We’re all in this camp together.

Got young kids and a stack of camp guides staring you in the face? So does Meagan Mulloy, who shares this  awesome look at the no-fun-to-solve riddle that is the summer schedule. Thanks for the repeat appearance on MotherBoard, Meagan – we love your funny and honest pieces!

It’s late February. I just finished cleaning up from our eighth and final Valentines celebration.  As I pack away the heart-shaped stickers and doilies, an overwhelming feeling of panic creeps up… the summer schedule.

Fellow moms, I know you feel me. It started with the release of the camp guide in late January. Ok, I lied. It started in early January just anticipating the release of the summer camp guide. The detailed reference guide from our local paper seems to taunt me every time I walk by, “You’d better get your act together. Time’s running out.”

The anxiety quietly grows as you hear rumblings that Mrs. Smith has registered her boys for sports camp and it’s nearly sold out. Or when you run into Mrs. Jones to find out only two spots remain in the Wednesday slot at sunshine camp.

It is both a blessing and a curse to have so many options for our little ones throughout the summer months. The built-in childcare and routine that school affords is temporarily on hold. And camp coordination, comparison and information gathering can be entirely overwhelming. No one, and I mean no one, seems to follow the same schedule. Couple that with coordination of work schedules, babysitters, nannies and daycare and you’ve got yourself a college level math equation.

My mind is racing as I try and review the options. They could do nature camp, but there are only spots for new members pending last year’s sign-ups. They won’t have camp the second Tuesday of each month, so be sure to come up with alternative care. Or they could do the farm camp. But it’s only offered for two weeks in July. Oh wait- there is that ONE camp that covers all your bases. You just have to commit your mortgage for the summer. Otherwise, good to go. And then of course you find the second camp that covers all your bases, but they’ve decided to release registration in late March meaning you are in some trouble if you wait and don’t get a spot.

I’m not quite ready for summer. But my kids are. 

As I tried to explain the challenge of the summer schedule to my dear husband, printed monthly calendars laid out in front of us, his head nearly exploded.  There were so many moving parts we ended up erupting laughter at our desks. This is summer, for goodness sake. The very word suggests ease, relaxation and fun— but the planning is nothing of the sort.

I liken summer scheduling to a game of Tetris. There is a sense of panic in the final stages of the game where the blocks are stacking higher and new pieces are coming faster. You had better get those pieces lined up before you miss your spot and the whole schedule combusts. Then you’re back to ground zero. And that is not a place you want to be in early April, mommas. We all know you’ve just jumped to another level of difficulty if you do get there. You had better get your game face on.

I got a message from a Mom a few weeks ago. She was also struggling to figure it out, and wondering what camps we had decided on in hopes of coordinating our young ones. We exchanged some messages, me relenting that I had not yet solved our puzzle. Her simple text brought me such comfort “I completely understand. All the juggling working moms have to deal with. Thanks for letting me pick your brain.”

A couple days later another mom messaged. “Thank God the camp schedule fits my work schedule this year.” Girl, don’t we know what a good feeling that is.

And another, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do.”

The reality is, many of us are currently in the midst of this mostly silent struggle of summer scheduling.copy-of-automotive

Our family has still to date not figured out our schedule, and I do feel the weight of those Tetris blocks coming down. But the messages from these moms were like those perfect Tetris pieces that slowed things down for a bit and relieved the pressure. Hellooo. There are so many moms in this camp. We are in great company. We are all trying to fit a whole bunch of little tiny pieces perfectly together. And while one game might combust, another one is waiting with a fresh foundation.

This challenge will too soon pass. For now, take a breath and know that we’re all in this camp together.

The Power of the Strategic Yes

Welcome Jen Lopez to our MotherBoard blog team! Jen is a corporate leader and mom of five who has taught us some great ways to reframe the chaos of working parenthood using her unique approach of celebrating the chaos that is often around us and reconsidering our own approach to the challenges that find their way into the lives of busy parents. We can’t recommend her lovely, inspiring Instagram page enough – follow her at @lovehowsheleads.

“You have to learn to say no more, Jen.” These words weigh heavy on me as I look around my life—overworked, frustrated, pulled in a million directions, things falling apart everywhere, but somehow trying to keep it together.

Jen Lopez, mom of five and master of the strategic yes.

That was over six years ago. And I was telling myself I had to say no more. Because I had two babies, three school age children, a husband, and a career, I knew I needed some really good boundaries in place. At the time, maybe from reading a book or feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood, I thought the sum of setting boundaries was only learning the art of saying no. As I began to repeat it to myself over an over—“learn to say no, Jen,” it wasn’t resonating anymore.  I knew what was important to me, and I knew what I had to do to move myself forward. Sometimes that required sacrifice and determination. I also couldn’t keep moving forward the way things were. I needed to allow myself room to breathe and see the bigger picture.

I assessed all the things in my life at the time, and started to speak up more on what I was willing and not willing to do. I tried to reduce my task list and see where others could help. But it didn’t feel like enough.

I am naturally wired to love, care and serve. Even though I was getting a little better about setting clear boundaries in my life, constantly reinforcing the no wasn’t working. It was exhausting to worry about saying no, how to say no, and all that comes along with it.

It was time to reframe it. I wanted to be in touch with my natural wiring. So, through trial and error, I found the strategic yes—shifting my focus on the things that really matter.

The strategic yes is in alignment with the now, and it’s evolving constantly as I review my plans, dreams, and goals. It just felt right to think in terms of yes instead of only in terms of no—more powerful to be aligned with my inner knowing, the things I deeply care about, and the parts of myself that resonate.

Before, I would impose a structure or system that seemed ideal, but really wasn’t working. I saw it somewhere, read it somewhere, got stuck in comparing myself to examples that were going to make me a better mom, better leader, better person.

I started each day in a deficit and ended it with nothing to give. Until I realized this was about my life, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to feel living it out.

So, I started out as simple as saying the strategic yes for the day. My mornings had to change. We have a large family (five kids), and we all have to get ready and get off to school and work at the same time. The way we were doing it was crazy–everyone was tired, rushed and frustrated. It would set the tone for the whole day.   We kept this up for years, based on some idea that we should fight our way through it, thinking it was the right thing to do. Until one day, I’m sure after a frazzled and exasperating morning, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “This has to change. Who told us how we should run our lives? We’re in charge here! And this isn’t working!”

Follow Jen on Instagram @lovehowsheleads for some gorgeous photos and helpful thoughts on embracing motherhood and work.

We took stock of what needed to change and we changed it. We’ve made decisions to support our best selves as much as possible. I work and my husband stays home with our kids. We homeschool our two youngest children instead of forcing them to get ready and rush off to school. We have an entire morning routine that allows space and time for everyone to get where they need to go. Our overall weekly schedules work around family dinner time, because it’s important to us. We let our children get involved in things, but we limit it based on what’s doable and still allows us plenty of down time. We volunteer for things that matter to us. We prioritize our emails, phone calls and our workloads to fit our schedules. And we keep just enough flexibility that we can fit something in spontaneously without it throwing the whole world out of whack. And we love grace. When something doesn’t work out as planned, we acknowledge it, ask ourselves if something needs to change or it’s a one-time issue, note it for next time, and move on.

We limit our frustrations and have more time to enjoy things. We create structures in response to what works, what’s relevant, and what’s really happening, instead of battling all the “shoulds.”

Things have shifted so much that my husband and I have more time to serve our community. We do special music for church and social events. I serve with the Children’s Museum of Cleveland. My husband coaches the kids’ softball team.  Somehow it all fits in. And it’s not out of guilt, obligation, or fear of not doing enough.

Living in the strategic yes is about taking power back. I serve freely, with my whole heart, because I know I said yes to something that resonates in the now. It is so much more fluid. Something that is yes today is not yes forever. I’m free from thinking in permanent terms on everything and I have more time to do things I love.

Follow Jen at instagram.com/lovehowsheleads.

Not So Calm, But Mostly Bright.

MB note: Loving this post from MotherBoard blogger Lindsay Watson for its honest look at the holiday madness. A must-read for those of us who have struggled with the family photo (true confession: I have only managed holiday cards for one of my nine seasons as a mom)… for those who are lucky enough to have a mom or best pal to back us up when it’s just too much… and for those who know that the real magic is in the little moments. 

Last year, I decided to send out an unconventional holiday card to all our friends and family.  It began as a failure, and ended up being one of my all-time favorites- and not for the obvious reasons.

To me, prepping for a family photo shoot mimics much of what life is like.  You pick the location, plan and coordinate as much as possible, put some candy in your pocket to sweeten up potential sour moments, and then hope for the best.  Last year’s family photo shoot was a “memorable” experience to say the least.  With 3 kids, ages 10, 7, and 2- I was well aware that my odds for the perfect “holiday picture” were stacked against me.  But still we tried.  And from the moment my 2-year old daughter saw that camera, I knew I was going to lose.  Refusing to give up, my husband and I tried every imaginable parenting tool to no avail.  It got so bad at one point, we all just began to laugh.  And later when the proofs arrived, they were just as disastrous as you can imagine. Each picture was a child psychologist’s dream as it depicted the entire dissection of a full blown 2- year old tantrum and how this family handled it.  And as I anticipated, not one picture displayed my dream of 3 delightful and coordinated children along with their adoring and smitten parents.  But upon closer inspection, one proof caught my eye.  It was ridiculously flawed, and profound all at the same time.  As I stared at it, I saw more than just mishap on each of those faces – I saw the essence of family and how we handle the chaos of the holiday season.  In short, that picture represented all that is magical about this time of year.

During the holidays, I definitely feel additional stressors related to being a mom, let alone a working mom.  However, my household reflects what many current studies suggest.  The household chores are divided more evenly than in decades past, but still much of the “magic-making” task is delegated upon my shoulders.  I usually spend my last wakeful hours either online shopping, decorating, RSVP’ing to a multitude of holiday parties, or on Pinterest saving a variety of holiday crafts and recipes which are never completed.  However, I think most would agree that added holiday stress isn’t exclusive to just women.  Men feel it too, but author, Leslie Bella, says that men and women differ in their expression of it.  In her work, “The Christmas Imperative: Leisure, Family and Women’s Work,” Leslie states that, at this time of year, women experience an intense “family making” urge to create timeless rituals and lasting traditions.  Furthermore, a study by The American Psychological Association says that of the general population that reports increased stress at the holidays, women experience on average 11% MORE stress than those male counterparts.  But why?  Is it self-imposed?  Rather than attempt to answer that complicated question, I prefer to tell a story.

Continue reading “Not So Calm, But Mostly Bright.”

Who Says Girls Can’t?

Meet Shelby: engineer, manager, mom, wife.

Please welcome guest blogger Shelby Swango, PE. Shelby is like so many modern women, traveling from Board room to construction site to ballet carpool without skipping a beat.  As the Area Manager at WSP | Parsons Brinckeroff in Indianapolis, Shelby is a civil engineer focused on actively changing and developing our nation’s transit systems.  Her philanthropy work at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is helping to plant trees and rebuild communities.  When not designing roadways, Shelby can be found camping or hiking with her husband Steve (a stay-at-home dad and former engineer-turned-artist) and their 12-year-old daughter, Lydia.  

Statistics say that roughly 13% of the civil engineering workforce are women and even fewer hold leadership positions within the field. So according to the numbers, I am quite unique in my position as a female Vice President of Indiana Operations for a large international civil engineering firm. I oversee business development and client relationships and I am responsible for the delivery and quality of the services we provide. My 22-year career, including onsite construction work and office management, has taught me many invaluable things – perhaps one of the most notable is that my gender has no bearing on my success.

Shelby with her colleagues.

My friend, Lindsay Watson, asked me to write about my viewpoint as a woman leader in a male-dominated business. I was immediately excited to do it, but I told her that she might be surprised to hear my response. For me, gender is a non-issue; something I don’t really notice that much. I am empowered to be who I am and rarely have felt restrained by the fact that I am a woman. My upbringing had much to do with this.

From the very beginning, my parents told me and showed me that I could do whatever I want – that my gender was irrelevant. I worked with my dad fixing cars. My mother, who was a construction worker, would take me to job sites on the weekends to show me what she was building. They instilled in me an understanding of the mechanical world we live in and a love of practical learning. These principles have overflowed into my adult life and helped me form a set of fundamental guidelines from which I draw as I maneuver through my career.

At a worksite.

1) Do your best to surround yourself with people you like. You cannot always control those with whom you work. However, I have found it is a significant advantage to cultivate environments where people are not homogenous, but are genuinely willing to embrace diversity. When you do this, production, innovation and quality of work is so much better.

2) Don’t defer just because you are a woman. Take a seat at the table. For anyone in a professional environment, but especially a woman, I find it is important to literally and figuratively position yourself at the table. (How many women have you seen intentionally take a seat along the wall and out of the way?) Do not be afraid to talk and offer an opinion. And when speaking, do so carefully. I find it is so much more effective to speak when you have something of value to add, and not just to get a word in. Far too many people (male and female) feel they MUST SPEAK to show they are ‘in the room’. Often due to double standards, talking for the sake of talking tends to backfire for women and less so for men.

3) You do NOT have to accept ‘guy talk’ to show you fit in. This is a fine point. On the one hand, you cannot be so thin-skinned that everything offends you. But at the same time, if there are ‘girly’ calendars hanging on the wall, or lewd jokes about women, you do not have to put up with that type of behavior to show you are ‘one of the guys’. I find that some of the guys are also offended by such behavior, and stay quiet out of fear that they will lose their ‘man card’ by speaking up. I do believe this deplorable type of behavior is a form of intimidation (intentional or not) and it leads to a hostile environment that is NOT good for anyone.

4) Celebrate and embrace the success of the women around you. There are many available seats at the table for men and women alike. Lift each other up! Your career is not a competition to see who can be the coolest woman in a male dominated field. Don’t allow petty, dismissive or degrading behavior go unchecked. Celebrate the achievements of those around you. Most of all, remember that you do not have to be in a position of power to be a good example.

5) You can be the boss and you can be feminine. I like make up, nice clothes and high heels. But I also like putting on boots and getting out in the field. One is not mutually exclusive of the other. We have to stop telling our girls that you have to pick one. Be comfortable in your own skin and you will be successful in doing what you love.

6) Demand respect and equally give it out to the people around you. Thankfully, I love my career and enjoy leading my staff in the successful delivery of exciting engineering projects. I demand respect by being respectful to others, regardless of gender, and expect the same from those I lead. I work hard to live by example. I am confident in what I have to contribute. I listen to others. I make decisions and own them. I do not think that my male peers think of me as a good ‘woman engineer’. They consider me a good engineer.

Shelby, Steve, and 12-year-old Lydia.

We must never designate certain careers for boys and different ones for girls. As a society we have to teach our children to be caring and compassionate with others. We need to encourage them to be confident and passionate about who they are and to choose any path that fulfills them. If we could do this, we will then have people pursuing careers they truly love. Tell your sons and your daughters that they CAN be anything they desire. Their gender does not have to dictate anything about their future. Let’s all work to create a generation that embraces differences, lifts each other up, and creates inspiring and innovative environments – where no child is told they CAN’T.

Want to learn more about women and engineering and what impacts a girl’s decision to pursue science and math as a vocation? Check out this great link.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Meagan M shares her thoughts on asking for what you want… and how it might even make you a better employee.

We are so happy to welcome Meagan Mulloy to the MotherBoard blog! Meagan is a public relations executive, mom of two and wife to Mike. She is the only brunette in her family of gingers, right down to their golden retriever pup, Teddy.  An extreme planner with an affinity for family, community, wine and an intense spin/cycle class, she is creatively and passionately navigating through the challenges of motherhood as a professional. Nicknamed “Mighty One” by her dad, she is a resilient mama always trying to live up to that title. 

“You’re so lucky.”

That’s the response I most often get when I tell fellow moms about my part-time role at a public relations firm— a job I genuinely enjoy.

Maybe I am a little bit lucky. But the reactions I get tend to make me believe that many of us feel like work is an all or nothing endeavor.

I get it. Because I felt like that.

After having my first child five years ago I was working in a full-time marketing role. Throughout my maternity leave, I was panicked. I had overwhelming feelings that I could not leave this needy baby for 60 hours a week (including commute). My daughter was small, and had lot of trouble feeding. I felt so attached I was unsure if I even had an appetite to be a professional again, but it didn’t matter— we could not afford for me to stay home.

So I did what I thought was the next best solution. On pins and needles, I worked up all my courage and asked my boss if I could work part-time. The answer was a resounding “no”.

I was devastated. The clock was ticking on my leave.

And then it dawned on me. I had really been thinking all about myself (and my baby), and not enough about my employer. My role was a large one— there’s no way I could have done what needed to be done as a part-time employee.

I went back to the drawing board. I called a colleague, who had happened to have a baby within weeks of me. No surprise, she was also feeling overwhelmed. Together, we decided to approach the organization about a job share.

We were terrified and doubting our value. But we leaned on each other for support and met our boss with our proposal. Continue reading “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask”

Going back. And second guessing.

by Jessica

One of the worst Mom Moments of my life happened on a sunny April morning, eight and a half years ago. Starbucks in hand, I was pushing my son in his stroller while out running errands when I ran into another mom I knew through mutual friends.

We had babies around the same age and started chatting about feeding schedules, the great pacifier debate… newborn mom stuff.

“Are you going back to work soon?” I asked her, knowing that my own unpaid maternity leave was ending in just a few days.

“Oh no,” she replied. “I couldn’t go back to work. This is a really wanted baby. I would never give up this time with her.”

My world stopped for a second. Blood rushed to my head. She had a wanted baby that warranted stay-at-home mom status. Did this mean my son was not as wanted? Did this mean something was broken in me that I was heading back to work after 11 short weeks? Why was I suddenly jealous? And heartbroken?

Continue reading “Going back. And second guessing.”

Cheese Nips for Dinner

We are happy to welcome back MotherBoard blogger and working mom of three Lindsay Watson to share her thoughts on how a simple “What’s for dinner, mom?” led to a big realization… and a lot of cheesy cracker goodness.

We all strive to be our best selves, but being human means we spend a good portion of our time flat on our face.  I’ve had my fair share of those days, and any other honest mom would surely say the same.  But those deplorable days are just as valuable as the good.  And one of my greatest examples of this lesson began with a box of Cheese Nips.

About a year ago, I had one of those weeks where the wheels all fell off the proverbial family bus at the same time.  Four out of five of us were sick, I had three overlapping deadlines at work, the boys had two last minute school projects, the toilet broke while my fix-it hubby was out of town, and there was a partridge in a disgruntled family tree. In the grand scheme of things, these weren’t tragedies by any stretch.  However the combination of all these things occurring all at once, made me feel as though an unshakeable black cloud was raining over me wherever I went.

By dinner time one night that week, I was close to  tears and had reached my mommy- threshold with three hours of servitude still to go.  As I looked at the clock, I then heard a little voice say, “Mama, what are you making us for dinner?” I finally snapped. Icheesenips proceeded to storm to the pantry and grabbed the first thing in sight: a box of Cheese Nips. I slammed it on the counter and shouted, “Cheese Nips!  Cheese Nips are for dinner.”  I turned and marched to the living room leaving three stunned children in my wake.  I flopped back into a chair, closed my eyes and attempted to rub my temples into an improved Zen state.  Nothing helped.  I was just done.  Continue reading “Cheese Nips for Dinner”

Two worlds (one mom)

Lindsay See Watson, PT, MPT, is a physical therapist, mother of three, wife, and writer. Her first essay for MotherBoard explores one of our favorite working motherhood concepts: the idea that being both a mom and a worker might actually make you better – at both. Help us welcome Lindsay to the MotherBoard blog and please share your questions and comments below!

I will admit that when I chose the field of Physical Therapy, I had more than career aspirations in mind. I wanted the best of both worlds- motherhood AND career. Like most other women, time somehow taught me these two worlds had to be separate and each would somehow suffer because of the other.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

With relentless effort, I pursued my Master of Physical Therapy, and equally committed to the growth of my family by having three beloved children.   Each day, I tried to learn more and hone my clinical skills while preserving enough energy to be a present mother that can wipe the majority of their tears, attend the occasional class party and wait at the end of the driveway when the bus arrives.  After years of painstakingly pursuing each dream, I finally realized they weren’t so far removed from each other.1

Like you, I’m sure, I’ve had more than one employer groan once they learned that I’m a mother of three.  “Oh really?  THREE kids?  That’s a lot of kids!”  I knew what they were thinking.  As they looked at me and weighed the pros and cons of my employment, they couldn’t hide their wonder if a childless counterpart would be better.  My considerable work experience and clinical skill was being mulled against whether I would be late over a forgotten book report, need time off for the kindergarten play, or would leave at a moment’s notice after one of my kids threw up on the playground. Continue reading “Two worlds (one mom)”

Feel Like a Fraud? You’re Not Alone

LSD Photo
Lisa Doane and her two children

MotherBoard is excited to introduce Lisa Doane, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Rocky River (www.drlisadoane.com). She will be lending her expertise to our community on the topics of women, stress, anxiety and coping. Lisa earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a certificate in Women’s Studies from Ohio University (Bobcats!) and her master’s and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University.

Picture this: you have a huge presentation coming up. The pressure is high, and you’ve been working on this project for weeks. You know the material. You know your client. Others see you as cool and confident, and have trusted you with this important work. You dismiss their compliments—they are only saying nice things because they like you, not because you are competent. Inside, you are absolutely panicked. Freaking out. Sure that this is going to be the time when, finally, others discover that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. You are so afraid that you’ll make a fool of yourself, but you can’t ask for help because you should know how to do this by now. Asking questions will simply make obvious how little you really know.

Has this happened to you? I’ll bet it has—for some in fleeting moments, for others chronically. Psychologists have studied this experience since the late 70’s, and refer to this as the “impostor phenomenon”— it is characterized by persistent failure to internalize one’s own accomplishments (instead, we find external explanations for our successes that minimize our own contributions), paired with significant self-doubt and a persistent fear that you’ll be discovered as a phony (in spite of all those achievements).

This type of anxiety is one of the most common concerns I see in my private practice, especially among high-achieving, successful women. And although this is not a diagnosable psychological disorder, it can certainly have a negative impact on mental health, our work, and our relationships.   It can be particularly troublesome as we arrive at a midcareer point—we find that our self-confidence has failed to grow in pace with our professional responsibilities and roles, leaving us with a lingering sense of uncertainty and feeling like a fraud. Early in our careers, we expect to have some insecurity. We’re young, still learning. We are being mentored or trained, mistakes are anticipated and normalized as part of the learning curve. But as we gain experience, we may start to think that we should have it all together and, when we experience those same self-doubts, may interpret them as being catastrophic indicators that we are complete fakes who are not deserving of the responsibilities we have or accolades we’ve earned. If we feel like a fake, we must really be faking. Whew. Easy to see how this can be overwhelming. Continue reading “Feel Like a Fraud? You’re Not Alone”

Women We Admire: 10 Minutes With Karen Katz

MotherBoard is launching our Moms We Admire series where we spend 10 minutes chatting with professional mothers to get a glimpse into their interesting and energizing lives.


In Cleveland, the Katz name is synonymous with food. Good food. Karen Katz and her husband, Chef Douglas Katz, are the power couple behind some of Cleveland’s most popular food experiences such as fire food and drink, Provenance and Provenance Cafe at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Fire Spice Company and the Katz Club Pop Up Diner. With her husband in the role of CEO/Partner/Chef/Proprietor of these establishments, Karen has been busy cultivating a new reputation for the Katz name as the Exhibit Designer for the Cleveland Children’s Museum.

“Shortly before I started college, a friend asked me what my dream job was,” Karen reminisced as we sipped coffee during the busy brunch rush at fire food and drink. “I knew right away.  I had always visualized myself creating an exhibit for the Natural History Museum. That was my dream job.” It’s no surprise then that Karen earned her degree in Anthropology before going on to earn another degree in Museum Planning Exhibition and Design.

In 1999, Karen landed her ultimate job redesigning exhibits for the Cleveland Children’s Museum. Shortly thereafter, Karen left to join her husband and help with the 2001 launch of fire food and drink.  Her skills were put to use managing design elements for the restaurant including the space, the branding and the menu. By 2003, the Katz family had doubled with the arrival of twins Abe and Amelia. “It wasn’t a question,” Karen explained, “I knew the best thing for myself and my family was to stay home full time while Doug put his energy into growing the restaurant.” Their partnership had now expanded beyond the restaurant to encompass their growing family. Continue reading “Women We Admire: 10 Minutes With Karen Katz”