See Samantha on
Good Morning America


Watch Torn discussed on
the Today Show.


TORN awarded a gold medal
in Moms' Choice Awards 2011!


Torn is filled with the voices of women trying to solve an impossible equation, all doing the best they can.
Lisa Belkin, The New York Times

 Watch Samantha's interview with Lisa Belkin.


Torn is a welcome addition to the body of work of books about
the work/life balance.”
Deborah Netburn, The Los Angeles Times


Read more TORN reviews

Read Samantha on the Huffington Post

Read Samantha on Modern Mom


Watch Samantha on HuffPost Live

 


How Full-time Moms Can Successfully Return to Work

My latest on ModernMom.com:

Stay-at-home moms: Don’t fall for the media chatter that “opting out” of work to raise kids will sound the death knell for your career. It IS possible to get back in. You just need some advice and inspiration.

Remember, as a full-time mom, you opted in to the most important job in the world – raising the next generation of capable and responsible adults. There’s no need to regret your decision; it was the right one at the time.

But now that the kids are older– and you are able to get out of your jammies before noon – you may be ready to re-enter the workforce.

While job hunting may seem like a daunting task (do you even have a copy of your resume anymore?), these tips will give you some guidance as you begin your back-to-work journey: Continue reading

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10 Things Happier Moms Do Differently

Wondering how to manage your kids, career, marriage and the rest of what you pack into your day– without losing your sanity? You are  going to want to read my article, 10 Things Happier Moms Do Differently, and my other posts on ModernMom.com.

See you there!

Samantha

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A Mother’s Journey Home from War

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. Of the many men and women in the military who have come forward to discuss their experiences on the front lines, one voice stands apart. That of Jessica Scott.

In her recently released book, The Long Way Home: One Mom’s Journey Home from War, Scott gives voice to a contingent of the military that we don’t normally hear from– mothers. In a series of poignant and heartfelt blog entries, Scott paints a vivid picture of what it was like for her as soldier– and also as a mother and wife– to return home after being deployed for a year in war-torn Iraq.

In one blog entry, titled “Unprepared,” Scott discusses the re-integration training that the military offers to soldiers when they return home from the battlefield.  While she says most of it was a “waste of time,” one part of it caught her attention: the part about re-integrating into your families. She writes:

There was a lot of anticipation within me about seeing the kids and getting my family back together. I thought I was prepared. At a rest stop in New Jersey, she (my youngest) had real, painful tears, the kind of crying that sounded like her little heart hurt. When I asked her what was wrong, she sobbed, “I don’t think you love me.” And I had no idea how to react. Instantly, I started crying. In the middle of a rest stop, with people wondering what the heck was going on, I was trying to get my oldest’s coat on her while trying to get my youngest to understand that I did love her and I had missed her.

Moments like this personalize the experiences of our men and women in uniform, and help us to see that they are more than just soldiers. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives, just like the rest of us. For Scott, deploying to Iraq meant leaving her 3-year old and 5-year old daughters in the care of their grandmother for a year. While she thought leaving them was the hardest thing she would ever have to do as a mother, she learns that coming back to them is just as hard. Continue reading

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Cutting the Parental Cord

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

I had two kids graduate this month — one from preschool, the other from eighth grade. While my 5-year-old still wants to be with me most of the time, my teenager? Not so much. He comes home to eat and to sleep, but other than that, he spends most of the day with his friends, doing what teenage boys do — shooting hoops, texting on their iPhones, walking around downtown.

I had a big “mom” wake-up call the other day, however, when I told my son that I was texting his basketball coach to let him know about an upcoming family vacation we were taking.

“No Mom!” he yelled. “You can’t email the coach!”

Apparently, the coach had told the team that he didn’t want any parental involvement — including emails and texts about game times and scheduling conflicts. They were high school students now. If they had an issue, they were to contact the coach directly, not via their parents.

It was time to cut the parental cord.

Part of me was relieved. After all, I’d spend the past 14 years planning my son’s life and taking care of his every need — from changing diapers and taming toddler tantrums, to cooking meals and driving him all over God’ green earth. I deserved a break. Besides, I was never much of a meddling mom when it came to sports and school. My philosophy has been to “outsource” the kids’ academics and sports to the experts and intervene only when necessary.

But part of me was sad. My son was telling me to let go — to cede control — which, for a control freak like me, was no easy task. What if my son forgot to call his coach about a conflict? What if he needed me to intervene on his behalf? Continue reading

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10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Amalfi Coast & Capri

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

The Amalfi Coast, with its string of towns from Positano to Sorrento, has been a getaway for the rich and famous since ancient Roman times. From the jet-setting isle of Capri to the dramatic cliff towns of the Amalfi, from ancient Pompeii to even more ancient Paestum, this is Italy’s coast with the most.

During the summer months, there’s a visitor for every local– which is not always a good thing. With the tourists come high prices, mediocre restaurant service, crowded beaches and uncomfortably packed buses. So how do you get the most of the Amalfi Coast– and nearby Capri– without feeling like a taken-advanged of tourist who’s destined to eat overpriced meals in restaurants surrounded by other English-speaking guests? Follow these tips, and you’ll find out how.

  1. Avoid the high season. It’s not always possible, but if you can travel during the “shoulder season”– May/June or September/October– you will avoid the crowds, the heat, and the hefty prices of the high tourist season (July and August). Traveling in late May was perfect. We were able to make restaurant reservations without a problem and spend time on the rocky beaches of the Amalfi Coast without feeling claustrophobic. Expect the Tyrennian Sea to be a bit chilly, however.
  2. Stay in a villa, not a hotel. While Italy is known for its history and old-world style, some of the “grand dame” hotels are feeling just that– old. The latest trend in Italian chic is the villa-turned-boutique hotel. Once the homes of wealthy Italian families, these retreats offer the amenities of a hotel, but a distinctly more personal experience. We stayed at the JK Place on Capri, a small, smart and ultra-stylish hotel that recently counted Jennifer Aniston and her beau as guests. For all its designer decor and state-of-the-art technology, the atmosphere is intimate, and the staff unfailingly kind. You feel more like you are staying at your (really rich) friend’s home than a hotel. Simone Giorgi, the General Manager, has a discreet but elegant way of making all of his guests feel like A-listers, greeting each of them at the front door upon arrival and bidding them “fair well” when they depart.
  3. Eat like a local. Restaurants are notoriously over-priced in this region and have been known to charge upwards of 10 Euros for one gelato. But the locals need to eat too, so how do they do it without going broke? Start by eating what they eat. The Campania region is the breeding ground for for “buffalo mozzarella,” and nearby Naples is the pizza-making capital of the world. Local pesce (fish), including octopus, prawns, calamari and clams, are plucked from the sea daily and are as good in a light summer salad as they are tossed over linguini. The regional wines are delicious, with prices that don’t break the bank. Beware of the restaurants that your hotel/concierge recommends– they tend to be touristy, over-priced and inauthentic. Instead, read restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor, or ask your hotel where the locals eat. Some of our favorite restaurants were small family-owned joints that served some of the best pizza and fish we’ve ever had: Da Vicenze and Taverna del Leone in Positano, and Da Paolino near the Marina Grande on Capri. Continue reading

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Facebook Exec Works Four-Day Work Week

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

Facebook recently hired Nicola Mendelsohn, a 41-year-old British advertising executive and mother of four, as the new Vice President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is a big job. She will manage a team of almost 1,000 people.

What is more amazing about her new position is that Mendelsohn arranged it so that she would have a four-day work week, so that she could spend more time at home with her kids, who range in age from 8 to 16.

Mendelsohn was previously the executive chairman of the ad agency Karmarama, where she has allowed 65 percent of the firm’s 180 employees to work remotely.

As Mendelsohn said recently: “The industry has to more readily welcome back its best women. I would much rather hire a talented woman on four days a week than lose her forever.”

These are important words for the 43 percent of women who have dropped out of the professional workforce to raise kids. For them, returning to work can be extremely difficult. Employers may be reluctant to hire moms who have been out for a number of years because their skills are rusty, or for fear that they may not be 100 percent committed to their jobs.

Flexible work options will define the future of the workplace. Corporate America will change — it is already happening — not just to accommodate the needs of working parents, but to accommodate the younger generations who have grown up on mobile devices. These young workers — the Millenials and beyond — don’t see the need to sit at a desk in an office from 9-5. They expect to be able to work at any time, any place. Just so long as the work gets done.

I am encouraged by companies like Facebook that are making an effort to bring women back and let them do their jobs without having to sacrifice their families. I am thankful for pioneering and talented women like Nicola Mendelsohn, who was willing to ask for what she needed to be the best at her job and at home. This is the way to get more women to the top.

Samantha Parent Walravens is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, chosen by the New York Times as the first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.

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10 Tips to Help Your Child Become a Better Writer

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

If your kids are like mine, they don’t take well to their parents giving them advice on much of anything — academics, athletics, you name it. In many ways, I am thankful for this. My kids are independent and have learned to do their homework on their own.

But I had to step in recently to help my middle schooler with a term paper that needed a lot of help. I started with my red pen, crossing out sentences and circling misspelled words. Needless to say, it didn’t go well. I ended up buying him a book on Amazon.com on “how to write a good term paper,” put it on his desk and hoped he would read it. So much for parental guidance.

According to Robert Menzimer, Executive Director of the Oakland, California-based Writer Coach program, which provides one-on-one tutoring to help students develop writing and critical thinking skills, many parents feel completely at sea about offering writing support. “Math assignments? No problem. Science projects? Absolutely. An essay for English? Lemme out of here!” says Menzimer.

And based on his many conversations over the years with adults at our volunteer recruiting booths, it’s not hard to see why: adults are often as freaked out about writing as kids are. “They (adults) are fraught with anxiety over what they perceive as their lack of writing skills,” says Menzimer, “and say they’ve been plagued by this anxiety their whole lives, including into their professions.”

So how do you help your child with their writing? Here are a few tips:

  1. Adopt a coach’s role. According to Menzimer, a coach’s role is different than that of a parent. As a parent, you need to stifle the urge to correct your child’s writing. Rather, start by asking her what she feels she needs help with. In so doing, you are validating her ability to do some critical analysis. Second, you are affirming that her opinion is just as important as anyone else’s. And third, you are establishing a reader/writer relationship with your child. You are fostering the idea that she needs your help not because her paper needs “correcting,” but because every writer needs a reader, a second set of eyes and ears on the work. That’s why professional writers have editors.  Somewhere down there is your child’s response to the writing assignment. Your role is to help her find it.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. If your child wants to become a better basketball player or a guitarist, what do they do? Practice, practice, practice. Writing is no different. To become a better writer, your child needs to practice. Daily writing is the ideal; once a week is not enough. I always kept a journal when I was young. I used it to write down my thoughts, emotions, problems and ideas. Nobody read it but me. My journaling kept me “exercising” my writing skills every day and most likely led me to a career in writing.
  3. Read first, then write. As Stephen King writes in his book, On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” All the great authors of our time were also voracious readers. In order to write well, your child must first read, and read everything — from blogs and newspapers, to poetry and great works of literature. And no — tweets and texts don’t count.
  4. Let your kids see you write. As a parent, you are both a model and a teacher. If your kids never see you write (or read, for that matter), they get the impression that writing only happens at school. What you do is as important as what you say. Have children see you writing notes to friends, letters to business firms, perhaps stories to share with the children. From time to time, read aloud what you have written and ask your children their opinion of what you’ve said. If it’s not perfect, so much the better. Making changes in what you write confirms for the child that revision is a natural part of writing — which it is. Continue reading

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Preschool Girl Drama: Too Young, Too Soon

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

I have four kids– my boys are 14 and 12, my girls are 9 and 5. While my boys nearly drove me into the ground as toddlers with their endless physical energy and constant running around, the girls are currently winning the race to dig me an early grave with their ongoing girl drama and emotional highs and lows.

If I had to choose, I’d take the physical exhaustion of boys over the emotional exhaustion of girls ANY DAY.

I wasn’t expecting the girl drama to start at such a young age, however. This morning, my 5-year-old stopped me at the door of her preschool with tears running down her chubby little cheeks. She told me that she was scared to go to school, that her friends weren’t being nice, and that she wanted to go home.

Oy vey, I thought. Could the girl drama be starting so soon? She’s barely out of pull-ups.

I fully acknowledge that my preschooler is no saint. She is the youngest of four siblings, so she has learned survival skills to help her to be seen and heard in a family of six. She’s got a strong personality (she’s been called a “force of nature” more than once), which is both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness. She makes friends with everybody and is always up for fun. She’s also had more time-outs than my other three kids combined. My husband and I have worked hard to keep her on the straight and narrow — to prevent her from becoming the stereotypical spoiled youngest child.

So, when she told me she was having problems with her friends, my first thought (which I kept to myself) was, OK, what did you do to those poor girls?

I listened to my daughter and comforted her about her friendship problems. I talked to the teacher, who was completely on top of it and promised to talk to my daughter and keep an eye on the girls.

Five minutes after I left, I called the school to make sure my daughter was OK. As stubborn and strong as she is, she is still my baby. She rarely cries about going to school, and I was worried. The teacher reassured me that she was fine and that this was all part of growing up — learning how to socialize and be a good friend. That’s what school is all about, especially preschool.

But why, oh why, do girls have to be so darn complicated? Continue reading

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Fear Holds Women Back in Their Careers, Says Sandberg

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

From Sheryl Sandberg to Arianna Huffington, Marissa Mayer to Michelle Obama, I keep a running list of how today’s most successful women manage to excel in their professions and serve as role models for those of us who work “in the trenches.”

Which is why I was thrilled to read Sheryl Sandberg’s just-released book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Part autobiography, part feminist manifesto, the book is a call to action for women today to “lean in” and embrace their success.

At its core, Lean In is about getting past your fears.

For those who have been to Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, much of the advice Sandberg gives can be seen all over the office walls, on posters that read such things as:

  • “Move Fast and Break Things”
  • “Done Is Better Than Perfect”
  • “Fail Harder”
  • “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” (Sandberg’s favorite)

“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face,” Sandberg writes. “Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.”

According to Sandberg, one of the biggest barriers to women’s success is not external, but one that comes from within: the voice inside our head that tells us “you aren’t good enough” or that urge us, as she puts it, to “leave before you leave.”

I recently had a crisis of confidence in my writing career, one that paralyzed me for weeks. I was criticized for a story I did on female bullying and middle-school cliques. Instead of standing up for my opinions, I cowered. I ended up retracting part of my story, something I had never done before, rather than standing tall and taking ownership of a point I believed to be valid.

Why did I react this way to criticism? Because as a woman, I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to please, not ruffle feathers. I’m used to being the “good girl.”

Sandberg says hogwash to this.

One thing that is holding women back in their careers today, argues Sandberg, is the way that society views women — and how women then view themselves.

Boys, she says, are socialized to be assertive and aggressive. Girls? They are supposed to be kind and conciliatory. “Go to a playground,” Sandberg says. “Little girls get called ‘bossy’ all the time, a word that’s almost never used for boys. And that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce. When a man does a good job, everyone says, ‘That’s great.’ When a woman does that same thing, she’ll get feedback that says things like, ‘Your results are good, but your peers just don’t like you as much’ or ‘maybe you were a little aggressive.’ ” Continue reading

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Mean Girls, Part 3: The Danger of Labeling

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

In a recent blog post, I used the terms “queen bee” and “mean girl” as a jumping off point to discuss the dangerous dynamics of middle school girl cliques. I’ve always been fascinated by the cultural phenomenon of female cliques. I’m curious why girls — and women — feel the need to belong to and be accepted by social groups. And why they feel the need to exclude others when they have “found” their place in a certain group.

To me, it’s a sociological wonder.

After posting the story, I got an email from a friend that was an important reminder — and wake-up call — for me. She reminded me of the danger of labeling.

The “mean girl” and “queen bee” labels have become a common part of our lexicon ever since Rosalind Wiseman published her book, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World. The problem of “mean girl” bullying has been around since the beginning of time.

But what my friend so rightly pointed out was that using such stereotypes to label girls and their behavior — especially in the fragile middle school years — can have detrimental effects on a girl’s self-esteem and self-image.

Regardless of the label, be it “smart” or “pretty” or “popular” or “mean,” the truth is that we, as humans, are a combination of many different character traits. And despite what my mother told me, I do believe that people’s characters can change over time.

As I said in my story, we are all “mean girls” at times. We all do things in life that can be considered “mean girl” behavior. Have I ever excluded a woman from a party or event? Heck yeah. Although I like to think that my intentions are usually in the right place, I can’t claim to have never hurt someone — even those I love dearly. Hey, I was even accused of being a “mean girl” myself by writing a story that analyzed mean girl behavior!

I was labeled as a kid. I wasn’t a “mean girl,” but I was the “smarty pants” who got straight A’s and did her homework every night without being told. I didn’t like being labeled. I don’t think anyone does.

What do you think? Is it OK to call out a “mean girl”? Or is it superficial and unjust labeling?

Samantha Parent Walravens is the author of TORN: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, chosen by the New York Times as the first pick for the Motherlode Book Club.

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