Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Backlash Against Overparenting

The first time I read through Nancy Gibb's Time Magazine article "The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting" I actually laughed out loud. I thought of "overparents" I knew in my own life and thought, smugly, wow, aren't I glad I'm not one of them. When I re-read the article this morning I saw a few things that might have rung true in my own life? Stress over the H1N1 vaccine? Check. Anger at Gymboree for not letting my then two-year- old twins with gross motor delays attend because there was only one adult, the nanny, while I worked full-time? Check. This was starting to get a little personal.

I think I was "saved" from overparenting traps by having twins, and preemies with some health issues at that, right off the bat. From the beginning I had to do just enough to get by, we were in survival mode. I recall when my mom came to help after the twins were born she carefully asked why I hadn't dressed the babies. In tears I replied, "because it's all I can do to get their swaddled blankets over the apnea monitor leads and if I dress them then I have to do the laundry." I relented, letting her dress up her first grand babies so long as she promised to dress, undress and launder the doll-sized clothes.

From there I didn't worry so much about the small stuff like disinfecting pacifiers that fell on the floor. But I did worry every single day about the children not meeting their milestones. There were evaluations, arguments with the County to receive services, consultations with experts, and lots of sleepless nights. At 7 1/2, with very little intervention, they are right with their peer groups. Could they have better pencil-holding grips? Probably, but is it good enough? Yes.

Now that #3 has come around, he's lucky if he gets a fraction of the worry his older brothers received. I forgot about his annual well-check until a neighbor inquired about it, he hasn't been enrolled in a single mommy and me class despite my uber flexible schedule and we're official playgroup dropouts. He seems pretty happy to me.

As we head into the holidays, I'm making a pledge to myself to be more conscious of the looming fear that takes over once you become a parent. I'm going to acknowledge it, think about the consequences, and if the upside outweighs it, make a perceived risky decision and move forward.

For example, kid #3 is riding around in a hand-me-down car seat; it has a 5 point harness, has never been in an accident but it is just past its 5 year "expiration" the industry seems to be touting these days. I was considering buying him a new car seat. For Christmas. Really. Instead, we'll keep riding around in the perfectly fine car seat and I'll get to play Santa with real toys.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Sitting Around Doing Nothing Can Help You Land a Job: Meditation and Mindfulness for Mothers and Job Hunters

You are crazy busy. Your kids are tearing around the house, the yard, the soccer field. You are trying to work, or you’re looking for work. The computer’s on, something is cooking on the stove, you have errands to run, and you’re not sure how you’re going to pay that phone bill. And I have the nerve to suggest that you find 15 minutes or more every day to do nothing?

What if I told you that this sitting around would reduce your stress levels, improve your concentration, give you more energy, and that the sprinkles on top are extra compassion for yourself and those around you? More energy, concentration, and compassion can help you focus on your job search and keep you in it for the long haul. Of course, meditating isn’t exactly “doing nothing,” but while you might glance at a book or listen to a tape or CD to get started, it isn’t a whole lot more than doing nothing either. Also it doesn’t cost anything, and can change your brain for the better.

Do I Have to Become a Buddhist?

Most spiritual traditions include some kind of meditative practice. Just as most people who take yoga classes don’t become Buddhists, meditation practice doesn’t require any changes in your religion.

My Zig Zag Path

My own meditation practice developed in the aftermath of my husband dying from cancer. At the time, I had a steady job, and the needs of my 2 young sons kept me functioning, yet there was another level on which I could hardly take in the devastation. A friend recommended the book Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron, and, following the instructions on pages 5 and 6, I was off. Later, I found a local Insight Meditation group and learned the slightly different vipassana, or “insight” style of meditation.

Did I then sit every day? No. Did I stop meditating at some point? Yes. Did I yell at my kids sometimes? Guilty. A teacher suggested I develop some mindfulness practices that would fit into my life as my children got older. For a while my prescription was this:

  • Go outside upon rising, and for a few minutes, really take in the day. Smell the air, look at the sky, listen to the sounds.
  • Make sure the first thing you say every day is said kindly.
  • Eat one item mindfully each day. Really focus on how it tastes, smells, feels.
  • Wash your face mindfully, focusing on just that one activity. Don’t think about other things. If you find your mind wandering, just go back to focusing on the face washing.
  • At bedtime, do a body scan, paying attention to your toes, the soles of your feet, your calves, the backs of your knees and so on, all the way up to the top of your head.


After being “downsized” in November 2008, I realized, that in the hustle of applying for jobs, starting a freelance writing and editing business, developing a website, a blog and a Facebook presence, that for once in my life I had the flexibility to prioritize activities that are important to me, but that I had let slip in the flurry of everyday life. So I signed up for a 3-day meditation retreat.

The retreat added another item to the “into my 80’s” list: I’m going to hike into my 80’s and I’m going to meditate into my 80’s. That, after all, is what changes your brain waves.

Meditation and Brain Science

If you enter “meditation” and “brain” in Google, you pop up scores of reports on the emerging science of neuroplasticity, which studies how the “hardware” of the brain (that scientists once thought became “fixed” in adulthood) can and does change. Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin in 2004 on a group of experienced Tibetan monks who had mediated for between 15 and 40 years, and university student controls who had never meditated, showed significant differences in gamma wave activity and synchrony between the 2 groups. In 2006, studies at Harvard, Yale and MIT, headed by Harvard psychologist Sarah Lazar, showed cortical thickening in experienced meditators in areas that are associated with emotional well-being and processing thoughts and feelings. Similar studies have demonstrated that cortical areas associated with certain activities will be thicker in advanced practitioners (music regions in the brains of professional musicians, for example). Since the cortex usually thins with age, these results suggest that meditation (or other types of concerted practice) can delay some of the normal effects of aging.

Getting Started

If you want to get started you can find a local group, get a book, listen to tapes and CDs, read about it online, or do all of these. Here are a few resources to get you going:


  • Mindfulness in Plain English One of the best, most straightforward “how to” books on this accessible style of meditation is by Bhante Gunaratana, originally from Sri Lanka, and founder of the Bhavana Society monastery and retreat center in High Point, West Virginia
  • Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living By Pema Chodron, an American woman who is a Buddhist nun and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The voice of the author, her contemporary, wry humor, her way of talking you into being kind to yourself, her experiences in life before becoming a nun, are part of the appeal.
  • Nothing Special: Living Zen Charlotte Joko Beck. A book of essays and dialogues between Beck and her students at the San Diego Zen Center, full of humor and a clear view of how “awareness is like rising heat on a summer’s day: the clouds in the sky just disappear. When we are aware, the unreal just disappears; we don’t have to do anything.”
  • Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life By Byron Katie. While not strictly about either Buddhism or meditation, this is a book steeped in the tradition of mindfulness and looking at things head on, being in the moment, and becoming aware of our own thoughts.

Recordings and Podcasts

About the Author

Amelia L. Williams, PhD, is a mom, freelance writer/editor, meditator and poet who loves hiking and cooking. She is an experienced writer on health care, and enjoys writing grants and reports for non-profit organizations. Her website is Inkville Writing and Editing. E-mail

Monday, November 16, 2009

Don't Forget to Get Married and Have Kids

The Folsoms are newsies, plain and simple. Maybe it's because we live inside the Beltway, but when my husband does something the kids don't like one of the 7 year old boys usually says, "that's it, you're grounded, no news for a week." One of the first sentences out of our toddler's mouth was "watch mojo peez," roughly translating to "Watch Morning Joe, please," our preferred getting dressed morning news program. So it was with delight that I read Mika Brzezinski's blog post on The Huffington Post titled "Don't Forget to Have Kids."

Mika very candidly describes her choices to have kids while she climbed to the top of her career game, rather than waiting to reach the pinnacle, then (exhaustedly) deciding whether to keep climbing, take a pause or juggle further. Mika proposes in a follow-up post that women who want marriage and children should think as seriously about those prospects as they do their careers in their 20s and 30s. The notion of your 20s as "me time" (career, travel, etc) and 30s as "family time" sometimes means you miss out on both.

I was married at 24, had my first two children just 3 short days after my 27th birthday and was a wife and mom way ahead of my peers. The upside is that my mostly single girlfriends became the most amazing surrogate aunties, taking turns coming over after work, dinner in hand, to save me from two colicky babies. By the time my #3 came around, many were busy with their own children and careers and the baby wasn't such a novelty. But the greatest blessing in my ill-timed decision to have a baby (which turned into two) while in my second year of Business School at Georgetown is that phase two of my career, the all important "post b-school" phase, had to include my kids. There was no huge VP role I had to step down from or hire two nannies to keep, there was just me, my husband, two newborns and a whole new path ahead.

I'm glad to hear Mika speak so candidly about what many women, and men, struggle with: how to make the kind of marriage and family we want fit into our careers. Let's hope this starts a rousing discussion that opens new doors, puts to rest old fears and let's parents find a path that actually works. Most days, anyway.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Questions and Answers

I recently led a webinar for Georgetown University's Alumni Career Services Division on Flexible Careers for Experienced Professionals. It was a great group with lots of input, questions and food for thought. These questions, many of them perfunctory and about how our business works, led me to believe that I should share the Q&A with you!

Question: Do you make placements outside of Washington, DC?
Answer: While we are headquartered in Richmond, VA and I run the Greater Washington area office, we are doing more and more placements outside of these geographic areas. Our take on the flexible office, including telecommuting and non-traditional hours, allows us to find the right people for the job, even if they're not in the same zip code.

Question: Do you work with women only?
Answer: We believe that great employees come in all shapes and although the majority of our candidates are women, we work with Dads, grad students and even grandparents.

Question: Does your company provide benefits for part-time employees?
Answer: At this time, we do not. We hope to provide access to a wide range of benefits at some point in the future. Many of our candidates that become permanent part-time employees receive pro rata benefits from their employers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are Your References Ready?

One thing we stress at Momentum is that the job search process is truly a partnership: you can't or don't want to do it alone and we can't do it without you! We emphasize what portions of the process are our responsibility and the parts of the process that fall on the candidate's shoulders. One area that is often overlooked is References.

Before you provide references to us, or any future employer, you need to check to make sure that each is ready, willing and able to serve as a reference. Double check contact information and provide multiple phone numbers. Have each person check their own Human Resources policy on what he or she is able to disclose. Is it simply employment dates? Fine. But we'll need some character references as well.

When conducting reference checks, I find it helpful to talk to folks who know our candidates from different angles; managers, peers and subordinates. Need to dig deeper? Think about people with whom you've served on committees for PTA, church or sports leagues.

The bottom line is that you want to make yourself EASY to hire. If a hiring manager has to leave several messages for reference checks, if a number is no longer in service or if a reference can't provide any good information, the hiring manager is simply going to move on. In this market, you cannot afford to be put in the discard stack.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Do Your Kids Have Enough Time to Daydream? Over scheduling and the End of Free Play

Is your average day at work filled up? Is your calendar filled with appointments, conference calls, meetings and deadlines? Do you have too much to do, and not enough time to do it? If so, congratulations – you are probably a modern working adult. Now the hard question: do you let that pace determine what your child's day looks like? It’s so hard these days to not want to schedule every minute of our children's time – weekends or after school, stay at home or not, we want our children to be engaged in meaningful activities. We want their days to be enriching. All good, but take this noble impulse too far and you risk over scheduling your kids right out of the time they need just to be kids. Resist the temptation! Let your kids have enough unstructured time to have a childhood.

Between the school day, after-school care, sports practice, birthday parties and homework there really isn't a whole lot of time to just be a kid. While some experts believe that filling time with enrichment activities will help children be better, faster, stronger, smarter, there is another school of thought that goes the opposite way entirely. We tilt towards that side, and say let them learn how to entertain themselves, and they'll be happier and healthier for it.

The Washington DC area is rich with opportunities to entertain and educate your children, and Our Kids list dozens of events and activities each day. Don't let all those opportunities trick you into feeling that you are “Failing as a Parent” if the kids are spending the morning in the family room or kicking a ball in the back yard.

Here are some simple rules we at Our Kids try to live by:

  • One Before and One After Plan just one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon. Let lunch be a break between an activity in the morning and another in the afternoon. Don't let your weekend become a reality show race from one place to another. Too many birthday party invitations on Saturday? Pick just one, rather than dashing to two or three and messing up the flow at each. It really is okay if you opt out, and your thoughtfulness will be appreciated by the hosts at both ends.
  • Keep It Simple Kids thrive on the simple things in life. Remember their first birthday? Was the wrapping paper more interesting than the toy inside the box? They don’t always need the most expensive class or activity. Instead find something that you and your child can do together. Explore nature; visit one exhibit at a museum (vs. rushing to cover it all). Thoreau, that strange but venerated childless loner, put it best "Simplify, always simplify."
  • Keep It Age – and Child - Appropriate Sure, you can take a three year old to Disney World or to Paris, but why would you want to? What are they really going to get out of it, except some pictures, bragging rights of a sort, and stuff you don't really need? Save the money, and let them grow into the bigger trips. They'll have more stamina for busy days and more awareness with which to benefit from these precious moments.
  • Always Call to Confirm an Event You might have entered the wrong date in your iBerry. Avoid disappointment by calling to confirm just in case weather, traffic, a broken water main, or another cancellation. If an event or activity is cancelled, sold out or otherwise not available, focus your disappointment in a positive way, and use this teachable moment to let your children learn how to handle disappointments.

Bottom line: enjoy life’s little pleasures. For more resources and activities that you can do with your children, visit - Your Link to Family Fun!

About Our Kids

Our Kids is the leading and most comprehensive online resource guide to family fun in the DC Metro Area. We provide time-pressed families with the most comprehensive and easily searchable resource of information on activities and entertainment for kids. We also offer insightful parent reviews of activities and establishments and valuable promotions, discounts and giveaways.

About Amy Miller

Amy Miller is a local Washington, DC-based mom and is the owner and operator of When she is not busy researching activities for the Our Kids weekly newsletter, she volunteers at her children’s elementary school and tries her best to keep life at a slower pace.