For the conclusion to my epic trilogy on parenthood in production and post, I’ve been thinking a lot about tortoises.
(You may have figured out by now that I enjoy animal metaphors.)
You see, a female tortoise will crawl out of the ocean up onto the beach, find a nice safe, sandy area, and plop out a bunch of eggs. Then…she high tails it back into the ocean, and the little babies hatch and supposedly instinctively head into the sea as well to start their own lives. If they make it without some winged creature snatching them up, that is.
I feel like this is how people tend to think about editor moms, especially people outside the industry. Working moms, they’re tortoises. They do their part, and head back into their career and expect that the kids will be reasonably self-sufficient or whatever. I mean, how could any woman choose to part with their children for the sake of a career? My word! < /1962 >
And unfairly, it seems more guilt is pushed onto female editors who have kids.
Well, it turns out it’s not only possible to balance being a good mother with being a good editor, but it happens a LOT. Women in every kind of video production market from LA to the Heartland to the deep South (probably) are providing for their families, making sacrifices, and pursuing their life’s passion. And one of them is Monica Daniel.
Monica has an unconventional background as an editor. She didn’t go to film school. Instead, she has a Bachelor of Science in psychology, and an unofficial minor in dance choreography. Many editors that find their way to post in or after college find their rhythm through other means, and for Monica it was through dance. Her last year of school, she realized she wanted to be in film and television and attended a filmmaking bootcamp called the Digital Video Intensive. From there, she moved to LA to try her luck and eventually made her way to E! Entertainment. There, she quickly made her way from Production Assistant to Assistant Editor, then was promoted to Editor after a year and a half.
Monica has been with her husband Mario for 15 years, married for 5. She has two children, Gabriel and Ivy, ages 3 and 1 1/2.
When you first began your career, what were your thoughts or plans on having a family?
I knew I always wanted a family but I didn’t know when. I wanted to be more established and financially stable before I had children. Children are very expensive and time consuming.
Why did you want to have children?
I have always been family oriented. The idea of having children to play with and discover new things with is very appealing.
How did your family life determine where you chose to live?
Ideally I would be living in an area with a better school system, but that would require a longer commute and more time in traffic and less time with my children. Los Angeles can be a very expensive place to live and unfortunately we had to balance proximity to work with what was affordable and a good enough neighborhood. We are still figuring out what we can do to get better schooling for our children when they are old enough. I may have to end up working more hours to pay for private school.
When you were discussing the prospect of adding kids to your family, what did you think would be the main challenge? What ended up being the main challenge?
We were always worried about money and who would take care of them if we were both at work and these concerns ended up being the biggest challenge. Luckily, I make enough money as an editor to take care of my family while my husband stays at home and watches the kids. The biggest challenge actually came this past year when we learned that our son, who is now 3 years old, is Autistic. He attends a special pre-school and has several therapies per week to help him with his Autism. I do my best to make sure that his special therapies are paid for, and my husband takes him to his therapy and evaluations.
As a woman, how did you maintain your career during pregnancy and maternity leave? Were you ever concerned that you wouldn’t be taken seriously or might be passed over for opportunities because of pregnancy and motherhood?
I was lucky because at the division of NBC Universal that I work at, they provide maternity leave benefits and are very understanding when it comes to pregnancy. Benefits were also provided through the state. I was concerned about how people viewed me while I was pregnant and I didn’t tell anyone until I was further along but I have a very established reputation where I work and it didn’t concern people as far as quality of my work was concerned. While I was 9 months pregnant with my daughter, I was even asked to be the on site editor for the Red Carpet coverage of the Academy Awards. The Producers had their pick of editors and they asked me to take the very stressful and critical on site editing position despite my condition. My circumstances are not the norm, but the exception. Anywhere else I would have been very nervous and worried. Even though it is illegal to discriminate against pregnancy, it still happens unofficially. Someone else will get hired over you because they are not pregnant.
Did you ever worry about missing opportunities in your career to be home with children? On the flip side, did you ever worry about missing moments with your kids because of your career? How do you balance this? Do you feel like it’s a sacrifice in some ways?
I think about this every day. No matter what choice I make, I am sacrificing something. I love my job and I love my children. My job requires long hours and when I work on scripted projects, it is even longer hours. I want memories of my children growing up. I am still trying to find the balance. I end up sacrificing my own health to spend as much time with my children as I can. I don’t get nearly as much sleep as I should, all of my exercise comes from playing with my kids, and I have very little time for myself.
When you’re in the middle of a big project with long hours, how does it affect your family life? How do you alter things to make your family life manageable in these situations?
It is very difficult. My husband is understanding but it is still a challenge. I try to see my kids every moment I can. The main reason I agreed to get an iPhone was so I can FaceTime with the kids when I am at work for long hours.
I think we’d agree that the editing world is male-dominated. As an editor mom, how do you handle yourself in this predominately male environment?
I do work mostly with men. I grew up with my brothers and uncles so I am used to being around the boys. I work hard to earn the respect of my male colleagues and that includes producers and directors as well. I never use being a female as an excuse for anything. I depict myself as a professional editor, not a female editor. I once had a job interview to cut special features for a documentary. In the interview, the Producer told me he would probably assign me the package about a love story because as a woman I would be better at cutting romance over action. I actually prefer action over romance, but the producer’s assumption that I would be better at a love story because I am a woman is just one stereotype I have had to deal with. It doesn’t help that I am on the shorter side and look 12 years younger than I am, so to someone who meets me for the first time, I do look a bit like a little girl.
How do you deal with childcare and unexpected challenges that come up when raising kids (i.e. sickness) while also balancing often time-sensitive tasks such as editing on a deadline?
Daycare is very expensive but a necessity for us. My husband mainly takes care of the children because of my unpredictable work schedules.
When working from home, how do you manage your time with your children around?
I have my edit system in a separate room. I will have lunch with the kids and take breaks to be with them. They are both in daycare now so during the day it isn’t much of an issue during the day.
Some in the industry use the phrase “golden handcuffs” to refer to having to pass on or not seek further opportunities that involve more risk but may also progress your career further because of the responsibility of having a family. Do you feel like you’re in a “golden handcuffs” situation? What’s your opinion on this outlook?
I am definitely in a Golden Handcuffs situation. Currently my income supports my family and I can’t afford to not work at my current editing rates. I have been recently speaking with more people on the high profile scripted projects and they all tell me the same things. It requires really long hours and additional hours of your own time to edit independently. I have worked on independent scripted projects but not a studio project. If I wanted to transition into scripted studio projects I would have to go back to Assisting. Which means less pay for more hours. I am still learning as much as I can about Assisting in the scripted world just in case one day I may be able to take a job offer. Even though the odds are working against me right now, I haven’t given it up.
I see you occasionally lamenting the idea of working on more narrative projects, but not being willing or able to take the increase in hours and decrease in pay. This dilemma weighs heavily on many editors, parents or not. How do you deal with this?
I am at a crossroads in my career right now where I would like to move it in a different direction. Even though I have the “Golden Handcuffs” to deal with, I have not given up on leading my career where I want it to be. I attend Editing seminars, attend user groups, mixers, give presentations about my work and meet new people in post all the time. My path may be a slower path but I don’t want to face my children in the future and tell them that their mother gave up without even trying.
Do your kids understand if you’re not around or busy for periods at a time? What do you hope they learn from seeing your work?
They are too young to understand why I am gone. They just know I am gone. It is really tough when my husband tells me that the children were asking for me and they tell him to pick me up so I can play with them.
Despite the challenges of parenthood, what are the positives to having kids? What makes it worthwhile?
Kids are wonderful. Everything is new to them. They look to you as their parent for comfort and unconditional love. It is a great feeling and hard to describe. They are so proud of their little accomplishments and it reminds me that there are some things that my career cannot replace.
What is your advice to someone in the industry who is considering having children, but is worried about being able to have a career and a family?
It will be hard for everyone. You must remind yourself what is important to you. There is no easy answer. This is a very competitive industry. I am competing with people who will do anything to succeed. I will not sacrifice the well being of my family for my career. They are more important. I use my career to support my family. Luckily, I love my career.
Across all careers, there’s an old fashioned notion that once you have kids, as a woman you’ll settle down and focus on raising them instead of your career. You’re one of many women who don’t choose that path. What do you have to say to someone that would question your decision?
I do not only live for my children but for myself as well. As a parent you want to be an example for your children. I want to show them that you can have a family and follow your dreams.
Breaking news: you can be a great mom and a successful editor without being a land-dwelling reptile about it. Monica has figured out a balance between work and kids, and it can serve as an inspiration to all parents in our industry. We all make sacrifices in different areas of our lives, and a female editor might sometimes feel a heavier burden. I think it’s important for women in post to discuss this and realize that so many of us are in the same rocky boat of balancing home life and pursuing more aspects of an editing career. And it doesn’t have to be children. All home life applies — newly married spouses figuring out how to compromise on an area to settle in; childless couples taking less fulfilling work to earn more money to buy a home; or even individuals trying to maintain friendships with erratic work schedules with long hours. I didn’t make these issues up and they aren’t mine. I saw them all mentioned on Twitter just today.
The thing is, regardless of your circumstances, everyone has a home life and perhaps a family life, and it’s something that requires careful thought and cultivation to maintain. At some point in your editing career, you have to consider how much give you have between the two. And you aren’t the only one trying to feel your way through this.
I know I said this was a three part exploration in parenthood, but I’m kind of silly so screw it. I’m keeping the conversation going, and not just about parenthood. There’s more to the story than this one aspect of an editor’s personal life, and I aim to dig it up. Look for more posts about figuring out all that messy life stuff that gets in the way when you’re just trying to transcode some stuff, man.
You can find Monica’s work on several shows produced by NBC Universal. You can also find her on Twitter or her blog.