Pilar Guzman is the editor in chief of Martha Stewart Living. (She was also the former editor in chief of the amazing Cookie magazine; did you guys ever read it?) She lives with her husband and two sons—Henry, 8 1/2, and Willem, 6—in Brooklyn. Here’s how she attempts to find balance…
1. What’s your work schedule?
I drop my kids off at school and jump on the subway, get to work about 9:45 and leave by 6 most nights, which always creeps up. I sometimes work a bit at home after they go to bed. I speak at conferences and universities, which requires me to travel several times a year; I also have to travel for sales calls in L.A., Chicago and Detroit. These trips are usually a day or so, and I try to work it so that my husband is around. All is okay in my world if our boys get tucked in by and wake up with a minimum of one parent.
2. How do you handle childcare?
We have a sitter who picks up the boys after school, takes them to their various activities, playdates, lessons, etc. We found someone who was in school getting her PhD in bio engineering. She’s a wonderful human being and role model. She essentially raised her two brothers, which means she gets the boy thing and can basically build a robot. I think of all of the influences of the people in my kids’ lives and love the idea of their getting things that they don’t get from us, like, say, a real understanding and love of math!
3. When do you typically hang with your boys?
We start early in the mornings and have long breakfasts—smoothies, omelettes, soft-boiled eggs and soldiers, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, green juice (sweetened for kids with apples and carrots). We live close to school so there isn’t a terrible rush most days. I’m home most evenings (my husband is a magazine publisher and does a fair amount of client entertaining, so many nights it’s just me). We eat dinner, read books, tickle backs, and I often fall asleep with one of my boys, hate to admit.
4. I love that you “tickle backs.”
Just this morning my little one, Willem, came into bed with us early as he usually does. He asked me to tickle his back. As I started to tickle his back in a half-sleep, he caught himself and said, “No, Mom, let me tickle your back.” I’d like to think that all of the nights I’ve stroked their backs as they’ve fallen asleep have been internalized, and have turned them into people who are as happy to give affection as they are to be on the receiving end. Of course, some mornings aren’t so sweet—with our boys taunting each other and driving us crazy!
5. Do you have any family rituals you enjoy all together?
Friday movie night with takeout sushi (sometimes pizza) is the highlight of my week.
6. What kind of movies?
The last one we watched was Dolphin Tale, a feel-good movie about a misfit boy and his relationship with a dolphin, who has to adjust to a prosthetic tail. Not a dry eye in the house.
7. What do you like best about your current setup?
We have lots of family around—my in-laws live in the neighborhood, we share a house with my brother-and sister-in-law, and my mom comes into town every six weeks. We have a lot of very close friends who live nearby. As cliched as it sounds, it’s as close to a “village” as one can get in modern day New York.
8. How do you and your husband fit your marriage into the balance?
I wish we were better about date night, but both of us usually just want more family time when we’re free. We have managed to take long weekends alone every year—Miami, Paris, Great Barrington—which amazingly keeps its charge for a long time. The marriage is an ongoing project. You need mantras like “stop before you snip” and don’t be passive aggressive—either be aggressive and have the confrontation or let it go. Sarcasm (passive aggression in joker’s clothing) is death to the marriage; we are trying to excise it from our home. Not easy. Nice underwear, a regular(ish) wax.
We’re also fans of the day (vs. night) date. Nothing like walking around on a Saturday to make you feel unencumbered. There’s a lot of pressure at night not to yawn.
9. Do you have time for yourself?
Not much. There’s usually a small person breathing though the crack of the door while I’m in the bathroom. I find it at night once the boys are down and my husband is out of town.
10. Who handles dinner?
I make dinner, but not out of maternal martyrdom but because food is my obsession. I tend to do a lot of prep on the weekends—lentils, pasta sauce, marinating chicken or fish—so I have building blocks for the week. On the other hand, some nights it’s egg sandwiches for dinner. I’m not precious, I just love good food.
11. Any advice for new moms?
I would say, at least for me, that it’s better to work at home after the kids go to bed than to miss bedtime. I often leave the office with everything still in high gear, and papers fluttering in my wake, in order to get out the door at 6/6:30. I save longer email responses for the subway and bigger thinking for after kids go to bed. Whatever writing I do, I do after hours once kids are down. As many of my colleagues will attest, it’s about at 9pm when my brain is clear enough for good creative thinking. They start getting my “what if we do X or try Y for the next issue.”
I also feel like you should make no apology for leaving at a decent hour when possible (of course, there are always exceptions and some late nights). People who work until 10pm every night because they are trying to log in face time should know that managers will question their efficiency. You should be able to get your work done in an eight-hour day, unless you are up against a crazy project deadline. The key is to over-communicate with colleagues, and get some stuff done early so that you have leeway when the unpredictables (fevers, lice outbreaks) rear their heads. Granted, it depends on the business you are in; some office cultures are more sympathetic to mothers than others. But if you are good at what you do, are efficient and organized, you probably won’t give your boss a reason to question your work, and leaving at what is by the world’s standards a decent hour.
Thank you so much, Pilar.
P.S. Last summer’s first balance series about moms who work from home.