Wednesday, 26 March 2014

On Conscious Uncoupling as a Lifestyle Opportunity

Is it mean to write about this?

I’m sure you saw the news today that long married (by Paleolithic standards anyway) Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were going their separate ways. I was struck by the frame of their announcement which simultaneously signaled the demise of their lifetime commitment to each other and the continuing fortitude of Paltrow’s commitment to being a lifestyle brand. You see they aren’t getting divorced. They are becoming consciously uncoupled.

For those of you who didn’t help to crash Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop today to read the joint announcement on their divorce (f*&ck, I mean conscious uncoupling) I urge you to head to Goop to read it. When you’ve finished reading and you’re suitably mystified, scroll down further and read the informative article posted there by Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami which explains the science and the history of divorce (I mean conscious uncoupling, conscious uncoupling).

You see, according to Sadeghi and Sami, monogamy is totally Paleolithic. They argue that in modern life it is essential that we rebrand (f*&ck, I mean re-examine) divorce. If as Paltrow via Goop suggests, we call it ‘conscious uncoupling’ the event formerly known by outdated mortals as divorce, could become a far more powerful, even positive force for good in our society.

You see if you think about it … divorce (conscious uncoupling, conscious uncoupling) is a superb lifestyle opportunity if you just give it a chance and a more uplifting name. Maybe that’s why so many rich and famous people get divorced – I imagine many consciously coupled people out there see divorce as a luxury item from time to time.

You see folks; it seems the goal of matrimonial longevity is passé. Goop presents us with a new goal for intimate relationships. If you see your ex-partner as your teacher, conscious uncoupling can make us whole. Brand Paltrow suggests that marriage can turn great relationships into an unhappy trap – because the expectations are unrealistic. The expectations go back to Paleolithic times; we live 48 years longer than our Paleolithic ancestor’s thanks in part to websites like Goop and modern medicine that have helped us avert early death.

Don’t you think it is about time that people grew a psycho-spiritual spine and treated the end of marriage as if it were an exciting new cleanse?
Somewhere in the midst of the befuddling post-Paleolithic messages from Paltrow and Martin and their friends Sadeghi and Sami there might be some valuable lessons for unhappy couples to unpack.

But the notion of rebranding divorce (conscious uncoupling) as a positive force might be taking the argument to post-Paleolithic extremes.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Maybe it’s an ENFP thing?

I’m standing outside my 2.5 year old daughter’s bedroom last night after FAILING to get her to sleep at a decent hour … again. She is bouncing on her bed giggling. It is nearly 10pm.

I am weak, she is strong.

I stand at the top of my stairs and I holler for my Brit. He trudges up the stairs and asks as usual “need water? Does she need more milk?” “No more MILK” I kind of pretend yell. “We shouldn’t still be giving her milk at bedtime (to pacify her) we should have cracked that ages ago.
Do we suck at parenting? How come we never do anything right”!!

I’m constantly aware that the list of things I’m not doing that I am supposed to be doing is long.

The list of things that I want to be doing is even longer.

Normal people have financial advisors” I say. “What?” says my Brit.

“Normal people, clever people, they have financial advisors”.

“Oh” says the Brit.

“When am I going to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life?” I say.

“You’ve got a great job” says my Brit.

“Yeah but it’s a job” I say. “I never wanted to be normal; I told you that from the beginning”. What am I going to do that proves I’m abnormal?”

“Umm” says my Brit.

“How about just be happy with your life, he says”. “You have a great life”.

“I am happy with my life”, I say. “I say thank you in my head like a million times a day, like it’s a compulsion”. “Somehow gratitude doesn’t trump relentless and restless ambition and a never ending stream of creative possibilities”, I say. “This isn’t about happy vs. not happy. This is about achieving what I’m supposed to achieve – about not evening knowing what I’m supposed to achieve. When am I going to figure that out?”
“I think you need some sleep baby” says my Brit.

“That won’t help” I say, “I’ll just dream about the problem”.

“Oh” says the Brit. “Night night baby, we’ll figure it out tomorrow”

“Yeah…but then I’ll have to figure it out again on Thursday”.

“Maybe it’s an ENFP thing”, I say.

“A what?” Says my Brit…

“Never mind”, I say. “It’s just a stupid box someone put me in. I don’t even like boxes.

Then why do you keep trying to find the right one? Says my Brit.

“That’s definitely an ENFP thing”, I say.

“A what?” says my Brit…

“Never mind, night night baby”. I say.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A Veteran Working Mother Explains How She Makes It Work

Doreen is a 20 year veteran of working motherhood. Her youngest is now 13. In the beginning, her work as an accountant was less about fulfilling serious career ambitions and more about affording her family nice groceries. When her kids were younger, her husband’s career came first.

She was the only woman in her family to go out to work and she admits that early on she was conscious that she was missing out on weekday playdates and parties – but she says managed to attend most of the important school functions and events for her kids.

These days Doreen says she spends 5-10 hours a week on herself. To deal with stress, she tries hard not to talk about work at home and to focus on her kids’ days instead. In the car en route home she is mindful to draw a fence around her day and leave all the work stress behind her. An exercise class or an evening spent with girlfriends once a week helps her unwind.

Doreen admits to feeling resentful only very occasionally … as an accountant her career prevents her from escaping to sunny destinations during the cold and dreary winter months, the worst time of year for her at work -- she refers to it as “the season”. She’s not resentful of anyone in particular; she blames herself, because she decided to be an accountant.

Doreen considers her husband her village. He is a rock and a steady reliable partner. He gets home before her and warms up dinner. They cook together for the week on Sunday evenings which makes things easier to manage during the week. Now that the kids are older, they help too. They do dishes and even their own laundry.

Regarding childcare, Doreen understands the anxieties of new mothers. When her kids were young, the kids were in daycare, as they got older she put them in afterschool care, and now she relies on her oldest to look after her youngest. She well remembers the stress of dropping off the kids at daycare and coping with their emotions and her own, the pull on you when they cling to your legs and don’t want you to leave. But now, 20 years into working motherhood, peers of her husband whose wives didn’t work are envious of their financial stability and the opportunities that her salary affords them, and her children look up to her and respect her for all her hard work.

For young working mothers, Doreen thinks there is a bright future ahead of them. For her the early guilt is long gone and she is proud of how she balanced her working and mothering lives.

For Doreen, the key to staying sane is having a routine, staying organized, and getting her family members including her husband and kids to pitch in and be part of making it all work.

If you have any weekly organizing rituals help you manage your week work, please drop me a line and I’ll post your ideas.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Lyndsay Dickson on the ups and downs of keeping child care in the family and on the necessity of giving herself an evening per week to dance and chat

Introducing Lyndsay Dickson, Lyndsay is a 35 year old mother of 1 and a Speech & Language Therapist currently working a 4 day week.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, Lyndsay’s work is based in hospital offices, but her work takes her out and about to clinics, nurseries, schools, and homes. Lyndsay has a beautiful daughter Rosie who turned 2 years old in September. Rosie is a curious, funny, perceptive, and active child who keeps Lyndsay and her husband amused, busy, and challenged too! Lyndsay has a wonderful supportive husband in Craig who is an amazing Daddy.

Most days Lyndsay would describe her life as a working mother as “poorly balanced”.

Lyndsay feels that she should work. She’s conscious that women have worked to be accepted as equal to men in the workplace and she puts pressure on herself to juggle a career and home life well. Her family put no pressure on her and they help out with childcare while she works. This makes their lives busier and adds to Lyndsay’s guilt. Her husband would probably prefer if she didn’t work as life would run more smoothly and evenings would not be so busy preparing for the next day. Her friends all work but are teachers so do have prolonged holidays with their children regularly. She feels that women who don’t work are judged by society as lazy and unambitious.

Lyndsay says she spends somewhere between 2 and 5 hours on herself per week.

The hardest lesson Lyndsay has learned about managing motherhood and her career is really about the nature of maternal guilt and how difficult it is to manage the guilt she feels while leaving her child -- even with family -- especially when Rosie is unwell. She didn’t expect to feel this way. She doesn’t feel guilt when her “wee girl” is with her mum, but she does when she is with her other grandparents.

The last time she felt overwhelmed by the stress was when a family member changed the days she could provide child care for them and the time she could start from in the morning and was unreliable on a week to week basis. This caused a huge amount of stress and Lyndsay had to take time off to look after Rosie on days she should have been working. She felt resentful towards the family member and felt that she was ‘going back’ on an agreement. Lyndsay’s husband Craig recently started a new job which meant that he had to start leaving earlier in the morning. He used to get their ‘wee girl’ up and dressed and would take her where she was going. She now has to do that and be in work for 8am. This is getting a bit easier with time but not easy on mornings that she refuses to put her clothes on!

Lyndsay’s child care arrangement is as follows – her mother-in-law does 1 day, Lyndsay’s mum can’t get to her house until 9:30 so her dad has to come over at 7am until 9:30am when she arrives. Her father-in-law and his wife do 1 day. Lyndsay’s mum does 2 days for a total of four days of childcare. Lyndsay’s “wee girl” has just started playgroup for 2 mornings per week and is just settling in so she’s not sure how this with change arrangements.

Lyndsay has a wonderful family including her own parents and in-laws who she couldn't live without. She sees her family as her village.

For Lyndsay, the biggest stress is definitely when people who provide childcare are unreliable or let her down. Her and her husband simply can’t afford nursery fees and need to stick to a family solution as much as possible.

On how she keeps her sanity…for Lyndsay, sometimes going to work keeps her sane. She enjoys her work but wishes she worked fewer days. In terms of relaxation, Lyndsay does a dance class on a Wednesday night and she loves it. On Wednesdays after work she goes to her mum’s for dinner, relaxes and has a chat with her mum, and then she goes to her class. This also keeps her sane. Lyndsay is concerned that her husband Craig might be going to work offshore in the near future, which would mean she would have to give up dancing -- just the thought of that makes her feel less sane!

Lyndsay has adjusted her ambitions/approach to her work since having a child – she doesn’t volunteer for extra challenges at work as she would have done before she was a mum because she knows she can’t work late or come in early. On the flip side though, being a mum has motivated her to try and start up her own small business which is a slow process due to the lack of free time, but she is more motivated to do it as it means she could possibly cut her hours if it was successful.

Thank you Lyndsay!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Anita Naik is managing a tricky schedule, she believes "me-time" is a fallacy

Ladies -- thank you for your patience. My work-life unbalance was particularly out of whack over the last week hence the lack of posts. But I'm ready to get going again. I'd like to introduce you to Anita Naik, here's how she describes her life as a working mum in the UK.

Anita Naik, 45, is a mother of 2, a writer and an author.

Most days she would described her life as a working mother as "somewhat balanced", though she says she feels always on the verge of a nervous breakdown even though it's all going well.

While Anita loves being a mom and loves her work, she often feels massively resentful for being expected by loved ones to be all things on top of this from social organizer/homework guru/grocery slave/chef/daughter/wife/school go-between/party and play-date organizer/problem solver and nurse etc. etc.

She spends somewhere between 2-5 hours on herself every week.

Anita says the hardest lesson she has ever had to learn about managing motherhood and her career is that you're always going to feel guilty even when it's going well. It's down to the expectations society and loved ones put on you and also what you put on yourself and how adept kids are at making you feel guilty...her son said while she was typing the answers to the questionnaire "Mum are you typing AGAIN?!".

She explains that another source of resentment and anxiety is the idea of "me-time" as they call it in the UK. She feels that while she'd like more "me-time" just to do simple things like work out and think, it is a fallacy. There really is no "me-time" when you have small kids unless you count time alone in the supermarket/grocery shop car park. She sees some of her friends struggle and fail to get "me-time" and then feel bad about their lives, when it's just part of being a working mum to small kids.

For her childcare arrangements, Anita tends to work around school hours from 9-3 when her daughter is at school and her son is at nursery until 12 every day. After that she has a nanny for 2 hours each day and during the holidays which means she has 20 hours of childcare a week but she is contracted to do more than 40 hours so the rest of her work is done at weekends and during the evenings post bedtime. She finds it an exhausting arrangement even though she is very grateful that she 1) gets to take her kids to and from school and 2) has time with them when they get home and 3) is able to have flexible working patterns.

Anita says she does have a "village" helping her raise her child, one that she never even considered would be there when she first became a mum. Her village is made up of all of her other mum friends and her two nannies. She couldn't live without them all for their help and support and their bad taste jokes and advice.

Anita says she always experiences a conflict between the demands of motherhood and the demands of her work. She manages to make her time work just by the skin of her teeth but often in what she describes as a "mild state of panic" while waiting for trains and in traffic and in queues and hurrying the kids along and she knows all that stress can't be healthy.

THANK YOU Anita! I'll be posting more of the survey responses this week as well as women's real schedules.

If you have something you'd like to contribute to this blog please drop me an email at

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Anna Dewar Gully, Age 32. Mom of 1. Strategist/Strategic Writer in the charitable Sector

Here are my responses to the questionnaire -- more to follow as your responses start to roll in -- just trying to figure out how best to format these posts -- so ideas and comments welcome!

Q2: Tell us a little about yourself, your children, and your occupation.

I am a hardworking, entrepreneurial and creative woman. I work for one of Toronto's largest charities in the office of the Charity's President, where I work on organizational strategy and governance as well as communications for the President. This is a new role and prior to joining the organization I was in public policy and government relations in the health sector both in Canada and previously in the UK. I have also just started this blog and do other writing projects professionally.

I have one daughter who is 2&1/2 she is bright, mischevious, and challenging in the best possible way. She is a wonderful kid.

Q3: Most days, would you describe your working mother life as...

somewhat balanced, with frequent total disaster moments

Q4: Can you describe how you feel about the expectations placed you as a working mother by loved ones, colleagues, friends, and society more broadly?

I often feel like I have to talk myself down from "resentment mountain", I feel like the expectations for modern mothers are just kind of crazy -- you're expected to be working relentlessly with 24 hour contact via email and blackberry, but also be into the sort of crafting and mothering pursuits that my grandmother mastered in less complex times, and also do back and forth trips to expensive childcare arrangements, etc. etc. I get really mad sometimes that while we praise engaged fathers -- and no doubt they are wonderful and in my life essential -- engagement is only at the bottom of a long list of expectations for working mothers and sometimes I feel the stress of being expected to do everything well and also keep cheerful is a little overwhelming.

Q5: How much time do you spend on yourself per week?

• 2-5 hours per week -- I've just started doing yoga at lunch time which has made me feel so much better.

Q6: Please answer one or more of the following questions in the comment box below...
a. What is the hardest lesson you have had to learn about managing motherhood and your career simultaneously?
b. Can you provide an example of when you last felt overwhelmed, out-of-control, or resentful of the multiple stressors you experience as a working mom and how did you deal with it?
c. Please provide an example of a time when you felt unable or unwilling to meet the expectations of people in your work or home life due to the difficulty of balancing both of your roles.

a. As a long standing over performer at work, I needed to learn to be comfortable with expressing to my work my priorities at home. This is still a major work in progress for me and still feels far from comfortable...I've had a number of moments where I got the balance wrong in favour of work -- these are stories unto themselves -- and it felt truly awful. b. On my holiday over christmas -- just read my first blog post. c. I had to bring my daughter to an overnight work event because my husband was overseas. It involved hiring an (as then) unknown nanny for 2 days and shleping her and my daughter up to a strange place hours away in the early hours of the morning and for an overnight stay. She experienced night terrors while we were there which was awful, and I felt terrible that I hadn't just instisted that it was too difficult for her and I to go. I had convinced myself if I didn't go that my work reputation would take a major hit -- and maybe it would have but I realized it didn't really matter as much as my kid and my sanity.

Q7: What is your primary childcare situation and how is it working for you?

My daughter is in a child care 5 days a week from 8:00 until 5pm and it is wonderful. This is our third childcare arrangement. The first was great initially and then was awful when management changed, the second was a home daycare and it was not flexible enough for us and did not provide my daughter with the engagement she needed. Transitions of childcare were immensly stressful.I hope not to have to change her set up again until she is in school.

Q8: Do you have a village helping you raise your child? If yes, who is in your village and how often do you rely on their help.

My village is mostly in the form of moral support from friends and family. My parents are in town but they both work. They are wonderful about offering to babysit once or twice a month and my daughter loves it. But more than that really isn't possible. They are still managing their own working lives and have caring responsibilities for my elderly grandmother. My in-laws are in the UK and only get to see my daughter once a year for a couple of weeks. I need to add to my village a reliable local babysitter -- had one briefly and then she moved away. That's my village.

Q9: Please answer one or more of the following questions in the space provided below...
a. Have you ever encountered a major conflict between your working life and your mothering life? If yes how did you manage it and what was the outcome?
b. What do you experience as your biggest source of stress or more difficult challenge as a working mother and what keeps you sane(ish)?
c. Have you adjusted your ambition in any way to accommodate for the demands of motherhood and conversely, have you adjusted expectations for yourself as a mother to accommodate the demands of your career?

a. the most significant conflict I had between work and life was when I was pregnant -- it is a long story and I will blog about it one day when I'm brave enough to share it. Today is not that day.
b. The biggest stress is being a big picture person who has to -- in my role as mother and administrator of our home --also be responsible for managing all of the details at home in addition to those at work. I also constantly feel like I'm not doing enough with or for my daughter -- I've missed the sign up for swimming lessons like three times, my husband -- nowhere near enough date nights, and for myself because if I was I wouldn't feel like a crazy person so frequently. c. I've become a different kind of ambitious since having my daughter -- my ambitions is still as strong as ever to do something great with my life career-wise and to make some kind of major imprint -- but now I want to do it primarily working from home, with a heck of a lot of flexibility, and the capacity to turn off once in a while, I can't imagine how I'd cope if I had more on my career plate than I do today.

My Tips...

1 -- yoga is like a drug for working mothers and you should take it whenever you can.
2 -- keep asking yourself critical questions about why you put such unreasonable expectations on yourself even if you don't come up with satisfactory answers.
3 -- I try to keep in mind something that my Dad once said to me when I was job hunting in my early 20s -- don't freak out about every little decision -- it's just one decision -- there will be others (lots of others).
4 -- learn how to say no and ask for help...still working on this every single day

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Thank You – it seems there is strength and comfort in this motherhood gig after all

Ani Defranco once sang that we find strength in the differences between us and comfort where we overlap.

Well last night, while suffering from a New Year’s Day hangover brewed only by transatlantic jetlag and the ill effects of travelling with a self-directed two year old, I found myself astonishingly and happily comforted and strengthened by an unanticipated outpouring of support and interest in my first foray in the world of maternal blogging.

Just after dinner yesterday, only moments after I pressed send on my call for help from working mothers, and after indulging in a touch of shameless self-promotion on Facebook, Linked-in, and elsewhere, I started to do the washing up when…ping, ping, ping, ping…ping ping…my email started to make little comforting and strength inducing noises.

Well hello world…

In the few hours after posting I heard from women, lots of women. I heard from wonderful stressed-out women just like me and simultaneously totally different than me. Personally, I found strength in hearing a little bit about your different experiences and comfort in the familiarity of your stories. I heard from mothers who are also workers, and also keepers of all details and the big picture, from all over the world. I heard from a Diplomat in Munich, a government worker in Washington State, a lawyer from my home town Toronto, a Tech manager in Chicago, old friends from England and Ireland, South American expats, teachers, bureaucrats, writers, bloggers, etc. etc. etc. I heard from mothers of 1, 2, and mothers of 3. I heard from moms with twins and moms of children with special needs, and moms with all of the above.

In their responses, all of these women expressed an interest, excitement, and even a need – to participate in this little social experiment that is WorkLifeMom 2014. Most of them forewarned me in their responses that they don’t think they are managing any of it well and don’t know exactly what they will contribute…but regardless they expressed a willingness to share, to expose the truth of what their version of working motherhood is.

Let me reinforce what I said to all of the women who kindly took the time to respond to my post – this blog must be about honesty first. It is not going to be about dressing up motherhood like a rogue toddler on Christmas day or about stifling your feelings of failure or the thrills of your successes when they do occur. I want this blog to expose the broad range of realities for working mothers, the key themes of motherhood today, and to highlight challenges, opportunities, and new ideas. I want this blog to help mothers feel understood.

It’s in your honest contributions that I have every confidence that I will find comfort and strength and that I hope you will also find the same. So my fellow working mothers of the world THANK YOU for making me feel a little less space alien and a little more understood. I’ve got numerous interviews set up already; they will take place in the form of an email questionnaire with 10 questions about working motherhood, and a summary of each working mom’s weekly schedule.

I’ll start posting their outcomes this weekend, and I will post them in your own words. Tomorrow – I will post my own reflections on the 10 questions and will show you what my schedule looks like. It makes sense to me to kick this thing off with my own honesty in the hope of inspiring you to show us what your life looks like.

And then -- I will try to make this platform all about you and start posting your responses…. Doesn’t that sound nice to mothers everywhere? This will blog will be all about you – all about us. Please subscribe to this blog and watch our progress and help me find other working mothers to interview. My contact info is in my first post.

With thanks for your responses, enthusiasm, support, and comradeship. Can’t wait to hear about and reveal your lives.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Calling all working mothers, I need your help!

Happy New Year!
I’d like to extend a special New Year’s Day shout out to those working mothers out there who like me spent most of the December holidays ranting to their families about how stressful it is to try to relax…while trying to please children, partners, in-laws, extended families – while also simultaneously and radically increasing debt and waistline. Needless to say, over the holidays I was the picture of maternal virtue and an exemplar of the perfect balance – of having it all by giving my all…weren’t you?
It was but a week ago -- and just after a glutinous series of holiday feasts put on with regal pomp and splendor of which only the English are capable -- that I suffered what has become known in my familial circle as “Anna’s Annual Nervous Breakdown”.  
This is the point at which a year’s worth of juggling motherhood with a progressive and demanding career; a horrible daily schedule; and a compulsive desire to succeed at everything spectacularly collides – oh so unfortunately -- in the presence of my in-laws while on our annual family sojourn across the pond to England.
England you see, is the point of origin of my long suffering husband Tim and the home of my sweet daughter Lilah’s paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts, and a broader cast and crew of very well-behaved and more importantly emotionally well-controlled English well-wishers. England is also the place where I lived and worked for nearly six years prior to coming back to Canada in 2009. It is the place where I constantly felt like my open effusive and sometimes intrusive personality was in direct opposition to the prevailing culture of stiff upper lips, resolute calm, and an unwillingness to bother anyone with your problems or to pry into the concerns of others.  You see in England, I never quite fit.
So, it is of course in England, home of stoicism and “keeping calm and carrying on” that I unleash an inappropriate annual gush of pent up maternal angst, rage, resentment, and fatigue. And where this year I resolved in the form of New Year’s resolution no.1 to attempt to understand why I feel like this and whether anyone out there is coping better than me – or whether you also feel constantly like you are failing all of the time– and whether you have devised any clever ways of managing the insanity that is the life of a working mother who really really really loves her kid(s)..and her job, and her millions of unrequited entrepreneurial and creative ideas, and her husband, etc. etc. etc. Oh my God – can you help me help me?
Anyways – maybe you can help. I’m looking for working mothers to talk to – I want to write 365 blog posts in 2014 about individual working mothers and how you are choosing to cope with the perils, joys, and in-between of working motherhood – I’m interested equally in what you do at work and what you do at home – I would love to publish summaries of your schedules, your tips and tricks, and your responses to a series of 10 questions on how you strike your balance – or I think – what is more likely your un-balance.
Please send me an email at if you would like to be part of project WorkLifeMom!
With love and wishes for your sanity and mine! Can’t wait to hear from you! Please send this post on to your friends.