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):
A movie review
We enjoyed the CNN documentary RGB enough to conclude that we wanted to see "On the Basis of Sex" too, the "inspired by a true story" movie about events that occurred duing Ruth Bader Ginsburg's education and early career. And we're glad that we did because it provided a different view into Judge Ginsburg's history. (One, we should note, that is somewhat fictionalized. You can check the facts vs. fiction online.)
Not long ago, I attended a class called "Understanding myself from a cultural perspective". One of the most memorable things the instructor told us is that an outsider can't become a member of a group unless he or she has an insider advocate. In addition to being a thought-provoking claim, it got me thinking about responsibility; specifically, what responsibility do I have to help others who are on the outside?
This movie, and other stories I've read about Judge Ginsburg, highlight the fact that after finishing two years of Harvard Law School and then graduating from Columbia Law School (where she tied for first in her class), RBG couldn't find an NYC law firm that was willing to hire her. That's hard to believe in 2019, but apparently it really happened.
Ruth and Marty both worked while raising their two children; Ruth started out as a college professor and Marty spent his career as a tax attorney. It's well known that Marty was the family cook long before many men assumed such roles. Their successes appear to be linked in many ways.
Thankfully for Ruth, and all women really, her husband, Marty, remained convinced that she should continue to push the legal system until she found a crack; a way to practice law instead of just teaching others about it. It's an example of a person on the inside advocating for a person on the outside.
And it leaves us wondering, is there a person or people who are deserving of our advocacy?
Recently, I spoke with several friends who are also mothers. It seemed like each one of them was complaining about the same thing: They were running around like headless chickens who were tired and worn out and they had no time for themselves.
As working parents we are often pulled in many directions and bombarded with multiple demands at the same time: Your boss wants the report in ten minutes, a child wants a treat now, the laundry basket is overflowing, and we badly need a haircut. The list goes on and on.
Whether you are a working parent with one, two, three or more children, or even the parent of a special needs child, the demands on you and your time seem endless.
Many of us find it difficult to prioritize our own needs above those of others. And sometimes it feels like we are losing ourselves in the process.
While it is important to take care of others, it is essential to take good care of ourselves first. Like the airlines remind us: "Put the oxygen mask onto your own face before helping small children and others". If we can't breathe or function, it's impossible for us to help others.
Taking good care of ourselves has to be a priority! Whether this means going for a run, doing yoga, meeting with friends, or just taking a few minutes to sit down and relax.
Make these rituals ruthless priorities! They help us feel better and stay sane. Plus, your children will benefit by learning and appreciating that taking good care of oneself benefits everyone. Remember: It is not selfish, it is self care.
Pointer to a thought-provoking video
UPDATE Nov 9, 2018: According to National Geographic, video highlighted below, may not be as cute and natural as originally suggested.
You will probably appreciate this video (2:20 min) if ...
Pointer to a Forbes article by Mary Beth Ferrante
Yesterday Forbes published a great article called How To Survive A Two Breadwinner Household. We love the article because it promotes many of the same ideas we promote and aligns with many of the topics we've covered recently including the following (and many more):
Thank you, MaryBeth Ferrante, for helping other dual income couples recognize the challenges so we can be sure our families thrive and we contribute to a brighter future in so many ways.
Pointer to Poppy Harlow / RBG video clip
The RBG movie (and the review we wrote) got us thinking even more about spouses and the important roles they play in our careers. In fact, it caused me to head to YouTube to learn more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, who are portrayed as Working Parent trail blazers.
The search led to a February 2018 interview with Ruth by CNN's Poppy Harlow. Their exchange, during the interview introductions, revealed another story about a supportive spouse; Poppy's husband, Sinisa Babcic. Watch the first minute and a half min of the video to hear the story.
"Behind every great man there stands a woman" is a phrase I often heard growing up. It was stated as a compliment and recognized the value of a supportive spouse; always a wife back then. Many years later I find myself recognizing that there is a lot of truth in that statement; a great person or great people are often supporting people who achieve anything of value. Maybe some succeed against all odds and without any support, but the vast majority of us need somebody in our court; someone or someones who want to see us succeed, encourage us to strive for more, and are willing to make at least small sacrifices to help us achieve "great things". It's the reason we encourage people to establish relationships with mentors, coaches, managers and peers.
When one's spouse can act in a supporting role, one has an advantage. When a spouse can act in multiple supporting roles, one has an even bigger advantage. It's hard to find a story that makes this point more clearly than the RBG story, but many of us have stories to tell. We've collected quite a few of them hoping that they will inspire you. Enjoy!
More stories about supportive spouses:
Pointer to HBO's new Docu-Series Being Serena
Working moms on Reddit brought our attention to the new five-part Docu-Series on HBO* called Being Serena. The series chronicals the most recent events in Serena Williams' life; from winning the Australian Open while pregnant in April 2017 right up to attending the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
But it's the stuff in-between those events that is most interesting ... and inspiring ... and thought provoking ... and relatable.
For those who don't know, Serena is married to Alexis Ohanian, one of the co-founders of Reddit, so it's especially interesting that Reddit led us to this program. Talk about a synergistic relationship!
Working parents (both moms and dads) are likely to appreciate Serena's story and find themselves relating, thinking, and being inspired as they watch.
* It appears that Being Serena is also available via On Demand until early July. More info.
Pointer to research results published by ScienceDaily
When our kids were in school, we knew a couple who were highly respected parents. Imagine my thrill when I learned that they limited their very smart and very talented son to two (or was it three?) extracurricular activities at a time. While other parents were bragging about the hours they spent shuttling their kids from activity to activity, these parents confidently let people know that they thought some reasonable limits were best for their son.
Their confidence set the example I needed to let go of any concern I had that my own kids might be falling behind because they weren't overbooked and in constant motion. It was really helpful and comforting information during a time that I needed more help and comfort!
If you would appreciate knowing that your kids don't need to be booked 24/7, look no further than this article published by ScienceDaily: Are your children overdoing it? Too many extracurricular activities can do more harm than good. It summarizes results from a small study in England and points out that "a busy organized activity schedule can ... potentially harm children's development and wellbeing." It may provide the info working parents need to better manage their time and protect their sanity.
Originally Published: May16, 2018 | Last Updated: Jun 11, 2018
Link to a video posted on Twitter
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Often we encourage our kids to persevere when they struggle. And sometimes we learn by watching them. Check out the tenatious child in this video (<1 min) that was recently posted on Twitter.
Being a working parent can be like this, but if you keep at it, and get some good advice, you're likely to have a great sense of accomplishment at the end!
Commentary on a Harvard Business Review article by Kate Weisshar
A recent Harvard Business Review article by Kate Weisshaar reported that parents (both moms and dads) who took time off from their careers to stay home with their children full-time are less likely to be interviewed for open positions than working parents who were laid off from their previous positions and out of work for the same length of time.
The article, which generated some emotionally charged reader comments, makes a case for juggling career and parenting responsibilities, if setting an example for your children via your career is important to you.