Monday, April 9, 2007

Ashleigh Banfield Interview By Kathleen Giordano

Kathleen: It's obvious you find your work extremely gratifying? How do you maintain your identity as "Ashleigh" and not just "the wife, the mom or the career woman?"Ashleigh: I have never pigeonholed myself into one role or another. I have always seen my "role" in life as being "Ashleigh." And "Ashleigh" simply plugs into a variety of different jobs: wife, mom, broadcaster, daughter, sister, customer, commuter, working stiff! As far as being an "anchorwoman" is concerned, I took a risk back in the eighties when I started in this business and approached news broadcasting as myself instead of approaching it as a female version of Cronkite. To be honest, I didn't think I could pull off the role-playing! So instead I just showed up on the set as "Ashleigh" and hoped to hell people wouldn't recoil! I did worry that there would be that element out there who might feel that I couldn't be taken seriously if I didn't deepen my voice and speak in staccato and elocate "properly." However, it seems the trend in television has migrated towards broadcasters adopting a more natural presentation style. Lucky for me it's a formula that has worked

Kathleen: Have you ever complained that you were completely overwhelmed and a friend or family member countered with a snide remark that you should stay home? If so, how do you handle that?Ashleigh: No one has ever told me I should stay at home; but I have heard that I should cut back a little. Well that's easier said than done. TV is a business that comes at you fast and goes away even faster! You can't always pick and choose your projects. You have to maximize on what's in front of you at any given moment. You can try to plan but in the end you have to fit your world into your work as best you can.I often wondered what the deadlines of women (like Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, Andrea Jung of Avon Products, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox and Meg Whitman of Ebay) who run these enormous corporations are like? I only know about literal television news deadlines, but I have never understood how female executives juggle the massive responsibilities that come with running mega corporations. What kind of deadlines, stresses, and criticisms do they manage every day? How do THEY juggle a home life? It's all relative, but the toughest job in my book, if you're talking about managing scheduling, is the President of the United States. Thank goodness he has first Lady. I need a First Lady!!! My friends all tell me what they really need is a "wife!

Kathleen: How do you balance giving your job, your husband, your son, and your friends, equal amount of time? When you feel yourself short circuiting what do you do to calm down? Ashleigh: I look forward to the weekend when things are slow, but I'm still working through all of this as it is still so new to me. I welcome recommendations.

Kathleen: How do you stay connected to your family on a day-to-day basis while you travel to your work?

Ashleigh: My husband and I just bought a house this past December in the suburbs, and both of us commute now to the city for work. In a way, I am traveling as I am on a train every day for an hour. It's difficult, as I have to be diligent about managing my hours. I really try hard to get home every night before 7 p.m. If I get home before 7, it's an early night. Half the time, half of my week I'm home at 10 o'clock at night. Even though my son is only 16 months, he lets me know it if I haven't been around.

Kathleen: So, how do you cope when your son says "Mommy, I need attention from you?" Ashleigh: I complain a lot to get it off of my shoulders. It's tough as women have an unfair shake these days. We're expected to be able to manage the same kind of schedule that men have managed for years without the added burdens of home duties. When I say home duties, I don't mean cooking and cleaning. I mean running a household, which we all know is an administrative and full time job. There are times when I think, wouldn't it be luxurious if I could just run this house the way it supposed to be run rather than scattered shot efforts of trying to keep everything together? I think some day down the road our children or our grandchildren will achieve a better balance for women who want to work and have a family home. I think men are making great strides of understanding their responsibility. But they have a long way to go. I think these days they feel as though they pitch in tremendously if they are taking out the garbage and they're fulfilling their chore list. But the truth is that someone has to maintain the chore list and that is where it behooves women to keep the organizational aspect of the house together which is an enormous burden. That is the road more men will co-op the responsibility of organizing and maintaining the working household. This means allocating the duties, and not just accepting your list and accomplishing half of it.

Kathleen: Do you have help?

Ashleigh: Yes, I have a nanny who should be sainted or canonized. I couldn't function without her. She takes an enormous amount of my emotional burden off of me because she is so good with my son. It is not as though she is one of those whiz people who do everything so I don't have too. It's more about what she offers my son in child rearing. She is so good at what she does that I feel safe in being able to come to the office and on occasion get home late. Of course, it does chip away at that guilt factor. I think many women suffer with the guilt factor in a way that men don't. And I am not sure why men don't suffer that guilt factor when they're working long hours and away from their families
Kathleen: Perhaps it's because men and women are wired differently?

Ashleigh: Yes, I think we're wired differently, but I think we're also conditioned differently, too. And that may be the greater part of the equation. We are conditioned to be responsible for the emotional balance of the family and therefore if it's not being maintained it's our fault. Not theirs. It's our fault and I think it is all environmental conditioning of how we are raised. My nanny really takes that burden off of me. And again, I couldn't function without her. It's a tremendous help.

Kathleen: Do you feel jealous when your nanny witnesses monumental events with your son?

Ashleigh: No! Not at all. Funny enough, I thought I would feel very jealous the first few times my son reached out for her instead of reaching for me. I felt the opposite. I felt very relieved because he spends a lot of time with her, and I want him to be in love with her. He is in love with her, and he is very safe and secure with her. In turn, I feel very safe, secure, and comfortable knowing he is so happy. That was tremendous for me to learn and I never expected that.I witnessed [a] first milestone on the train late at night when my husband sent me a text message saying Fishy (nickname for Fisher) was walking. Oh, isn't that something else! I didn't feel that I was missing it because I was en route home. It wasn't as though it would go on for weeks or months without me there seeing it. I could have been at the grocery store or any where. So, I didn't feel as though I was missing any thing. Plus, my nanny sends me SMS messages with photos attached of little things he is doing. Sometimes when I am sitting at my desk, I get these cute little pictures of him at a petting zoo.

Kathleen: You are so lucky that you found a nanny you can trust.

Ashleigh: I feel so blessed in that way…Sometimes you just have to count your blessings and try to meditate yourself back to that space. A lot of times that is what I will revert back to--the fact that I'm luckier than the average [mother] with a person who helps me function and helps my son function. I think that is a good way for me to remember what is important.

Kathleen: Do you feel sexy being pregnant?

Ashleigh: Hell no. I'm a bad pregnant. I was 190 pounds when I gave birth to Fisher, and he was five weeks early! Imagine how much I would have weighed had I gone full term! I feel rather lumpy, and at times my ankles look the size of my thighs. Yesterday, I interviewed supermodel Carol Alt. Imagine standing besides this 5'10", 125 pound gazelle. What a humorous dichotomy, as I stand 5'6 and currently weighing in at 160. If I couldn't find the humor in it, it would be tragic.

Kathleen: What is your exercise regimen?

Ashleigh: Lately, I haven't been exercising much due to my commuting schedule. But I do walk a lot to and from the trains and around New York City. I try to run or take a brisk walk with the stroller. I used to do Pilates once a week in the city and run in Central Park, but with a three hour commute to the suburbs it's difficult.

Kathleen: Now that you are a Mom and co-host of Banfield & Ford, how do maintain an emotional distance when you are covering cases about children -- if you can at all?

Ashleigh: I'm in my nineteenth year in broadcasting and as a cub reporter growing up in the business, I remember hearing people say my prospective on the stories I cover would completely change when I had children. At that time I didn't believe them. Now, I find there are times when I'm on the air covering certain stories, I literally have to get a Kleenex because I am weeping. That has never happened before. The first time I was hit really hard was when I was listening to the parents who were testifying in the Rhode Island Night Club fire a few years back. They were giving statements of the loss of their adult children. I just remember being unable to control the tears. I think that is what happens when you realize what the most important part of being on this earth is all about. What it all boils down too is this: the stories, the politics in the news, the suffering and all of the rest really hit home, and hit home in ways that they wouldn't otherwise. Sometimes we deal with some pretty sad fare on our show and sometimes it really does get to me.

Kathleen: It's obvious your husband adores you and is supportive of your work. Has he ever hinted at needing more alone time with you?

Ashleigh: No he is really good that way. Howard is very encouraging and has never felt that he played second fiddle. He is very busy as well, and between the two of us we both try to seek out time for each other. My husband does not complain, and he is very secure. That's why I was so drawn to him. He is my best friend, and he is a great person. He sends me text messages saying I love you in absence of one another.

Kathleen: Do you prepare for your shows at home or in the studio?

Ashleigh: One of the ways I try to balance it all is by allocating my research time. I carry a bag with six to ten files and I use my commute time effectively by reading, researching, and completing my files. The last part of my workday happens after my son is in bed. Thank goodness for digital age. Clearing up email at home is a blessing. Or a curse. I'm still trying to figure it out
Kathleen: Do you travel outside the city for all of your shows on Court TV?Ashleigh: This is my more sedentary role and the only travel involved is commuting to and from the office. Generally speaking I don't travel as part of the job description. But certainly I am open to it. If my presence is needed at a trial or at a location where there is a story breaking, without question I'll go. The only thing I try to harness is those extended five month periods in places like Afghanistan which are not conducive to family life

Kathleen: When your children are older, would you consider covering the Middle East again?

Ashleigh: Sure. [But] I would never make a reckless decision about places I go to, areas I go to, or how I conduct my business while in theatre. It's not a question about putting my family at risk. It's more a question of just trying to limit the amount of extended overseas stays which I experienced in the earlier part of my career. There were months and months on end traipsing around from war zone to another. It was fascinating, a phenomenal experience, but it is not conducive to family life. However, I would try to mitigate that the best way I can be moving forward. But, it doesn't preclude me from going to these locations. We have to remember people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel all have families. It is possible to be relatively safe while in these locations. Again it is just how you conduct yourself while in theatre.

Kathleen: Can a woman be a great parent without being a stay-at-home-mom?

Ashleigh: Sure. My mom was a very successful real estate broker with more than 30 employees starting when I was two years old. I had excellent rearing and great moral values. I learned to do house chores and jobs at an early age. My jobs were doing the laundry, setting the table, and making the salad every night. The house had to function so we were all put to work in my family. My mom is a great role model and quite honestly I thought it was normal that women worked. Those disciplinary moments were quality moments with mom. They meant something every time and therefore my mom never came across as a constant nag. When the hammer came down, we knew we had to buck up!! Mom's lessons were serious, heartfelt, and abrupt and left an indelible imprint. Her discipline came in an organized fashion because she had to be organized. Quality time is much better than quantity time.
Sometimes I feel like I'm a better broadcaster than a mom, and that my nanny is a better mom with Fisher. She knows all the right moves!!!! I think my son will appreciate me more in the future if I try to maximize what I do best, and let the experts handle what I understand the least!
Kathleen: As a mom, what changes will you make to ensure that both children receive an equal amount of attention from you?

Ashleigh: I wonder how I will accommodate for two children. I just keep falling back on the idea that billions of women have done it before me and that things will fall into place.
Kathleen: Do you think women can have a great marriage, children and a career all at once? Ashleigh: Yes and no. I think the original model for having it all did not take into account the necessary structural changes in the dynamic of the modern day relationship. Men with wives who have equally demanding careers have to take on an additional managerial responsibility in the household and not just complete their daily "honey-do" list. They need to take more of a responsibility in assessing what the home needs and not just concentrate on completing their "tasks". Men need to be more aware of what makes the home and family function, and assume more of a leadership role in making the home and family function
Kathleen: You are certainly a role model to young woman studying to be reporters/journalists. What advice would you give them? Ashleigh: Two different questions and the hints that I would give to anyone getting into the business, male or female at this point is read voraciously because processing, storing and recalling information gets tougher and tougher as you get older. For someone in their late teens or early 20's this is the optimum time for packing in as much knowledge as possible. The recall and storage will be better as well as your mental product.
Anyone thinks that he or she can be lazy and not bother to pick up a daily paper right now and think that it will all fall into place later is kidding them selves. This is the time to really buckle down and become knowledgeable about your political, your physical, and
your occupational environments. This is the learning time and if you don't maximize it now you are done for later. This is the one piece of advice for someone's career.Kathleen: What hints would you also offer for balancing it all? Ashleigh: The next piece of advice I would give goes mutually hand in hand with the answer above: If you are looking to create a successful family or lifestyle down the road, make sure you are not forcing it because it's conventional to get married or have children at a certain time. Only do it when it's absolutely right. It's not about the party, the dress, the cake, the chauffeured limousine, or the church. It's all about what feels right in creating a bond, a unit and a working corporation as you move forward. I think if more young people thought that way there were be far fewer disastrous consequences in relationships that blow up. So many people are getting married because it's what you are supposed to do at a certain time and its fun to have a party. The party lasts a nano-second. Kids need to realize that it is not about the party. They need to think about the fifty-year corporation they're forming and the functionality of it. So if that means getting more of your professional career settled, they should do so before jumping into something that is going to be very expensive. Don't get me wrong. It's expensive to be married and have children. It costs in all sorts of ways you never thought you would have to pay for and one needs to be ready for that. You don't need the added stress.
Kathleen: What legacy do you want to leave your children?

Ashleigh: I just hope I can keep them out of jail! Just kidding. A little Court TV humor for you! Seriously my only hope is that they are proud of me and always want to be around my husband and me. That is all I need.

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