The Power of Real-World Community

After years of working with my nose to the grindstone, even after having a young kid at home, this working mom decided to take a break from work for much of the summer of 2007.

I wanted to know what it was like to spend every day with my daughter without stealing moments between work commitments and my ever-present, always-buzzing Blackberry. What was it like, I wondered, to live without the guilt so many busy working moms feel?

It was, of course, wonderful. I took great pleasure in the simple joys of mom-hood—hours in the playground, lemonade stands, mother-daughter excursions and talks. I learned a lot about my kid that summer when I pretty much tuned out everything but what was going on in her small, very sweet world.

I also learned a lot from listening to and connecting with other moms. Sitting on playground park benches between snacks and bathing suits and trips to the bathroom, I got the inside scoop on the best schools, birthday party venues, doctors, lice treatments, boo-boo remedies, parenting Web sites and summer books. I listened closely to what other moms were saying to their kids about bullies and safety and strangers, and soaked up their words of advice and caution.

Mind you, much of this information was not deep. It wasn’t profound. But it was new and rich to me—and helpful. In the working world, I have access to contacts and information I need to keep my career mostly on track. I don’t always have access to information and connections that can help me be a better mom and a better-than-frazzled human. In my working world, too, I was encountering fewer and fewer senior-level women with kids. Plus, when working moms are in “work” mode, they’re typically all business.

Recently I was reminded again how much power moms need one another. I hosted small gathering of working moms at my place in New York this fall. At first the talk was about schools. But pretty quickly everyone was talking about Carmelo the Science Fellow. Carmelo, I learned, is the go-to entertainment guy for birthday parties in our neighborhood. (This guy’s so popular, he has his own Facebook page.) As a go-to fun guy, he’s typically busy, expensive and hard-to-book, the moms said. Not so much now, one mom confided. Carmelo may be feeling the recession too. (Notebooks and Blackberries came out.) Ah, the cult of Carmello.

Then the conversation turned to flu shots, language instruction, religion and music education—Where? When? At what age? “I miss support on the mom side,” one entrepreneur mom sighed. There was also talk of work stuff. One woman spoke of wanting to be a mentor to other young women. Another asked about connections to the private equity world.

But soon, the moms were ready to talk about themselves. One shared a great online resource for quick fashion finds. (“When I’m feeling unsuccessful as a mom and at work, I want to look at a Prada bag,” she said.) Another confided that she uses Skype to talk with her kids when she has long days in the office.

What do these women need? They need to work to pay the mortgage, to feed their families—and to feed their heads. They also need time to themselves—away from work and family. (Memorable quote: “The only time I have alone is when I’m in the bathroom in the morning, and sometimes not even then!”) They also enjoy relaxing “time outs” with other time-pressed working moms.

Power moms need community. “This is almost like AA,” one friend said, sighing with relief, during our gathering. “I work. I’m okay and my kids are okay.”

It wasn’t exactly like AA, of course. Wine was served–and appreciated.

La Dolce Vita: A Power Mom Reports From Italy

Nina Burleigh enjoys one of many cups of coffee in Italy
Nina Burleigh is a journalist, professor and the author of four
critically acclaimed nonfiction books. She is currently living in Italy, where she is writing a book on the trial of Amanda Knox, a young American woman accused of murder in Italy, to be published by Broadway Books in 2011. It’s a wonderful life, but one that sometimes keeps her awake at night.

Q. Tell us why work has taken you to Italy.

A. I was drawn by the lure of living in a beautiful idealized country, and the idea of having my children learn Italian and soaking them in Italian art and culture, also, the intriguing possibilities in the book project itself.

Q. How do you structure your day? When do you work? When do you explore?

A. I sometimes ride my bike around the city in the early morning. It is a steep hill town so the Italian people who see me think I am crazy. They don’t do mountain biking here and they certainly don’t go through the “centro” in biking shorts. But it has enabled me to see the tiny streets, and get to know the secret back passages you only find on foot, after much walking. I try to work in the mornings, because now the children are in school from 8 to 1:30.

Q. Tell us about where you live.

A. At 4 Via Beato Egidio, hard up against the city walls of Perugia. We don’t have a car, so we walk, up and down stairs and hills, to get from here to there. This is a student town, so we see lots of people from different countries here. We take the bus a lot. We explore the back lanes and medieval narrow streets, with names like Via Curiosa and Via Deliziosa. Behind us, up the hill, is a Franciscan monastery, and a great wine shop, and an ancient “corso” with strange little nooks and crannies for prayer, and nunneries and churches and college offices. Beauty everywhere we look, really.

Q. Do your kids like it?

A. Sometimes. They loved summer here, with daily gelato and swimming, but school has been tough.

Q. What are your challenges and frustrations in having to work so hard and make sure your kids are well adjusted?

A. Not being able to speak with people, although I am getting better every day at that, and thus a certain amount of loneliness, both at work and with the children at their school, is the major hurdle.

Q. You enrolled them in school in your little town this fall. How is that for them?

A. So far, incrementally improving, but slowly. They don’t like it much, right now, but we are only two weeks in. It is great hearing them say Italian words, more every day. They are learning fast.

Q. What are the pluses and minuses of this lifestyle for the family?

A. Economics: I had a good job at People Magazine and left it, after much anguished discussion with my husband. We lived in France on a book project a few years back and returned to America dead broke, so we know the risks. And of course, now the dollar is falling by the day, so we are not living the glam life here.

Children:

We are in the second week at the lovely little Italian school down the “via” from our house. It is cozy and nurturing, at least it seems to be. But my daughter sobs at the doorway every morning, and my son says he is bored stiff watching the teacher speak a language he cannot understand. There are signs of hope though, yesterday, he came home and reported that the kids all have elaborate spitball-throwers which they pull out of their packs whenever the “maestra” steps out of the room. Hewants one, and I guess he now knows the Italin word for it too. And the Italian girls are lining up for play-dates with him. One of them took him to a four-course lunch at her family villa after school last week and then to the circus. All the parents want their kids of learn English, so they are very popular for that reason as well.

Q. What’s next?

A. Honestly, I don’t know. There isn’t much freelance work in wartime, recession New York, according to my struggling friends back home. I hope to produce a good book, but I’ve been in the business long enough to know that you can write a good book and not see it sell. I am getting mentally prepared for manual labor. I waitressed in college!

Q. Your kids have lived in Paris, Manhattan, upstate New York and now Italy. What do you want them to get from these very rich experiences?

A. I want them to have good memories and to live as citizens of the world. I want them to become adults full of curiosity and compassion. They have a blog, which you can look at, but we haven’t updated it with the last month’s adventures, because our photographer and tech guy, my husband, has been working in New York this month. It will be updated next week when he gets back.

Q. You’ve had a full-time office job and you’ve worked as an author and freelancer who writes from home–wherever that may be. What works best for you and your family?

A. I don’t know. Ideally, I work alone in the morning and play in the afternoon and cook at night. This month, my husband is in New York and I am alone, an ex-pat single mommy. I had hoped to organize my life neatly between work in the morning and play in the afternoon, but sitting around with stay at home Italian mommies in the afternoon trying to chit chat in Italian gives me hives, and the mornings are short! And I have noticed that I have my shit together work-wise in almost exact inverse proportion to the amount of time I spend with the children.

Q. What keeps you awake at night, besides the sound of falling figs and walnuts in your courtyard?

Middle aged aches and pains, thoughts of mortality, worries about my children’s happiness and education. Probably exactly what kept me awake in New York City.

How One Power Mom Structures Her Day

Today’s PowerMomSalon post comes courtesy of 31-year-old power mom Amanda Steinberg. Amanda has two young children and runs two companies, DailyWorth.com, and Soapbxx.

A Day in the Life of a Power Mom

I have two kids and run two businesses. My kids are a 7-month-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. My first business, a Web consultancy called Soapbxx, will gross $300,000 in 2009 and employs eight people. The second company, an online finance publication for women called DailyWorth, has no revenue (yet) and requires a team of four part-time contractors to operate.

The best news? I’m not mad. I have plenty of time to be with my kids. I even manage to find time to have a leisurely lunch or extended “me” time.

Here’s how I do it:

7am: Our baby girl wakes all of us up.
8am: We’re downstairs, dressed, eating breakfast and packing lunches.
9am: My baby is cared for by a nanny. This nanny shows up at 9am and I hand my baby girl off. My 3-year-old goes to preschool. My husband always takes him to preschool. Bottom line: even if we’re running late, I depart for my home office (top floor of our house) at 9am sharp. This is critical to me. 9am. Work.
9am-11am: After I clean out my in-box, I focus on DailyWorth, the finance website for women. We send out a daily email, and this requires about 2 hours of my day to orchestrate.
11am-4:00pm: I focus on Soapbxx, my web consultancy. The tasks I concern myself with include:

1. Ensuring that I’m selling and closing the next $50,000 – $80,000 Web project.
2. Managing our project coordinators to make sure that they’re planning and managing Website projects effectively.
3. Reviewing and testing Websites that are close to launch; logging tasks into our project management system that I think need to be considered or changed.
4. Producing strategic documents. Many clients hire my company because of the the strategic services I sell them. As a result, I personally handle a lot of the planning and strategy documents that go with selling large, complex websites.

I don’t worry about Soapbxx’s internal performance or quality because I’ve learned over the years how to hire only the best people. My team is exceptional and as a result, I don’t have to micro-manage them or worry much. This did not happen by accident. I have 10 years practice hiring and firing. I’ve employed or contracted to 40 people over the last few years and only a select few remain.

4:00pm. I shut down my computer, scoop up my daughter, and drive to pick up my son from preschool. It feels incredible to me that I can run two companies and finish my workday by 4:00. Having been raised by a single mom who was forced into a strict 9-6 corporate work environment, I vowed to set up a life where I could be there for my kids more than my mom was for me. I don’t blame my mom for her absence — she did what she had to do to earn what she needed to earn in the 1980s. But I hated that she couldn’t drive me to school, or be there for me after school. I’m structuring my life so that I can run my businesses and be there for my kids before and after school. In 2009, working moms can have it all if we plan properly.

3:00pm – 9pm. Family time! We run errands (Target, anyone?), make dinner, take baths, read books and every other bedtime ritual that makes having kids so special.
9pm – 11pm. Here’s the part of my life that isn’t so ideal. I generally boot up my Mac and do more work at 9pm. I sense that my husband would rather that I curl up on the sofa and watch True Blood with him. Truth is, I feel pulled to run through emails that came in from 3:30 – 7pm (there are often many) and finish tasks I wasn’t able to finish during the day. I look forward to a day when I can stop work at 3:30pm and not resume until 9am the next day. Until my babies and businesses are more self-sufficient and systematized, it’s a sacrifice I’m making, and hope that my husband realizes it’s temporary.

11pm. Bed.

The keys to my operation:

1. I delegate a lot to very precocious people. I have a very responsible, motivated assistant. Without her, I’d be mad. She loves having her hands in everything from accounting to project management, and I love her for it. If she chooses to leave me (which she will some day), I’ll have a very hard time replacing her.
2. I’m obsessed with cash flow and work with a great bookkeeper/accounting team. For Soapbxx to operate, we need to deposit $25,000 into our bank account every month. I plan quarterly and manage daily when and from whom checks will arrive. My bookkeeper claims I’m one of the best cash collectors she’s ever worked with, and I’m proud to have mastered the science of receivables. Just last month, I got our receivables down to $0.
3. Once a month, I’ll stay up until 4am if need be to push through things I owe. Sometimes, you just have to.

Does my story seem impossible to you? You have to take into consideration my manic, tightly-wound character. I’m more work-obsessed than your average mom. I love my companies and have very ambitious financial goals for myself (tens of millions, thank you). I don’t exercise. I’m generally not eating proper lunches (note above: no lunch break). I wish I had more time to just be with my husband. For now, I’m satisfied with my structure and recommend it to my power mom friends.

Check out DailyWorth

Welcome to PowerMomSalon!

What is this? It’s a place for busy women entrepreneurs and senior-level executives—all moms—to congregate and share stories about raising kids and managing careers. Let’s talk about getting ahead at work, handling money, planning vacations, buying great clothes, being a breadwinner… and finding ways to take the struggle out of the kid/career juggle. What are your frustrations? Solutions?

A bit about me….“A pit bull in a Chanel skirt.” That’s how a business contact once described the working me. I was a driven, tenacious, career-obsessed journalist who cultivated sources, got scoops and logged a jaw-dropping number of hours in the office. That was shortly before I married and years before my daughter came along. Back then I had loads of time to devote to work, friends, co-workers, running—and shopping for the perfect skirt.

Today, I can still be a pit bull at work but I am a lot of other things, too. My life is full with love, play (“Little House on the Prairie,” is the current make-believe hit in our household)—and work. But time is short. It’s hard to do it all—be an excellent mom, manage a great team, make deadlines, pay attention to my husband and buy back-to-school clothes for my six-year-old. The perfect skirt for me? Please.

I’m so busy doing everything it seems impossible that I’m missing out anything. But I do. Being a time-pressed working mom means missing quality time with gals like me who want to be terrific mothers and excellent career women.

I have a lot in common with other working moms but I don’t have much time to share notes, tips and complaints with them. With this blog, I aim to change that. I want to create an online forum and real-life gatherings where moms like us can grouse, tell stores and share information to make our lives a little easier. I’m hosting my first real-life Power Mom Salon in September. I look forward to reporting insights from that.

So please read along, weigh in and share. Up next: a successful entrepreneur with two kids, two jobs and one husband will talk about how she structures her day to get the most out of work and family.

This blog will evolve in its look and style as it grows. I look forward to feedback.

Melanie
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