Working at home

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Cara V. James’s name and incorrectly named her place of employment. This version has been corrected.

My 16-year-old daughter recently fussed at me, saying that when we talked she felt like I was grilling her. She said I ask too many questions. She said she feels like I’m the “work me,” interviewing her like I might interview a source for my column. Leave the “work me” at work, she urged, and then she’ll open up to me more.

Wow. I never really saw our conversations that way. But was I mining for information like I would when I report for my column?

It turns out that I, and so many others, bring our work personalities and skills home with us when maybe we should be less, well, work-oriented around our family.

“People accomplished so much professionally but struggle to stay connected at home,” Brené Brown wrote in The Washington Post’s On Leadership blog. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, blogged recently that professionals often unknowingly fail to turn off the instincts that serve them well at work.

“As someone who is intimately familiar with overachieving, I recognize the angst behind the questions I hear from men and women who have accomplished so much professionally but struggle to stay connected personally,” Brown wrote. “Questions ranging from ‘Why am I so engaged at work, yet I feel increasingly disconnected from my wife and children?’ to ‘How do I turn off the self-critical instincts that serve me as a leader?’ I don’t want to be that kind of mother.”

Many employees put on certain armor before heading into work, but peeling off the armor when they get home is hard.

“This emotional armor we bring to work is heavy, and the weaponry takes a long time to assemble, so when we get home in the evenings, we don’t put it away,” Brown wrote. “It’s too much trouble, and, frankly, it’s too risky. Home can also be a place where performing and perfecting are expected.”

Does this sound like you?

For this week’s Color of Money question: Do you have trouble turning off the “work you” when you get home? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Working at Home” in the subject line.

Baby On Board -- Bye-Bye, Job?

If you’re pregnant, when is the right time to let a potential new employer know you’re expecting? This was a recent question posed to The Washington Post @Work Advice columnist Karla Miller.

“I am in the early stages of a job search and in the early stages of pregnancy,” the reader wrote. “I don’t want to start a job with the perception that I was deceptive, but I don’t want to give potential employers grounds for discrimination, even if they do not intend to discriminate.”

It would be easy to tell this woman to be truthful, but the situation is “a complicated algorithm of legal, practical and ethical issues, and there’s no one right solution,” Miller said.

In the end Miller provided two courses of action:

-- Keep the pregnancy secret while you “discreetly gauge how mommy-friendly the place is and how well it could absorb your absence.”

-- Tell the employer after you get an offer. “There’s no guarantee the offer won’t somehow be withdrawn,” Miller said. “But if the employer says, ‘No problem, when can you start?’ Make sure you spend your pre-maternity-leave months earning goodwill as a star performer.”

What do you think, tell or don’t tell? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Baby on Board” in the subject line.

The Dollars Add Up

Financial experts often tell people to cut their expenses by watching what they spend on lunch or snacks at work. It’s an easy place to cut, but it might be even easier after you see the total annual savings from a recent survey by Accounting Principals, reported by Ruth Mantell of Market Watch.com:

-- Half of the people polled spend about $1,000 a year to buy coffee regularly at work.

-- About two-thirds of workers spend almost $2,000 a year buying lunch.

Think about what some of that coffee and lunch money can do for your retirement savings, Mantell wrote.

“By saving $3,000 every year — that’s $250 a month — you’ll have a nest egg of $90,000 in three decades,” she points out. “You’ll have to spend some cash on coffee- and lunch-makings at home. But the rest can be used to fund, say, a grandchild’s college education.”

So, consider giving yourself a raise by watching what you spend at work.

Celebrity Cash: Family Feud

Comedian Tracy Morgan has been criticized recently after his mother, Alicia Warden, said her son was not helping to save her Ohio home from foreclosure. Warden owes less than $25,000 on the home and said she reached out to Morgan for help, but to no avail.

Morgan released a statement about his mother’s financial situation saying, “I am saddened that these untrue stories about me have people questioning my commitment to my family.”

For last week’s Color of Money questions, I asked: “Have you been in a situation similar to Morgan, and if so, what happened?”

“It’s nice to be able to help your family, but it’s also draining and frustrating to watch them make the same or similar mistakes with the expectation that you or someone will bail them out,” wrote Adrienne Washington of Oxon Hill, Md.

Her story: “My mother is medically retired and lives with me. Growing up, and even as an adult, I’ve watched her squander money over the years. She’s overdrawn bank accounts, closed them and opened others with the same results. Prior to her living with me, I’ve had to bail her out several times, moved in with her to ensure she would not be evicted from a rental home, and on and on. She received a credit card in December, and she promptly went over the $2,000 limit within a month. Its unfortunate that Morgan’s mother is in that situation. But, rich relative or not, at what point does the individual take true responsibility for their bad money management choices?”

B. Edwards of Odenton, Md., said: “My extended family knows I will not give them money, so they no longer ask. However, this wasn’t always the case, but I learned the hard way that ‘I’ll pay you back’ has no deadline.”

“I’ve recently faced a similar situation with my nephew who is 20 years old,” said Kia Ray of Washington. “He and his girlfriend can barely pay their bills since they are in [poorly paid] jobs due to lack of education and focus. During Christmas time, my nephew asked me to cover his rent to the tune of $700. I had to decline. I’m not sure why he’d assume I’d have that type of money lying around, especially during the holidays, but he needs to understand rent should be paid before anything else. The other stuff can be worked out.”

Robin Ann Horner of Strasburg, Pa., said she helps family with food and other necessities.

“I don’t know if it was ever really appreciated but it was something I felt I had to do,” she wrote. “Family member or not I feel we are on this earth to help each other. But I never would bow to a demand for money. What is given should be given willingly.”

Upcoming Events

--On Wednesday, Feb. 29, I will be moderating The Washington Post’s Behind the Headlines discussion “Peeling Backs the Labels: Black Women in America.” The event will be held at Howard University in the Armour J. Blackburn University Center, 2397 Sixth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20059. The program will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited. To RSVP, e-mail behindtheheadlines@washpost.com.

Panelists include Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor at Howard University; Cara V. James, director of the Disparities Policy Project for Kaiser Family Foundation; Rahiel Tesfamariam, founder and editorial director of UrbanCusp.com; and Krissah Thompson, national news staff writer for The Washington Post.

“The Revolution”

I had a blast playing a judge recently during one of my regular personal finance segments on the new ABC daytime program

“The Revolution.” Take a look at Michelle’s Money Court.

If you have a financial issue and you’re interested in being part of the show, e-mail casting@the-revolution.com and put “Parents Finance” in the subject line. You can also e-mail me at colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “The Revolution” in the subject line.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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