A lesson from from David Letterman's Netflix interview with Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates is interviewed by David Letterman in season 2 of his popular Netflix series "Our Next Guest Needs No Introduction". During the interview, she talks about her work in the developing world, the roles of women there, and the realization that even in the US women have not achieved equality in many places. So she asked herself many questions including, "How can we be sure we get equality in our homes? In our community? In our places of work?"
David Letterman asked her, "How can we? What is the key there?" Her reply: "I think you have to start in your home." She went on to say that sometimes you have to have uncomfortable conversations in your marriage to make sure that you have equality there.
She then goes on to provide an example. When their oldest daughter started preschool, Bill suggested that he should drive their daughter to school two days a week, and he did. Suddenly, a lot more fathers started taking their kids to school too. Apparently when some of the mothers saw that Bill was driving the little girl to school, they went home and said to their husbands, "If Bill Gates can drive his kid, so can you."
Never underestimate the power of your actions. You may not be Bill or Melinda Gates, but people notice what you do (and don't) do. You can make a difference.
Submitted by Ray Blessman
As summer rolls around, articles about the shortage of lifeguards start blooming along with the lilacs. My son is well qualified for one of these positions; he's an Eagle Scout with a Red Cross certification and is currently swimming competitively at the college level. But again this summer, he won't be applying for one of the many positions that are available.
My work experience is deeply rooted in accounting and economics, and it appears that somewhere along the line, my kids learned how to determine the value of their time. At the core of a lifeguarding certificaton, there is a requirement to put your own safety at risk when that's necessary to save the life of another. For outdoor lifeguards there are additional risks associated with so much sun exposure. And to top if off, given fickle weather conditions and the hourly nature of the pay for most lifeguards (which is only provided when the weather conditions are right), few employers are offering them 40 consistent hours of work each week.
Given this high level of responsibility and the risk, you'd think that lifeguards could command wage premiums over many other jobs available to college students in the summer and certainly you'd expect them to earn a highly hourly rate than those paid to fast food workers. But apparently, as of the summer of 2019, they don't. And because my son has spent a lot of time listening to me, and he can do the math, he'll be seeking other work opportunities during this break.
It occurs to me that teenagers working as lifeguards serve as a bellwether for the way many first responders are feeling right now. These feelings probably explain why the country faces shortages of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other first reponders. Compensation for these roles just doesn't align with the risks, and I can't help but wonder how bad things need to get before we start paying them more.
I'm glad that my work helped my son understand the value of his time and skills, but I worry about what will happen if I ever need a first responder.
Inspired by Penny Wirsing, 2019 President of SWE
Is there a typical "working parent"? Maybe. But many people have unique situations. It's easy to meet someone and make assumptions, but often those assumptions are wrong, and the reality of someone's situation contains some unexpected elements.
That's what happened recently when Penny Wirsing, the 2019 President of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), spoke at the Michigan State University College of Engineering Commencement Ceremony. Her speech was encouraging and inspiring. So much so that we contacted her and asked if we could share the content with Working Parent Stories readers.
One thing Penny didn't mention in her speech, and it supports the point that assumptions can be inaccurate, is the story about how and why she became an engineer. While she was a trailblazer at the time she obtained her degree, there is more to her story.
Before Penny started college she married, had a daughter, and divorced. As a single mother, she became a secretary in order to support her small family. It didn't take long for her to realize that she would not be able to live the life she envisioned for her daughter and herself on a secretary's salary, so she headed in another direction and started down the path to pursue an engineering degree.
She started taking community college classes as she continued working. That enabled her to attend evening classes while she countinued to work full-time. And the community college courses were less expensive than those offered at universities.
While working full-time, she completed enough courses to enter Michigan State University (MSU) as a junior. While there, Penny felt as though she didn't fit in with the other students. Only about 25% of the students were female back then, but it was her status as parent and breadwinner that made her feel the most out-of-place. As she juggled a job and parenting with her classes, the other students were juggling their coursework with dorm living and other extracirricular activities.
Most would agree that pursuing a college degree is challenging and that parenthood is challenging too, but few of us attempt to do both at the same time. Penny said she was able to pull it off by focusing on things one step at a time.
A benefit of Penny's situation was that while she was a student, she was also a teacher with a very attentive pupil; her daughter. Her daughter learned that if you want to do something, and you're willing to put in the work, you are likely to get it done. Penny, like most parents, could have told her these things, but she believes that showing her had a more meaningful impact. And it appears to have worked, given that her daughter is now grown and pursuing a career of her own as a Federal Attorney.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that while we're working and learning, we're also teaching. And we're never sure exactly who is watching or who will learn the most.
Related reading (and listening):
Submitted by Kathy Haselmaier
A number of recent activities have me thinking about an intersting way parents differ, even within tight groups. It seems that some parents encourage their children to try to "fit in" while others encourage them to try to be "different". Most parents want their kids to succeed, but they don't always appear to agree about which paths are most likely to lead to success. I'm thinking that in many cases, our work experiences influence our parenting philosophies.
When in come to helping kids develop their identities, some parents appear to strongly encourage their kids to seek out a good group of friends and then find ways to "fit in". In some cases the parents even go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that their children will be accepted by a group by encouraging (or even pushing) them to pursue popular activities such as soccer, choir, or academics. Sometimes the parents go as far as purchasing expensive things like clothes, cars and trips to be sure that the kids "fit in". Then, once the kids are established within a group, the parents encourage them to try to stand-out among that group.
Other parents appear to take a different approach. They don't appear to value the trending activities as much and instead encouage their kids to follow an inner calling and/or look for empty spaces to fill be pursuing less popular activities like fencing, origami, or cooking. These parents seem to think that their children are more likely to be successful in this way.
Is one way better than the other? Well I certainly have a preference for one of those routes over the other, but maybe that's because it's the best path for my kids. The more I think about it, the more I think we need both kinds of people; those striving to seek commonalities as well as those who want to be different. If everyone was striving to fit in all of the time things could get very boring very quickly. And if everyone wanted to be different, maybe nobody would be different, and we'd devolve into a state of utter chaos.
Which kind of parent are you?
Inspired by a New York Times article by Jessica Bennett
What does your child's failure, large or small, imply about you? Many parents, those who pursue careers and those who don't, seem to fear that a child's failure will imply that they aren't parenting well. Think about that; some people think that a child's failure isn't healthy and even go to unusual extremes to help their children avoid failing.
This topic caught our attention after reading an article in the New York Times called "On Campus, Failure Is on the Syllabus". It turns out that some students are so unfamiliar with failure that some colleges are offering courses to teach them how to do it.
As a working parent, this topic caught me off-guard because failure was an integral part of daily life around our house. While I always produced clean clothes for everyone, they weren't always dry. Homework and lunches were occasionally forgotten. Planes were missed; twice. Test scores weren't always worthy of display on the refrigerator. Vacation activities sometimes proved to be ... not so fun. And managers didn't always heap on the praise. And yet ... we survived. Sometimes we even succeeded. Each of us learned, at least theoretically, that when something doesn't turn out the way you want, you keep on going, try harder next time, and often need to change your behavior to avoid experiencing even more failure in the future. Failure isn't a showstopper, but it is often a signal that change is needed.
Many years ago a friend advised, "Let your kids fail on the little stuff when they are little so that they're not learning to deal with failure for the first time when they are older and the stakes are much higher." We took the advice to heart, but have to admit, even today, that watching anyone you care about fail is not easy. And it's not fun. Sometimes we failed when it came to teaching failure.
"Good parents" let their kids fail; they don't swoop in, solve problems that children could solve for themselves, and then declare themselves the heroes in their family stories. Instead, they encourage children to resolve their own failures, and they allow their children to feel the satisfaction and experience the increased self-confidence that those failure experiences produce. They let their children become the heroes of their own stories, and they teach them that struggle can be valuable. They understand that parents should attempt to keep their children safe, but that most failures don't compromise safety.
For all parents, and especially working parents, these realizations can be freeing. When we make room for failure, we spend less time doing and more time watching, supporting, and encouraging. As Retired USAF Colonel Gregory H. Johnson said at Michigan Tech's spring commencement ceremony recently, "Failure's not only an option, it's a requirement for succeeding in life."
As I mentioned in my recent Paris in the Springtime story, I vacationed alone in Paris last month. I landed back in Denver on a Friday evening, and in a mostly unplanned turn of events, my 23 year old son boarded the same plane and headed off to start his own solo travel adventure just a few hours later. I traveled alone in an attempt to add adventure to my life, and he traveled alone to visit friends he'd met when he studied in Sweden during his junior year of college.
Since returning from my trip, people have said many interesting things to me including these comments from two very capable young women: "I wanted to do that, but my dad wouldn't let me" and "I could never do that!"
These comments got me thinking. My experiences got me thinking too.
The first thought is that, for me, traveling alone felt safer than traveling with others for the following reasons:
I'm so glad that my son had the opportunity to travel alone while he was living in Sweden, and I'm glad that he's willing to keep doing it now. Business travel is often a solo trip, so these experiences will only help him as he establishes his career. Experienced travelers are best able to focus on their job responsibilities when their work requires them to function away from their home base.
If we want our daughters to be able to take advantage of opportunities to earn as much as our sons, we need to help prepare them for the work ... which often requires travel. It doesn't make sense to pay a person with less experience the same as a person with more experience.
Instead of teaching our daughters to be fearful, let's teach them to be capable.
Submitted by Kathy Haselmaier
Paris was my most recent vacation destination. My husband was unenthused about spending time in a place where he would encounter so many language and logistical challenges, and I somehow tripped across the concept of "solo travel" on YouTube, so the next thing I knew, I was off to Paris ... alone.
Some people I encountered were surprised when they learned I was on my own. Others, all working moms, got it. It seems that people who have masterminded family vacations while juggling a demanding full-time career can at least relate to the appeal; doing only what you want and when you want to do it. I'm happy to report that it was just as luxurious as it sounds.
Before I left I had some concerns about spending 12 days on my own, so when I came across the concept of Airbnb "experiences", I booked a few; a small jazz concert, a "rooftops tour" and, the one that sounded the most interesting, "Make your own silk scarf in Paris". I'm not much of an artist, but this "experience" was described in a way that made it sound doable. And it turned out to not only be doable, but thoroughly enjoyable; it was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Our host, Marie-Sophie Boulanger, met the three of us who had pre-registered (Sharon from Hong Kong, Amy from the Bronx, and me) at a metro stop near her home in Montmartre. Then we were wisked into Marie-Sophie's home in a Parisian Haussmann building where we spent the next four hours creating our own silk scarf ... with lots of help from Marie-Sophie and the added bonus of making new friends. It was really fun!
But why do I share this story with you? It's because Marie-Sophie is a working parent and that was evident while we were in her home. It was Easter week, her 12 year old twin sons had the week off school, and she had to work. That meant that her boys were off at a day camp while we were there. And guess what? There were some issues; changes by the camp leader, phone calls from her sons, and adjustments that needed to be made. Amy and I, former working parents, could relate! We'd been there and done that. And watching Marie-Sophie juggle her work and her family only helped us appreciate the experience more.
We were reminded that working parents, wherever they may live, are all facing many of the same challenges.
Pointer to Fox News video about Dr. Anna Lee Fisher and her daughter Kristin Fisher
Dr. Anna Lee Fisher was the first mom to fly in space back in 1984. As, Anne McClain, also a mom, prepares to head to space later this month, and to commemorate International Women's Day, Dr. Fisher appeared on Fox News last week along with her Fox News Washington correspondent daughter, Kristin Fisher.
Watch the video of the conversation to gain insight into how a mom's decision to go into space when her daughter was 14 months old, influenced that daughter.
Interestingly, both of Kristin's parents worked as NASA astronauts.
-- Speaking of Business Travel
Working Parent Stories often mentions the fact that kids learn from parents and the kids of working parents learn unique and valuable lessons. Having just finished reading the book Educated by Tara Westover, it seems safe to claim that she learned some really unique lessons from her working parents. And many of them have turned out to be surprisingly valuable and definitely thought-provoking.
We're late to the party in terms of reviewing and praising this book given that Barack Obama included it on his 2018 Summer Reading List and Bill Gates recently gushed about it too. With that said, in addition to being a compelling memoir, it gives parents a lot to think about in terms of what aspects of parenting and education help a child the most.
Educated is a real page-turner* that will leave you thinking and thinking and thinking some more about what you've read, what it means to be a "good" parent, and what opportunities and responsibilities you provide for your children. After you finish the book, we recommend listening to interviews with the author posted on YouTube (like this one) to gain even more insight into her story.
* We actually listened to the audio version
Assuming that a person's future family status is unknown (i.e. they are not yet married):
Does it ever make sense to give different career advice to boys/men vs girls/women?
Serious question. Let us know what you think.