figured I've taken the leap, now I need to commit to it.

One of the speakers was Eve Tahmincioglu from CareerDiva, who put forth the Anatomy of successful women (she means top women leaders, profiled in her book "From the Sandbox to the Corner Office: Lessons Learned on the Journey to the Top"). I found this list to be pretty applicable to my corporate experience:
  • Mentor - get one, be one
  • Block out negative vibes
  • Know how to sing your own praises - or, as I prefer, be your own advocate
  • Be a work horse - success is not necessarily about work/life balance!
  • Pay your dues - in other words, stay with it
  • Pick your battles and stay focused

I like all these points, and the company where I spent more than a decade did a pretty good job in addressing some of them as they prepare people to "own" their own careers. The idea of finding a mentor, for example, is something that I've heard--and tried to put into practice--time and again over my 10 years there. I have a few people that I do look up to and trust and I have asked for counsel when I needed to make a big decision. I also try to mentor other people, but this is difficult sometimes. I don't want to "preach" at them or tell anyone what to do.

The other point I learned at the big corporate gig was to sing my own praises. I don't really like that phrase, though, as I fear that I may come off as arrogant. However, the phrase "Be your own advocate" is spot-on. Who wouldn't want to be his/her own advocate? So, looking at it this way, it makes sense for me to stand up for myself, let people know what I'm doing, and be noticed. So, maybe "advocacy" is a better way for women to think about this. Women are traditionally (or anecdotally at least) less apt to "brag" about their accomplishments. "So what?" you might ask. Arrogance is an ugly trait, anyway?

Well, it matters: Read this New York Times article on the pay gap between men and women and then tell me that negotiation skills don't matter. Bottom line--if you don't ask for something, you're not going to get it!!

Final thoughts: this was a good session, timely for me. I liked Eve; although I found her to be tough, I also thought she was refreshing and had an air of candor and reality about her. I especially liked her point about being a workhorse, and how "successful" women really didn't have a work-life balance. That got me thinking about my own situation and my own definition of success. I'm not in the corner office--nor do I ever aspire to be--but I find that with each rung of the ladder I climb, the expectations are higher and the responsibilities are heavier. Do I want this? I'm not sure...but I'm willing to find out.

(Note: I didn't last long. I left my job six months after writing this post and now I'm trying to redefine success for myself and my family.)