Podcast: Meredith Bodgas, Working Mother, tips and strategies

I am a long-time fan of Working Mother magazine. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that I did a series of “Sticky Situation” videos with them a few years ago. That training has come in handy for doing the Q&A segments of Best of Both Worlds. I also interviewed their former editor, Jennifer Owens, several times for different projects, and I’ve always enjoyed her take on life.

So I was thrilled to welcome Working Mother’s new editor-in-chief, Meredith Bodgas, to the podcast this week. I was all excited to interview her and then…I just want to pause a minute and praise everyone involved with the podcast. Normally Zencastr is awesome, but we had a huge problem with our recording software during this episode, and I could only catch 5 words or so at a time from the other two people speaking. This made it impossible for me to conduct the interview. So I was frantically texting Sarah to please take over and run the thing, which she did. Flawlessly.

Alas, the raw audio files were not so flawless, and in post-production, the two working tracks wound up right on top of each other (so they were speaking simultaneously). Our podcast producer and team went in and did a huge “clean up on aisle four” style job on the mess, and it now sounds great.

Anyway…that’s the backstory. Now on to some highlights from the interview.

Sometimes applying for jobs online actually works. Bodgas saw the EIC job advertised online, and applied for the position. And got the job that way. One often hears of online job listings being a total black hole, so I love when this actually works.

Streamline activities you do daily, because this pays off big. Bodgas and her husband live in a NY suburb, and commute by train into the city most days. They intentionally chose to live near a train station, and chose a daycare near the train that they can walk to. That means that on good days they don’t have to fight for parking, and can get a little morning walk in.

Use commuting time. This probably goes without saying, but if the bulk of the work you have left to do is answer emails, and you’re taking public transit, go ahead and leave the office. Bodgas thinks of office time as for meetings, and train time as the place for the other work she does.

Maximize the upside of ordering in. Bodgas says that she and her husband order a lot of food (or do take-out) and they make sure to put in large enough orders that they have leftovers for the next day or two. This solves dinner for the next night!

Bodgas recorded this interview 9 months pregnant, and had been having some mobility issues related to that. So she’d been working from home more often. She talked about how she’s actually far more productive when she doesn’t have to devote time to getting ready, and then the transaction costs of getting to work. She wrote an article about this, and got a lot of positive feedback from WFH types agreeing how much more productive they are on those days. Offices can be distracting places.

There’s also a discussion on maternity leave policies, and where those are going. Working Mother magazine monitors trends in this, and Bodgas noted that they are seeing a lot of positive motion, at least from larger employers (and non-health care employers, as Sarah rued!)

I also want to call attention to our Q&A segment, as this was certainly a thought-provoking one. We got an email from a 30-year-old listener who has been struggling with the question of whether to have kids. She and her husband have intense jobs and love their weekends. In one of the prior episodes, Sarah and I had discussed planning weekends with small kids, and we’d had a certain tone of trying to get through some of the time: plan one AM activity, one PM activity, and then the day is done! This really worried our listener, as in her current life, she found herself wishing weekends were longer, not shorter.

Sarah gave her a more philosophical answer, I gave her some practical things to think about. Please give it a listen and let us know if you think these were good answers.


23 thoughts on “Podcast: Meredith Bodgas, Working Mother, tips and strategies

  1. I love all of these highlights! I used to use my train commute to work overtime on the things I couldn’t get done easily in the office so got paid for that time, and we have JB’s daycare near my husband’s work so that it’s on his way in. We don’t do take out often but we also order for a couple meals at a time, just like when I cook.

    All my jobs were advertised online, and now we only advertise our jobs online, so they aren’t all black holes!

    WFH is the best, IMO, if you can avoid letting yourself getting distracted.

    1. @Revanche – I have been working from home so long that I don’t even get the distraction issue. I am pretty much on a charge to get done with everything that is best done without children around from 8:30-4:05 daily. The other day when I watched TV, it was definitely a very conscious choice (and the fact that the kids had a half day and were around).

  2. That is a question to which there is no right answer! I commend you for taking it on though. If I were the listener who posed the question, I’d find the “outweighing joy” and “beauty in the struggle” in Sarah’s answer hard to relate to. It was also not difficult to anticipate Laura’s answer – the weekend nanny – or some form of weekend outsourcing. But as a working mom whose work often extends to the weekend / needs that weekend to recharge for the week ahead, I like that answer. But just curious if others have actually tried this option (not meaning the same nanny who works for your family on the week to cover occasional weekends/holidays). I find “weekend-only caregivers” both logistically (most want to work more than just a weekend; those that work for another family during the week and has weekend available are just as spent, physically and mentally) and emotionally (for the below-5yr olds) to arrange. I’ve found that toddlers do not easily take to caregivers that they meet on weekends, and have a harder time attaching to them. I’d love to hear more details about how other parents outsource their weekends so that they can re-charge for the week.

    1. @Sophia – in the case of the family I was citing, they were hiring for a FT job — 40 hours. Being paid a FT salary, and only working from Friday to Sunday, might be quite appealing for some people (maybe a student, or someone with aspirations to write a novel or start an artistic career, etc.)

      More occasional care is always harder — but that’s true of weekends and weekdays. We started getting more regular weekend care when our kids’ activity schedules pretty much required it. Hard to be in 3 places with 2 parents. Or even 2 places with 2 parents and an ornery and over-excitable toddler. But we haven’t done it as much as I think probably would have been wise for family peace, for some of the reasons you mention.

    2. This isn’t the same as a FT weekend nanny, but an in-between is regular childcare at some point during the weekend, which we have done off-and-on. We have one weekend babysitter who our kids adore and she comes for several hours one or both days so we can work/exercise/socialize/etc. Sometimes it’s in the afternoon while the kids nap and for the time after, or it can be mid-morning through lunchtime, or post-bedtime for date night. My toddlers have taken very well to this weekend person despite being with a nanny FT during the week. I think one of the keys has been having the weekend babysitter be the same person week after week.

  3. To have or not to have (kids)…

    I believe this ends up as more of an emotional decision and less of a logic-driven choice. We really have very little control over the most important things in live. Death, birth, conception (may or may not happen easily, or at all), healthy pregnancy, healthy kids – we hope for the best, but there are absolutely no guarantees and it’s not like there is a recipe (do A, B, C and you’ll get the desired outcome). Our children or grandchildren may have to endure war, famine, climate-related disasters. They may grow up to hate us. They may never grow up.

    With 3 kids – no, my life is not *better* that that of my child-free friends. It’s not worse, either. It’s just different.

    I am so glad I had no clue what I was getting myself into back then, when we first thought “oh wouldn’t it be nice to have a baby… or two…” Blissful ignorance it was 🙂 But I do feel very fortunate to have my 3 kids, even if it does mean I’ve pretty much lost my freedom (I came to a point in life when freedom started to feel over-rated).

    The purpose of having kids is NOT so that they make us happy. But it is very nice to be able to share our happiness and our love of life with them. (And – this is terribly selfish – I do like the idea that my ancestors’ genes got passed on and that our family keeps on going, in spite of all the odds).

    1. This comment very much resonates with me. I didn’t have kids because I thought I would be happier. I had kids because I just in my gut felt I absolutely, achingly wanted them. Same with #2 and #3. And same with the decision NOT to have kids. It wasn’t because of $ or time or sanity (although–surely those could be reasons for me personally)–I just simply didn’t have that strong desire any more. I could confidently answer, “I’m done.” I know a couple on the fence about kids saying their biggest regret about not having kids is because one of them might be lonely when they’re older (assuming one outlives the other spouse). I’m sure there could be a million other reasons they didn’t vocalize that went into their decision, but I couldn’t help but think–thinking ahead to my 70s+ (one hopes) definitely did not go into my decision making of having kids in my 30s!

  4. I have to say I was a little surprised by the word choices when you both talked about “getting through the week end” and by the follow up this week, especially after reading Sarah’s blog so long and generally getting a sense that she greatly enjoys her kids. I agree that no one should sugar coat their own experience or feel bad for not doing so but I felt like the emphasis on the negatives was a little strong. I really enjoy the majority of the weekends with my 3 year old; I know not everyone feels that way ( my husband needs more child free time than I do) but some people really do. I knew pre-kids that I enjoyed little kids and little kid activities ( I have several younger siblings and a number of my younger cousins) And it adds an extra layer of joy when you are with your own kid, of course! I read once that it’s ok to have a harder time with certain ages and I do believe that. I thinkperhaps I’m going to really tough time with the teenage years; we shall see.

    My oldest was a surprise so we didn’t officially “decide” to have kids though we always expected to at some point. So I guess I didn’t make that decision the was some other people do. But I think that anyone should really really want to have kids before deciding to do it because it’s so much work and you really can’t go back. But I also think people have this idea that they want to hold on to the carefree 20s/30s life forever and that just doesn’t happen. Your parents start to need help, your friends disappear off to the suburbs to have kids and you start to get tired and drinking stops being so fun. I felt like having kids opened up *new* sources of happiness that I was really ready for to take the place of that carefree life. So for me I’m glad the way it worked out but it definitely isn’t for everyone.

    1. @Irene – Thanks for your thoughts. I know the word choice was what most jarred our listener with the question but “getting through” does describe reality at certain points. I am probably less of a little kid person than many people. I’m quite enjoying stuff with my older kids.

      I also enjoyed your comment about drinking no longer being fun. I think the moment where drinking stops being fun is definitely the moment your youth is over. Or maybe the drinking itself is still fun but the aftermath is so not worth it.

    2. Haven’t listened to this podcast, but just had to weigh in to say that I agree that I felt I gained more new sources of joy and experience by becoming a parent than I gave up. It seems like in recent times, in the US we’ve focused more on adjusting our lives to kids rather than incorporating our kids into our lives. This also reminds me of an article about an elite Kenyan female runner I found very interesting: https://deadspin.com/edna-kiplagat-is-incredible-1795262452. For example Kenyan female runners look at pregnancy as a way to give their bodies a rest from intense training vs. American elite female athletes who ofren put off pregnancy until after they retire.

  5. What I found shocking was that Working Mother doesn’t seem to have it together when it comes to parental leave. Considering they report on these types of issues I would think they themselves would be at the forefront!

    I guess it is almost in a way like non-profits who serve low income communities who then pay their staff low salaries. I have trouble wrapping my head around these ironies!

    1. @Amy I totally agree with you; there’s dissonance here. I’m hoping to have a happy, industry-leading update on this before I return to work (my baby was born on the 18th).

  6. Would you or Sarah ever do a post on the “behind the scenes” aspect of the podcast? I’m a relative podcast newbie and it occurred to me that I have no idea what all goes into the making of one…for example, I assumed that each episode was recorded in one long stretch (since you often have your guests stick around and weigh in on the love of the week segment), but it sounds like you actually do them in smaller chunks and then edit together later. What sorts of costs are involved? How much do you two rehearse or decide who’s going to handle which speaking parts? How much do you prep your guests in advance? How many do you record at one time and how long does it all take? Where did you get the music for the intro? I’m just very curious and would love to learn more about it!

  7. wanted to offer a slightly different perspective to the questioner from the podcast. Often, I think people talk about a strong pull or even a “primal urge” to have children, or those who are sure they do not want children. Another feeling which is less often talked about is those who feel less strongly one or the other. Like, most things, wanting something is a continuum, with people falling on spot along it. This somewhere in the middle place is where I found myself- not opposed to children but also valuing my free time and resources, along with a fear of all the things that could go wrong when having a child. I kept waiting to feel totally sure and I never did, but eventually came to the idea that I was just slightly more “yes” than “no” and decide to try to have a baby.

    So, the short answer, I had a baby. He’s a wonderful and fun 2 1/2 year old, and I can’t imagine my life without him. I agree with the other commenter that your “carefree” younger self life of your 20s and 30s does not continue as friends and family have more commitments and less time with work, family and home. People just don’t go out that way they used to in my friend group 10 years ago. I think you do find ways to do the things you enjoy before child(ren) although you might do them in different ways. When the weekends feel long with a toddler (and they do at times!), doing things I enjoyed before my son’s birth make me feel recharged. Weekend childcare is a monetary luxury for me as a public librarian, but worth it when we manage, even if it means we are doing a cheaper activity. We all enjoy doing things as a family, and my son is getting more fun as his personality develops. I

    I think it is a good discussion to have, and if you decide having a child or children is the choice that is right for you, it was helpful for me to hear that it is perfectly valid to not be 100% sure but make the choice anyway.

    I find myself again going through a questioning process about whether we should try to have a second child, but that’s a whole other story. I guess I am just a questioner by nature.

  8. I’m late to the party here but I took your suggestions on winter activities totally differently. It’s not about filling the hours just to get it over and done- its just that puttering around the house with unstructured time and young children is maddening. You need to get out of the house to enjoy them AND to prevent yourself from spending the weekend doing endless housework.

    1. @Virginia – I’m with you there. When we sit around the house inevitably the kids start fighting and creating various disasters (the 3-year-old squirted a whole thing of soft soap around the house when I wasn’t looking…ugh!)

  9. For the person from the Q&A, things with kids just require more planning and/or more expense (so really planning). Before we had kids, weekends didn’t need a plan. But with kids, the logistics of going somewhere and how much it costs require thinking about. Just as an example. Before kids, my husband and I really wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner. But it was across town and traffic was bad. So we watched a movie for awhile then went to dinner quite late when traffic was gone. With kids, I couldn’t just decide to eat dinner at 9 pm. But if I planned ahead, I could find an activity on that side of town so we beat traffic, still have dinner (which costs way more now with overpriced kids meals), and then drive home and let kids sleep in the car. It’s still fun – possibly more because kids can be really fun. But I had to think it through more.
    And a final thought. Kids are not logical. Research has shown people with kids say they are happier even though most measures show they aren’t. If it feels right, have kids. But it will never be the logical thing.

  10. Just to add my two cents to the weekend question –
    I am the mother of twin toddlers, so “getting through the weekend” is a way of life around here. I soooooo much look forward to having family time on the weekend. In fact I find I’m way more productive at the end of the week because I don’t want to have anything hanging over my head so I can really be with my husband and girls. The fact is, though, you can’t sit around the house with toddlers all day without being exhausted (see Laura’s comment above about the fighting and the softsoap – you have to plan activities!). You also can’t go out with toddlers without being exhausted. For instance, we choose our more expensive grocery store because they have awesome double seated carts that look like cars – complete with two steering wheels; they give out extra cheese slices at the deli and a cookie to each kid at the bakery. We sing together as we roam the aisles, we chat a lot, we love talking to the lobsters in the tank. BUT… by the time we come home, we’re all exhausted!

    You have to be strategic about outings with toddlers – as many have said above, you need to plan, plan, plan! We might walk on the beach with a stop at the playground, visit a brewery, go to the Childrens’ Museum, all of which are lots of fun, but by the time you’re done corralling/chasing/entertaining twin toddlers in public, you’re exhausted. And then there’s still tons of laundry to do, the kitchen to clean, meals to prep for the week, making toddler lunch food, ….

    So when I come in Monday morning, I’m super happy to get back to the silence and solitude of my office. I’m typically not very productive on Mondays – something I’ve found now that I need to plan for (I can get lots of little things done that don’t take a lot of brain power, so I plan harder, more thoughtful work for later in the week). On the other hand, I miss my kids and all of our fun times terribly!

    1. @Laura – toddlers are indeed exhausting. Two of them more than one, I imagine. I think people who have never been the primary parent of toddlers just don’t get this. Toddlers turn many things that are fun into something not-fun. Example – bonfire on the beach: you’re worried about them going into the water AND the fire.
      But as with all suffering, there is the unpleasantness itself, and then there is the mental anguish. If you know there are going to be rough patches, you can just relax about it. Some parts of life are going to suck. So what. Some of the things that sometimes suck have some awesome aspects too. Those toddler will grow up to be amazing people you will love having in your life. And there are very cute moments during the rough parts as well. Muddling pierced with moments of transcendence. That sort of thing. So you just have to figure out how to make life livable during the rough parts. And making plans for the weekend has been one of my best strategies in that regard.

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