Balancing Act

In the constant juggle of managing life at home and life at work, Claire Shipman realizes that confidence is key

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A Note to our readers: The cover of the spring issue of Washingtonian MOM features journalist and author Claire Shipman, whose new book, The Confidence Code, cowritten with Katty Kay, goes on sale later this month. The Washingtonian MOM cover story takes a peek at the life of Shipman, her husband, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, and their two children. Shot on location at the family’s DC home, the story explores Shipman’s active role as a journalist, wife, and modern working mom.

The new issue of Washingtonian MOM hits newsstands next week.

ABC News contributor Claire Shipman is gently trying to coax her eight-year-old daughter, Della Claire Carney, to appear in a Washingtonian MOM photo shoot, in which Della might have to wear pink and comb her tangled mane.

Della is not easily swayed. She hates pink. Nor does she like to brush her hair. The daughter of Shipman and Jay Carney, President Obama’s press secretary, isn’t the kind of young girl interested in pleasing her Washington-power-couple parents, or any of the adults around her on the photo shoot for that matter. She is funny, sweet, and obviously smart, but she’s not going to budge for braids and patterned shirts.

To Shipman, 51, this is great, though it can be trying. She’d love it if every once in a while Della would run a comb through her locks. Shipman and Carney’s son, Hugo James Carney, on the other hand, spends a lot more time styling his red hair. “He’s 12 going on 16,” says Shipman. During the shoot, Hugo walked up to everyone on the production crew, held out his hand for a firm shake, and said, “Hello, I’m Hugo, nice to meet you”; to say he is a well-mannered tween is an understatement. Hugo and Della both attend Sidwell Friends School. The busy Carney-Shipman household also “parents” one-year-old Flash, a Portuguese water dog who is a cousin to the Obamas’ dog Sunny.

Shipman and her close friend Katty Kay, the Washington correspondent for BBC World News America, have just written a book on women and confidence called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, released in April. Their book posits that while confidence—rather than competence—plays a key role in female success, particularly in the workplace, many women lack this critical ingredient. The Confidence Code delves into the science and sociology of that idea, the biology of the brain, and whether there’s a gene for self-confidence. (In case you’re wondering, yes, female brains do work differently.) It’s not a “self-help-y” book, says Shipman, though it does offer hope and specific suggestions on how to bolster confidence. “Our biggest, and perhaps most encouraging, discovery has been that confidence is something we can, to a significant extent, control,” she and Kay write.

Not surprisingly, Shipman has learned a lot about her own daughter through her research. “My daughter is a tomboy,” she says. “She’s strong-willed and doesn’t care about conventions. Our research helped me realize that this is not something I want to go away. If she has her own strong opinions and wears what she wants to wear, that’s great—even if I don’t like it.”

Carney, 48, says the book’s findings changed how they parent their daughter. “Raising Della, we are both now extremely mindful of how important confidence is for girls, and how different it can be in girls compared with boys,” he says. “We try to help Della build confidence by focusing on the effort she puts into things, rather than just praising the outcomes.”

Hugo Plaid shirt, $17.95 at H&M (multiple area locations); graphic tee, $10, and super-skinny jeans, $19.99, both by Shaun White at Target (multiple area locations); and canvas sneakers, $47 at Vans (Columbia Mall); Della New York City–print T-shirt, $22 by The Classic at Wee Chic Boutique, and her own black pants; Jay Eco-Heather tee, $28 by Alternative Apparel, and tumbled black 514 straight- fit jeans, $58 by Levi’s, both at South Moon Under (multiple Maryland and Virginia locations); and Futesio sneakers, $275 at Hugo Boss (Tysons Galleria). Claire Striped T-shirt, $16.94 at Old Navy (multiple Maryland and Virginia locations); slim ankle pants, $89 at Ann Taylor (multiple area locations); and slip-on sneakers, $65 by Superga at The Shoe Hive (Alexandria).

Both Shipman and Carney are committed to being engaged parents—but it’s tough. Carney rises at 5:30, before the rest of the family, to scour the day’s news. At 6:30, he wakes everyone up. “The kids go off to school, and I head to the White House at the same time—about 7:25 am,” he says. Carney tries to get home by 8, before his kids go to bed, but he’s often traveling or interrupted by work. “Sometimes I’ll miss a meeting in order to make it home in time,” he says. “And sometimes I’ll take a day off entirely so I can be a parent chaperone on a school field trip. I still definitely feel I miss too much—but I do try to be there as much as I can.” Shipman works part-time now for ABC News, something she’s done for five years, which has given her more flexibility to write and hang out with her children. Flexibility, she says, is what most working mothers really want.

Still, the couple’s busy schedules leave them little alone time. “It’s such a cliché, but the most obvious challenge we have is time together,” says Shipman. “It’s the thing that falls by the wayside with everything else we have going on. We should do it more. It helps me remember why I fell in love with the guy!”

Jay Suit, $895, glen plaid dress shirt, $195, foulard print tie, $135, and polka-dot pocket square, $55, all at Hugo Boss (Tysons Galleria). Claire Cotton jacquard shift dress, $299 at Karen Millen (Tysons Galleria); knotted rope crystal necklace, $98 at Ann Taylor (multiple area locations); and jeweled bracelet by Loren Hope, similar styles at Bishop Boutique (Alexandria).

Carney and Shipman met in Moscow in the early 1990s when he was writing for Time and she was reporting for CNN. “But she was married, and I was living with someone else, so we didn’t really know each other,” says Carney. They met again as White House correspondents and wed in 1998. “When I got divorced, he was extra-attentive,” Shipman notes. Shipman used to cover the White House for CNN and NBC, and stopped in 2000 when she went to ABC. Today she reports mainly on social, parenting, and women’s issues, contributing to Good Morning America and World News. Shipman’s co-author, Katty Kay, 49, a British citizen and mother of four, works full-time for BBC.

Kay and Shipman decided to write about confidence after interviewing high-powered women for their 2009 book, Womenomics, which explores the increasing power women have in the workplace and how to leverage it. During their reporting, they noticed many successful women who were surprised by their professional accomplishments.

“It isn’t that women don’t have the ability to succeed,” they write. “It’s that we don’t seem to believe we can succeed, and that stops us from even trying.” Many women possess a deep-seated fear of being wrong or embarrassed, which prevents them from taking risks. Risk-taking is important, in part because it can lead to failure—and surviving failure, they say, is essential to building resilience and confidence.

“How often in life do we avoid doing something because we think we’ll fail?” the pair ask. “And how often might we actually have triumphed if we had just decided to give it a try?” They advocate “failing fast,” a tech buzzword that is the ideal paradigm for building female confidence. Take a small risk, fail, learn from it, and move on. Men are more comfortable taking risks, and tend to more easily shrug off failure. Women, on the other hand, stew, worry, ruminate, and second-guess themselves.

“It’s not fun to experience failure,” says Shipman. “But it’s important. Girls are more focused on being perfect, and when that is your goal, you are not willing to take risks. It’s been a transformational project for me. I really understand my daughter, who happily does things that will get her into trouble or forgets assignments and says, ‘Oh, well.’”

In The Confidence Code, Kay and Shipman use a conversational tone, speaking directly to a female audience about a shared sense of self-doubt. Shipman admits she has battled three traits that undermine her own self-confidence: She’s a people-pleaser. She’s plagued with self-doubt. And she’s a perfectionist.

Understanding how those traits work against her has helped her morph into a more confident woman. “I used to be so hard on myself and critical, and spent an enormous amount of time worrying and fearing the consequences—a lot of time stewing and ruminating and probably driving my husband crazy,” says Shipman. Now, “I do it a lot less.”

Rumination and hesitation, research shows, is common in women. Shipman says the more she understands that, the more she works at not letting things get to her. “I’m not free of it, but ever since recognizing all this stuff in the book and having it ring true, I try to tell myself more often to shrug it off,” she says.

Great Plains cropped jacket, $498 by Nanette Lepore at Saks Fifth Avenue (Tysons Galleria); Pop pink silk blouse, $148 at Lilly Pulitzer (Tysons Galleria); modern-fit skinny jeans, $89 at Ann Taylor (multiple locations); and earrings, $95 by Alexis Bittar at The Shoe Hive (Alexandria). Flowers by Philippa Tarrant Floral Design.

But it isn’t easy—particularly as a working mom.

In December, Shipman had to miss a Christmas concert. “I felt real anguish,” she says. “I will nurse that sense that I’ve done something wrong for a long time.” Carney, surprisingly, doesn’t have to miss that many family events, either—but when he does, he handles it differently. “He doesn’t dwell on it,” Shipman says. “He just moves on.”

That’s what she is trying to do more of—rather than focus on real or perceived failures, to just move on.

“We are hoping that by thinking of confidence as a key factor in success, women will start to understand it’s not just that the deck is stacked against us or that the workplace isn’t fair,” she says. “It’s also that our lack of confidence may be a factor in affecting what we can achieve.”

Just the Facts

  • Favorite Date-Night Restaurant Et Voila!, on MacArthur Boulevard in DC’s Palisades.
  • Books On My Nightstand The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; A Wrinkle in Time, because I love children’s books; This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz; Peter and the Shadow Thieves; and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. I always have a pile. I hate to be without books. Knowing I have a bunch makes me happy. A good book and a good chocolate bar!
  • Most Fun Place To Take Kids The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School ropes course.
  • I Absolutely Won’t Let Kids . . . They can never treat people badly. Being rude or less than caring produces draconian consequences and much-dreaded family meetings.
  • Kids And Cell Phones Hugo got a cell phone at 12. We set that as the age years ago based on a friend’s advice. Hugo was so intent on getting it, he created a PowerPoint about why he was ready for one. And he’s been responsible—and frankly we love being able to reach him.
  • Favorite Way To Spend Sunday Morning Sleeping. Barring that, which never happens, all of us cooking together. Both kids make great omelets. Della makes killer soft pretzels, and Hugo is a pro at pancakes.
  • What I Like Most About Myself My penchant for doing crazy things and breaking rules.
  • A Do-Over, If I Could Spend more time with my mother in what I didn’t know would be her last year.
  • Favorite TV Show Breaking Bad.

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