Beyond “Childcare Available”: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly

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I was just talking to a group of activists about the fact that while a lot of events both in the activist and tech space do offer childcare, that childcare always seems to be sort of dashed together by a bunch of people who clearly have little to no sense of what people with kids need in order to feel welcome/ like they can attend. The people I spoke to admitted they were clueless about what was needed and felt that “Childcare Available” was part of the standard for inclusive events and not something  to which they actually gave much attention.

*sigh*

So, in the spirit of illuminating people and moving our communities forward, I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move “Childcare Available” from just words on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.

1) Schedule the Event At A Child-Friendly Time

Children — especially small ones — generally need to get to bed at a certain time, which varies from family to family but usually is sometime around 7/8-ish. At the very least, parents want kids home in the evenings to settle down, not trying to hustle them onto a subway or pull them out of their carseats and get them to bed at 10pm or later. It happens — and I certainly can’t speak for everyone — but if you want people with children to participate, consider scheduling some childcare-available events on weekend days.

2)  Childcare Provided By? 

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The ChiChiCo Team

Again, the gesture of providing childcare is a kind one, but as a parent, it’d be helpful to know who the childcare providers are ahead of time. I know, for example, in Chicago that the Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) partners with many groups to provide free childcare at meetings, protests, and other events. Here in NYC, Regeneracion does much the same.

Whenever possible, partner with groups like this and let parents know who will be available to watch children and what sort of activities are planned. I am much more excited to bring my kid to a gathering if I know they are going to be engaged in fun things with other children and supportive like-minded adults.

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The Team at Regeneración Childcare NYC

3) Childcare Money Available

While it is great to be able to bring my kid to events and share my interests, sometimes it is easier for me to focus if my child is not on the premises. In those cases, it’d be great if organizers — and here I am focused mostly on the corporate-sponsored tech events — could offer childcare reimbursements. My kid is most comfortable at home with a trusted caregiver, so if I could provide that rather than having to take them to say a hack day or an all day skills-building event — and inevitably have to do care work — it would be preferable.

4) Center Mothers/Caregivers 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to make your event more parent-friendly (for example I imagine nursing moms would want a clean, comfortable place to pump/breastfeed), so whenever possible just ask people what would help them attend/participate. Don’t fall over yourself making accommodations based on assumptions. Just ask, listen, and see what you can do.

For further thinking on this topic, see this excellent two-part series on conference childcare by by Allison McMillan.

Burning Out, Bowing Out, and How Bridges Sometimes Burn

Groucho Marx popularized the saying, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” I, however, am quite the opposite. For years, I have been honored to join so very many clubs that invited me to be a member, and, furthermore, when I felt a new club needed to be created, I was ever at the ready to start/co-found it. From feminist book clubs to food cooperatives, I have been an eager member or initiator for all manner of activity groups. Over the years, this “hyperinvolvement” has enabled me to become:

  • a good participant
  • a skilled facilitator
  • a strong but self-aware leader
  • a system creator/corrector
  • a pretty accurate judge of character, and
  • a person with a pretty good ability to think high-level.

As you can imagine, a person who is good at being in groups is often approached to join and start more groups, and so it is that I am fairly regularly being approached to lend a hand in This, That, or The Other initiative. As I am sure you can ALSO imagine, as a wife, mother, and human being with a full-time job at a certain point I run out of steam and have to bow out — usually gracefully but sometimes not so much. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I am definitely in a reluctant bow out/quitting cycle (in order to make time for work, family, marriage, and socializing/sanity restoring self-care) and so I wanted to share some thoughts about it that might be useful to you.

Some Reasons to Bow Out

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of commitment to the cause
  3. Lack of health/well-being
  4. Lack of money
  5. The group has gone in a direction you don’t like.
  6. Loss of momentum/motivation
  7. The group might be better off without you and/or has been overly dependent on you
  8. Conflict with an individual or faction of the group that was unable to be resolved. 

Some Ways to Bow Out

  1. Discussion with the group leader
  2. Friendly note or email to the group
  3. Strongly worded note or email to the group.
  4. A knockdown drag out physical or verbal battle with the individuals with whom you have conflict or the entire group (NOT ADVISED.)

Some Reactions You Should Prepare Yourself For As You Bow Out (and Suggested Responses)

  1. Some people who like you might try to bargain with you to stay on. You’ve already made your decision and you are not likely to change it. Feel free to thank them for their sentiment. You don’t owe them any explanation but can provide one if you wish.
  2. Some individuals may be angry that you are leaving. Again, you don’t owe them anything more than the time you gave to the organization. If they express their anger towards you, you can calmly tell them you are sorry that they feel that way. In some cases, these people may cut you off. It sucks, but it happens and there’s rarely anything you can do about this. I find that trying to pre-empt this or any blowback/blow to your reputation to this usually just makes things worse and, as such, is not advisable.
  3. Some people will be happy that you are leaving. Good for them.
  4. Some people don’t care that you are leaving. Good for them, too.

Some Practical Things to Remember to Do As You Are Bowing Out

  1. Pass along any keys/passwords/accounts for the group, as well as access to any group accounts that you may have in your name.
  2. Have the organization’s administrator remove you from any relevant insurance policies (for board members are usually covered by D&O insurance) as well as an corporate documents.
  3. Make sure you have received reimbursements for any outstanding expenses.
  4. Unsubscribe from the group mailing list (or ask to be unsubscribed).
  5. Clean out any physical or email inbox you might have that will be cut off to you once you are no longer part of the group.
  6. Document or pass along documentation of any systems or materials you put together during your time with the group.
  7. Supply group members with your personal contact information if they have only been using a contact email under the group’s domain (or phone or whatever) to contact you up til now. They may realize that you still have something they need or they might need you to walk them through one or two more little things after you are gone. (I advise you to not let this go on too long).
  8. Do your best to help the group find a successor if they want you to. (This is another one to not let drag on for very long. It is their group now and while you don’t want to leave them high and dry, you can’t be handcuffed to the group indefinitely.)

 Some Things to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Reaffirm your decision. It was well thought-out and you are doing what you feel you need to do right now.
  2.  Remind yourself that you are super capable and experienced and there are always going to be groups that want you to join and people that want to start groups with you. You will join/start something else when you feel the time is right. It’s in your nature.
  3. Hold your head high. You did the best you could during your time with this group.

Some Things Not to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Don’t let the haters get you down or make you feel like you need to do anything rash that you will be ashamed of later on. If a bridge burns maybe it was constructed of the wrong stuff to begin with. When you need to, you can likely cross to the other side by more reliable means.
  2. Don’t beat yourself about your failures or what “could have been”.
  3.  Don’t backpeddle and allow them to rope you in to do “one more thing”. You may be available for a quick call here and there just to help them finish the transition but you are OUT. They will sink or swim without you.
  4. Don’t go rushing out to find something else to join or start. Those opportunities will be there. The decision to join something should be as considered (if not more!) than the decision to bow out. Remember that the organization you found today will be the org you have to bow out of tomorrow (or well, ya know, many tomorrows from then) so CHOOSE WISELY (I wrote about that here.

OK, so what about you? How do you decide to bow out? How do you carry it out?

The Beauty of the Unanswered Question OR the Death of the Black People Head Nod

“How you doing?”

“Sup?”

“What’s happening?”

“What’s good?”

As far back as I can remember, whenever I went out with my father —  be it to the supermarket or the post office, the hardware store or the flea market — whenever he encountered another black person he invariably greeted them with such a question. As we walked along the street he’d do so, adding a wave if it was someone he actually knew. The question was a question only in structure, it was and is rhetorical. It is there to go unanswered or answered with the same (or a similar) question. When in a rush or upon encountering someone who appeared unable or uninterested in speaking, my father would give the nod. It was and is a silent salute, a quick and quiet way to say “I’m black and you’re black and we’re both here.” I grew up with the nod and the greeting, and I knew that was part of the black social contract. From my teenage years onwards, it was something I did as often as I could do, and I especially strived to do in times where I should do it: those times when I encountered another black person in a largely non-black space.

As non-black spaces go, the tech world and open source worlds are right (white) up there. I rarely see people who look like me and when I do they are usually zipping pass in one direction or another with barely a moment to notice my presence. At times like this I try to make eye contact and offer some sort of greeting or at least a nod. The greeting and/or the salute seem to have been fairly well received until quite recently. As of late, I’ve noticed that there is a subset of young black men and women who seem to be quite taken aback when I walk by and quickly dash off a “How you doing?” Just yesterday I looked at a young black man in my co-working space and quickly said, “Hey, how you doing?” He looked at me with deer in head light eyes and responded “Fine and yourself?” Well, I never!  I immediately  felt it to be the equivalent of being shoved down into the dirt. The line was broken and I was cast out to sea!

After I recovered from the initial offense,  I returned to my desk and paused for a moment. Perhaps this young man was totally unaware?

In his BRILLIANT BOOK, How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston speaks of a “black employee known as The Denier”:

This person simply does not acknowledge her race at all, perhaps hoping that by ignoring it, she’ll never have to deal with any negativity associated with her race. While not explicitly combative with you, she’s also unlikely to be a useful ally, especially if she ranks above you. It’s not that she feels threatened by you. It’s that she feels nothing. So she won’t act to improve the situation at the company,either. Your best bet here is to accrue as much power in the company as you can use your position for good and undo some of the damage cause by The Denier’s apathy.

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I’d encountered this before. We all know those lost souls who just can’t or won’t publicly connect to people of their own race for fear of being lumped in with them in bad times or due to some sordid past history. However, until now, it seemed those sorts were the outliers. Now I think their ranks (or ranks of eerily similar ilk) are sadly on the rise. I have actually heard from young black Millennials (who grew up on the storied internet where “nobody knows you’re a dog“) that in many cases, especially the middle and upper class cases, grew up either not really realizing they were black or not thinking about blackness or race or racism. I guess this is what some people talk about when they talk about post-racial. It’s not a change in material reality; it’s a loss of consciousness that is likely only further abstracted by heightened economic class as well as parents who are ethnic Black and want to distance themselves from “lowly” American blacks by waving high their Jamaican or Nigerian or Guinea Bissauian (whathaveyou) flag. These are the black kids that I think are having the most shocking time with this new consciousness around police killings. They grew up around mostly white/non-black kids and did everything right and now their eyes are being opened and it seems they can’t quite compute what they are seeing. Whenever I think of black Millenials, I often think of black Millenial media personality Franchesca Ramsey and her video “Shit White Girls Say” (see below). It’s of course funny on the surface but tragic once you really absorb it and realize that she had to take all that in for years in order to gather such absurd material.

In the face of such offense, such incessant pinpricks of hurt (what some people are calling “microagressions“) what sweet relief it is for me to turn a corner and see a black face and connect for a brief moment. In that head nod and in that unaswered question, I can breathe for a moment. On receiving that salute, I am answering a deeper call. If a sincere answer to “How you doing?” is a mark of racial progress then I am calling the whole effort into question.

Shouldn’t we be pulling more people into the ritual creating a global network of people saluting and asking but never answering?

Acceptance

“What if not just women, but both men and women, worked smart, more flexible schedules? What if the workplace itself was more fluid than the rigid and narrow ladder to success of the ideal worker? And what if both men and women became responsible for raising children and managing the home, sharing work, love, and play? Could everyone then live whole lives?” 
― Brigid SchulteOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Stuff I Would Like to Do/Be Doing These Days
Go thru Think Python and work on Python coding
Audit the Maps and The Geospatial Revolution course on Coursera
Attend more PyLadies NYC Meetups
Get my eyes checked
See a movie in a movie theater
Blog more often
Buy some new pants

Stuff I Must/Most Need to Do These Days
Go to work
Spend time with my family
Keep house (cook, light cleaning, shopping)
Exercise
Watch at least an hour of TV a night
Occasional social engagements
Eat
Sleep

All of this (and more!) has been rattling around in my head for weeks as I have been trying to find a moment to write this post. I recently read (or OK, read most of) Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Play, and Love When Nobody Has The Time. The book had the overall result of making me feel less overwhelmed. Hey! Look at me! I am reading a book! I am not totally bowled over by life! I do not think it is particularly cool to be busy all the time!  That said, I must admit that I read the book while riding the train on the way to work or laying around on the sofa, but most of the things on that top list are not things that can be done on my morning commute or while I waiting for pasta to boil. Most of those things require a longer and more focused period of time, brainpower, and energy — none of which I have right now.  So, I am just trying to take the time to accept that I don’t have the time to do all the things I *want* to do / feel I should be doing right now this very instant. I am also sitting with the fact that I might never have the time to learn how to code and frankly I have no great need to know how to code nor do I have any problems that I believe I could code my way out of. In fact, I almost think coding could unearth problems that would just open the door to a bunch of new stressors.

So that’s that.

None of this is to say I feel calm and guilt-free about it, but the direction I am going in is not towards finding the time to do the things on the top list but instead in accepting the fact that the life I live and love is comprised of all the things on the bottom list.

Although I think I *can* reasonably squeeze in the pants purchase if I play my cards right.

Have Family, Will Travel

I recently got back from a week-long all-staff trip, where I had all day (8:30-5:30) meetings and company dinners nearly every night and somewhere in the middle of it I squeezed in time with my husband and son, who were gracious enough to come along. The last time we had an all-staff, my kid was still under a year old and I was still pumping so I only ended up staying for two out of the five days. While I was glad that my company was flexible enough to allow me that schedule, I soon realized I’d missed out on a lot of important sessions. So this time around I decided to just ask my husband to come down with me.

This was an interesting experience and I thought there were enough lessons learned to share with others who might be considering doing the same. ‘

Business Travel with Family – The Good Stuff
1) MORNINGS – Waking up with my whole family was a nice way to start the day. I had breakfast with them most mornings before going down to the meetings. I felt like it put me in a good head space for the day ahead.
2) SLEEP – Since we were all in one hotel room, we all went to sleep pretty much when the kiddo went to sleep. This meant I was well-rested and refreshed every morning. By contrast, many of my co-workers used the evenings to socialize, enjoy the city, and stay out a bit too late (those of you who know how close the tie can be between drinking and tech know what I might mean).
3) SWITCHING OFF – After a day of non-stop meetings it can be hard to get my mind out of work mode, but with my husband and child there it provided an immediate context switch. I met up with them and found how their day of exploring the city went and shut down my thoughts/concerns/ideas about work for the day.
4) BEING HUMAN – On the first night we had an all-staff dinner that I was able to bring my family along to.  I was happy that my co-workers were able to see me being a mother and a wife in addition to their capable and hardworking colleague. My company is very geographically dispersed and sometimes it feels like we are just talking to faceless voices on the other end of the conference call line. Gathering for the all-staff once a year is a wonderful chance to put a face and personality to a voice and an email address and I can only hope that seeing me toddler-wrangler a bit will help to humanize me a bit more to people who might not actually be in a room with me again for another 12 months.
5) DOUBLE DUTY – It was nice to know my family was out doing something fun and new while I was working. They thoroughly enjoyed their time exploring this (new to them) city.

Business Travel with Family – The Tough Stuff 
1) NO R& R – I can’t lie. I love a good hotel stay. I love using their plush industrially cleaned towels and soaking in their deep tubs and watching trashy TV while lounging in a king sized bed. When I business travel — especially since having a kid — it is a nice chance for “me” time. Travelling with family meant that I was never really alone. That said, I was able to steal one soak. Ahhh,
2) AFTER HOURS – As anyone in business knows, a lot of the important discussions can happen off the clock when people are being casual. Travelling with my family meant that once the clock switched off, I wasn’t really putting in much extra time with my co-workers. I was more focused on making sure my kid got a bath and into bed at time. While I don’t regret the time spent with my family this past week, it’s hard not to feel like I missed out a bit.
3) TRAVEL WITH TODDLER – Travelling with a toddler is tough. He is a great child (sweet, gentle, good eater, good sleeper) and he in fact slept quite a bit on the flight, but he is a toddler, which means he is fidgety and loud and full of energy and wants to touch and play with everything. It was a short flight but I could not get off the plane or out of the cabs fast enough, both going and coming. Also, childproofing the hotel room was a daily struggle. He kept finding things to get into.

All in all, I am really glad we went as a family. The pros greatly outweighed the cons and while I sometimes felt overwhelmed or underinvested at moments, I think I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. I surely can’t do this all the time, but when it makes sense I hope I can do it again.

Recent Thoughts and Reads

How’d it get to be February already? Geez.

Things are good around these parts. I’ve been working and reading a little and hanging with my guys and skipping through snowflakes. Oh winter! Here are some things I’ve been thinking about.

I just caught this great discussion on NPR’s On Being with physicist Brian Greene. He’s a spirited guy and I especially like how they touch upon the popular approaches to getting more young people into STEM seem to be borne out of fear of America “falling behind” rather than a sense of the importance and pure joy of scientific pursuits.

Slightly dated (2011) but still informative (especially in light of recent discussions of data breaches and public cloud) breakdown of various cloud technologies from Simon Wardley’s dense and educational blog.

Cleaning out my inbox, I stumbled across a link to  Gunnar’s New to Open Source Reading List that I’d sent to myself three weeks before I gave birth. I somehow thought (hoped?) I’d be able to get some reading done during maternity leave. Well it’s a week before my kid’s first birthday and I am just getting around to giving it a second glance. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

The Center for the Public Domain put out a list of books that could have gone into the public domain this year were it not for the 1976 Copyrightwrong Act.

Finally, for those of you who are still scratching your head about what we actually do at Boundless, here is a really informative writeup of one of our biggest current projects, the ROGUE project for the US Army. It is a distributed system for gathering, updating and sharing geospatial data from terrain to desktop.

New Year – New Links

Interesting Links & Recent Thoughts

  • Save time this year (and always) with Betteridge’s Law –  Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist, although the general concept is much older. The observation has also been called “Davis’ law or just the “journalistic principle”. (Thanks, Gunnar!)
  • Location Based Messaging? My family recently got back from vacation in California. It would have been really helpful to send out a note of some sort or an email or a text to everyone I know who lives there or happened to be there at the time so I could let them know I was there and then perhaps coordinate to meet. Does anyone know of any sort of location based friend-messaging service? Maybe from Google?
  • Open Source Finishing School – I just mentioned to dear friend Karl Fogel that I think there is a valid market out there for organizations who want to use open source but are afraid and people who want to sell open source but are uncertain of how to assuage aforementioned fears. In my experience, most lawyers dealing with tech are either fervent cheerleaders for traditional IP approaches, clueless and/or wary of open source. More guidance is needed! The work Karl is doing at Open Tech Strategies is surely one organization doing this sort of thing, but they are a small shop. Does anyone know of any other such organizations? Also, Karl, when can we expect some case studies and customer testimonials?
  • More Leaning In About Lean InPalo Alto Software’s Sabrina Parsons weighs in on the neverending Lean In debate. 

    “So, lean in, but do so while nursing your baby, or while your son sleeps on the couch in your office because he’s feeling sick — and don’t apologize for it. Pursue your goals, take risks, and go above and beyond, but don’t give up your role as a mother, wife (or husband, for that matter), and community member to do so. We can do better.”