Today, I begin a new interview series on this blog: How She Does It. (this is tongue-in-cheek, let me be clear: none of us does it all, and on that point I’m crystal clear).
As you know, I am a working mother. That decision isn’t what I want to talk about in this series: there has been enough ink and heartache spilled on the big question of whether or not, and how, mothers “should” work. I don’t think I can add to this conversation, because it’s been debated and discussed ad nauseum by many people more intelligent and articulate than I. Also, one thing I know for sure is that families and marriages are the most private of this life’s terrains, and none of us can fully understand the background of the decisions others make. Let’s stop making assumptions about them.
Do I think every mother should work? Absolutely not. Am I presenting a value judgment on the choices of others? Absolutely not.
Are many of my favorite and most beloved people at-home moms? Absolutely so. Is it the right thing for me to work, for many reasons? Absolutely so.
What I am interested in, however, is the ways in which other working moms organize and manage their lives. I am fascinated by concrete tips, specific advice, and observations from experience. These nuances and details are what I plan to showcase in this series. Without further ado, I’m thrilled to introduce you to our inaugural interview. Kathryn Beaumont has been one of my closest friends for almost 22 years. We met as freshman in college and I’m thrilled that we live near each other now. She works full time as a lawyer and literary agent and has two children, a daughter, 6, and a son, 4. Thank you, Kathryn, for being my very first participant (a drop in the bucket of things I have to thank you for).
1. Tell me about the first hour of your day? (I often describe mine as being “fired out of a cannon”)
My kids wake up ridiculously early — consistently before 6 a.m. So there are children snuggling in the bed first thing, which is nice. Because my husband often is not home by bedtime, he jumps in the shower while I cuddle, and then makes the kids breakfast and hangs out with them before he leaves. Our nanny arrives by 7:30, at which point I take a shower (unless I have an early meeting). Between my husband and our nanny, my mornings are not too hectic, and if I’m organized enough, sometimes I’ll squeeze in a 6 a.m. yoga class or a run. But not often!
2. Do you have a work uniform that you rely on when you get dressed? What is it?
Black, black and black. Usually cropped black wool pants and a jacket or top. In the winter, black skirt, black tights, and black boots. If I could wear black pants and a black turtleneck every day without seeming too grim, I would.
3. How do you and your spouse resolve conflicts about scheduling? (This is salient this winter in Boston, after approximately 27 snow days.)
I deliberately moved from a corporate position to a significantly more flexible one to deal with scheduling issues, which were multiplying and becoming stressful for everyone. If we were going to make it as a family where both spouses worked demanding, client-focused jobs, we had to try to eliminate these conflicts, at least for a few years while our children are very young. So if there is a snow day, or someone is sick, unless I have an important meeting scheduled, usually I rearrange my schedule. That being said, if I have an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting, my spouse will stay home until our nanny arrives or will drop the children off at school — but we can plan that in advance. The point of real contention is when I plan a business trip far in advance and at the last minute he has to fly somewhere. We haven’t quite worked that out yet without me feeling somewhat victimized when I have to rearrange my trip.
4. Do you second-guess yourself? How do you handle that?
When I do second-guess myself, it is triggered by small things, rather than the big picture. For example: I wish I cooked more for my children (see below). I also wish I were more organized about things like flyers coming home in school folders, and I wish I were the one supervising my daughter’s piano practice and homework in the afternoons. And summers are particularly difficult, when not only does the regular schedule get rearranged, but of course I want to be at the swim meet or at the beach. When this happens, instead of trying to talk myself out of my feelings (i.e., do I really want to cook? Does it really matter who does homework? — because the answers to these questions will always be “Yes!”) I have to remind myself that these feelings will pass.
5. What time do you go to bed?
I’m in bed by 9:30 or 10. But I stay up too late reading! Usually until 11 p.m. or so.
6. Do you exercise? If so, when?
One helpful bit of self-realization I’ve had since having children is that I need external motivation; otherwise, work or time with my children will take precedence over exercise. So I sign up for half-marathons and run them with a close friend from law school, whom I meet on Saturday mornings for a long training run. Or I make plans to meet a friend in town for a quick 6 a.m. run on a Wednesday morning. Recently, a few working-mom friends and I hired a “trainer” (basically this ex-Army guy who comes to one of our houses and does a boot camp for an hour and makes fun of us because we’re so wimpy and whiney), which is hilarious. If I can make exercise social, I’m more likely to do it — though I love a solitary long run, it’s just hard for me to motivate at this stage in my life.
7. Do you cook dinner for your kids? Do you have go-to recipes you can recommend?
I wish I cooked more, but my children go to bed early and thus are ready for dinner by about 5 p.m.! What I do, however, is plan a weekly menu on the weekends and shop for everything. Then our nanny — who is a great cook, thankfully! — cooks based on my menu. The kids eat early, and there are leftovers for us when we get home (it’s pretty dreamy, actually). One go-to dishes is peanut butter noodles from Dinner: A Love Story
), which my four-year-old likes to help make.
8. Do you have any sense of how your children feel about your working?
My four-year-old son is too young to realize that there might be an alternative. I don’t think he really even knows what I do when I leave the house! My six-year-old daughter knows that some parents of her friends are at home when they get home from school, but I don’t think she wishes that I were one of them necessarily. Sometimes she gets sad when I’m not home to put her to bed, and sometimes she gets “sad” when I leave for work, but I don’t think it’s really about me working. I anticipate this may all change as they get older? I don’t know.
9. What is the single piece of advice you would give another working mother?
Don’t compromise on the childcare that works for you — the sacrifices you make for it, be they financial or scheduling, are an investment in your future. Because someday you won’t need 30, 40, 50+ hours of childcare — and by that point you’ll be X years further along in your career. For example, after I had my second child, I had one child in a home-based daycare and one in full-day preschool. After about three weeks of trying to do two-pick ups, numerous sick days, and trying to get them fed and bathed at night (knowing I would have to log on to work later in the evening), I almost cracked. I wanted to quit my job, but what we realized was that our day care situation just wasn’t working. We found a nanny who comes to our home, and while certainly the cost has been greater, it has changed our lives significantly, and I consider it the best thing we ever did. Truly. Some day we won’t need full-time care, but without her, I don’t know that I’d have had the flexibility to pursue a career I love. Alternately, another lawyer-mom friend of mine was much more comfortable with her children in day care than she was with a nanny for numerous reasons, including that she didn’t want to deal with an “employee” and the necessarily personal relationship you have to have with a nanny. So she has made the sacrifice to work reduced hours in order to make the day-care pickups. Whether the sacrifices are financial or personal or professional, they likely are only temporary, and if you don’t feel right about your childcare, you’ll never have the freedom to really flourish at work. You’ll never get past the point where you don’t need the childcare!
10. Some details that I love hearing about:
Favorite jeans? Frame (don’t stretch out), TopShop (nice thick material, especially for white jeans), Current Elliott (for someone tall like me, the perfect-length cropped).
Shampoo you use?
Neutrogena, if I’m not using the FairyTales rosemary lice-repelling shampoo! (First grader = lice)
Favorite book? It’s too difficult to pick a favorite, but I am reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to my daughter right now, all of which I already read about 8 times. I realize how meaningful they were to me as a child and how they stirred an early interest in American history.
Favorite musician? Eek! Too hard! How about favorite Pandora channels? The Coldplay channel or the Annie Lennox channel are currently on heavy rotation.
Favorite item (toy, clothing, or other) for your children? My four-year-old and I are playing a lot of Zingo and plain old “War” with playing cards. My six-year-old (in between the Rainbow Loom and her American Girl dolls) is really into this fantastic iPad app called “Stack the States”, which is a clever geography lesson and which I even have fun playing. Also, I highly recommend this lunchbox with a built-in ice pack (so you can’t lose it)!