Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Happiest Mom interviews Mojo Mom about Work & Money

I am in the editing zone this week as we put the finishing touches on the Courageous Parenting manuscript. It is a lot of work and we are trying to make sure we give everyone time off for the December holidays. So I am behind in my blogging. But--thankfully I have a great guest post for today. Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom blog recently interviewed me on the topic of Moms, Work & Money. I think the interview turned out really well, if I do say so myself, and Megan has given me her blessing to repost it here.

Meagan is definitely an empathetic mojo sister, and I hope you'll check out all of her writing on The Happiest Mom.

Meagan Francis' interview with Amy Tiemann:

Since Amy’s an advocate of moms empowering themselves with financial and career security, I figured she’d be a great person to interview as a follow-up to my [Meagan's] post on moms and financial security. Here are Amy’s thoughts on work, money, and how moms can–and why they should–take steps to protect themselves.

Meagan: Moms and their career/financial security is something you’ve written about quite a bit. Why do you think it’s such an important topic?

Amy: Whatever our best-laid plans are, Moms always need a backup plan. The current economic crisis has highlighted this reality. Any of us could be called on to increase our earnings or become the primary breadwinner for our family, on short notice. And in the long run, women need to plan for long lives, and the safety nets in place do not give women credit for their caregiving years. For example, my mother was a stay-at-home Mom until she and my Dad divorced after about 20 years of marriage. That was 25 years ago, yet now that she has become a Senior, the echoes of that are coming back into play. Because of her pattern of employment and lower lifetime earnings, her monthly Social Security check is about half of what my Dad’s is. And that will continue for the rest of their lives.

Life is long and a lot can happen! None of us can afford not to think about our present and future security.

Meagan: I think sometimes it’s hard to think too much about our financial security as moms. We don’t want to seem as though we don’t trust our spouses to do right by us, or live as though we’re waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us. Any words of advice for moms who are hesitant to advocate for their own needs and futures?

Amy: That’s a great question. We need to be full and active parters when it comes to financial planning. It’s the responsible thing to do and it’s good for the whole family. If a husband gets laid off, it’s good for him if his wife has a job to go to. If a father dies, of course he would want his family to be taken care of. We don’t like to think of the things that can go wrong but as parents we have to be adults who are willing to prepare for all situations.

Also, I have encountered sexism within the financial planning and estate planning industries. You cannot assume that lawyers or financial planners have your best interests at heart. You have to get in there and know what is going on, challenge assumptions, and advocate for yourself. I have had estate planners try to set up trusts that would have put our family’s assets totally under my husband’s control. I trust my husband, but it’s just not fair to set it up that way. The lawyers had been doing what seemed expedient and convenient, and it would have been a huge mistake for me to let that happen. I put the brakes on the process and made the lawyers create two trusts, one that we each controlled. And after that, we got new lawyers.

So make sure that all the advisors in your life see you as an active participant in the process. And if they don’t do so, find a new advisor or lawyer.

Meagan: Any practical tips to help at-home moms stay engaged and connected to the working world?

Amy: Keep networking in your public persona! I have gotten jobs that resulted from friendly schmoozing with people in the preschool parking lot because I was enthusiastic about my work. Moms are natural networkers but sometimes we forget to include our professional identity in our self-presentation. I recommend staying in touch with your professional contacts, and setting up lunch at least once a month where you show up dressed for work and ready to talk about your field. Of course, you should also keep up to date on any professional reading you need to do. The same strategy can apply if you are trying to break into a new field. Start studying, learning, and connecting. I am a big fan of continuing education programs offered by local colleges, which might meet once a week in person, or even online.

Meagan: What about working moms who feel the need to rein in their careers for a while–is it possible to still have the career you dreamed of, even if you take a year or three off or scale way back?

Amy: You have to be prepared to take your career into your own hand. We’re in a tough position because there is only so much we can do as individuals to ensure that enlightened employers will be willing to create a path back for us. We don’t have the social supports that would really help, starting with paid parental leave for Moms and Dads. So this is why I do two things: I support MomsRising.org, which advocates for the family-friendly policies I believe we need, and I also encourage all women to learn about entrepreneurship. If the traditional working world won’t accommodate you, how can you create a role for yourself? One of my friends is a mother of three young boys and a veterinarian. She created her own mobile veterinary practice that allows her total control of her schedule, reduces her overhead because she has a van and makes house calls, rather than running a traditional practice, and serves her clients extremely well. That’s the kind of creative solution we need to explore.

Meagan: What are some vital ways moms can take care of themselves financially, even if they aren’t currently earning an income?

Amy: Become involved in your family’s financial planning as I mentioned above. Research your own Social Security credits and know the long-term implications of taking time out of the workforce. Make sure your family is saving up for a six to eight month emergency fund. That is urgently important in this recession, especially as access to credit is being cut off.

Meagan: In your book MojoMom, you share advice on “creating a lifelong career path”. Can you share a little about your own lifelong career path, and the role motherhood has played in it?

Amy: I have been very fortunate to be able to take my skills and apply them to new areas. I used to do brain research, which might sound worlds away from being an author, but writing my Ph. D. thesis taught how to research a complex topic, and proved to myself that I could follow through on a very difficult project. I taught high school for three years, which was excellent experience in public speaking to a general audience. Now, when I talk to Moms’ groups, someone often asks, “Do you get nervous speaking to big groups?” and I can say, “Hey, my job used to be to convince sixteen-year olds that chemistry was interesting–at 8 am! You are here because you want to be, so this is fun!” For the record, I really liked teaching, too, but I chose not to keep up that schedule after my daughter was born and my family moved across the country. Women reinvent themselves all the time. So for the lifelong career path, don’t peg yourself too closely with one role of job title. Learn to value the skills you have and think about how to use those skills in a variety of job settings.

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