Friday, March 31, 2006

Secret agent woman

There has been so much written about highly educated women “opting out” of the workforce to stay home to care for their children that you may wonder if you really need to read yet another article on this topic.

But give me a chance here, because I am not going to argue in favor of or against opting out. Instead, I’d like to ask the question, “Who says I’m opting out?” To outside observers, I may have looked like “just another stay-at-home mom” dressed for a day in the park, pushing a toddler in a stroller, but I came to think of myself as a secret agent on a mission of reinvention. This opportunity was a precious gift, one that offered me the freedom to make radical changes in my sense of who I was, professionally and personally. Many people, men in particular, never feel that they have the opportunity to reinvent themselves in this way, but the transition to motherhood virtually guarantees that you will reevaluate your core self. Time off from your former job may allow you to reshape a career that was not satisfying you, start a new venture, or rekindle long-dormant interests.

In my case, I used my time off from the workforce to bring together my interests in women’s issues, teaching and writing into a new career as an author. No one knew what I was up to, so there was no pressure to show my work to the world until I was ready. Having lived in Silicon Valley during the tech boom of the 1990’s, I was used to everyone and his brother having a startup company, so became my new launching pad.

I love the idea of being a secret agent because it takes away the pressure of worrying how others are judging you for taking time off. Being a secret agent gives you the freedom to observe your new life as a mom and take stock of your interests. I recommend that you take a lifelong view of your career path and take steps that will help you remain competitive if and when you decide to go back to work. Even if this day doesn’t arrive for many years, you can keep your skills sharp in the meantime. Here are three ideas to help you develop your future plans on your own terms:

• Get creative. Playing with your kids can open you up to new creative pathways. Look for ways to express yourself. Art is not just for kids. Motherhood can be a catalyst for rediscovering our creative selves. When I was writing Mojo Mom, the book that inspired me most was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

• Get professional—even one day a month. Even when you are not employed, find a way to stay in touch with your professional persona. This will maintain your professional image in the eyes of the community, and even more importantly, keep this important aspect of your self alive in your own mind. I volunteer on the board of a conservation group and chair a fundraising committee for my local public radio station. Those groups meet about once a month and I love the opportunity to jump in to a decision-making environment. I make a point of dressing up for these meetings. No one in these groups needs to know that I usually wear jeans and sweatshirts the other 29 days a month.

• Develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Many women find that after they have children, the idea of creating their own business so that they can work on their own terms becomes very appealing. Women-owned businesses are growing at double the rate of male-owned businesses. A new study from the United Kingdom showed that women over age 40 are more likely than all other age brackets to start their own businesses. Even more interestingly, just 3% of those women over age 45 who currently run their own businesses admitted they had considered starting their own company when they were younger. I will be interested to learn whether these trends are representative of the United States as well. When I speak to college-age women I emphasize that entrepreneurial skills can help bridge the conflicts between family life and traditional career paths. Whatever your field of interest, if you can create a plan that allows you to strike out on your own, your career future will remain in your hands.

The greatest gift I have learned from being a secret agent is that no life experience is ever wasted. I am open to using everything I see, hear, or learn as an inspiration for my work. I no longer let others limit my career path or define the worthiness of my work as a mother or a writer. When you are a secret agent, you’ll have the confidence that comes from knowing that even if the rest of the world doesn’t always realize how amazing you are, you can move through life armed with the confidence that your plans will succeed on your own terms.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

TUL8R? Moms and the technology gap

There's nothing to make you feel old like realizing that whole waves of technology have passed you by. I've finally fallen into the technology gap that comes with being away from both the workforce and college culture. I thought I was up to date (or at least ahead of my baby-boomer elders) because I love TiVO and can't live without my iPod, but then I smacked face-first into the wall of ignorance when it came time to buy a new cell phone.

As a Mom I am already tethered to my cell phone as an electronic umbilical cord, but I've never expected to do more than be able to call on it. But now that I'll be traveling for the paperback release of Mojo Mom I thought I should look into getting a phone that can browse the web and access email. Just like buying a new digital camera or video camera, this journey into consumer electronics has led me to a point where there are so many choices, most of them pretty good, that I find myself paralyzed when it comes to making a final decision. BlackBerry vs. Treo 650, web enabled phone vs. smart phone? Not only have I never sent a text message but I can't really imagine why anyone would want to (uh-oh, this is surely a sign of impending middle age). But I do want to be able to check my email on the road without necessarily becoming a "Crackberry" addict.

I hope electronics manufacturers will think about these issues and provide some FAQs for people coming late to the party. Most of the reviews I've found were so detailed that they failed to help me see the big picture. The Best Buy website had the most helpful info, at least cluing me in to the fact that there are web enabled cell phones that aren't exactly full-fledged PDAs like the Blackberry. Next step is to show up in person and find an actual human being to help me out.

This week's Time Magazine has a great cover story, Are Kids Too Wired For Their Own Good? about teens, technology, and the age of multitasking distraction. This is the downside of technology. I wrote about the process I call "reclaiming your mind space" in Mojo Mom, and this idea means finding a balance by using technology to bring you the information you want while at the same time choosing selectively and turning down the volume on inputs you don't want. The second part is as important as the first. In our family, we never have the TV on just as background noise, we avoid the CNN news crawl as much as possible, and our 6 year old only plays on the computer on very rare occasions. We keep very current on the news through other channels including NPR and newspapers. I feel that the 24 hour news channels just fill the void between important news stories with extra helpings of fear and anxiety or ridiculous trivia.

As a former neuroscientist I do wonder about the effects that the new multitasking technologies and habits will have on our children's brains. On the one hand, kids are becoming masters of dealing with lots of information. On the other, I am starting to feel sorry for high-school teachers and college professors who have to get up there and give a live presentation to kids who are used to mulitmedia extravaganzas.

The final thing that is on my mind is that in Raleigh a few weeks ago, four teen boys were killed in a fiery wreck when their car ran off a highway overpass traveling over 100 miles an hour. Could years spent playing realistic auto racing video games be conditioning kids' brains for a need for speed? Teens have been irresponsible drivers from time immemorial but I wonder if these games are introducing a new risk factor into that equation. Getting behind the wheel of a real car must seem pretty boring after years of playing "Gran Turismo" or "Need for Speed."

The jury is still out on this one. This is a great deal of academic research about "experience-dependent bran modification," but it's not always clear how it all connects to the real world. I am not yet aware of research that could answer this question. But I have a strong sense that all of the conditioning our children are receiving will have lasting impressions and consequences we aren't aware of yet. Technology itself is not good or bad--it's all in how we use it. It's important for parents to stay on top of these technology trends so that we understand the culture and environment our children are growing up in. We all need to become thoughtful consumers of media and experiences as well as products.

Maybe I should learn how to text message after all.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Off topic: Amy's Lost Theory

Okay, I know this is a departure from my usual musings about motherhood, but under the guise of allowing my blog readers to get to know me better, I am going to post my new unifying theory about the show Lost. I bet you didn't know that I am a pop-culture junkie, selectively these days, at least. If it's about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Office, or Lost count me in.

I've posted a few times to a Lost forum but no one ever responds to me. Apparently you have to be a guy and post at least 2,000 times before you become part of the "in" crowd over there. So here I am on taking advantage of my bully pulpit. Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen has been publishing his obsessive analysis ofLost, and I am sure I am not the only one starting to worry about his mental state after reading his posts. Jeff, either call your mother or enroll in a Ph. D. program on the topic, for goodness sake.

But here's my latest idea, riffing off Jeff's article: I think there is a And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians-type long con going on where one of the Lostaways is really the ultimate engineer of their situation (with high tech and/or supernatural help?). In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, a group of people is brought to a mysterious island. All have committed unpunished crimes and are killed off one by one as judgment.

On Lost, who could be the mastermind (or at least instigator)? I think Hurley is a good candidate, because you'd never suspect it and who else has a $156 million dollars to engineer the whole thing? Plus, with his bad luck, it makes sense that they've gotten in way over their heads. What if we take every joke Hurley makes and analyze it as if it were true, such as how the music on the shortwave radio could be coming from "any time"? I think that Hurley is the ultimate core connection between everybody on the island, and he signed them on to a crazy experiment that got out of control. Perhaps a high-tech, high-stakes "Fantasy Island" package sold by Alvar Hanso to the new lottery winner as a chance to escape his old life? "Mr. Rourke, de plane, de plane...crashed." That could explain the costumed performance by the Others (Mr. Friendly's beard disguise). It would be funny if the best-written show on TV turned out to be about a reality show experiment gone awry. Desmond could have been a plant from the show, added as an excuse to lure them into the hatch and stumble on the food supplies when Hurley started to get hungry for ranch dressing. I don't think Hurley intends anyone harm, and that the behind-the scenes people are using this opportunity to mess with everyone's minds and perform further psych experiments. So Hurley is conning his tribemates, and Hanso is conning Hurley.

I did a Google search and I see that others have mentioned And Then There Were None among the many literary references that can be tied in to Lost but I think the extended development of my idea is pretty original.

See what happens when the writers make us wait weeks for a new show? We'll get a new fix tonight at 9 pm. Now, back to our originally-scheduled program about motherhood....

Monday, March 20, 2006

Required Listening for Every American: This American Life

As we mark the third anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, I want to recommend some essential listening for every American, regarless of your current opinion of our country's approach to the "war on terror." Listen to the March 10th episode of This American Life called Habeas Schmabeas which interviews Guantanamo detainess and talks about the real reason that the US won't let many detainees go. The show makes the argument that the US has scooped up many innocent people in their sweeps in places like Afghanistan, but after holding these people for years it would be too embarrassing, and would expose too many government lies, to let the harmless among the prisoners go now.

The title Habeas Schmabeas is a play on the name of the legal principle of Habeas Corpus, which has been thrown out the window in the case of these detainees. This show affected me like few others have. This American Life is best know for its humorous David Sedaris segments, but it has consistently produced much of the best war coverage I've heard, read, or seen anywhere. The December 20, 2002 episode called Why We Fight is also a timely piece to listen to on this third anniversary.

"Mojo Mom" named Book of the Year Award Finalist

It's been a great week. I got away to the Pinehurst Resort this weekend for a spa retreat with my friend and podcast co-host Sheryl Grant. We'll tell you all about it on this week's podcast--not to make you jealous but to tell you about the benefits of truly getting away. My mind and body both feel like they are operating at full capacity for a change!

When I got home I found out that Mojo Mom has been named as a finalist in Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year Awards for Independent Publishing. This really made my day! I am honored to be in great company with the other finalists including Mojo Mom Podcast guests Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, authors of Mommy Guilt, and Miriam Peskowitz, author of The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Heart of the Mommy Wars...What Moms Really Want

I’ve studied the Mommy Wars for more than three years and I’ve lived life as a mom for six years. Through my work with Mojo Mom, I have researched the topic on a factual level and immersed myself in media reports of the tensions and animosity felt between stay-at-home moms and employed moms.

At first I was temped to dismiss the existence of the Mommy Wars as a mere media creation, but the more I’ve read on each side, the more I think that there is some truth to the idea that this tension exists. The question is, what does that truth mean? I have tried to look beyond the actual words and criticisms put out by both sides to distill the essence of the Mommy Wars down to the feelings behind the conflict. What I believe is that at the core, we all want the same thing. Zen scholars teach that language is only "the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself." That’s how I feel about the Mommy Wars. It’s time to look beyond our finger pointing at each other to get to the heart of the matter.

What Moms Really Want

• To be appreciated and have all our work recognized as important

Much of women’s work is still invisible. Housework and childrearing are very intensive and our efforts are most noticeable when things aren’t going well. Stereotypically, men build skyscrapers and women clean them. No one ever looked at the Empire State Building and said, “Yeah, it’s tall, but what’s really amazing is how clean the bathrooms are inside.” Whether we are in the boardroom or playing board games with our kids, we want to have that work recognized.

• To use our talents

Every woman deserves to have an opportunity to continue to use and develop her whole range of her talents. I have written about this on a practical level, but I believe it is also important on a personal, spiritual level as well. Motherhood taps a lot of our skills but let’s face it, every hardworking mom needs a creative outlet that allows her to express herself and to let off steam in a new setting. We can do this on our own, or through volunteer opportunities or continuing our careers.

Along with this desire I sense a fear among moms that we are in danger of losing our sense of identity and losing losing our sense of identity and losing our power. This can be expressed as jealousy or judgment of women who have made different life-work choices, or an inability to honestly express our needs to our partners. When stay-at-home moms talk about how useless their husbands are around the house, but how they just have to put up with that, I worry that we have given away our power and need to find ways to reclaim it within our relationships.

• To be recognized and to feel part of a group

Mothers form the largest sisterhood on earth—arguably the most important group that holds this whole enterprise together. In the best circumstances, being a member of this club creates an inclusive and supportive environment. However, this can cross over into exclusivity that hurts other women. There is a fine line between creating an environment among women who share common experiences and splitting up into cliques that make “other kinds of moms” feel less worthy.

I have walked a similar line myself as men have asked me why I create talks and seminars that are just for women. I believe that for better or worse, a mother’s experience truly is different that a father’s and there is value in talking about these issues among women. Whenever an exclusive group is created though, I would ask the founders to carefully examine why the group is set up that way, whether it is truly justified, and who is being left out. Reaching out has value. While I continue to host all-women events, I have created a separate Mojo Families talk to present to mothers and fathers.

• To know that we are doing a good job as moms

Here’s the real heart of the Mommy Wars. I don’t believe that most women are really so worried that other kinds of moms are doing a bad job and are hurting their kids by making different choices about working or staying at home. I think that each of us at our very core of our being wants to know that we are doing a good job ourselves. Not just keeping things together and being somewhat appreciated for it, but doing things RIGHT. All throughout our academic studies and our professional careers, we knew how we were doing. We got an “A” on a report, a raise, kudos from our boss, awards, recognition.

As mothers, we not only receive scant praise, but we are faced with a daunting task whose final performance review won’t come for at least 20 years. Many women have been raised to aim for perfection and as mothers we take on a role that is impossible to do perfectly. Perfect Motherhood is a puzzle as insolvable as the Zen paradox that asks the question “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Even more maddeningly for those of us used to being totally in charge of our lives, the ultimate outcome of our work is largely out of our direct control. Raising children is an act of faith and requires courage. The famous quote by Elizabeth Stone says it best, “Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

To end the Mommy Wars within ourselves requires a new kind of thinking, one that gets us away from the corporate ladder mentality and into the present moment of our lives. Extending compassion to ourselves and other women is the first step. Every mom deserves a break with the recognition that with few exceptions, we’re all doing the best we can with what life has given us.

Who can give us what we want?

There is a lot that others can do give us what we want. Society can decide to make women’s work count on a number of levels, from categorizing homemakers as working instead of unemployed, to adopting caregiver-friendly public policies. Our families can honor what we do by both appreciating our work and pitching in to create a fully involved family work effort at home. But in the end, I believe that only we mothers can end the Mommy Wars. I urge each mom to treat herself with the kindness she’d extend to her best friend, and to offer support rather than criticism to other mothers whenever possible. We are truly all in this together, sisters not adversaries.

Those are my thoughts. They've been swirling around in many forms for a long time, and it feels good to have them coalesce. I hope you'll post comments and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mojo Mom Paperback; Amy Tiemann joins Club Mom Experts

There are lots of new things in store for Mojo Mom this month. As spring blooms around me here in North Carolina I am seeing my work getting ready to take off in new ways. Here's what's coming up:

Mojo Mom is coming out in paperback in April. The final books are on their way to my distributor, Independent Publishers Group who will be getting copies placed in bookstores across the country. Mojo Mom truly has a national release now, and I'd love it if you would ask your local booksellers to stock my book. The hardcover gift edition as well as the paperback edition will also be available directly from

The second development is that I have been invited to become a contributing expert at, a website that offers practical resources and community disccusions for Moms across the country. Their new panel features a terrific lineup of experts to provide you with the latest information and tips. Contributors include well-known authors such as Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of series; Stacy DeBroff, creator of Mom Central and author of The Mom Book Goes to School; and Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting and The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Each expert is working hard to contribute two dozen articles to the database. I hope you will check out my expert profile page my first set of articles. The site is in the process of being updated every day, so check back for the latest additions.

And finally, I am working hard to update my website. I am exploring the possibility of hosting podcast files right on The show will continue to be available free from Liberated Syndication and the iTunes podcast directory as well. The podcast has been so rewarding and I'd like to encourage more women to learn about this new kind of broadcasting, so I'll create a Podcasting FAQ as well. So around April 1, look for an update of my whole site.

I am very optimistic about the possibilities for 2006, and I keep reminding myself that when it comes to Mojo Mom, I have already won. I've really enjoyed making connections with Moms across the country and hearing back from readers. The Mojo Mom Podcast has become a real joy. Sheryl Grant and I look forward to our interviews each week and we've found that our conversations are fabulous way to strengthen our friendship as well as produce new content. When we sound like we're having fun, we are. Thanks for your support and please keep reading and listening!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Paging Sarah Naphali--success! Listen to our podcast.

I love the internet. I was able to reach Australian author Sarah Napthali, I just posed the podcast featuring my interview with Sarah about her book Buddhism for Mothers. Sarah's book is a must-read for women of all faith traditions. I love love love the fact that with the podcast, I can bring a fabulous author's voice to the Mojo Mom audience even if she lives halfway around the globe. Podcasting is truly a force for democratic broadcasting.

Sometime this month I am hoping to updgrade to host the podcast show files right on my site, but for now you can access the show free through or the iTunes podcast directory. You don't need an iPod or MP3 player to listen to a podcast. You can listen through your computer as well or burn a CD.

Co-host Sheryl Grant and I are having a ball with the show, and we can see that we are gaining new listeners each week. We've created 14 shows and we've settled into a weekly groove. The discussion topics are designed to hold up over time, so I encourage new listeners to dip back into our archive to check out the interviews with all of our guest authors. We're working toward our goal of creating a truly valuable source of intelligent talk and guest interviews for Moms who think.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed us and posted comments about our shows. We're listening!

Flare-up in the "Mommy Wars"

The media has picked up on The Mommy Wars theme again lately. It always makes for "good" TV even if it doesn't make for good public policy or helpful discussion.

Good Morning America fanned the flames with their recent multi-part series, and today NOW pushed back with a critical letter, which reads, in part, "Here's a compelling topic for a future feature: How can our society better support mothers and caregivers so that they can choose to work either outside or inside the home—whether it's full-time or part-time—without additional guilt, financial strife or other barriers? How can workplaces, educational institutions, the public service sector and our government make caregiving a more respected and less stressful endeavor?"

Working with the media is a tricky thing. I want to discuss the issues in Mojo Mom without hyping the so-called Mommy Wars. Author Miriam Peskowitz and I are looking for opportunities to move this conversation forward. She is planning to be on next week's Mojo Mom Podcast, which will give us a chance for an extended discussion on our own terms. I'd like to see a larger societal discussion where moms set ground rules that say we're going discuss ways to work together, following the model that NOW puts forward. I feel like women been duped into fighting with each other which is distracting us from the real work that needs to be done.