Trading Places

In June my husband and I will have been married for 14 years. In almost all of that time I have been the main breadwinner of our family. Despite having five children I have primarily worked outside the home, often well over 40 hours per week. With my first born I returned to work just three weeks after having her, as my naive self did not realize that they could not legally threaten to take my job away (which they did). After my second was born I began a new job four weeks after having her. With numbers three and four I had a little more time, though baby number four did cost me my job as my company did not want to honor the restrictions my doctor had ordered (Again, I was too naive to know that I could fight this).

My being the breadwinner was not by any conscious choice on the part of my husband. He worked in commercial construction and when the economy tanked so did his opportunity for steady employment. In fact, he was once laid off via phone while we were at the hospital for me to give birth. He tried and tried to find steady work but in his industry he often just found dead ends or empty promises. At times we were as poor as could be, sharing a pizza for both lunch and dinner just to that we could buy formula for our daughter. He would take any job he could to make some money, but at that time it just wasn’t enough. My hope to be a stay-at-home mommy was just not to be.

So, college degree in hand, I spent my time working, mainly in the field of human services. Over time I worked my way up to management. I made a solid income and had amazing job stability. I also had 60 hour work weeks and absolutely no time with the kids. None. Zero. Then along came baby number five, almost seven years after our last child was born. Surprise! Again, I returned to work, though this time it was after the customary 12 weeks off that I was allowed. Due to the cost of childcare and some logistics issues with school schedules, my husband did side jobs but mainly stayed home with the pack as Mr. Mom.

As I started a new job in healthcare management and obtained my MBA, I found that again the time with my family was slipping away. Again. I should know better by now that increased responsibility often equates to decreased personal time. And you know what? For many that’s OK. For many that works. It’s just for me it does not. My husband would lovingly send me pictures and messages throughout the day, showing me the cute things my daughter did (starting to crawl, starting to walk…). And here I was, missing it all. Again. That was my word….”Again.” I hated it.

So, recently we made the command decision that I would start working from home. My MBA has opened some doors for me that would otherwise be shut in regards to online teaching, etc. I am also going to keep at my newfound pastime of writing, and hope to have a few more articles published soon. To say there has been a transition period would be an understatement. I have never fit that Stepford Wife model very well…I’m just too loud and opinionated for that (despite all my efforts to be otherwise). However, over the past month we have finally gotten the hang of this…I think…kind of….Oh, who am I kidding? It’s still a shit show and probably will be for a while.

Essentially my husband and I have traded places. He is now the breadwinner (though I’m still working) and I am at home with the kiddos making PB&J’s and trying to research articles in-between nap time and lunch. What makes this work, though, is the fact that we are both happier. My husband never felt right being at home, and often times it would cause him to fall into depression. I felt like a horrible mother who would end up with a world of regret for not being there for my kids. Now we are both feeling that we are in our more natural roles and environments, even if it’s still a struggle to figure out all of the logistics and minute details.

It’s nice to know that, even after 14 years, we are able to make these changes and look towards what is not only best for our entire family, but what is best for us as individuals as well. I hope that we never stop doing that.



Today I have been meditating a lot on the idea of fear…the levels of fear, what I am personally afraid of, how this fear impacts my everyday life. I am one of those people who has always enjoyed being afraid on a superficial level (think haunted houses and Stephen King novels). My favorite movies are those that are considered horror or psychological thriller, and Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.

Yet I think that fear, real fear, is much different. Some fear is natural, part of our wiring as human beings. We learn to either run away from things that could potentially hurt us or fight back if needed. Some fear is developed from experiences and is a learned behavior. We as people learn that if an event results in something bad or painful we need to avoid it if possible. This is all part of our biology, a survival mechanism developed over the ages.

What fascinates me, and often plagues me, is fear that is situational and has a foundation in the world around us (i.e. culture, society, surrounding environment, etc.). In reading about the topic of fear I have learned that fear is really a continuum. There is every level of fear from mild to severe, with some fear presenting at such a level that it becomes debilitating. There is also slow burning fear…continuous stress, continuous worry. Often in these cases people do not realize right away that they are experiencing fear. They instead attribute their feelings to the stress of everyday life.

We’ve all heard of “fight or flight.” This describes basic, common responses to fear; either you run away or you stay and face it (i.e. fight). There is another response, though, that is now being recognized. This is the response of fright. That’s right, a person can respond to fear with more, continuous fear. While it sounds obvious now, it’s really not something I have ever really thought of before.

I think it is the “fright” response to fear that keeps people, such as myself, stuck in perpetual cycle of stress filled days and heightened anxiety levels. If someone were to have come up to me a few years ago and asked me if I was afraid, I would probably have laughed and asked “what about?” Now I realize that I have truly been living afraid for years now.

What have I been afraid of? Oh, so many things. Disappointing those I love. Not meeting expectations. Not performing to the best of my ability. I’ve been afraid of following my heart. I’ve been terrified of living a life of passion and purpose according to my own standards and not those of others. I have been scared of saying “no.” I have feared hurting those I care about in order to make myself happy.

I have been fully and utterly terrified of change. Even with an amazingly supportive husband I have been truly scared to step out of my comfort zone and do what I feel would be best for me. Instead I have run from one opportunity to another…all of which appeared to be different but really have been the same emotional prison hidden behind different names. I’ve been doing what I thought I should do…playing a part in a play instead of being an active participant in my own life.

What I have recently discovered is that fear will eventually reach the point where the “fright” response no longer works. I am at this point. I know that I can no longer stay in this cycle of compounding fear. It is negatively impacting my mental and physical well-being in ways that I never imagined. It is killing my passion and dulling my light…two things which I swore I would never let happen.

I refuse to live the rest of my life afraid. I know that I am going to have to be brave, that I am going to have to look fear in the face and believe that whatever happens it will all be OK. I have to trust in myself, my family and in God that everything will work out if I just follow my heart. And while I am afraid of this realization and the change to come with it, for the first time I am excited and energized as well. In the words of one of my favorite singers, Francesca Battistelli, “Fear, you don’t own me…”

Confessions of a “Type A” Surrendered Wife

Words of truth from a control freak who is working hard to let it go

I am without a doubt a Type A personality. Somewhere in my 20’s I broke out of my shell of insecurity and moved into the realm known as pure know-it-all. Every psychological test that I have ever taken has branded me as one of those people who likes to be in charge, working as a leader and not a follower. Words used include “ambitious”, “competitive” and “impatient.” I am most certainly all of these things, a thousand times over. I have always been somewhat kind of a little stubborn (ha!) and heaven only knows how much I hate being late. My planner is my second Bible.

Over the years my bullheadedness and drive to succeed has served me well in many ways. As an adult I began to really come into my own, and was able to face adversity and challenges head-on, without becoming too overwhelmed (usually). As our family grew my need to hold on tight to the reigns allowed us to stay afloat when otherwise, I felt, we would have sunk. This is especially so in regards to the times when my husband used to travel for work. Even when he was gone for months at a time, there was nothing that I felt that I couldn’t do.

And therein lies the issue…that there was nothing I felt that I couldn’t do. Not we. Not my husband and I. Nope, just ‘I’. Being a control freak does not in any way increase intimacy or feelings of endearment; I would say it does anything but that. It’s hard to get close to someone or feel needed and respected when they are constantly dictating your day or never asking your opinion.

My hostile takeover of the household started slowly and innocently enough. My husband worked on the road and because of that I had to oversee everything at home; paying the bills, making the meals, doing the laundry, taking care of the kids, and so forth. It became routine for me to just do it because, really, I had no other choice. At some point, though, he stopped working on the road and became a regular member of the household. His being home, however, did nothing to stop my Type A level 10 management practices. If anything my hold on the household got stronger, as I was starting to feel challenged in a role that I had carried out for so long. Instead of working together we were in a constant game of tug-of-war, with our marriage in the balance.

I probably would have continued down the path of complete marital destruction if it weren’t for two things that happened to me over the course of about a year. The first of these was that I read a book entitled “The Surrendered Wife” by Laura Doyle. It is a book that focuses on the idea of the ‘surrendered wife’ as it is described in the Bible, and offers practical ways for women to work at being surrendered.

“The Surrendered Wife” is a blueprint of ideas and suggestions for any woman who wants to take on more of a surrendered approach to their marriage. It is all about respecting your husband and, no, it does not call for you in any way to become a walking talking manikin with no original thoughts, ideas or opinions of your own. I admit that there were parts of the book that appealed to me more than others (think surrendering finances or not correcting your husband when you think he’s making a mistake). Still, other parts sounded appealing. It is suggested in the book that a surrendered wife essentially let go of certain things to her husband, and in doing so release the stress that comes with always being in control. Self-care and personal time are greatly encouraged.

Though not always the case, these days I consider myself a highly spiritual person, if not a religious one. I believe firmly in Christianity, but do not regularly attend a specific church, nor do I belong to a certain denomination. I have read the Bible multiple times through, along with religious texts dedicated to other belief systems such as Buddhism and Shamanism. I usually have liberal sympathies and believe firmly that everyone is entitled to equal treatment, love and respect. This includes women, whom I believe to be every bit as important and capable as their male counterparts.

Reading this book was not the first time I had ever heard of the Bible stating that a woman should surrender to her husband. It was, though, the first time I had ever considered putting it into active practice. I knew from what seemed like endless hours of emotional conversation that my husband felt as though I didn’t respect him. He felt emasculated and thought I didn’t value his input into household matters, specifically those having to do with finances.

In reading the book I realized one thing…my husband had been right all those times he had called me out for being controlling. I didn’t value him, not the way a wife should her husband. I didn’t believe he was capable of handling things, mainly because I had never given him a chance. He knew that I set him up in my mind to fail before he even started, so he never truly gave 100% effort into anything I asked him to do.

After reading the entire work (along with many others) and meditating on it for days I finally knew in my heart that I had to give surrendering a try. At first I wasn’t sure how this would work. I am employed outside of the home and have been the main family breadwinner for years. I am in management, so it is very difficult for me to just “turn off” my tendency to be in control just because I am at home. More than anything, leading the household and managing the finances was something that had become ingrained in me over the years. Sometimes I felt it was more of a natural instinct than learned behavior, and truth be told I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make the change.

True to the advice I had read regarding surrendering, I didn’t tell my husband what I was doing. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I didn’t want to have to explain that I wasn’t turning into the stereotypical surrendered wife of the “yes sir, no sir” variety. I didn’t want to have to explain that I still value women’s rights as much as ever, and that it wasn’t something my husband was forcing me to do. I also didn’t want to hear that I couldn’t do it, that I wouldn’t be able to surrender. I knew in my heart it was going to be hard…I didn’t need to hear the inevitable comments that I knew would come with my decision.

Instead I began to make little changes, quietly, without saying a word about it. I would ask my husband what he thought about certain things instead of just stating my opinion or making decisions without consulting him. I started to ask him to handle things around the house, such as paying bills or managing after school activities. I handed over the passwords and login information for our online accounts, and gave him a schedule of when things were due so he could keep track without feeling he had to come and ask me all of the time.

After a few months of attempting surrendering I saw some marked differences in my marriage. The disagreements and “serious conversations” my husband and I had decreased dramatically. I found that as I allowed him to make decisions two things happened. First, I was not stressed out about how things were going to happen, when they were going to happen, or if they were going to happen. I just sat back and allowed things to unfold. Second, I found that when I allowed my husband to make decisions, more times than not he would take my wants and needs into consideration even before his own…and I never even had to ask! As I was more courteous and didn’t put up a fight over the ‘little things’, he was that more willing to compromise as well.

I’ve been working on surrendering for about a year now. Overall I would say I am about 50% of the way there. I have found that it has been difficult for me to fully let go of my controlling nature. I think I still have a lot of fear of things falling apart. I know this is irrational–my husband is a very capable person–but regardless I still somethings resort back to that fully Type A mantra of “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It doesn’t help that I fulfill the role of “boss” at work. Sometimes I need to be conscious about switching roles when I get home so that I don’t bring my “bossiness” home with me. And of course there is always the issue of my temper–I am an Aries, after all.

I am certain many who know me will have had no idea that I embarked on this journey. I know that on the surface I appear to wear the pants as much as I always did. I joke a lot about being in charge, and that’s something I am still working on. I have to become more secure in my new role. It doesn’t matter really, though, what other people think. What matters is that I know, and my husband knows. He sees my attempts to change, the little steps of progress I’ve made. For me, that’s enough. I know that the more control I release, the more peace I will gain. Really, that’s all I want…peace for myself, my husband, and our family.

My daughter hates me and I don’t know what to make for dinner

Reflections on having a teenage daughter

“My daughter hates me and I don’t know what to make for dinner.” This is the exact thought I had driving home from work last week. It had been a long day at work with one problem after another arising out of nowhere. While I was playing my best version of Superwoman at the office I was also getting inundated with text messages from my husband about my teenage daughter. Though too busy to answer them all, a quick glance at the screen told me all I needed to know–My daughter was pissed (again) and we were in desperate need of groceries (again).

Once I was finally able to escape to my car and start my 30 minute drive home I began to ponder my current situation. My daughter was upset over one thing or another having to do with what she sees as my husband and I’s overly restrictive, totally unnecessary set of (gasp!) rules. Rules such as no going for a run in the dark after 8:30….no staying up until 2:00 a.m. messaging on your phone…no hoarding dirty dishes with dried on food in your bedroom closet. You know, those totally unreasonable rules that we parents come up with for no other reason than to torture our young.

Some parents I know get very upset when their children are mad at them. They take it personally, and I can totally understand why. As a parent you want nothing more than for your child to be happy, and when you yourself are a source of unhappiness that just stinks. For some this makes it hard to set an expectation for good behavior, or to have solid ground rules by which the child is expected to comply.

While I get where these parents are coming from, I have to say I am not one of them. Driving home that day, the fact that my daughter was mad at me really did not bother me much at all. In all honesty, I hardly thought about it. I was much more concerned with the fact that I had very little food in the cupboards and desperately needed to go shopping than I was that one of my offspring was in the midst of a teenage temper-tantrum.

I know, I know…this probably sounds callus. However, the truth is that I love my daughter dearly. I love all of my kiddos more than I could ever express. And though it doesn’t bother me when she gets mad, I do sympathize. I remember well the real anger I used to feel towards my mother. More than once I have seen the same look in my daughter’s eyes that I used to give my mom; that look that says “If I could I would shoot laser beams out of my eyeballs and fry you where you stand.” Oh yes, I know it well. But it is this knowledge, this memory of how I used to be at that age, which allows me to take it all in stride and not become personally wounded by her words or actions.

I was not a bad child. I was, however, a very sassy teenager. I never did drugs or drank alcohol. I got good grades and took advanced classes. I excelled at music and even tried my hand at a sport or two (which, might I add, I most decidedly did NOT excel at). Yet between the ages of 13-18 I was a sassy mouthed little stinker. I could roll my eyes and cross my arms with the best of them. Oh, and nobody had the one-line insult down like I did.

What made me act this way? Did I hate my parents? Was I the victim of a miserable childhood? Was I neglected or emotionally wounded? No. No to all of it. I had a great childhood, compared to many. The only explanation that I can give as to why I acted the way I did was because I was a stressed-out, acne covered, frizzy haired ball of teenage hormones with no real outlet to my emotions and, oh yeah, I thought I knew it all. In short, I was a teenager. That’s it. That’s all there was to it.

Looking back now I can see that the way I acted was probably quite hurtful to those who loved me most, but of course I didn’t realize that in the moment. I was too concerned about how ‘right’ I was to care about the fact that I might be hurting someone. Still, I never intentionally wounded my parents. I never, excluding the occasional full blown argument here or there, said anything or did anything with the sole purpose of hurting their feelings. I was just convinced they knew nothing.

Yet despite the fact that I often didn’t mean to hurt my parents, I know I did. I especially hurt my mother, with whom I had a very rocky relationship for many years. I remember my mother crying and staying in her room, nursing the wounds she received from one of my verbal attacks. She took it all very personally, and because of that my words cut her deep. She wasn’t able to step back and realize that I was a child lashing out…that even though my age had reached double digits it did not mean that I had the mental wherewithal to really know what I was talking about. Every word I said she took to heart, and it crushed her. It’s something I feel bad about to this day.

I think it was watching how my mother reacted to the teenage version of myself that has really taught me how to handle my daughter. I can reflect back on myself and my actions and respond to my daughter as though she is me. My emotional resilience is such that her words don’t really wound me as deep as they could otherwise. I hold the understanding that much of what she says is not meant personally, and that the age she is at is a difficult one.

I do tell my daughter when something is too much or is a bit hurtful. And, generally, she will apologize. However, I don’t ponder over it or lose any sleep over it at night. She lashes out because I am her safe place, and I will love her regardless of what she says. She knows this. She says things before she thinks because that’s what teenagers do—it’s the stage of growth their brains are at. Her words and actions are not without consequences, but one of those consequences will never be knowing that her ‘normal’ teenage phase emotionally damaged her mother.

This is why, after a crappy day at work, I am more worried about what to make for dinner than I am about the fact that today, for a while, my teenage daughter hates me. I will survive her being mad at me. The uprising of five angry kids who will all claim to be “starving to death” when I get home, on the other hand, I may not survive. I’d take the former over the latter any day.

A rare photograph of me and my teenager

I have workplace anxiety and, yes, I’m the boss.

“It’s not the stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” —Hans Selye

It is no secret that a poor workplace environment or having a tyrannical boss can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Forbes has reported that out of 900 people surveyed regarding their workplace stress, over 50% stated that their supervisors were the most common cause of their stress on the job. Additionally, over 60% of those surveyed by Forbes reported that they have become psychically and/or mentally ill due to workplace stress. In fact, the most common reason people leave their places of employment is job stress (over 75%).

It seems everywhere you turn you can find information about how having a poor supervisor can lead to ongoing health problems such as increased risk for heart attacks, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and increased substance abuse. Experts are quick to define someone who is a “bad boss,” including those individuals who are overly critical, disengaged, a micro-manager, defensive, abusive, distant, demanding, rude, and insensitive.

I can honestly say that I am one of many who suffer from workplace anxiety. Some who know me well might be surprised to hear this, while others may not find it surprising at all. I have always had a huge fear of failure and a desire to impress others. What’s different for me from some who experience this type of anxiety, though, is that where I work I am the boss. For the majority of the past 6+ years I have been in some sort of supervisory position when it comes to my role at work. Sometimes I have only supervised a small number of employees, while others I have overseen large scale programs with upwards near 100 or more staff at a time.

In thinking about my anxiety I have realized that the size of the program I am supervising or how many staff I oversee has not seemed to matter. Regardless of where I have been working, when I have been acting as a manager I have regularly experienced moderate to high levels of anxiety related to my job. I am talking high blood-pressure, racing heart, insomnia and all. I sometimes think that I am not cut out for work outside of the home, but unfortunately that just isn’t an option for my family at this time.

I have spent years trying to figure out why I react the way I do to work. I know it is not job specific as it does not seem to change when I leave one employer for another. I have worked in several different industries and this, too, has not seemed to matter. With time I have realized that there are several individual issues which have combined together to make me the now almost constantly stressed-out person that I am. These are mostly things that are consistent with my role as a ‘boss’, and are not specific to one job location or employer in particular.

  1. Huge Responsibility. Being responsible for so many people and so many things is overwhelming. I feel a huge amount of pressure to do well by my clients and my staff. I truly care about those I serve and those who work for me. I want my staff to want to come to work; I want them to enjoy themselves while they are there (as much as is possible). I feel a huge sense of responsibility to all of those who come through my office door every day. Sometimes it’s like the weight of everyone’s world is on my shoulders and I become flustered trying to manage it all.
  2. Multiple Demands. As the boss I feel like I have so many problems to solve and job roles to fill that I don’t always know which one to tackle first. Yes, I make lists. Yes, I prioritize. Yes, I write myself reminders (I kind of own stock in sticky notes). Yet sometimes prioritizing isn’t possible and more than one issues demands immediate attention. It’s at these times when I feel hugely overwhelmed and largely incompetent. What’s more fuel to the fire is that every day seems to present this type of situation, where I am having to make these types of immediate decisions. I know, I know, I am the boss; I should be able to handle these things. But it’s times like these when I wish most that I could just split myself in half so that there could be more than one of me to get things done and questions answered.
  3. There is no coming up for air. In the type of industry I work there is no coming up for air. People always need healthcare, which mean staff are always working. That, in turn, leads to a constant need for me to be “on point.” Even when I have a day “off”, I am not really off. To say this gets tiresome would be an understatement. As the boss I have to be ready at a moment’s notice if there is an issue with staff, residents, families, our computer system, any of our vendors, or the building itself. I am the type of person who needs to recharge their batteries, and when I don’t get a chance to do so I certainly see a spike in my anxiety.
  4. Lack of support. Sometimes in certain jobs I have held there has been a lack of support from my superiors. This might be from my direct supervisor or from the ‘corporate’ level of the company itself. It certainly hasn’t been the case at every place I’ve worked, but I have seen it enough times to mention it here. When there is a lack of support I react as any employee would–I feel increased pressure and greater isolation. It’s just as important for me to hear from my boss that I am meeting expectations as it is for my staff to hear it from me. The longer I go without some type of reinforcement, even in the form of constructive criticism, the most I start to stress about whether or not I am meeting performance expectations.
  5. Lack of control. Sometimes being the boss does not mean you really get to make all of the decisions. I have been in many situations where I have had to deal with an overall change in policy or procedure that is made by someone with more power than I. Often whomever has made the decision does not actually understand the impact the change will have on my program and therefor the change does more harm than good. Other times I am denied changes or have to ask permission before I take certain management steps (i.e. hiring, firing, staff discipline, creating new forms, etc.). Staff do not understand why I cannot simply handle situations as they arise, and those I request permission from may not understand the urgency of what I am asking. I am then caught in an anxiety inducing tug-of-war.

I will say that one thing that has helped to reduce my anxiety has been the caliber of staff that I have had over the years. There have been, and are today, many staff members who have helped me in being the best boss I can be. Often they have worked to reduce my anxiety without even knowing they were doing so.

They say realizing there is a problem is the first step to overcoming it. I am sure that this is probably true, but for me the more I understand it the less I am sure what to do about it. I have implemented self-care techniques which have helped, such as regular exercise, a good diet, counseling and meditation. I have considered anxiety medication but have not felt that this was right for me. When on the job I try to connect with others as much as possible; sometimes just getting up and out of my office makes all the difference. I also try to delegate work out to those staff whom I know can do a good job (of which I have many) so that I feel less overwhelmed.

Yet even with all of the above self-care techniques in place I still have days where my anxiety spikes through the roof. Often this occurs on Sundays, when the anticipation of returning to work is at its greatest. (I have thought many a time that though I have the “book smarts” to be in management, I am not sure that I have the temperament nor the emotional fortitude.) It’s on these days that I want to curl up on my bed with my blanket and pillow and never leave the house again. Yet I know that this feeling will pass…and, when the alarm goes off the following morning, I will get up and head to the office with the goal of being the best boss I can be that day. All I can hope is that over time and with experience each day will become a little easier than the one before.

From Tattoos to Stretchmarks

I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I never wanted to be a mom at all. My adolescent feelings about the fact were so strong that at the age of 18, against all reason and sensibility, I got a giant tattoo plastered across my stomach just to prove the fact that I would forever remain childless. In all my naivety I vowed that never would I allow my new work of art to be tarnished by the strains and scars of childbearing. I was fully convinced that I would finish college, travel the world and marry some hugely successful businessman that would support my career in anthropology, no matter how meager my paycheck. At the ripe age of 18 I saw a clear picture of my future, and had few doubts that things would work out exactly as I imagined.

Now, seventeen years and five kids later, I look back on the absolute absurdness of those years with amusement. Like one of those ‘pick your own ending’ storybooks the original ending of my story changed and evolved into something totally different.  I did finish college with a degree in Anthropology, but the traveling I do consists mainly of back and forth trips to after school activities and the grocery store instead of to ancient long lost burial sites. Yes, I married a wonderful man, but he’s more into baseball and beer than he is business. And the beautiful rose tattoo that I had so strategically placed? Well, let’s just say it now looks more like a large bouquet.

Given the drastic departure from my original life plan I would be lying if said that there haven’t been times where I have wondered how I got myself where I am. When people ask if I am happy I always answer “of course”, and that is, for the most part, the truth.  Still, there is always a piece of me that wonders what it would be like if I had taken a different path. What if my independence free spirited side had won out? Would I be more content? Would I be happier, skinnier, healthier, less stressed and more at peace? Would I be better off not trying to constantly balance it all, to be everything to everyone?

For years it seemed to me that no matter where I was or what I was doing I felt like I should be somewhere else. I always felt “off.”  I’d be sitting in a work meeting and suddenly the desire to be at home with my kids would hit so hard and so fast it would almost take my breath away. Then on another day I would be sitting with my kids after a weekend at home and the longing to return to work would become all I could think about. It was a constant back and forth, running from one thing to another and never really finding contentment with any of it.

I had definite mom guilt for working, but also felt this intense pressure to always be better, to make more money, to succeed. I was at odds with myself all the time, heart and mind going at it like to fighters in the ring. I would get disgusted with myself for not being there with my husband and kids when it mattered most, then turn around and push myself to find a better paying job despite longer hours and more responsibility.  All I could think was that there was something wrong with me that I never seemed to be happy where I was, in the moment.

Clarity came in the form of a mini mental breakdown. Ok, who am I kidding, it was a pretty intense period of hysteria. It happened out of the blue, with no warning whatsoever. My husband had asked me a simple question about one little thing or another. I can’t even remember now what it was, that’s now important it must have been. I do know it was nothing unusual.  It didn’t matter to me. In that moment you would have thought he had asked me to sacrifice my first born. I lost it. Not in a normal “I just need to cry for a minute” sort of way. Oh no, this was a face melting, fear inducing, laser shooting from your eyeballs sort of meltdown. I was at the point where I could not handle it any more…not work, not home, not any part of it. I had reached my breaking point.

I think that for mothers today these types of thoughts and, (gasp!) breakdowns, are not unusual. In fact, I would hasten to say that they are a normal part of living in the society we do. The pressure on women to be it all has never been greater. We as women have found ourselves pushed by society to have a specific identity, to be ‘strong and independent’, and to chase down any dream we want. For years books such as “The Feminine Mystique” have petitioned the need for women to leave the home and forge their way in the world if they truly want to find happiness.

On the flip side the same society that encourages our independence turns around and preaches the need for the woman to be in the home, the importance of the mother’s role in childrearing and the evils of outside employment. Women who work outside the home are told they are abandoning their natural roles, and that their children will pay the ultimate price for their selfishness. The same mother who fights back tears as she drives away from daycare drop-off is now being told the very job she was encouraged to get is damaging the mental health of her child.

You would think that mothers everywhere would band together against the unfair blubbering of a very confused, imbalanced society. Sadly, it seems to me the opposite is often true. So many mothers today have no fear in shaming others of their kind, pointing out any non-organic misstep they may make. Working mothers call at-home moms lazy, and at-home moms say that their working counterparts are greedy and selfish. At the same time employers in America have taken a hands-off stance to assisting working mothers by providing adequate time off to handle family commitments, sick children and their own mental health. Oh, and if a working mom wants to rejoin the workforce? Well, she’d better be prepare for a massive uphill battle to prove her worth and abilities. As stress builds where is a mother to really turn?

After I calmed down from what I call my “episode,” I began to see things a bit more objectively. No wonder I have a hard time being content in my life. As a person I had gone from never wanting children to having five. As I mother I was trying to balance the maternal instinct to be with my children with my own personal need for a life outside of the home. I was constantly fighting the chorus of voices in my head telling me I was not enough. I was exhausted. I realized that I was trying to be it all, to do it all, to have it all…and in doing so I was losing sight of everything that was in front of me. I yearned for a time of simplicity.

Once I was able to really get to the root of my issues I honestly felt manipulated and naive.  How did I not see that all of this time I was struggling to be the best at everything I was doing so only to fit some canned pipe dream that is truly and really unattainable? How did I think I would be able to do everything without giving up anything? Then I began to wonder…what do I really want anyway? Do I want to be at home more, or am I geared to be a full blown career mom? What parts of my life are fulfilling to me because I truly and deeply enjoy them, and not because I am told by some flashy TV expert that it is what will make me happy? Who am I really?

At the time I write these words I am still working on figuring out my true and natural balance. I have realized that I need to let go of a lot of unneeded pressure, most of which I have been putting on myself by trying to live up to some broad, ridiculous social expectation. I have found that my greatest joy comes from being able to be a mom while still doing things that fulfill me on a personal level I have realized that as mothers there is no one size fits all; what works for me may not work for someone else…and that’s OK.

I have no doubt it will take time to find the balance I need, and it will be something that will be constantly changing. Like any good story mine will need to be edited time and time again. Yet I know now I can hold on to the past and still move forward, rewriting myself and my identity along the way.

My tattoo is a great reminder of this. What once was a symbol of youth and independence now represents growth and change. Like me, it is not the same as it was all those years ago; it’s faded in spots and accompanied by a myriad of stretchmarks left over from five successful pregnancies. Yet to me it’s as beautiful now as it was then, because it is a piece of me.

Finding that balance

Reflections of a Modern Day Employer

An honest look at present-day dynamics within the job market

It seems these days that everything can be done via a smartphone or tablet. If someone is hungry they can have food from any restaurant ordered and delivered within minutes. Business presentations are being led by employees hundreds of miles away from any corporate office. Parents are connecting with their kids via face-time rather than over the dinner table.

With the dawning of this new age of technology it is no surprise that the area of employment is also becoming inundated with change. LinkedIn is now one of the leading providers of applicant information and job recruiting. Online job boards have taken the place of ‘help wanted’ ads in the Sunday paper. Long gone are the the employees who last a lifetime and the employers who treat you like family.

This increased reliance on technology has driven a bit of a wedge between employers and their prospective employees. As someone who has been on both sides of the hiring process I recognize this change all too sharply. I remember going to job interviews with paper application and resume in hand, without the help of online endorsements or “likes.” My first jobs were sealed with a handshake and a smile. No longer. During my most recent job search I had to create my own LinkedIn profile and transfer all of my ‘on paper’ information to a readily accessible online format available for all the world to view.

As I have aged I have transitioned to the other side of the desk; now I am the one responsible for the hiring and supervising of staff. Many a job seeker has come into my office, seeking something I had to offer. I have seen both sides of the coin, per say, and in doing so I can say for sure that there are some things within the area of employment that have changed, and I don’t just mean the type of Notepad a resume is on.

Truth #1 Face to face communication is a lost art

I cannot tell you how many times I have had an employee resign or have had to let a staff member go due to the fact that they refuse to communicate with me face to face. I pride myself on being a family-friendly and reasonably compassionate supervisor. Yet despite my willingness to work with people who are experiencing unexpected life issues so many of my younger staff will not even take the time to come and meet with me to discuss what is going on. Instead they will no-call/no-show or quit without notice, often via text message. I have told my staff time and time again to come and talk to me face to face if they have something going on, because nine out of ten times I can help…but I can’t help if they won’t talk to me.

Yet no matter how many times I recite this mantra I still have those who would rather find another job than deal with the challenges of the one they are in. Technology aids in this on so many levels. Job seekers have quicker access to open positions than ever before. There is every type of online networking group that one might need. Even employment references are now limited and, many times, automated. Leave without notice? Well, that’s not a problem anymore because nobody will ever know. As technology has advanced and the economy rebounded jobs have become a disposable commodity to many job seekers. What once was hard to find now overwhelmingly available.

The opposite of not communicating enough is communicating too much. This extreme at times is even harder to handle as an employer than the other. I have no doubt that so many peoples willingness to divulge personal details and an utter lack of professional boundaries is only compounded by social media. People do not have to talk face to face to communicate anymore so when they do they just start spewing information that has absolutely nothing to do with their potential job. In fact, it’s often detrimental to them being hired at all. It is as though the art of conversation has become a no holds barred Olympic sport.

If you ever come to me as a prospective employee please know that, as an employer, I do NOT need to know about your parent’s divorce or your child’s eating habits or even the fact that your husband left you for your friend’s cousin’s daughter. If it isn’t related to the job, what you are looking for in an employer, or what you can offer the company, the interview is not the right time to tell me.

If this concept is still hard to grasp let me put it in more technological terms. Think of an interview as a tweet versus a Facebook post. On Facebook people can rant and rave about everything and anything with no limit. On Twitter there is a limit to how many characters someone can use. I want a limit. When communicating with a prospective employer it’s vital that a person think of the most relevant information and included that, without all of the extra characters.

Truth #2 Youth today do not know how to sell themselves

Nobody is skilled at interviewing or selling themselves when they first start out in their job search. Knowing how to make yourself stand out and selling yourself as a candidate are not skills learned overnight. The more jobs you have the better you get at knowing how to handle those tough interview questions and really portray your best self.

However, the trend I am seeing these days is that even experienced employees don’t know how to sell themselves. More often than not applicants come to interviews poorly dressed with an almost non-existent resume and no idea really what the job is that they are applying for. Handshakes are few and far between, and very rarely does an interviewee have questions ready to ask after the interview (unless, of course, it’s about pay).

What I long for most is to take some of these newer job seekers aside and not only help them discover they are worth but also help them to figure out how to express it to others. I want them to learn the importance of soft skills, of how to incorporate all types of experiences (school, work, family, volunteer, religious, etc.) into a resume that highlights them for the worker they are (or could be). I want them to grow to feel comfortable with the interview process, always remembering that employers are just people too. I know without a doubt that there are so many hard working youth and young adults who do not get the chance to prove themselves simply because nobody has ever shown them how.

Truth #3 Entitlement is an epidemic

Entitlement seems to me to be an epidemic spreading through the employment world on so many levels. More than once my Office Manager has had to rearrange multiple schedules to try to accommodate a job seeker coming in for an interview. I have had prospective employees bring their significant others into the waiting room with them, with no second thought of getting a ‘good luck kiss’ as I’ve called them back. Many a time I have gotten to the hiring stage of the interview process only to have the applicant present me with a list of demands as long as my child’s Christmas list.

Never will I forget my first job. I had no idea what I was doing, and the term “fake it ’till you make it” held no water when you had a boss as eagle eyed as mine was. If she said jump, I jumped. I didn’t argue with her over the schedule and made darn sure that I was never late for the start of my shift. She was the boss…I didn’t question her requests, no matter how terribly pointless they seemed to me at the time.

These days I am often outright baffled by some of requests and demands I receive on a regular basis. It’s not unusual for me to hire in a staff member for a certain shift only to have them come to me a few weeks later and say they can no longer work the schedule they were hired for. Employees will call in for most any reason, often minutes before the start of their shift. Customer service comes second to the needs of the employee, and the customer is only right if it does not inconvenience the person helping them. And don’t even get me started on cell phone usage on the job.

Bridging the Gap

Somehow in this new digital age we have to find a way to bridge the gap between employers and employees. In what way can we as hiring managers make the entire hiring practice more “user friendly” while still maintaining some of the ideals of the past? More than that, once hired, how do we as employers connect with our younger generation of employees so that we can help them grow their skills and retain them as employees?

I think there are a few things that can be done. First, job preparation classes should be mandatory in all high schools. Like the home economics of the past, there needs to be a class that teaches students ‘hands on’ skills needed in order to be successful once they enter the world of competitive employment. This should include resume writing, job search skills, and interview practice. It should also include communication skills and even some emotional intelligence training.

Second, I think we as employers need to regularly incorporate technology into our hiring and interview processes. While larger companies are already doing this, many small privately owned establishments are not. Using online job boards to post openings is a good first step, but I encourage all employers to use boards which also allow applicants to apply directly online. The paper/pencil application is, for all practical purposes, completely outdated. I am not a fan of the extensive pre-employment personality tests, however. I find they do little to tell you about a prospective candidate. In my opinion a good old fashioned sit-down talk is much more revealing.

Speaking of sit-down talks, one thing that employers can do to help their employees build on their communication skills is to hold ‘peer-to-peer’ conflict resolution meetings. So many times employees today do not know how to deal with conflict, and the littlest misunderstandings can become massive issues which negatively impact staff, clients and the overall business. With my employees I stress open communication in a safe environment. If two staff members are having a conflict I will often bring them in and mediate why they attempt to work out the issue themselves. Of course, this is not a good solution for every situation (harassment comes to mind). However, many times employees involved in a peer-to-peer will come out understanding each other better and with a heightened sense of empowerment.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think as employers we have to stop being afraid to set expectations and boundaries for our employees. As a whole we have become so worried about everyone’s feelings that we are afraid to really ever draw that hard line in the sand. This laxity leads to outcomes that are inconsistent and often results in both poor customer service and low staff retention. Employees need to know that there are standards by which you expect them to abide by. They need to understand that you will work hard for them if they work hard for you. Each employer needs to decide what the “deal breakers” are and should have a policy in place that deals with corrective actions up to and including termination.

Be the example

Remember, as an employer you should also set a similar set of standards for yourself. If you do not want your staff to be constantly on their cell phones then you need to not be on yours. If you want staff to communicate and be upfront with you then you need to be the same way with them. If you want staff to come in to talk to you then make yourself available to them. I personally like to adopt an “open door policy” with my staff. I won’t address issues via text message, for example, and my staff know this. Show them you are approachable, and that they do not have to hide behind their phone screens in order to feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.

Change is inevitable in all things. As communication styles change and the younger generation steps up to become the leaders of the future it is more important now than ever for both employers and job seekers to really understand the importance of solid communication. Really, when it comes down to it, the most effective communication is that which is honest, respectful and mutually beneficial. If conversation and communication fits these three standards, the rest will eventually fall into place.

Embracing Change

Change is never easy. In fact, it’s terrifying. Over the years I have established a very solid professional life which has allowed me to provide for our family of seven without too much struggle. The security of a regular paycheck is something I have been able to provide, and with it has come many blessings that so many in this world have to do without. My children want for nothing, though I am certain they would beg to differ that their lives are incomplete without the latest gaming system. Still, they are clothed, fed and generally quite happy.

So why, then, would I give this up? Why would I trade the security of something I know will be there for something which is uncertain and fickle? The answer is equally simple as it is complex.  The answer is time. Time is the one thing that my paycheck cannot provide me. Getting that regular deposit in the bank does not provide me the time to watch my youngest take her first steps, or my oldest to compete in her next soccer match. I cannot go to the bank and withdraw quality time with my husband or a full nights sleep without my phone constantly ringing. I cannot earn on credit what I have already lost in my pursuit of financial gain and security.

That all being said, I have decided to try to do both. I am not leaving my regular job at the moment, as I understand the importance of the security as much as I do the need for time. However, I am going to push forward on my dream in the hopes that someday it can be a main focus. I am embarking on a new path, one that is unclear and for which I have no map. I have faith that with some hard work this path will eventually lead me to a place where I can not only provide for my family but also enjoy them at the same time. I have no doubt that there will be bumps and obstacles along the way…yet I am looking at this as an adventure. Off I go with my family by my side, carrying nothing but my own personal skill set, my trust laptop and a copy of Webster’s Dictionary. It will take time, but eventually I know that in this case any time I give up will be recouped at the end of the journey. The prize will be mine, and I will be able to recapture that which I have lost.

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.—Socrates