Friday, December 27, 2013

The Having It All Project: Robin Adwin

It's fitting that Robin, a mom I got to know while Max was in preschool, is the final (at least for now) participant of The Having It All Project. Back in March, she commented the following:

"I want to thank you for this blog and The Having It All project. It has been an inspiration. Reading the stories of other working mothers has given me the confidence to stop sacrificing my career ambitions and the courage to believe I can have my dream job and this amazing family."

And it gave me the inspiration I needed to make a year-long commitment to the Project. Thank you Robin. I hope lots of others have been inspired too. I'll be wrapping up the series in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

And now, here's how Robin is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I don’t actually believe that our family is unique. My husband and I work full-time jobs away from the home with occasional overtime. We are the parents of an amazing, insightful, and loving five-year old boy and exuberant boy/girl twins who are just shy of two years old.

When the Having It All project started I never imagined myself being in a position where I could contribute. Life was complete and total chaos. I was searching for a job at the end of maternity leave. I was struggling to get everyone fed and clean and clothed amidst a whirling dervish of chaos. One year later I do believe I am “having it all.” I still have a wonderful husband with whom I share a deep love. I have three beautiful children and am getting enough sleep to recognize that fact. My career is full of successes. I have a job that I love; I am a thesis advisor to a Master of Interior Design candidate; and I am in a position to hire and build a team at my office. I even occasionally find time for myself to practice yoga or take a bubble bath.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I know it sounds hokey, but we have a family theme song… Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne. I have found that listening to our five-year old belt it out in the back of the car when the chaos is getting overwhelming helps me gain perspective and see the humor in life.

Being a dual-income family means that the mornings and the evenings can be hectic and I do not want to spend what little time I get with my kids being a giant bundle of stress. I probably make it harder on myself, too, because I love to cook and I try to avoid take-out meals. Sometimes this means that dinner is hot dogs and frozen french fries prepared by me but cooked by someone else; the point is for the kids to see the food coming from our kitchen and to gather the family together at the table for a meal. Due to this priority for me, I have devised some strategies in addition to the hot dog meals. I make a menu for the week, identifying each kids’ breakfast, snack, lunch and then the family dinner. Now that the twins are older and can eat everything we eat, all three kids have the same breakfast and similar lunches. One night a week we have an “easy” family dinner, either tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or a kid-friendly version of wine and cheese with crackers, cheese, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and nuts. On Sundays I prepare food for the kids to take for snacks and lunches at school/daycare.

Another strategy that has seen us through some tough times was learning to ask for help and learning to accept help in whatever form it arrives. I received generous help from friends and family through the years in the form of home-cooked meals delivered to our porch, free babysitting, and one friend who visited frequently with the sole purpose of folding the children’s laundry and a secondary benefit of providing company. Accepting help was the easier step. Asking for help was a bigger challenge, but a necessity.

My husband and I are self-admitted control-freaks; the twins are tornadoes of destruction. Obviously we have had to let go of our control on a lot of things. But there was only so much mess we could handle, so we hired a wonderful person to come into our home and clean it every other week. As mentioned above, it took some soul-searching to admit we needed the help and seek it out. Now we budget the money for this service and it has saved my sanity.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I feel like something breaks down every single day. However, I think it truly broke down the first six months of the twins’ life. They were born prematurely and were tiny but strong. Unfortunately I suffered a serious complication that left me weak for months and unable to even hold my new babies until they were 36 hours old. I spent a week in the hospital recovering, visiting my newborns once a day because I was too exhausted for more than that, and missing my husband and older son terribly. Once I went home I had to rely on my husband, my family and my friends to take care of me and my older son. I was simultaneously guilty and thankful that the twins had to spend two more weeks in the NICU building up their strength. I was so weak I could barely walk up the stairs to get in our house. I had post-traumatic stress coupled with post-partum hormones. I could not think more than a day ahead. I was just surviving and doing that took all the energy I could muster.

And then the twins came home. My daughter was a cuddle bug and needed to be held all the time. I felt like I was neglecting her twin brother. I had to adjust to listening to her cry so that I could prepare food for myself, make bottles for the twins, and do all the other things you have to do to support yourself and two newborns in their first months of life.

I got through it with the love and a considerable amount of help from my friends and my family. I saw a therapist once a week. I attended twin-specific mother groups. I signed up for a visiting mom through Jewish Family and Children’s Services. I got a Sleepy Wrap, which is a variation on the Moby Wrap specifically for premature babies, so that I could do necessary chores while giving my daughter the snuggles she required. I availed myself of every resource I could possibly find and forced myself to socialize and interact with other people…until I finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter started sleeping through the night when she was 10 months old. The twins’ nursing reduced from every hour down to several hours between feedings. I startled myself with the realization that I needed to go back to work for my well being and that of my entire family.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I do not have a singular person that I look to for balance. I try to learn from all of my friends, both parents and non-parents and adapt what works for them to our life. I strive to create for my children the environment of supportive, unconditional love that my parents created for me. Some of my friends excel at self-care and I look to them for guidance on making time for myself. Others share their own parenting strategies from organizing their home to getting their kids to eat broccoli.

I could not be a stay at home mom. At this point in my life, my identity is intrinsically linked with my career. Furthermore our children are very social and thrive in a school or daycare environment. So any scenario where we are not a dual-income family would not work for us.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
My life is similar but different in distinct ways. When I was 18 I knew that I wanted to be a mother, get married by the time I was 30, have two kids, and be an architect. I am a mother; I got married when I was 30; I have three kids and I am a registered architect. However, when I was 18 I had not given much thought to the reality of being a working mom. I think I believed I would have a job as an architect but only work from the time the bus picked up my kids up for school until it dropped them off after school. Or maybe I thought that I would become a stay at home mom while my children were young. Reality never aligns with our childhood dreams, but life can be fantastic in ways we never dared to imagine.

Relate to what Robin is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Having It All Project: Diane Thies

I started reading Diane's blog, Dollops of Diane, just before we met a Springboard last year. She's a blogger who manages to seamlessly review a product without forgetting that you're there for the story of how she used it too, which I really appreciate it. Plus, she's a planner, and has kept many of us Boston bloggers connected to each other with non-sponsored events where we just get to be together. I love that about her. Here's how Diane is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
My father passed away when I was only two months old, so my brother and I were raised by mother in a small town outside of Boston. Unfortunately, my mother developed a rare muscle disorder that meant her health continued to decline throughout my life until her death in 2009. By the time I was finishing high school, she was wheel chair confined but always maintained her smile. After high school, I attended college where I received a bachelor's degree in Marketing with a minor in Finance. I started a job right out of college with an insurance company and several years after that married my husband. In 2007, we started our family which meant and I needed to take a leave from my position as Disability Claims Manager (isn't that what everyone uses their Marketing degree for?). I had every intention of returning to work full time but once I was home with our Isabelle I felt it was right where I needed to be. I did return back to work but only for a couple of months since my heart was at home. It ended up working out well since we discovered shortly after I quit that I was pregnant with baby number two (surprise!). Just fourteen months after Isabelle's birth, we welcomed Henry to the family. Once we had two children we figured what's one more? So nineteen months later we welcomed Daniel to our clan. That meant that we had three children under the age of three. Everyone thought we were insane. Honestly, the first couple of years of motherhood are kind of a blur. Isabelle and Henry were great babies which was followed by Daniel the Demon. He had a milk intolerance, he spit up everything, and he cried all the time. He eventually outgrew that phase but continues to be my biggest challenge. He can be sweet and caring one minute followed by unruly and screaming the next. It's amazing just how different children can be from each other! But I do feel lucky that I have the opportunity to stay home with them. Besides taking care of them full time, I keep busy with being active in our local Moms Club, doing volunteer work, and writing a blog. I am a do-er and prefer to be busy.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Chaos and Diane are two words that I try not to put in the same sentence. I exist most happily in a world full of order and lists. My calendar is my best friend. The Notes section of my iPhone is the runner up in the best friend category. I learned early that if I don't write things down then it won't get done. With each child I've had I've become more and more of a scatterbrain – lists and calendars keep me in check! Something that I struggle with is accepting and handling when things don't go according to plan. However, it's something I'm aware of and is a work in progress!

I also find it's very important to make time for the things that are important to you. Shockingly, exercise has become something that is important to me. That means that I get up at 4:45am several times a week to fit it in before anyone else gets up. You know what else is important to me? Facebook. It allows me to connect with other people besides the mini tyrants that occupy my home. It's an outlet for me and something I enjoy so I make time for it. What's important to you doesn't have to be scholarly and world changing – it just needs to be an outlet that makes you happy. Find it and do it daily!

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.I've conveniently blocked out any specific horrible moments from my life. However, there is definitely a time when frequent breakdowns occur – mornings. You'd think that you can get a schedule set up and get out of the house on time each morning. It just doesn't seem to happen here. I wake up at the crack of dawn (or even before!), I lay out outfits the night before, I pack backpacks the night before, and yet something always goes wrong. Henry, who never sleeps late, will surely be passed out still when it's time for him to get dressed. He'll never be able to find his coat (Hint: It's in the same spot every single day). Isabelle will need to argue about the shoes she's wearing and try to convince me to let her bring two additional pairs of shoes in her backpack. Daniel is actually the constant each morning – he fights me tooth and nail on everything that needs to be done. I find myself yelling at the kids more than I'd like to admit which doesn't do any good anyway. So I try to remind myself that we are all going to get where we are going – whether it's on time or a few minutes later (shudder!). I've also started making small changes to help maintain my sanity in the morning. One of the changes is letting them eat their breakfast in front of the TV on school days. Is this ideal? Probably not, but it gets them fed and allows me to shower and do things uninterrupted for 25 minutes in the morning. That, my friends, is priceless!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I don't really have specific balance role model that I look towards. Life is a balance and everyone needs to find what works best for them. Some people have immaculate houses but eat out every night. Some people have three weeks of laundry backed up but have a homemade pie on the table with dinner. Some parents prefer weekend date nights while others prefer family movie nights. I think you need to choose what works best for your personality and the dynamics of your family. There is no cookie cutter shape for balance. It comes in all forms. In the end, as long as everyone is happy and healthy than I say you've done a fine job.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
Now I realize that when I was eighteen I was shy and sheltered. I planned on marrying at age 23 (which didn't happen) and having children. Beyond that I didn't have any other big plans or if I did I can't remember them. There was a whole world out there that I had no idea about. I'm so glad that I had a chance to explore it. I know that the decisions that I made, whether good or bad, shaped my life and brought me to where I am today. Ups and downs – I wouldn't have it any other way.

Relate to what Diane is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

Monday, December 16, 2013

General Busy-ness: Q4 2013

It's just like writing a quarterly commentary at work! But with more pictures and a lot less numbers! Be sure to scroll all the way down to see how I did with my word of the year too. But first, the pictures.

Aunt Allison came to visit and took part in our annual apple picking. Even in the rain, we had fun.

Aunt Rachel, Nate and Evie visited from Little Rock, and we had a wonderful dinner together.

My friend Jenny and I attended a Sisterhood event at The Paint Bar, and we made these!

Halloween 2013 was another success.

Fourth grade is all about the projects.

But kindergarten's pretty cool too.

I had picture day at work.

We traveled to Cleveland for Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah, and we went bowling. I think my average score was 56.

Me and 10,000 other women attended the Massachusetts Conference for Women.

And though I don't think I've watched a single World Series game, you don't turn down Wally when he offers a photo with the Red Sox trophies.

Today? Today was filled with packing. We leave for our long-planned, goal of a trip to Israel in just a few days. The suitcases are packed, but I still can't believe we're going. It probably won't hit me until we're there and eating falafel.

So back in January, I declared my word for the year to be "more." I admit, it wasn't a hard thing to achieve on most aspects of my life. If things continued as planned, there would be plenty of more as a wife, mother, analyst, blogger, and even as an exerciser. Well, four out of five isn't too bad. I've gone on more dates. I've focused more on the small moments of parenting. I've had more work opportunities. I've had more blogging success. And maybe 2014 is the year I'll achieve some kind of fitness goal--or at least make it back to Zumba sometimes.

It's been a good year. "More" was a great word to keep in mind, to guide the many decisions I've made. I'm not sure what next year's word will be just yet, but I'll be sure to keep you posted. Let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments.

I'm not sure I'll have time to blog while on our trip, but check back for the final two installments of The Having It All Project.

Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful start to 2014.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Having It All Project: Melanie Gerard

I met Melanie when Hannah began attending Tot Shabbat at our synagogue with Melanie's two older children. Her two boys are passage of time markers for me--how can he be old enough for overnight camp already?--and now our children go there together. We don't see each other often enough, but it's always lovely when we do. Here's how Melanie is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
My life is borderline cliché and I feel blessed because of it. I have three wonderful kids, ages five through eleven, and a supportive husband by my side. I live in a colonial home in a lovely suburban town, drive a minivan, cook dinner from scratch almost every night, volunteer in my community, and I work part time.

Career-wise, I’m going through what most might consider a unique time. I just completed a very intense, year long journey of self discovery that resulted in a major career transition. The last ten years, I’ve been self employed as a part time business contractor, consulting on a wide range of projects. This work afforded me the flexibility to be with the kids, while moonlighting as Professional Volunteer, Chef, Laundry Clerk, Personal Organizer, and the list goes on. My consulting work was very rewarding, but the projects were increasingly intense and the hours more erratic. As my youngest was getting ready for Kindergarten, I found myself wondering whether I wanted to ramp-up my business or take the unique opportunity to shift into something more “gratifying,” with better work-life balance.

After a year of exploration, networking, and a lot of coffee chats, I decided to mesh my volunteer efforts into a job that will hopefully leverage my skills, create professional growth opportunities, and offer better work-life balance. I’m now the part time Director of Advocacy at a non-profit kids camp. This is a huge career shift, made complicated by my husband’s simultaneous shift into a demanding technology startup job. So far, our first few weeks have been great and we’re trying not to look back.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
We try hard to channel the chaos by limiting our kids’ activities, making time for regular exercise, and keeping as organized as possible (this last tip often feels like a losing battle, but I’m not willing to give up on it just yet!).

I am a strong believer in giving kids time to play and be bored. I’m probably one of few parents in Newton that limits her kids to one sport and one extracurricular activity each per season (though I will consider doing more if there’s a hopeful connection to a college scholarship!). It’s helpful that my kids attend a day school that has a strong after school curriculum on site. For example, the kids often stay on campus for piano, guitar, band, and sports which cuts down on the number of places I need to be on any given day.

Exercise has a special place in my life. I carve this time out selfishly and don’t allow anyone or anything to get in the way. My family knows that if I miss a workout, I become cranky and resentful. All I need is 20 minutes a day; and it’s for the common good of those around me.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
We have daily break downs, but I’ve learned through experience that the way I handle these situation(s) ultimately defines the magnitude of the breakdown. When the kids were younger, my husband’s travel schedule was synonymous with impending doom. He would leave town and like a recurring nightmare, I would wake up to piles of snow on the ground, a broken major appliance, or a child with a dangerously high fever.

Now that the kids are older, the universe has found alternate ways to test our endurance. A few weeks ago when the kids missed the morning bus, I grumpily drove them to school. The day went totally south from there: the minivan auto slide door refused to stay shut, I hit 45 minutes traffic driving two miles home, I got locked out of the house, couldn’t get through the garage door, the house alarm had a low-battery that was incessantly beeping, and my cell phone had a corrupt/malfunctioning chip! By 2pm, I was sure that locking myself in the bedroom was the best strategy. The only upside to was that I had the good sense to change out of my pajamas before leaving the house – and that I got to spend the morning with my good friend and neighbor, who somehow, I hadn’t seen in months. I coped by keeping my cool and just laughing at all the craziness. Times like this, it helps to remember we live a privileged life and the basic necessities in our lives are luxury to others. Right now, I know too many people out of work, struggling to keep work and wondering where the mortgage payments will come from.

I also learned that social media is a terrific outlet for venting. Within minutes after writing a post about my miserable day, I got instant support from friends who were all too ready to take pity on me and join me for a glass of wine!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
My role models are all the people in my life - from my kids and husband, to my parents and friends. I learn something special from everyone and I honestly believe that each relationship shapes me into the person I am, the person I hope to become, and the person I don’t want to be. I definitely try to avoid activities (and people) that frustrate me. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but in practice, is actually very hard. If I can dismiss myself from a meeting or somehow navigate/avoid discussions, I will take every opportunity to do so.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
My life is absolutely everything and exactly nothing like I planned it to be! By the time I was 18, it was pretty much understood that I would go to college for business, work a little, then get married and raise a family. This all seemed pretty reasonable, so I went with the flow. Had it been entirely up to me, I would have gone to art school and just “had fun!” My conservative parents would have nothing to do with that kind of thinking. Twenty-two years later, my life has taken some pretty unexpected twists and turns, but I have no regrets and feel blessed and fortunate. The irony is that I still don't have a plan.

I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, despite an entire year of self discovery and soul searching. What I have always known about myself (then and now) is that as long as I continue to strike a balance between personal and professional growth, then I feel like I have it all. The only challenge now is to nail down my target, because as my family’s needs grow and change, so does the goal post.

Relate to what Melanie is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Card Confession

Some of my favorite photos from our shoot with Kerry Goodwin this fall
I love being Jewish for so many reasons, but at this time of year, there's one detail that I really treasure about my religion of choice: there's really no reason to decorate. Yes, Hanukkah is eight days long, and having a nice menorah and some dreidels is fun. But there is no giant tree, no garland, no ornaments, no lights. I've often thought about how I'd handle all that, and I'd probably do what many do: I'd go overboard. Every year, I'd be looking for new ways to make my home even more festive. Most likely, I'd end up stressing myself out needlessly. That's how a lot of things go for me, anyway. So I'm better off without the decorating.

But Christmas cards? I love doing my Christmas cards.

Okay, fine, they're new year's cards. One year, since Max was born on New Year's Day, they were combined with birth announcements. But whatever they might say on the front, we all know they're Christmas cards. And they are my favorite thing every December.

This is a chore that's completely up my alley. I love taking pictures of the kids, though this year we hired a photographer so we could all be in the photos. I love choosing the design and the fonts and the wording (and with a husband who now works at Vistaprint, I love the deal we get by ordering early). I love being the keeper of all the addresses: knowing who moved this year, who got married, who had a baby and moves from being a couple to a family. The addresses span the country, from Washington to Florida. There are new additions every year, and I think fondly of those I don't see often enough when I address the envelopes by hand. Every year, I debate buying address labels, and then end up handwriting them all. It just makes me happy.

And the cards we receive in return spend the season decorating the mantle of our fireplace. I actually look forward to receiving the mail at this time of year.

Here are a couple more photos we couldn't squeeze on the cards this year. I hope your mailbox (both physical and virtual) is filled with good holiday wishes too.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Power of Two

Marc presenting on Open Source Judaism to Limmud Boston
I hit the ground running this morning, and was out early to pick up bagels and coffee. My Sunday morning routine. It hasn't changed much since I wrote that post, except that it's become less and less of a routine. Hannah doesn't really like bagels much, and it seems like I'm able to talk myself out of going more often lately. But today, I went.

It's been really busy around here. I'm not complaining, it's not a bad kind of busy necessarily, but there's been a lot of work brought home or evenings of solo-parenting or spending an eternity catching up on laundry. Bagels and coffee were fuel for another day spent racing around.

And then in a moment, a song took me back to 1997. I think. Might have been 1998, I honestly can't remember, but a group of us from Brandeis traveled to the University of New Hampshire to see the Indigo Girls in concert. In this time before flash mobs and fake movie trailer proposals, a guy had arranged to propose to his girlfriend on stage during the show, before the Indigo Girls played "Power of Two." We all cheered when she yelled a loud "yes!" from somewhere in the stands, and I thought it was incredibly romantic. 

A lot of the busy-ness of the past week has been because Marc did a presentation at a conference called Limmud Boston this morning. See, I'm not the only one in this family juggling our family life, a full-time job, and outside interests, Marc is doing it too. I got to attend most of his presentation, and I'm so proud of him. It was really well done, and I'm glad he put as much effort into it as he did.

I stopped for a moment, hearing "Power of Two" when I did this morning. I was reminded of the romance of that moment so long ago, and found a bit of romance in the moment then, bringing bagels and coffee home. Marc was so happy, excited and most of all, passionate, about sharing his knowledge with the group today. We may not have been the most well-rested this week, and may not have had a ton of time to spend together, but it was totally worth it to see him be such a success and in his element. I'm so happy to be living an exponentially-powered life with him.

"So we're okay,
We're fine,
Baby I'm here to stop your crying,
Chase all the ghosts from your head,
I'm stronger than the monster beneath your bed,
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart,
We'll look at them together then we'll take them apart,
Adding up the total of a love that's true,
Multiply life by the power of two."

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Having It All Project: Phyllis Myung

Phyllis has what has to be one of my favorite blog titles out there: The Napkin Hoarder. I'd first heard about her after she appeared in the Providence version of Listen To Your Mother last year, and I've so enjoyed getting to know her as we co-produce this year's Boston show. Here's how Phyllis is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
Hmmmm… My life, right now, feels like one big stride and that I’ve hit a nice little groove or flow despite how crazy it can be at times. I’m a Boston transplant that hails from Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia (woo hoo Bryn Mawr College!), and Manhattan. My husband was a former Canadian that grew up in the way out there suburbs of New York (anyone heard of Rockland County?). Together, we created a mini-me who is now 4 years old and can claim the birthright of Boston, therefore the right to have the Boston Red Sox as her home team.

I was a stay-at-home mom until my daughter was about 20 months old. My background is in education, but I've had the chance to do things not necessarily related to teaching. Most recently, I run the Toddler Program at Mama & Me in Jamaica Plain, do some social media consulting on the side, hoard napkins, and blog at The Napkin Hoarder. I also have signed on to be a co-producer for the first Listen To Your Mother Show in Boston with two other amazing women – Cheryl Stober (editor's note: hey, I think I know her!) and Jessica Severson.

I think there are a few things that make my life unique. I’m a child of immigrant parents, but since I was born in the States and grew up here, I have this interesting mix that both my husband and I are passing on to our daughter and we are trying to figure it out as we go along. Another thing that makes my life unique is that I have been able to build a community in Boston that is my family since I live across the country from my blood-related family. I think it’s rare to find a group of friends that you could call family and rely upon like close family. It’s also so great because we all have kids that are just months apart in age. I love being able to raise all our kids together – it’s like my daughter has a whole bunch of siblings!

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
Here are my top-secret tips for staying sane in the midst of the chaos:

1. Try to prep things the night before. I always thought my mom was silly for suggesting that I pick out my clothes for tomorrow the night before. As I’ve gotten older, I see the wisdom in that advice. I try to do that for myself and for my daughter. I usually end up picking out two outfits that she can choose from since she is a little fashionista. I also try to pack bags/backpacks and lunches the night before. It helps me to have those few moments in the morning when we are always rushing out the door!

2. Lists are friends. When I was in high school, I had a hard time remembering my friend’s phone numbers. My remedy was to have a little notebook with them all written down. I’ve never been good about remembering things in my head and now, with a million things going on in my head, my memory has gotten even worse. Lists help me to make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything and it also gives me a sense of accomplishment when I can check it off. I usually keep a running list on my fridge for grocery items too so that I can just add it when I finish up things like the milk or eggs.

3. Make space to have some down time or "me" time. It might be having a cup of tea, getting a pedicure, or even something as simple as taking a short walk. For me, my special time is early Saturday morning around 8 am. I even run some errands around that time at Target and it is heaven. Everything is neat and orderly in addition to it not being crowded. It's my special place. I also recently found a salon that opens at 8 am for hair cuts! That's my second special place. It helps me to recollect myself and gives me a chance to breathe.

4. Give yourself lots of grace. Sometimes, the universe just goes awry and there isn't much you can do about it. It may feel like it was because you weren't prepared or because of something you did, but at the end of the day, you have to give yourself grace in the chaos. We beat ourselves up so much and tend to be extra hard, so we could use some loving on ourselves as busy women. Oh, and don't be sorry about it.

5. What's your family vision or where do you see yourself headed as a family? What are your aspirations or goals for your children? For my husband and I, we want our daughter to grow up as a kind, generous, inclusive, and happy person. We talked about what we thought that would look like and then made our decisions about her schooling, activities, and so forth with those goals in mind. Whenever things get crazy, we try to think about where we want to be as a family and the kind of family that we want to be. It really helps us to say yes or no to activities, events, pressures, etc. without thinking too much about it.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.

When my daughter was about 18 months old, I pretty much lost it. I found myself being really frustrated and hating being a mom. I also found myself walking the edge of depression and taking it out a lot on my husband. I thought to myself, "This can't be it. There must be more to my life than this. I cannot continue on this path." I felt like a complete loser because I was a stay-at-home mom and didn't feel like I was contributing to my family or to the society at large. One of the first things that I did was enroll my daughter in a toddler drop off program where I could get a few hours to myself each week. It helped me to find myself again and also gave me time to look for a part time job. Luckily, I found a fantastic part time job with an awesome mentor and boss. The next thing I did was I went and got a pedicure and a haircut. After that, I went out with my friends for a much needed girls' night out. For me, these things signified self-care and made me feel so much better as a woman. It also gave me some time to be away and let my husband take care of our daughter and whatever needed to get done at home. Finally, I decided to let go of some control. I'm a bit of a control freak, so this was hard and super theoretical, but I sat down and listed out a few ways that I could practically and tangibly let go. I also ended up reading this book about being a missional mom which really helped me to put my faith, my identity, and my present circumstances in a life-changing perspective.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?

Hmmmmm... I don't have one particular balance role model, but I probably end up looking to many different women - from friends and my own mom as well as Michelle Obama. I try to take little bits of wisdom from all different women and then mash it into something that works for my family and me. One thing that I do try to avoid, though, is comparing myself to others. Everyone is different and runs differently with varying capacities. What works for one woman, may not work for another. We just need to be there to support one another and help one another figure out this whole balancing act.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?

Wow, I was so naive and immature at the age of 18! I thought I would have at least three children and be a lady who lunched, but then would later become the President of the United States when I was really old at the age of 35. HA! I currently only have one child, but have lived the life of a lady who lunched (albeit briefly) and I have no plans for a presidential campaign at the moment. I no longer think that 35 is old, but that it's the new 25. I also thought I would be well established in a career, but have realized that people evolve and can have several careers throughout their lifespan. I would like to think that my 18 year old self would be proud of who I am today and also quite happy with where I ended up!

Relate to what Phyllis is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What's Your Balancing Act? The "Mogul, Mom, and Maid" Blog Carnival

Disclosure: none needed. I purchased my own copy of the "Mogul, Mom, and Maid" in support of my friend!

It’s hard to type from 40,000 feet and the middle seat of the last row of the plane, but that’s what I’m trying to do. While you’re reading this sometime after midnight on December 2, I’m writing it on Sunday, November 17, while I’m en route to Nebraska. Actually, I’m headed to Minneapolis now, and we’ll see if I ultimately make it to Lincoln. I’m not overly optimistic, as not much has gone right today. (Updated to add: I did make it in the end. Thirteen hours after I left the house, but still, I made it.)

I was supposed to go to temple this morning, and be my husband’s support team as he served as greeter for an event. Not that he needed me really, but I wanted to go, it would have been fun. Instead, I finished packing, cleaned the kitchen, did two loads of laundry and left things as nicely as I could for my family to get by without me. I also fought a paper jam while trying to print my boarding pass, and somehow gave myself a splinter that I wasn’t able to completely remove. And then I made my way to the airport to be gone for about a day and a half.

While sitting on the airplane, my daughter sent me an emoticon-filled email to say how much she already missed me. I knew she was fine, but it still broke my heart.

This is the story of a working woman trying to find some balance. In these moments, which are truly unbalanced, favoring work, and even housework, over life, it isn’t all that clear if it all really does work. It’s definitely not easy. These are the stories that my friend, author and Having It All Project participant, Liz O’Donnell, is telling in her new book, “Mogul, Mom, and Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.” The book provides strategies for getting through these more challenging times, but more than that, it provides other stories so that you know you're not alone. If you're working, chances are you can't change a lot about the circumstances of any given day. Knowing you're not the only one who has to skip both the PTO meeting and the after-work networking dinner, though, can make it a little easier to get through the day.

I recommend the book highly - I couldn't put it down. Be sure to look for it at a store near you, and check out other posts in the M3 Blog Carnival at!

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Having It All Project: Kate Lair

I'm so thrilled to feature Kate here on The Having It All Project. Kate and I attended high school together--we even posed for prom photos together at our friend Marti's house--but we didn't know each other all that well. Now, reading about all that she was going through then, I'm a bit sad for the time lost, but honored that she's sharing it all here now. Here's how Kate is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I'm a married, work out of the house mom with one awesome 8 year old daughter, Maya.  I always want to say that I'm just your "typical" work out of the house mom.  But, the truth is I'm not typical.  I have a progressive, degenerative neuromuscular disease called Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT).  Most people have never heard of it (in spite of the fact that it is actually the most common inherited neurological disease) but the bottom line is that my nerves are dysfunctional and thus messages from my brain can't get to my muscles.  As a result, I have significant muscle wasting.  It makes everyday things like walking, climbing stairs, opening bottles etc. much more challenging for me.  It is an inherited disorder, so I've had it my whole life.  It is progressive and does get worse as I get older. On top of CMT I have been plagued with various orthopedic problems and other minor health conditions like obstructive sleep apnea and hypothyroidism.  I've had 5 orthopedic surgeries since 2001.  I have arthritis in my knees hips and shoulders.  In many ways, my life is very similar to many other working parents with decent professional jobs.  I work a normal 40 hour week with occasional overtime, my daughter does after school activities, have to keep up with housework, yadda, yadda, yadda. I just have added physical impairments which make trying to live a "normal" 35 year old person's life more exhausting, painful, and challenging.  

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I'm very much a one moment at a time kind of person.  I can get easily overwhelmed when I think of all that needs to get done at any given moment.  I try very hard to break things down into steps and take things one step at a time.  I love lists.  Few things are as satisfying as crossing something off the to do list.  I also refuse to do it all alone.  I try very hard to not take on more than I can handle and if I am overwhelmed I try to force myself to ask for help.  I'm not all that good at that to be honest, but I'm trying to get better.  My 8 year old daughter is very capable and we have been trying to instill a sense of responsibility and competence from a young age.  I give reminders, but some things are her job and she has to suffer the consequences if they are not done.  My husband is also a true partner and helps minimize the chaos because he does his fair share.  When I'm acutely recovering from an injury or surgery he actually does way more than his fair share and doesn't complain about it.  Plus, he can always make me laugh so just when I am at the end of my rope he will say or do something that cracks me up.  Any amount of chaos is bearable when you have plenty of laughter and love. 

Please share a moment  where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
I find it hard to pinpoint a "moment."  I am pretty good at coping in the moment, but cumulative stress and exhaustion really takes a toll.  I suspect I'm not alone.  Usually, the point where I lose my ever loving mind is not about whatever is going on in that moment.  It is a cumulative effect of small pressures building until finally, I reach a boiling point.  At that point, get out of the way because it is likely there will be collateral damage.  

For example, this spring and summer were extremely challenging.  I had been having problems with my right shoulder for about a year.  In January of 2013 I finally started going to the doctor to get relief.  I tried rest, physical therapy, I went round and round with the orthopedic surgeon and finally in April, I got an MRI.  It looked like my rotator cuff was torn and I elected to have surgery.  This was done in late May.  Did I mention that my job had just moved locations and we were in the beginning of a huge project to restructure the way we do business?  Also, my husband and I planned on moving in the summer of 2013 because of the office location move, searching for a better commute and better schools, etc.  We had to find a new place, pack up the old one, move, unpack, etc.  We didn't have the luxury of hiring packers and movers.  We planned to do it all ourselves.  

So, I scheduled the surgery for the end of May, tentatively planned the move for sometime in August hoping I would be recovered enough to at least be able to pack and unpack boxes.  I worked my tail off at work trying to get as much done and in good shape because I had been told I would be out of work for 6 weeks.  The surgery was uneventful (which is a very good thing.  I once had a severe reaction to anesthesia that almost killed me, so anytime I have surgery I get nervous).  Turns out the rotator cuff was not actually torn, just some impingement and damaged tendon tissues.  I had my follow up with the surgeon and he said I could go back to work with restrictions after just 10 days from surgery.  So, I went back to work.  I was exhausted.  The night after my first full 8 hour day I tripped and twisted my foot.  My husband was away on a business trip.  I managed to get my daughter off to school the following morning with the help of a friend and got myself in for an x-ray. Not broken!  Yay!  Just a severe sprain!  So, I kept working.

Meanwhile, at work, I had been selected for a pilot team to test a bunch of new ways of doing business, one of which was the development of a brand new role.  I was told I would be testing out this new role (which was not yet defined).  It was a great opportunity for me.  The kind of opportunity which may not lead to immediate promotion, but certainly had potential for me to impress people.  

So, in spite of the chaos of my physical issues and attempting to find a place to live, pack the house and do all the moving transitions, I approached the challenge with enthusiasm, a sense of humor and gave it my all.  I put in extra hours, undergoing enormous change and stress to try to create a new role and make it successful.  Based on the feedback I received at work, it seemed like I was doing well.  

In the midst of all this, we have to clean and pack the house.  At one point, I was helping my daughter get her room organized.  It was an absolute pig sty.  There were toys everywhere, clothing everywhere, you could barely walk through the room.  She is 8, I was still recovering from the shoulder surgery and sprained foot.  I was tired, in pain, crabby and really really stressed out.  She and I were in there, and like any typical 8 year old kid she was "cleaning" but getting distracted by every toy she came across and, ahem, not moving very fast.  As in, a sloth changing positions to find its next prime napping spot would probably have moved faster.  I  I started throwing all of her toys into a pile so I could clear a path to walk.  I'm yelling things like, "if you can't be bothered to take care of your things, then you will have no more things, I will simply throw everything away." My little hoarder starts sobbing and screaming because I'm throwing her toys and honestly, I probably scared her a little because at that point, Rational Mommy who understands what can reasonably be expected from an 8 year old and how to communicate with said 8 year old had left the building. Dragon Mom with eyes that shoot daggers and steam coming out of her ears and fire from her mouth had taken over.  We went on like that for a good ten minutes.  Screaming, shouting, crying, oh my!  I finally had to leave the room and physically and metaphorically cool off.  I went downstairs.  I had a glass of water.  My husband is all "what the heck is going on?" we talk.  I calm down, cool off and head back up the stairs to her room.  Like I said, I wasn't very proud of how I behaved.  

Once I got upstairs, we sat down on her bed and I apologized.  I told her that I was sorry I yelled and that even though I was really upset, and had good reason to be upset, it wasn't ok for me to yell at her like that.  I explained that while it was ok for me to feel frustrated that she wasn't taking cleaning seriously, that she had allowed it get to the point it was in, and that she was not treating her things with respect, how I dealt with that frustration was inappropriate.  We talked about other strategies I could have used (i.e. i should have left the room a lot sooner than I did).  We talked about why keeping her room neat on a regular basis is important, etc.  I again apologized sincerely, hugs and kisses were had and then we continued to clean her room with no further incident.

Although I still cringe whenever Dragon Mom makes an appearance, I can thankfully say it doesn't happen all that often.  Though I don't like it, I do think it is important for our kids to see that parents aren't perfect.  Also, they learn a lot from watching what we do in those moments.  The truth is, we all make mistakes.  I believe the true measure of your character is how you handle yourself after you've screwed up.  

Regardless, had all the other stress I was under at the time-recovering from injury and surgery, work stress, and moving stress not been smoldering, it is unlikely Dragon Mom would have made an appearance over something so minor as a messy room.  But, that is how it happens.  Again, not very proud of myself, but eventually, I reach a point where I just can't take any more and something small and stupid will just make me come unglued.  I think everyone has a boiling point.  I'm trying to learn from that though and keep things from getting too overwhelming again.  

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
I can't think of any specific balance role models. I do try to learn from my mother. Sadly, she passed away when I was pregnant with Maya, but she was such an incredible mother. I miss her everyday. She was not perfect, and I try to learn from her "mistakes" as much as her successes.

I still marvel at all she managed to accomplish with 4 daughters to raise.  One lesson I've learned from her is to get my priorities right.  Her house (and now mine) was never spic and span perfect.  It was lived in, could almost always benefit from a thorough dusting, or mopping of the floors, but we had plenty of time with her.  She spent time making things for us (she was an extremely talented seamstress), helped with homework, always encouraged us, etc.  At this point, I recognize that I can't do it all.  I don't have the physical stamina to work all day and keep up with the amount of housework necessary to have a spotless house.  I'm not saying I live in a pig sty or anything, but my house could use a good dusting.  The floors need to be mopped, etc.  However, it is just not a major priority.  I would rather spend quality time with my daughter after work than mop the floors.  I've accepted certain limitations and try to focus my energies where I need them, my family and my job.

One of the "mistakes" I am trying to learn from her life is that she did not take very good care of herself.  She never made the time to make her health and well being a priority.  As a busy working mom, I completely understand how easy it is to brush my own health and welfare under the rug.  But, I'm really trying hard not to do that because I remember how devastating it was to watch as a child and I don't want that for my daughter.  I'm also motivated because if I'm not well, I'm less effective in everything I do at home and at work.   

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In many ways, I'm living a life I barely dared to hope to have.  I think I assumed I would make more money and be more financially "ahead," but I had lead a relatively sheltered upper middle class life, so most of that was just naivety.  Plus, the economy bottomed out and I think most of us are not where we thought we would be.  But, beyond that, I knew I would want to be married with children and working out of the house.  Ironically enough, I never questioned that I would be a "working mom."  I just assumed I would never be happy as a stay-at-home mom.  Of course, once motherhood actually arrived there have been numerous times where I have wished I could be a stay-at-home mom. Even now, with just one school aged child I would very much prefer to work part time (25-30 hours per week would be ideal for me), but that is mostly a function of the advancement of CMT and less about motherhood per se.  I don't have the stamina to work full time and give what I want to my family and take care of myself as much as I should.  But, like many other families out there, me staying home, or even working part time is not feasible for us.  I do like my job, and I think I personally need to have some focus outside my family to feel like the best me (my 18 year old self got that much right), I just wish I could do it for fewer hours of the week.   

As much as I hoped this would be my life, I didn't actually believe it would happen.  I got the message very clearly from my father growing up that because I was "damaged goods" it was unlikely any man would want me, and that if I did miraculously manage to snare a man, I should definitely not have children for fear of passing on this "dreaded disease" (there's a 50/50 chance with each pregnancy of passing on CMT)  That, coupled with my awkwardness with boys in high school had me convinced I was basically untouchable.  I never believed I was totally worthless (thanks in large part to my mother), but I definitely spent the better part of my adolescence and young adulthood feeling undesirable and unwanted.  Thankfully, I managed to develop some self confidence in college and graduate school.  When my husband and I started dating I really believed for the first time that the "happily ever after" I always wanted was possible.  It is not always sunshine and roses around here, but truthfully the reality of my marriage and family life are far better than I ever could have believed possible.

Relate to what Kate is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at

photo credit: mrp photography 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hello Out There (Parentheticals About Things Bloggers Love)

When I started The Having It All Project, I made a goal to post at least once a week outside of the Project. I didn't want to run Project posts back-to-back without anything original from me in between. That's a thing with bloggers--we create all these rules for ourselves that no one else is even aware of. But still, it was my rule, and two weeks ago, I was thrilled to post not just once but three times between HIAPs, as I call them (bloggers really love acronyms, too).

But it doesn't feel like anyone's been reading my posts. I'm not super into my site analytics, but traffic has dropped off a cliff. The Ukrainian spambots that have found my site super attractive? They are winning. I asked other bloggers if they've felt similarly (bloggers love secret Facebook groups where we whine to each other about Facebook not showing anyone our posts), and they have, and we all seem to take it personally (what good blogger wouldn't?). In the past few days, two people asked me the question all bloggers dread: so what are you actually trying to accomplish here?

Of course the answer is that I still don't know, and if I don't know after six and a half years of writing into the abyss, I'm probably not going to know until I've actually accomplished something. Reverse bucket list, if you will. I didn't know I wanted to get a post in The New York Times Motherlode column until I did. But I do know that I didn't write something personal this week, and part of me didn't feel right until I was able to get almost everything else around me done and put off sleeping so I could write this now. As I'm typing this out, even with the knowledge that it's not the best work I've ever done, I feel better.

Last weekend, Marc and I saw the exceptional film, "20 Feet from Stardom." The documentary traces the history of background singers and interviews those singers and the front men they supported, as well as the efforts of several of them to become solo artists themselves. There were so many good lines during the film (better bloggers than me would have been prepared with a small notebook for jotting them down, but I didn't anticipate such an impactful film). I was particularly struck by the comment of one woman who tried to strike out on her own, where she basically said that she thought if she wanted it badly enough, and put all of her heart into it, it would happen for her. It didn't.

She wasn't a failure by any stretch, but she could have chosen to look back on her life that way. She didn't. She was happy and proud of all she accomplished, and she strutted into that recording studio like she owned the place. She may not have reached the pinnacle, true, but she didn't let that lacking define her.

I didn't write this week, but I did have an outstanding week at work. I had an impact on something with the potential to be big, and with it being so close to the start of my new job, the timing couldn't be better. The work is hard, and it's not like the rest of life ever slows down, so sometimes I may not write. And maybe that means this will never be anything. Because the truth remains that even if I want it badly enough, and put all of my heart into it, it may not happen for me. But the thought of me reaching any kind of pinnacle in my life still includes this writing, this vehicle for expression. It may not be much more than the spambots tagging along, but that's cool. I'm not just doing it for everyone else--I'm doing it for me (and at the heart of it, isn't that really what bloggers love the most? The thrill of writing for themselves. Yes, I'm my own biggest fan). But if you're along for the ride too, know how much I appreciate it (okay, okay, bloggers really love comments too. C'mon, just leave me one already.).

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Having It All Project: Dr. Jessica Smock

Dr. Jessica Smock is another Twitter find, and even though her child is much younger than mine, she seems to be coming to many of the same conclusions about motherhood that I've arrived at myself. She blogs at School of Smock and co-edited The HerStories Project, a book about female friendship. Check out how Jessica is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I never imagined that one day I would become a sort of stay-at-home/working mom hybrid. When my son was a few months old, we moved from Boston -- where I had lived since college -- to Buffalo, NY, my husband's hometown. I had just finished the interviews for my dissertation in my doctoral program in educational policy. When we moved during the summer, I had imagined that I'd be done with my dissertation by the winter, and then I'd go out on the academic job market that spring. It was really difficult to complete a dissertation while staying home with an infant in a town where I knew practically no one. (That's an understatement.) But that extra year gave me time to reflect and realize that I didn't want to have a traditional career in academia. I had started a blog, and I realized that I wanted to pursue my first love, writing. And I also knew that I wasn't cut out to be a traditional, full-time stay-at-home mom. 

The flexibility in my day -- my two year old is in preschool for a few hours a day -- has given me the chance to pursue writing projects that I never could have imagined when I was researching my dissertation. Along with my writing partner, Stephanie, we're publishing an anthology of female writers' essays about female friendship, to be published in less than two weeks!

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
I had a magical moment in the middle of writing my dissertation where I just realized that spending a good portion of my day doing housework was making me unhappy and taking time away from getting my project done. I decided to experiment and see what would happen if I drastically lowered my housework standards. Since then, I haven't looked back! And I've written about my "housework manifesto"! Our house is often a complete disaster, but it no longer stresses me out. I've also learned that it helps all of us if I encourage my husband to do more of the "invisible labor" of running a household: the planning, the invisible details of everything from remembering when medication needs to be given to planning out what my son will have for lunch at preschool the next day.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
When my son was a little over a year old, I started to get really upset that I wasn't making more progress on my dissertation. I had been hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours a few times per week, but I found that I wasn't able to concentrate when my son was in the house (he's a very loud toddler!) and it was too much of a pain to lug around tons of books to coffee shops. I wasn't meeting my adviser's deadlines that he was making for me, and I realized that something had to change fast or I wouldn't graduate that year. I immediately began to research preschools and enrolled my son in one that I loved. After my son went through a difficult transition of his first time in child care out of the home, I made fast progress and finished all of the writing within two months!

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
Since I began blogging, I've met so many accomplished writers -- academics as well as journalists and fiction writers -- who have become my role models. They prioritize times of day that are most productive for them to write but also spend much of their days with their children. I've found it so helpful to talk with them about how to be both flexible and productive. 

I was a teacher and curriculum coordinator for more than a decade in schools. I realize now that teaching and raising small children wouldn't work for me. I'm an introvert and need a great deal of quiet time to process, reflect, and do my own projects. I know that I wouldn't be able to combine spending my days teaching children -- although I loved teaching -- and then return home and be an effective, happy parent. Teaching takes so much mental and physical energy that I don't think at this point -- when my son is so young -- that I'd be able to combine parenting and teaching.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then?
In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. When I was 18, I wanted to be a writer. I had written a novel in high school and was an editor of my school newspaper. I was sure that I would either write fiction or become a journalist. Absolutely certain. I got off track of that for many years, but I think my 18 year old self would be proud that I returned! 

However, I don't think my 18 year old self could have predicted that I would get married at 35 and have my first (and possibly only?) child at 36 and then become a stay-at-home parent. I was just figuring out how and why feminism was important to my life then, and at that point, I probably would not have thought that being the primary, care taking parent was compatible with the type of feminism that I subscribed to. I'm still a feminist, but I know that life is far more complicated than what I had envisioned so long ago!

Relate to what Jessica is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Questions? Send me an email at

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Having It All Project: Vincent O'Keefe

Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph. D. in American literature (and, like me, a fan of Twitter). He recently finished a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. You can watch, read, and listen to more of his work at Check out how Vincent is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique. 
I am a writer and stay-at-home father with two daughters, ages thirteen and ten. Probably most unique about my life is that I went from Most Likely to Succeed back in high school to a Ph. D. in American literature to a Lecturer at the University of Michigan to a stay-at-home father trapped under a colicky baby. In fact, my journey from literary scholar to at-home humorist contained so much absurdity I decided to write a memoir about it. (I recently finished the manuscript and have begun seeking an agent/publisher.)

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos? 

It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to force yourself to care for yourself (and your marriage). I remember reading all the advice books about taking naps while the baby napped, but who was going to clean all those pre-nap messes while I dreamed about wearing a stainless sweatshirt? In that tumultuous first year, there were days I didn’t even have time to glance in a mirror before noon. And when I did, I had to look away from my bloodshot eyes and stubbly face.

But I realize now more naps would have helped. It’s so easy to drown oneself in guilt and parental duties. Don’t do it. Of course, when I vent like this I have to remind myself of the luxury of the at-home parenting option. My wife and I count our blessings often, which also helps us cope with the chaos.

I also regret that my wife and I didn’t heed all that advice to nurture your relationship--e.g. by firmly establishing date night, ideally every Saturday. I strongly recommend this to all parents--especially new ones. Again, it seems counterintuitive to purposely leave your baby with a sitter during that first year especially, but trust me: your baby’s future will benefit from happier parents.

A few more tips for self-care and chaos-mitigation include using a calendar and lists to stay organized, exercising if it all possible (perhaps with equipment at home to save time), committing to tech-free family dinners, and most importantly, keeping your sense of humor!

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it. 
When our firstborn was seven months old, we had to move to an Orlando, Florida hotel for two months while my wife took a GYN oncology rotation at a cancer hospital. Yes, that’s correct: I was a stay-in-hotel-room father to an infant for two full months. Let’s just say the Comfort Inn became uncomfortable in a hurry. To make matters worse, our daughter had recently started sleeping through the night, but that ended in the hotel’s rickety crib. The result? One exhausted family.

The breaking point occurred one day when my baby and I were speeding around town in our tiny rental car. After she fell asleep in her carseat behind me, I parked and tried to work on a book review in the front seat. I had not yet accepted that my becoming an at-home parent with a wife who worked long hours would seriously curtail my production as a writer, at least for a few years.

Shortly into my writing session, my daughter started crying. It was incredibly frustrating, but I knew I had reached a limit. Tired beyond words, I looked back at my crying baby in her carseat, and it seemed fitting that she was facing backwards and I was facing forwards. Obviously, I needed to be more in sync with her needs, at least for a time.

So I got through the breakdown via surrender. I quit writing that book review, and I did not pursue any new assignments for a while. I may have had it all, but it was all too much, and I couldn’t do it all at once. It was time to reprioritize. After doing so, I became a better father and our time in that hotel room (and the rest of my baby’s first year) went much smoother.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn’t work for you? 
I admire couples who share parenting. We know one couple who were both able to work part-time and somehow still enjoy quality benefits. I imagine they gained a greater understanding of each other’s plight, though I’m hesitant to see the grass as always greener. (Parents do that so much!) I’m also not sure my wife and I could agree on splitting so many duties.

I also admire couples who simply play to their strengths instead of trying to share chores 50/50. For example, even though I have two daughters, I will never, ever be good at hair braiding (believe me, I’ve even practiced on a fake head). But my wife happens to love styling hair, so she carves time out of her busy mornings to help the girls. While she debates “hot buns” vs. “low piggies” with the girls, I make the lunches and handle school forms.

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
In many ways, my life is unrecognizable from how I expected it to be. At age 18, I was a captain of my high school baseball and soccer teams. Now, I’m a Dance Dad who often strategizes about the manliest way to hold a family member’s purse outside a women’s changing room at the mall.

Also at age 18, I dreamed of becoming a writer of science fiction. Now, I write parenting pieces that often appear in publications with the word “mother” in the title --e.g. the New York Times “Motherlode” blog and Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. (My dad laughed hard at that one.) One could argue that my at-home odyssey has elements of a science fiction saga, but it was certainly unexpected.

Overall, however, I am thankful for all these revisions of my expectations. They have taught me that if you lead with gratitude and an open mind, good things usually follow. 

Relate to what Vincent is saying? Leave him some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Questions? Send me an email at