Compassion, Groundedness, and Being Strict: Are you a Christine or a Lynn?

Disclaimers and yada-yada:   My good friend and co-blogger Cathy and I had the chance to interview Christine Adams, actress in “Black Lightning”  on The CW.  The following is the first of two reflections of our 30-minute chat.  This post is not sponsored.  Check out the show, with a new episode airing this Monday, February 11, 2019.  Now, on with our post:

They are both mamas, both highly articulate and intelligent, and they both raise two daughters spaced by fairly significant age gaps. It could be very easy to blend real life with fiction, if we hadn’t met talented actress Christine Adams to have a frank conversation about motherhood, parenting, heroism and values. Recently we got to know Christine’s philosophies on many topics including her passion for helping disadvantaged youth and how she sometimes just likes to go read her newspaper in peace.

Before we got to know Adams, we only knew her as Lynn Pierce the neuroscientist, American mom, nurturer and glue to an entire family of superheroes in the DC – TV show Black Lightning. It was delightful to meet the passionate Englishwoman speak in her authentic accent and voice. We ended up adoring the real person behind the cool TV character.  Christine’s honesty struck us during our 30-minute conversation about motherhood and how her upbringing shaped the way she approaches her no-nonsense parenting style.

Raised by a single mum – who was pregnant with Christine at age 17, Christine developed a solid sense of herself quite early on.  Her mom was determined to keep Christine on track to avoid her tendency to be a “wild child”, instilling the skills to hustle and survive and be responsible just by the sheer act of not being able to do IT ALL for her. Adamant that “adversity makes children strong”,  Christine reflects on the lessons she learned in her formative years using a few examples of how she had to care of herself at an early age and it’s clear that this non-traditional upbringing shaped her into a caring, effective, and strict (by her standards), mum to her own daughters.

Christine’s character, Lynn Pierce embodies the best mom qualities of TV dream moms Lorelai Gilmore and Claire Huxtable. Understanding, patience, and a sense of humour are her superpowers. She’s got an amazing career, a great coparenting relationship and she’s almost launched both of her girls into adulthood.  Lynn also manages to keep her ex-husband on his toes with the sparks that are obviously still between them. It’s the way that she parents her girls as if they were buddies that we are curious about. This is where the two mamas diverge, and life does not imitate art in this case.

While we really do like Lynn Pierce on Black Lightning and we love how she nurtures her superpower brood, it is a little bothersome to watch how her youngest daughter Jennifer, doesn’t seem to be able to do anything wrong in Lynn’s eyes. Lynn seems too busy being friends with her daughter to get a handle on her wild child tendencies.

Is it possible to be the “friend mom” and the “strict mom” at the same time?  Should you be a Lynn or a Christine to be an effective parent – or a blend of both?  We talked about this “friend zone” of parenting with Christine, who errs on the strict side,  “no cell phones at dinner, friends are expected to use their “please” and “thank you’s”, whining is not tolerated because we have pretty good lives!”  and P.S. Christine is determined that “kids should know how to do the laundry and make dinner.”

Unlike her character,  Christine doesn’t need to be her daughter’s best friend. She wants to do good by them – to teach them practical skills and manners that so many kids these days are lacking when they get to adulthood, even if that means making herself unpopular to her daughters. Christine’s parenting style and values almost seem old-fashioned, but in spite of that, this approach works for her and her family. Her no-nonsense approach to life is shaped by her upbringing, but she also illuminates  her tender, nurturing side when she chats with us about her passionate commitment of working with homeless youth.

Christine told us a story about an early morning walk, when the sun was just rising, and coming across a young woman walking with a shopping cart.  There was a teddy bear sitting atop that cart. The young woman looked aimless. When they got to talking, it turned out that the girl was 17 years old, 7 months pregnant, and homeless.  Christine has great compassion. Christine cares deeply, putting thoughts into actions and actions into commitments. She explained how the Venice, CA youth organization she is involved with called SPY (Safe Place for Youth)  might stand a chance because there are more and more people who care about their homelessness and their stories. Even everyday actions like helping young girls on the street buy tampons and other necessities is something she’ll stand by

The little girl who was so eager for some attention in a sea of grown-ups raised by her own superhero single mom, is now commanding a lot of attention on and off the screen. Keep paying attention to this woman, actress, mom, and advocate. Listen to her messages of level-headed parenting, insisting on please and thank yous, no whining and the one that will stay with us:

Don’t desensitize yourself to the troubles on your doorstep.

Gates Foundation adjusts their 52-week paid family leave policy

((photo when I was speaking at a national conference, babe in arms, when I returned to work at 50% when he was 4 months old))

When they launched their 52-week parent leave policy in 2015, I was jealous. I had a baby that year, and I didn’t have such a policy at my workplace.

Three years later, they’re adjusting citing challenges to managing talent and back-filling for back-fills. Also, there is “growing evidence” that 6 months is the sweet spot for meeting key on health for infants and for parents’ careers.

I’ve had a few babies, all of whom were born while I was working full-time. Here’s how I handled them:

  • #1 — I was four months pregnant when I started this job. Although *I* knew at the time of my interview and offer that I was pregnant, I did not tell them for a good month into the job. I was not covered by Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): I hadn’t been on the job for 12 months. This was a public agency, so they certainly wanted to show good will within their limits. I saved, then used, all my sick and vacation time, then took a leap of faith and supplemented with unpaid leave. Total time with babe: 5 months, 1 week. Partner’s time with babe after me: 4 months.
  • #2 —  Between babies, we moved from one city to another and then another. I landed in Portland around 7 months pregnant, interviewed for a job in my maternity suit, got the offer, and stated upon verbally accepting it: “I just wanted to make it clear that I will need to take Family Leave in a couple of months.” My male manager stuttered. I think he even said, “well, let me get back to you.” I was in disbelief: a) he had no idea I was expecting and b) he seemed to be back-pedaling on a job offer! Well, I think it was just shock, and – of course – he wasn’t about to take back the offer (again, this was a public agency, and the discrimination lawsuit would have been pretty awful there). Needless to say, I was 2 for 2 now being uncovered under FMLA. I did not push too hard, knowing I could sacrifice my job, so I came back when they said they needed me back. Total time with babe: 9 weeks. Partner’s time with babe after me: 5 weeks.
  • #3 — OK. By this time, I had a couple of other jobs, and I had landed at a national nonprofit organization. I had been there for a few years already when I announced my next arrival; I had proven my worth and built credibility. They had a generous leave plan, with 3 months paid. I was also working from home a good bit. Even after I went back to work, I was able to work with minimal outside childcare until he was one year old, as he was an excellent and regular napper. I also figured out how to travel with him, securing babysitting on the other end or even bringing him when he was up to 24 months old to some staff meetings in many locations nationwide. Total time with babe: 4 months. Partner’s time with babe after me: 2 months.
  • #4 — With this one, I was with a similar organization as I was with #3, a national nonprofit organization. I had been with them a year almost exactly when I started to labor. I was provided with – again – 3 paid months of leave (!!!). Then, I did something I hadn’t done yet: I went back at the 50% level, which I always said I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t sure how to know what 50% was; I only knew “working” or “not working”. Turns out it was a nice arrangement to ease my way back to work, and it was critical to establish regular hours so officemates knew when to reach me. Total time with babe: 3 full months, then 50% for the next 2 months. Partner’s time with babe, overlapping with my 50%: 3 weeks (he was at the job 1 month before we delivered).

So, now reflecting on my sample experiences here, I do feel like 3 months is definitely not enough. I think at 5 months away from the office, I was starting to worry that the re-entry to the workplace would be tough and I was starting to want for my work-life back.

We’ve had a lot of privilege here: I had a solid full-time job with each kid, and I had a confidence that my job would still be there when I returned; I had a partner who provided additional income (although we do need both incomes to subsist); my partner also took family leave to delay our needs for full-time childcare.

Have you taken leave from work? How much time did or did not work for you? Would you agree with the “mounting evidence” that there is this 6-month sweet spot?

It’s about the moments, not the milestones

I think about missing milestones, not being “there” for those moments. This week, my boy went skiing for the first time without us (he nailed it, of course; he’s a natural). Today, my biggest girl is touring a possible college campus for next year with her dad.  I had to stay back to shuffle the others to their activities, but – oh! – how I wish I was there.  In June, I have to miss my younger girls promotion ceremony, which commemorates her transition from 8th grade to high school (it’s a work thing; my heart is aching because I have to miss. I hate it.).

I come back to a feeling – a pretty strong bond – I share with the kids. At least: I believe we have that bond. Even though I miss things (i.e. events), my eldest comes home excitedly and says “oh my goodness I have so many things to show/tell you.” My second girl sends photos to me from when she is hanging with friends. My Big Boy, while I’m nursing the Li’l Boy to sleep in the bed underneath, will peer over the bunk bed rail and say “mama, can we talk?” And he’ll proceed to tell me about his dream from the other night or thoughts from the day.

So, I guess we’re still tight. Even though I miss events. We still have our moments.

Back-Up Childcare: keeps careers moving


(photographed here, November 2015,  presenting at a conference with my 5-month old at the hip.  This, after he had a major blow-out poop that I changed on the floor in a corner in the front of the room, hopefully out of view of the session attendees)

Many of us have the privilege of making our own choices as it relates to the work-life balance as a mother.  For our family, work has been a financial necessity but also a personal decision as I forged ahead with my career.  I first became a mother 16 years ago; I continued to build a career at the same time we decided to build our family.

I joined my current organization 2.5 years ago.  Within my first six months on the job, I had to have that awkward conversation with my boss to let him know that I’d need to take family leave six months later.  (It wasn’t a planned thing.)  Once I returned back to work on a full-time basis five months later, I resumed a robust schedule of travel.  Working for a national organization headquartered in DC, east coast travel was frequent as well as travel to events and conferences.

I was rather flabbergasted to unearth an underutilized benefit: back-up care.  The Bright Horizons Back UP Care Advantage program was offered to us by our employer: 20 days per year for our dependents (whether our children, an aged parent, or any other dependent).  This means I could use it when:

  • There was a random “no school” day when I had to work (i.e., parent-teacher conference days or what not)
  • My child was sick and could not go to school, and I still had to work
  • My regular nanny was sick and could not care for my infant, and I still had to work
  • I had to travel overnight and could not leave the baby behind since he was still nursing through the night

I could think of many other uses for this program:

  • A former colleague would have to miss out-of-town meetings when he could not line up care for his spouse, who suffered from very advanced multiple sclerosis and who required round-the-clock assistance
  • A friend who lived with and cared for her aging mother, who often could not attend professional development events due to her care responsibilities
  • And more

This is something too good to not share.  I haven’t even shared the best part.  This program is subsidized by my employer: I pay either $20 per day for using a drop-in Bright Horizons center or $5 per hour for using a nationwide nanny placement service.  This year, I’ve used this service in 6 different cities nationwide, toting my boy along knowing he’d be well cared-for during the day while I attended events and meetings.

What do you think: useful?


fall 2013 lunch: Thursday, November 7th

It has been forever since we met for an urbanMamas working mama lunch!  So let's get toegther before the holiday weekend (4 days for PPS parents) and check in. How was the summer? Have you been 'leaning in' at the office? Or 'leaning out'? RSVP in the comments by Tuesday, November 5th. 

date: Thursday, November 7th

time: 12:30 – 2:00

location: Red Star Tavern

Hope to see some familiar and new faces. 

Mamas: We are NOT supernatural

I have always had this tendency to overcommit.  Back in college, I recall getting involved in so many campus activities, in addition to taking a full academic load, plus working.  One day, I just crashed.  I went to bed, exhausted, at maybe 7pm one night, and I did not wake up until 9 or 10pm the following day.  I literally slept for over 24 hours.  I also had a moment in college when I was so overcommitted, I had to drop half of my courseload part-way into the semester.  I had gotten so far behind that I knew I couldn't pull myself back.

As a mama, I struggle with similar tendencies.  I watch fellow mamas struggle with the same.  What is the right balance, how much should I volunteer even if I am working a full-time out-of-the-house job?  As school is ramping up once again, I am already receiving requests to coordinate an event or lead another initiative and – "oh, by the way" – could I also pick up the donated pastries for the first-day-of-school coffee social?

I had to stop and remind myself: Mama, you are not supernatural.  I am starting this school year with a cold, disorganized from a late summer vacation, and overwhelmed returning to a full load at work.  There is no way I can take on much more than I had originally committed to at the end of the last school year.  So: my goal.  Say "no" to a commitment, but say "yes" to another one, one that serves a grounding or self-preserving function.  So: say "no" to picking up those pastries, but say "yes" to a yoga class this week.  Say "no" to heading another committee, but say "yes" to taking a 30 minute walk with a neighbor.

We have enough to manage with our kids' extracurriculars.  We should keep it simple for ourselves.  How *much* do you do?  Where do you draw the line?  How much is too much, and what is on your "no" list?

WSJ: To Start, Please Don’t Call Me ‘Mommy’

We have talked a lot about the guilt of travel as working mothers, and how exhausting it is to coordinate child care for business trips and conferences. Even when the conference is brilliant, inspiring, rejuvenating, and chockful of connections that will help us down the road — I can say all those things, for instance, about the one I attended this weekend, the Oregon Writers Colony spring conference — when we get home there is the inevitable crash back into the family, both literal and figurative. I walked into the door Sunday late afternoon and my five-year-old ran crash into me with a hug; and I walked into the midst of my boys crashing after a little too much sugar from grandpa. They were wired and the house was extra chaotic and I — oh, I was happy, to see my boys and on a high from the weekend, but this was so much work.

my room at the Sylvia Beach hotel at this weekend's conference. Blissful.

Since I'm a mother, however, according to a recent and blatantly sexist/is-there-such-a-thing-as-momist? article by the Wall Street Journal, all this is about is escapism.

The WSJ utilized that tried-and-true journalistic condescension, picking out all the very least important bits and turning it into the lede. ("Katherine Stone, a 43-year-old mother and wife from Atlanta, wants to leave her husband and children." [beat] "Just for a few days. On her trip, she will listen to panels addressing
issues of concern to mothers, network with other bloggers, and stay in a
hotel room that someone else will keep tidy.") Katherine, the mother getting the focus of this condescension is, by the way, a woman who blogs about postpartum depression.

Everyone who goes to conferences (let's be honest) enjoys them a little bit for a few of the wrong reasons. Who doesn't like to stay in a room they don't have to clean themselves? Who doesn't enjoy getting together with colleagues and friends they rarely see except virtually? This has nothing to do with being a parent. And definitely nothing to do with being a mom.

I'll be going to the same conference for which, supposedly, Katherine Stone is eager so she can leave her family behind. Like her, I'm really not that eager to leave them behind; it's just pretty expensive to bring your kids and spouse with you on a business trip where you're going to be working nonstop. This is why so few people do it. I'm also committed to forging partnerships for my magazine and presenting a panel on crowd funding for creative projects.

I'd like to ask the WSJ not to call me, or any of these women, a "mommy," unless actually we are your mommy. And I'd like the WSJ to think about these "mommy" centric pieces, and ask, is it any different for non-parents? Is it any different for men?

Well, other than relieving oneself of the childcare juggle, no. With all respect to Sheryl Sandberg, I really think that the kettle logic and regression fallacies offered by media outlets in support of the theory that mothers are flighty, pleasure-seeking, and unserious when compared to fathers and non-parents is the real problem keeping women from rising through the ranks of organizations.

It's hard enough to go through the second-guessing and priority-juggling when going on a business trip, without a supposedly serious financial newspaper poking fun at you. I'm all for print you know. But not (any more) the WSJ.

save the dates: lunch and sw w(h)ine night

Quick post to have you mark your calednars and save the date for a downtown mama lunch on Thursday, April 25th and a SW W(h)ine Night on Thursday, May 2. Details and locations for both will posted the first week of April, but I know lots of mamas who pencil in events weeks (or even months!) in advance. Hope to see some mamas in April and May.