KID(S): Katie (9); Annie Rose (5); Cleo (2)
SANITY VICE: Chocolate
How She Got Here: From Finance to Painting to Writing (in her own words)
For the first 10 years after college, I worked in the financial services industry, receiving an MBA from Kellogg and building a career in banking at Bank One/ JP Morgan. I really enjoyed the banking environment and fully expected to continue on that trajectory, but life unexpectedly threw us a curveball that changed my path. My husband and I lost our first baby to a genetic kidney disease in 2002 and made the decision to adopt shortly thereafter. When we finally adopted our daughter, I regretted the amount of time that my job required me to be away from her. I decided to switch to a career that allowed me more flexibility.
Fortunately for me, I had a very natural alternative — oil painting. Pretty different from finance, I know! But I had studied painting ever since I was a child, and the thought of surrounding myself with linseed oil, tubes of paint, and stretched canvas was infinitely appealing. I painted several days a week and spent the rest of my time with my daughter, who blossomed and developed beautifully.
I began showing my paintings in galleries and in fine art shows, as well as frequently painting commissioned pieces, and life achieved a new normal. We added two more little girls to the family, and I created my blog, Portrait of an Adoption, which is hosted by ChicagoNow, the online blogging community owned by The Chicago Tribune. In the fall of 2010, I wrote a post about bullying that went crazy viral, and I began researching and writing about bullying, which led to Harper Collins publishing my first book in August of 2012. The book is called Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
Maybrooks.com Q&A: How She Does It and Understanding The Work You Do For Your Kids Will…
MB: What’s your goal with all the variety in your work?
CG: I am both a left brain / right brain person, so I find that I am happiest when I get to do a wide variety of activities. But due to time constraints, the reality is that I put the most energy into the area that is bringing me the most satisfaction at any given moment. The hard question is, what does it mean to feel satisfaction? Does it come from earnings? Intellectual stimulation? Colleagues? Flexibility to be with the kids? As my family grows and changes, the factors that lead to me feeling satisfied are continually shifting. For now, my primary goals are focused on my writing and speaking. I’m working on a second book, and I am enjoying it immensely. But I do need to find time to paint a portrait of my youngest, or she is going to notice that she is the only one I haven’t painted!
MB: When do you know to turn up the heat on one area of your work versus another?
CG: I weigh the short-term and long-term opportunities of each and then pick. For example, in January of 2011, I had just scheduled various art shows for that coming summer, and I was preparing to spend the winter and spring painting in order to build up my inventory. But in February of 2011, my agent informed me that we had sold my book proposal to Harper Collins. I knew that it would be impossible to properly research and write a book while simultaneously preparing for the summer art season, especially because my third daughter was just six months old. I made the choice to pull out of all my upcoming art shows and galleries in order to focus on my book and my kids. I can always show my work again in a season or two when I have time.
MB: What do you tell your girls about working?
CG: I tell them that working helps me to be a better mommy. I can be more present with them because I am also doing outside work that is important to me. Everyone is different, and all families are different. Some moms stay home; some leave the house to work; some volunteer heavily, which is basically the same as having a job, and some do a combination. I will not get pulled into the mommy wars, where moms judge each other for the choices they make. We are all on the same side — moms trying to raise decent, well-loved human beings — and I just know what works for us, and I am fully supportive of my friends and colleagues who have different circumstances than we do.
MB: What’s your biggest challenge as a working mom and what do you do to address it?
CG: My biggest challenge is managing the lack of structured “office hours” to my job. I can always make a case for why I need to work longer, and it is hard for me to walk away from a piece of writing. Additionally, authors are now increasingly expected to have a large social media presence, and it is hard to set boundaries and limits on the amount of time I devote to managing my blog’s Facebook page, Portrait of an Adoption, which generates an enormous amount of correspondence for me. Sometimes my husband has to help remind me to log off the computer and call it a night.
MB: What’s your best time-management tip?
CG: We always try to have a family dinner, even if it is a quick one sitting at the kitchen barstools, where we can talk with our kids. After dinner, my husband and I divide and conquer: clean-up, baths, stories, homework help, bedtime. I am very lucky to have a partner who is so devoted to helping with the kids and the house. The hardest time is actually in the morning, when I am trying to get everyone ready and out of the house in time for school. (My husband leaves for work very early). So I’ve learned to make lunches, pack bags, sign papers, and check calendars the night before, in order to make the morning chaos more manageable. I also cook enough for 2-3 days every time I make dinner, so that we can eat some and keep a steady supply of leftovers in the fridge for nights when there isn’t time to cook. We don’t order in very often, because it is so expensive.
MB: What advice do you live by as a working mom?
CG: Another author, Trudy Ludwig, once advised me, “The work you do for your kids will take you away from your kids. Be aware of that.” She is right, and I try to remember when it is more important to actually be WITH my kids than working for them. Sometimes, you just have to say no. As my work schedule increased, for example, I had to say no to some of the time-intensive volunteer projects that I was expected to run. Learning to say no is the most important thing.
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