Q: How Does She Do It? A: A Huge Staff

I can't tell you how many articles I've read about juggling work and family, but I do believe work-family advice from GOOP is the most entertaining. GOOP is the oft-mocked website of Gwyneth Paltrow, whose name I am incapable of spelling correctly on the first shot.

Goop
For this week's newsletter, Paltrow asks two of her girlfriends, Stella McCarthy and a venture capitalist out in California, to describe their juggling acts. Stella's life sounds the most normal, despite it obviously being not normal. The venture capitalist woman's advice for juggling work and life are the most clueless — get a weekly blow out, try to have dinner with the children 3 times a week, make a spreadsheet, so some mysterious little elves can correctly pack the children's suitcases for vacation.

It was a fascinating glimpse at how the other-half lives. I signed up for her newsletter.

41 thoughts on “Q: How Does She Do It? A: A Huge Staff

  1. What is a weekly blow-out? I’m guessing not a tire puncture. And, since you tricked me into reading the newsletter, I think it has something to do with hair.

  2. “What is a weekly blow-out?”
    That also puzzled me. Not going to look it up. I suspect that whatever it is, if I got one, people would assume that I’d ridden several hours in a convertible with the top down.
    “…make a spreadsheet, so some mysterious little elves can correctly pack the children’s suitcases for vacation.”
    There is something to that. Every time we travel as a family, I wind up making a new list of 50-60 items or categories that we MUST take. It would be somewhat helpful to hold on to that, rather than crossing stuff off and throwing it away. But then I’d need to find the master list and keep updating it every year.

  3. I have packing spreadsheets on my computer. I didn’t think it was all that odd. It’s just a list, albeit one I keep on my computer in XL format.
    I used to really use it, but have now gotten more efficient about what I know we need to have (and, my daughter packs her own stuff, and husband packs the boy’s stuff).
    I wish I had elvish unpackers, though. After our last trip I was almost considering the possibility that about half of my gadgety electronics (remotes, cables, chargers) had been stolen when I discovered that they were in a different little bag.

  4. I think newsletters that talked more openly about the “staff” who help would be comforting, not annoying.
    I think the other thing apparent in the investment person’s list is the behavior of the other people in her life, especially the small and inefficient ones. It’s fabulous that she can put her makeup on and be ready to go in 15 minutes. I can do that to (well, by skipping the make up, and just brushing my teeth). But, I can’t make the little boy who has to ask a hundred questions before breakfast (and not just think of 6 impossible things) get ready with that efficiency.

  5. A blow out is when your hair dresser makes your hair straight by pulling on your hair with a big round brush, while pointing a hair dryer at the roots. It looks good, but it’s time consuming and expensive. The day before I go away to a conference, I’ll schedule my once every 3 month haircut. Lenny will give me a bow out. (sounds dirty, doesn’t it?) it takes 50 minutes. A high end hair dresser charges $100-200 min.
    This poor woman says that she tries to spend 1-1/2 hours with her kids every day, but she schedules 1 hour for hair and 70 minutes for weekly pedicures and facials. She might spend more of her day on maintenance and making schedules for the nannies then she spends with her kids. Dreadfully sad for her.

  6. She doesn’t seem sad, Laura, and she doesn’t seem to regret the time allocations, either. I’m with bj, though, I wish she’d be upfront about who’s doing the grunt work. For example, she tries to spend 15 minutes at breakfast with her kids, and she then tells us her breakfast recipes. Do her kids eat steel-cut oatmeal and protein shakes every day? Mine did, for a while, and then they wanted something else. Regardless, it takes more than 15 minutes to get them fed. Who’s changing the diapers when the toddler wakes up? Who’s making sure they’re ready to hop in the car?
    That window at the end of the day — if “family dinner night” is an all-day Experience involving menu planning and a trip to the farmer’s market, then I’m guessing that someone else is doing the cooking the other days. Kid time is 6 to 7:30 — does that include any grunt work, like folding their laundry or picking up their toys or giving them baths or going into their rooms twenty times because the blankets are too hot or the night light’s too bright or they saw a scary shadow on the ceiling?
    It’s not necessarily sad that she’s delegating all that. There are pieces of the daily grind that I would delegate in a heartbeat if I had the cash. (I FANTASIZE about hiring a full-time chef, to whom I could say, here are my mealtime dreams, now you plan a menu and do the shopping and have the food on the table at this time. FANTASIZE about it.) But if I were invited by my good friend Gwynnie to write about how I make it all work, I would not be able to pretend to myself that it was possible without at least two other people doing some of the work. Maybe it’s a stay-at-home spouse. Maybe it’s a staff.
    Come on. Just be honest about that. You don’t have to go the Caitlin Flanagan route and agonize over whether skipping baths makes you a Bad Mother, I promise. I know that venture capitalists have busy lives. Admit it.
    (I have short, fine hair. A blowout makes no difference to me one way or another. But I’ve been reading lately that women in the States wash and dry their hair far too many times a week.)

  7. “You don’t have to go the Caitlin Flanagan route and agonize over whether skipping baths makes you a Bad Mother, I promise.”
    A couple of times, I’ve asked pediatricians whether I should bathe the kids more and gotten a no. “Does she look dirty?” said the pediatrician, and indeed she didn’t. I wash and condition daughter dearest’s hair about three times a week these days (it makes mornings easier to have shiny, smooth hair), but I’m not totally sure when I last bathed her younger brother. If he fails a sniff test, he’ll get a bath tout suite.
    “But I’ve been reading lately that women in the States wash and dry their hair far too many times a week.”
    Here is a conversation I once overheard between a long-haired, shirt-unbuttoned 20-something Balkan guy and a 40-ish American woman.
    20-something Balkan guy: I wash my hair once a month.
    40-ish American woman: I wash mine every day.
    20-something Balkan guy: And it looks like shit.

  8. Amy P, just to clarify, Flanagan wrote this whole long article about how she let the nanny do baths, and she wondered if that made her a crappy mother or not.
    Does anyone know what happened to Flanagan? After the “my husband carried me in his arms after I got breast cancer, which proves that my decision to be a SAHM was the right one [because WOHM mothers’ spouses might have left them to take the subway home after cancer surgery]” article, she sort of dropped off the map. Loathsome as I found her, I hope it’s not for any horrific personal reason.

  9. Laura, thank you for reading such things, so we don’t have to! It’s really how the other 0.15% lives. It would be gracious to acknowledge the staff by name–not just the office staff.
    Fascinating that their live are all so brand-conscious. Are they being paid for product placement, or are their minds cluttered up with brand identities?

  10. “their minds cluttered up with brand identities?”
    This, I think. It would be nicer, I think if they were being paid. Note, though the juxtaposition of Oriental Trading Company (sunday school crafting) and papo d’anjou, where you can buy underwear for kids for $11 a piece (I don’t know if they’re hand made in portugal.)
    Seems to me like the venture capitalist is basically using the old English (European?) style of child raising in which children’s needs are cared for by others and are brought out for display. It’s a form of benign neglect, and might be fine for the children.
    But, given that I didn’t need to reproduce either for dynastic reasons nor for lack of access to methods of preventing pregnancy, I’ve never seen the point of having children that way.
    And, I understand what a blow-out is now. I realize I’ve heard of it before, and was terribly disappointed to learn that the straight blonde hair of a friend didn’t just come that way. Straight shiny Asian hair can actually come with almost no upkeep.

  11. Our kids generally shower once a week. I defy you to be able to tell. This will change as S reaches puberty, but she also can take care of her own showering without being reminded.

  12. This poor woman says that she tries to spend 1-1/2 hours with her kids every day, but she schedules 1 hour for hair and 70 minutes for weekly pedicures and facials. She might spend more of her day on maintenance and making schedules for the nannies then she spends with her kids. Dreadfully sad for her.
    She says 1.5 hours of quality, focused time every evening, in addition to the time she spends with them in the morning. So say 2 hours per day, most of which is high quality.
    You’ve mentioned Steve regularly gets home after at 7. Presumably the boys, at least your youngest, don’t go to bed too much later than 9. How much daily, devoted face time is he getting with them? Do you feel dreadfully sad for him?

  13. He gets home @6:30. Yeah, I do feel sad for him and he feels sorry for himself. He would LOVE to work a more laid back job and get home an hour earlier and leave 2 hours later. He’s talking with head hunters. Unlike this woman, he never works in the evening or on weekends. He’s doing homework with the kids right now. He called at 3:00 to find out their day went. I had 2 meetings with teachers this week; he was on speaker phone throughout the meetings. He makes their sandwiches every night before bed. He gets 2-1/2 hours of quality time with the kids and I’ve been with them since 3.
    She says she TRIES to spend 1-1/2 hours with her kids every night. Which means that’s a goal, not a reality.

  14. I also find this woman’s priorities sad. Even though she hasn’t seen her kids all day, he still spends 70 mins getting facials and pedicure. She puts personal maintenance above time with her kids. Sorry, but this totally alien to me.

  15. “Do you feel dreadfully sad for him?”
    Well, I don’t know about Laura, but I feel sorry for Steve. When we first had children, my husband actually envisioned having the children brought to him at careful intervals. But, after, he fell in love with them, and feels sad about too much time away from them, very sad.
    I’m intrigued by the concept of quality focused time. It never really worked in my family, because my kids actively rebelled against being scheduled (though, of course, I might also not have been focused enough).
    It’s clear that one piece of advice I’ve heard given over and over again by women who do manage to combine high profile work and children is that they *have* learned how to focus on the task they’re working on at that moment — work when it’s work, and home when it’s home. de Baubigny describes that style. I think it takes a particular kind of personality to emulate that style. They have an ability to be in the moment, and to switch from moment to moment rapidly (i.e. they transition well). de Baubigny’s work day, with meetings and lots of tasks and a “blur” describes the same kind of time. We can chose whether *we* can thrive/tolerate on that kind of schedule, but we can’t always chose the same thing for our children. Some children might mesh well, and others might not (just like with chinese-mom parenting).
    On other details of the picture we get, de Baubigny says 6-7:30 is family time as *often as she can make it*. I’d love to see a time journal describing not a typical day, but a series of real days. How often does she go out in the evening, for example?

  16. This is interesting. I was turned off by the venture capitalist (constantly talking about doing things at “key” moments…) but I thought she actually knew what it was like to want to be home and not be able to. We don’t know: maybe she’s a single mom? Maybe she’s the breadwinner? I thought some of her ideas (the spreadsheets…the birthday cards, the medical appointment days) were not terrible and reflect reality. Clearly, she has a lot of time pressure, as actual working people do. I know a couple of business women who are like her, and they are annoying, but they do Get It. I wonder how the COO of Facebook does it…I’ll bet she is super well organized.
    G and Stella barely have that. Stella, maybe, she has a company she’s responsible for, but if Gwyneth’s kids are sick she can just drop everything and stay home (unless she’s on set, probably). That for me is the difference between someone who can understand that kind of time pressure and someone who can’t.
    but I agree that the venture capitalist’s priorities aren’t mine, but we don’t know if her husband is with the kids more and I think that if women want to be Venture capitalists and support companies built by people like Caterina Fake (who started Flickr) they have to do the work in this world (until they are the boss and they can cut back, if they want to). I think that is perfectly fine. there is really only rationally enough time in the week for two parents to work 80 hours (combined: maybe 50 hours one person, 30 hours another). Once it goes beyond that, you have a problem.
    but yeah, the whole thing was ridiculous. Maybe Gwyneth could have interviewed her kids’ teacher or something…does she even notice those people exist?
    The only reason Amy Chua could do what she did is she was a tenured professor in a law school. so she made a relative bundle and aside from maybe 10 hours a week, had tons of flexibility. I think she worked more than 10 hours a week, but she only had to be somewhere 10-15 hours a week. really. so she could yell at her kids until 9 pm and then work until 2 am at home (or even in the law school, which is open all night for professors).

  17. I got off topic on the comment section. The reason that I found this newsletter remarkable was A. the complete ignorance that these women have atypical lives and B. the refusal to admit that they have live-in nannies, chefs, housecleaners, organizers, and personal assistants who do vast amounts of work. Not to mention personal trainers that show up at your door at 7.
    Well, I hope these women are a little bit embarrassed. Huff Post picked up this newsletter and mocked it, too.

  18. Those poor kids:
    “A great time saver is to make steel cut oatmeal, put it in a ceramic bread loaf pan and slice it each morning, add a drizzle of maple syrup, milk and 45 seconds in the microwave—healthy breakfast in seconds and I can make it last over 3 – 4 days!”
    Maybe “steel cut” oatmeal is much different from the stuff my mom used to make every winter morning, but that sounds terrible!

  19. I hope they were embarrassed too. It’s along the lines of the celebs who are back to their “fighting” weight six weeks after having a baby. I could have done that too if I had a c section in my 8th month to avoid that last bit of weight gain, a fulltime live-in chef, a home gym, 24 hour nanny care plus a trainer and most importantly, the luck of the genetics lottery.
    Look, I get that when your job is your looks, you are invested in looking your best as soon as possible. But like this newsletter, to imply that you do it without a team of paid staff is ridiculous.
    And their ignorance of their atypical lives reminds me of a fundraising meeting back in the day (I was the fundraiser) when the “target” asked in all innocence and curiosity, “how can people live on less than $100,000 a year”!

  20. Maybe “steel cut” oatmeal is much different from the stuff my mom used to make every winter morning, but that sounds terrible!
    Unless your mom made Irish oatmeal, it is different. Back in the day, oatmeal was rolled oats or instant oats, both of which have the grain smashed to bits. Steel cut oats have a very substantial texture (for oatmeal) and a richer flavor (again, for oatmeal). I never eat any other kind. I’ve also never tried making a loaf out of it. It isn’t very hard to cook, but you have to watch the pot. I use 1 part oats, 1 part water, 1 part skim milk and a pinch of salt. Bring it all to a boil and then simmer until it looks like oatmeal, stirring a very frequently.

  21. “Maybe “steel cut” oatmeal is much different from the stuff my mom used to make every winter morning”
    Yeah, it’s totally different, though I didn’t know why. It’s more granola like in texture and quite yummy. Might be fine left over, too, though I think you wouldn’t add the milk until you ate it.

  22. I’m surprised about folks complaining about the staff not being mentioned. They are mentioned (the trainer, the nannies). Now, I’d love to see a full list of staff (trainer, nanny, cook?, driver?).
    And, why would we expect Gwyneth Paltrow to be typical? Of course she’s not. And, she can’t think she is, either, right? Her main activity on her busy day was to select outfits for public appearances, a task that took hours (and, I think, we recognize might have needed to take hours, since that’s in fact what she does). People read this stuff for the voyeurism. It’s our version of following royalty.
    My complaints are folks beliefs that this might reflect 1% or even .5% of the population, when in fact, people like Stella McCartney, Paltrow, and de Baubigny are really an even more elite sample. People who make a million dollars a year in earned income don’t live like that. Or at least, many of them don’t.

  23. Home: did I have dinner with my children at least 3 times during the week? Did I read to them at least 5 times in a seven day period? My Husband: Did we have at least one dinner on our own or with great friends? Did we find time to take a walk/run/bike ride together?
    School run, 5 days a week: 1 hr. 15 minutes.
    Dinner, “at least” 3 times a week (note: goal!) : 4.5 hours
    Reading, at least 5 times: 1 hr. 15 minutes (although could be folded into 1.5 hours of “quality time.”
    Is seven hours a week enough to be a parent? I don’t think that amount of time would be considered humane, or long enough to maintain a bond, if we were speaking of puppies. Yes, the physical care can be outsourced, but parenting is more than brushing teeth.
    I hope that the family has long-term, dependable nannies who’ve been with them since birth. Children will bond to the adults they rely upon. Perhaps there’s a stay-at-home dad in the picture, in which case the children have a reliable parent. Powerful people often marry other busy, powerful people, though, so I’m not counting on it.

  24. “Even though she hasn’t seen her kids all day, he still spends 70 mins getting facials and pedicure. She puts personal maintenance above time with her kids. Sorry, but this totally alien to me.”
    See, I don’t actually have a problem with this, as long as her kids are OK with it. And, one of my most important lessons of motherhood is that Ms. de B. gets to decide whether her children are happy, unless I have significant evidence to the contrary.
    Kids, some of them anyway, are pretty selfish about any time their moms spend away from them. de B. seems to want to spend her time having pedicures, another mother might choose photography, blogging, or reading a book. All of them count as personal time, a necessary component of life. I think there’s a tendency for work/home balance to be stolen from personal time (sleeping, grooming, relaxing).

  25. It’s fun to mock, though. And, I think it’s one of the responsibilities of “royalty”, to graciously accept being mocked. Of course, they can live private lives (the Gates’ do, I believe). But, if folks chose not to, we get to mock them if we want, or at least the version of themselves they put out in public.

  26. She didn’t exactly sound like someone I’d be BFF with (or even stand talking to) but I think the comments are pretty harsh. She mentioned 70 minutes- she didn’t say every day or even every week. We don’t know how often she does that.
    My husband usually leaves before the kids are up and all but one day is home at 6:30. Our kids are in bed by 8:00. So he gets 1 1/2 hours per day except on Thurs. I’m home by 3:00. We’re trying to make things different for my husband (fingers crossed) and he saves a ton of time thanks to male-patterned baldness, but I don’t feel sorry for him. He does about 2/3 of the sick time and almost all pediatrician visits and gets a ton of vacation time.
    Her situation doesn’t sound like my ideal but she’s reading to her kids and values the family dinner and healthy eating. I know an awful lot of kids who are picked up from after-care close to 6:00 and they’re doing great.

  27. It’s fun to mock, though. And, I think it’s one of the responsibilities of “royalty”, to graciously accept being mocked. Of course, they can live private lives (the Gates’ do, I believe). But, if folks chose not to, we get to mock them if we want, or at least the version of themselves they put out in public.
    Sure, I’m hardly arguing that it’s unfair or indecent to mock. But it does reek of middle class status anxiety more than legitimate concern for the welfare of her children.

  28. Well, it would be impolite to mock those who were of a lower class than ones self.
    But, I think the mocking joy comes from mocking those who should be members of the “top-out-of-sight” class but make themselves too visible.

  29. I know a lot of kids who are picked up from after-care close to 6:00 and they’re doing great.
    There’s a difference in parents working all the time because they must, to keep food on the table and pay the mortgage, and parents working all the time for status, or to afford luxuries. Kids can tell the difference.
    There is some truth to the “poor little rich kid” stereotypes. At one time, the “nanny model” of childraising allowed upperclass women to go to parties, etc. At that time, no one expected dads to share in child care.
    It’s very, very difficult to have two high-powered careers. Something has to give, and in the business world, at the highest levels, you are expected to be full-time, not part-time.

  30. “I know a lot of kids who are picked up from after-care close to 6:00 and they’re doing great.”
    I don’t know that we know who is “doing great” until the kids themselves are grandparents.
    This discussion reminds me of a cartoon from The Oatmeal that Catherine Johnson of Kitchen Table Math posted a link to. It’s called “Cat vs Internet.”
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cat_vs_internet
    To summarize, there’s a cat and a man on his laptop. No matter what cute or smart things the cat does to get the man to play with it (a presentation with a chart and bullet points, a bat signal, etc.), the man ignores the cat and stays glued to his laptop. Finally, the cat gives up, goes to the next room and starts loudly attacking an armchair. The man runs in, starts playing with the cat, and the cat declares victory. To analogize, if a child feels ignored when she is “doing great”, there is no better way of getting attention than to start having problems. That may not be the case with the children Lee is thinking of, but at this point, who knows? As Mao is supposed to have said about the French Revolution, it’s too soon to say. And on a happier note, that works the other way around, too. Lots of kids turn out better than anybody would have expected, given enough time.

  31. Here’s my big question: why even have kids if you’re not interested in spending time with them? My anecdata tell me that modern parenting looks like such a pain to non-parents, only those really committed to it are jumping in. (At least in the chattering classes.)
    I see the statistics about half of modern pregnancies being unplanned and I think, how is it that I know absolutely none of these people? Other than a few surprising younger siblings, I don’t know anyone who had kids without overtly opting for it. And it’s true that the statistics are really dated; Guttmacher is giving the percentage of unplanned pregnancies at 49% but is also saying that’s an estimate for 1994 – a long time ago.
    This is my way of saying that people used to follow the model of outsourcing parenting to staff, but these days I think they’re just as likely to simply skip on the reproduction completely.

  32. “Other than a few surprising younger siblings, I don’t know anyone who had kids without overtly opting for it.”
    If you have three kids, the first two super-duper planned, the third kid a “bonus” kid, that already gets you to 33% unplanned. One planned kid and one unplanned gets you to 50%. I can easily see where that 50% number comes from.
    An additional complication is that although the number of children may be more or less what people were planning to have, the spacing may be “unplanned.”

  33. I do think there’s a certain kind of woman who has children because it’s part of the checklist of success. It’s on the list of things they think they should have done, and they worry that they’ll have missed out on something if they didn’t. I think childfree living is more accepted now, but certainly it is an unusual choice.
    They might also enjoy part but not all of child-raising. I myself enjoy my kids a lot more now that they’re older, and I might even spend more time with them. I had alternative caregivers when they were small — the joke about my younger child is that I managed not to change any diapers, which is, I know pretty remarkable. I did nurse him, though.
    A parent might be picking those things, the things that make them feel like a parent (cooking sunday dinner, but not helping with homework, for example) on which to spend their time.

  34. “I do think there’s a certain kind of woman who has children because it’s part of the checklist of success.”
    Plus, you have a good shot at the cover of People Magazine when you have kids as a celebrity.

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