9/28/10

Is Being a WAHM Bad for Business?

OK, so I promised I would discuss That Chapter of the book I wrote about in a recent post. (Although, surprisingly, @UnMarketing has so far been UnResponsive to my review of his book. Hmm…)

Anyway, the chapter is titled “Why Being a Work-at-Home Mom Is Bad for Business.” In it, the author says “claiming that you work from home, especially if you have children, can give people the perception that they may not be your priority as clients.” He later adds, “If you mention you have three kids under six years old and you’re homeschooling them, then I question when the work for me, the work I need done and am paying you to do, is going to get done.”

The thing is: he’s not wrong. I do think it’s unprofessional to conduct business while your children run amok and shriek in the background. Hello? That’s what babysitters (and TV) are for.

That said, there are a lot of different work-at-home scenarios. For instance, you could be:

– A fulltime, salaried employee who works in an office except when your kid’s sick or you have a childcare crisis and are forced to work from home.*

– A salaried employee who works full- or part-time at home while your children are at school or being cared for by someone else.

– A freelancer or other self-employed person who works at home while your children are at school, asleep, or being cared for by someone else.

– A freelancer or other self-employed person who works at home but doesn’t see the need–or doesn’t want to pay for–childcare.

This last group seems to be the one the author is describing. And these people? Are delusional. (I’m talking about people in my situation who have toddlers, not teenagers.)

Look, I can understand the motivation. If you’re a freelancer, you essentially work on commission. Or, to put it another way, you only eat what you kill. It makes budgeting tough. So the strategy of trying to squeeze in as much work as you can with as little paid childcare as possible is understandable. But it’s hard. Trust me, I know.

If you work in a laid-back field or with other at-home parents, it might not be a big deal. You might even be blessed with understanding clients who don’t care if “Spongebob” blares in the background. I had one such client who said he didn’t mind. But *I* minded. I knew I wouldn’t be able to concentrate fully and give him the attention his project deserved. So I scheduled our call for another time.

I’ve had to make some serious sacrifices to be a WAHM. I gave up my office space, which I rented with a couple other self-employed folks. I work very limited hours right now, and feel the pinch in my paycheck. I have all but given up projects that require phone interviews, for the above reasons.

Also, when you work from home there’s always the chance that a snow day or a nap boycott will derail your day. If you’re on deadline, you’re up a creek. Remember the blizzard of 2010? I worked my BUTT off to make sure I met my deadlines and delivered what I’d promised my clients. It was hell. But I did it.

If you read the entire chapter in “UnMarketing” (all 2 pages of it), it’s clear the author is really saying, don’t lead with the fact that you’re a WAHM in your marketing materials. I agree. I said as much to fellow writer and WAHM Angie Mizzell in her latest article for Hybrid Mom: I don’t advertise the fact that I’m a WAHM, but if it comes up I’ll mention it.

And it turns out it’s not such a big deal if you meet your deadlines and do good work. Meetings with one of my favorite clients usually start with a discussion about our kids. It’s a great way to connect before we get down to business. And after all, as a wise man once said, people do business with people they know, trust, and like. 😉

*BTW, this group has provided some of my favorite blog posts ever. Check out Not Mommy of the Year’s “A Taste of Work at Home” and PineappleBabble’s “SAHM.” LOL!

9/24/10

Portrait By a Young Artist

Can we talk about this picture for a minute? My 4 y.o. came home from preschool with it the other day and it’s been adorning our kitchen wall ever since.

The boy is getting to be quite the artist, I’ll give him that. It wasn’t so long ago he was bringing home deformed blobs of Play-Doh dotted with buttons and macaroni and pronouncing it “birthday cake.”

What gets me is the level of detail in his family portrait. He’s colored himself green (his favorite shade), aptly depicted his baby brother with red hair, and even included his dad’s Adam’s apple. And yet he couldn’t even give HIS OWN MOM hair or a nose?!

Now, I do like how he drew me with blue feet. Perhaps that’s a nod to my stylish footwear. But what’s with the crazy, bendy pose at the top of the page? Is this symbolic of how I bend over backwards for my family? How I tie myself in knots to cater to my kids? Or did he (more likely) simply run out of room after drawing the rest of the family? Thanks, kid. Thanks a lot.

It’s like the time he gave me a Mother’s Day card with what I thought was a lovingly rendered portrait of his mom. Nope. He set me straight: “It’s a candy machine.”

Of course, his Father’s Day card WAS adorned with a picture of his dad … and his dad’s smelly sneakers, complete with wavy lines to illustrate how the stench was wafting out of the shoes. Very life-like.

Miles’ favorite things to draw, however, seem to be animals. There was his koala period, when every marsupial was, oddly, drawn with a belly button. Dogs and cats are popular subjects. Then he moved on to his licensed-character phase: Mickey Mouse, Kung Fu Panda, and the Pink Panther. (Or, when he can’t find a pink marker, the Purple Panther.)

At age 4, my boy is certainly a prolific artist. Now the only question is, what do I do with all this artwork? I’m running out of room on the fridge. Maybe if he’d draw a decent picture of ME sometime, I’d even get it framed.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Minky Moo’s portrait of another young artist, aka The Boss.

9/22/10

Babies and Business Books

If you don’t know who Scott Stratten is, he’s like the Justin Bieber of social media. Except he’s an adult and his haircut doesn’t make me want to punch someone.

He’s what business-types call an “influencer,” which means he has a lot of followers on Twitter (@unmarketing). And you know how I love my Twitter. I forget how he got on my radar but I really started paying attention when he launched this video for one of his clients: www.ReflectionsofMotherhood.com

Stratten has a new book out called “UnMarketing.” I bought it for myself and my husband because we often sit up late at night discussing the Internet and how to be successful while remaining authentic to our true selves. And also, whose turn it is to empty the diaper pail.

You may be surprised that I read business books. After all, I spend much of my time chronicling my baby’s (ill-timed) bowel movements and making dance videos of my preschooler. What can I say? I’m a multifaceted person.

In addition to being a mom, I am self-employed as a freelance writer, editor, and writing instructor. My first boss — who, incidentally, was also named Scott — always told me I was destined to be an entrepreneur. Maybe it was because of my inappropriate office-wear (Doc Martens and mini kilts) rather than my passion and business savvy, but whatever.

In a way, he was right. Sure, he may have imagined me running a publishing empire like him rather than writing about baby poo in my pajamas. But to each her own, right?

Anyway, in between diapers, I read up on engaging with the marketplace and building my platform. I know how to throw around terms like “out of pocket” and “paradigm shift.” (Even though I really hate people who do.)

And part of what I like about Stratten’s book is that he DOESN’T bombard you with business jargon. (Except for the “pull and stay,” which sounds like a dog-training technique if you ask me.) He writes like (I imagine) he speaks, and it’s easy for regular people like me to understand. Also, he’s funny. Even his FOOTNOTES are funny. And I can tell you from years of copyediting, that’s a feat.

The book spends a lot of time discussing social media and why you should care about it. It also includes many eye-opening examples of what businesses like Walmart and Zappos.com are doing right… and wrong.

My one criticism is that it’s not clear exactly who the book’s intended audience is. As someone who considers herself more a creative type than a business person, I could’ve skipped the chapters on trade shows and teleseminars. But let’s face it: I’m as much a capitalist as the next gal. Baby needs a new pair of Crocs, people! And titanium strollers don’t grow on trees.

Stratten does use some examples that ARE relevant to me, like the Motrin mom ad campaign debacle, and how and why viral videos work. (Because I genuinely did wonder how a video could sell nursing bras.)

But my biggest take-away was from his chapter on experts. “When you position yourself as an expert with useful information for people,” writes Stratten, “your marketplace will always have a need for that information.” Notice he says AN expert, not THE expert.

I can get behind that. After all, I am something of an expert on this mom stuff. For instance:

  • I know that orange juice needs to be served in a straw-top cup, not a sippy cup, because the pulp will block the holes.

  • I know that there’s a big difference between creamy Desitin and original Desitin. (You want original, which is the thick, white paste.)

  • I know that skipping a kid’s nap is ALWAYS a bad idea.
And after 14+ years as a freelance writer, yeah, I’d say I’m an expert on that, too. I know that I am a skilled wordsmith with something valuable to offer clients, even if I make PB&J’s between business calls.

So thanks, Scott(s), for the encouragement and insights. For a couple of business-types, you’re all right.

FIGHTIN’ WORDS O’ THE WEEK: Oh, we WILL talk about Stratten’s chapter, “Why Being a Work-at-Home-Mom Is Bad for Business,” mark my words. That’s a whole separate post…

9/19/10

You Brought a Baby Where?!

Sometimes I see people with a brand-new baby in a wildly inappropriate place — like, say, a baseball game or a bar — and I wonder whether those parents were so desperate to regain some semblance of their former life that they thought, “Intense sun exposure and second-hand smoke be damned, we’re bringing the baby!”

Now, I’m not one to talk. My son’s very first outing was to an Irish pub to celebrate my birthday. We sat on the patio and propped him up next to a pint of Guinness for a photo opp. But at some point I realized that nursing in the car and changing diapers in ridiculously inconvenient changing stations in dirty public bathrooms was not how I wanted to spend my time.

Besides, while newborns are quite portable and often quiet, babies that are a little older are not. When Miles was about 5 mos. old we took him to a museum, where he screeched and bellowed the whole time because he liked the way it echoed throughout the silent, marble-floored galleries. Shockingly, no one asked us if we were interested in a museum membership that day.

If you feel you MUST get off the couch and out of your sweatpants for an outing with a small baby, here are some suggestions:

A street fair. If it’s not too hot or too crowded, an afternoon of al-fresco people-watching is a new-parent friendly activity. Especially if you carry your baby in a sling or carrier so you don’t have to worry about running into people’s ankles with a stroller. Of course, you must accept the inherent risks of eating street food and using a Porta-potty. Tip: bring lots of hand sanitizer.

An outdoor concert. And I don’t mean a Metallica cover band in a liquor-store parking lot. I’m thinking more along the lines of smooth jazz under the stars or Mozart in the park. Around here, there’s a popular Friday-night concert series with family-friendly reggae and Jimmy Buffet-type bands. Although, again: Porta-potties.

The zoo. If your baby’s old enough to see more than a foot in front of his face, he may enjoy looking at wildlife, especially animals like elephants and giraffes that are large enough for him to actually see. Or, he may be terrified of the chimpanzees. You won’t know till you try.

The mall. So it’s not exotic or educational. At least they have refreshments and indoor bathrooms. Plus, if there’s a Nordstrom’s or another upscale department store, you may find a clean, comfortable “mother’s room” where you can feed and change your baby without gagging.

Avoid places that are quiet and frequented by lots of old people. That may be the day your precious little one gets colic. And note that some places (like the aquarium in our city) ban strollers, so you may have to haul your hefty tot around in your arms all day.

If you really want my opinion, I say stay home. There will come a time soon enough when you’ll have to take your child to such insidious places as Chuck-E-Cheese and Gymboree. Why rush things?

LINK O’ THE WEEK: For club-kids who grew up and had their own kids, Baby Loves Disco is like a nightclub for tots. Only during the day. And with snacks. I like the idea, but when it came to my area it was $60+ for a family of 4. Too steep, IMO. But check out the tour dates — in some places it’s free.

9/15/10

You’re a Good Mom. And You and You, Too

Among the moms I know, it’s common practice to make fun of yourself for being a bad mom. “That’s me — Mom of the Year!” we might joke after sending our kid to school with their shirt on inside out. Baby has a diaper blowout and you forgot to pack a spare outfit? Bad Mommy!

I get it. It’s self-deprecating. It’s funny. Lord knows I’m guilty of it. (PROUD of it, even!) But do we really believe deep down that we’re not good mothers? I sometimes wonder.

So I’ve decided to highlight a few good moms I know. And there’s not a woman among them whose kids are always perfectly dressed and eat all their vegetables.

One mom I know is great about taking time for herself. A busy working mom with the same time and budget constraints as the rest of us, she’s not immune to guilt or blessed with live-in help. She simply recognizes that she’s a better mom when she takes time for herself and so she makes it happen, whether it’s a manicure or a weekend away with girlfriends.

Another mom I know is great about letting her kids get dirty. Even if she’s just bathed them, even if they’re wearing nice clothes, she will let them jump in puddles, dig in the mud, and eat cherry Popsicles. She lets her kids be kids. As someone whose heart clenches each time my child uncaps a marker (even if it’s washable), I really admire that.

Then there’s the woman who has rejected the notion of mom as cruise director. She engages with her kids, but she does not make herself responsible for their happiness. If she wants to read a book or do some gardening, she does. It’s up to her kids to find something to do on their own. And if they complain they’re bored, she lets them be bored. But you know what? They rarely are.

Lastly, props to the mom who gave me the idea for this post, E.M. She’s a devoted stay-at-home mom to 3 who knows exactly how hard this gig is. So she makes a point of telling her friends they’re good moms. (And dads, too. She’s an equal opportunity praise-giver.) If you explain the lengths you went to to put together the perfect Halloween costume or birthday party, she says, “You’re such a good mom.” If you notice your child has a boogie and wipe it away before he snurfs it back in, she says, “You’re a good mom.”

It’s nice to hear, but I don’t always need someone to tell me. I KNOW I’m a good mom. Even though I forget to sign up my kid for soccer and count sweet potato chips as a vegetable. I love my kids to death and they know it. And I’ll bet yours do, too.

READ O’ THE WEEK: My perennial fave, Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After, on “9 Ways I’m a Normal Mom and Wife.”

9/12/10

Wardrobe Malfunction

Good-bye, shrunken T-shirts. Farewell, faded cargo pants. Good riddance, bleach-stained warmup jacket. Yes, people, this weekend I decided to—wait for it—OVERHAUL MY WARDROBE.

If you can use the word “wardrobe” to describe my pathetic collection of mismatched clearance-rack finds, are-they-or-aren’t-they maternity shirts, and rarely-worn formal wear.

I don’t have an event to go to or an ex-boyfriend to impress. It’s just that I reached the tipping point, probably when I realized I was wearing a holey T-shirt my husband brought home from a business trip to Las Vegas…5 years ago.

So I set out for the outlet mall, blissfully solo. The last time I spent an entire day shopping for myself was 2008. I came home with tons of stuff for my son, but barely a single outfit for me. Other ill-fated shopping trips include the time I went in search of skinny jeans. I consider just buying a couple of accessories at Target a big deal.

First of all, shopping takes time. The walking around, the trying stuff on, the bathroom breaks, the refueling at the food court… But funny thing — if you’re not weighed down with a stroller, diaper bag, a couple of kids, and a bazillion snacks, you can actually zip in and out of stores rather quickly.

Have you noticed that a lot of outlets are not really outlets? They either sell the same stuff as the regular store (at the same slightly discounted prices) or they sell lower quality stuff made specifically for the outlet store. (Yes, you, J. Crew.) But there are still a few true bargains out there and I scored some big ones. I’m talking 70% off, under $10, big-name brands, too.

My best haul was from Eddie Bauer. I know!! You’re thinking frumpy, outdoorsy, flannel and plaid, right? Wrong. They’ve made themselves over, like Banana Republic and J. Crew. I found embellished T-shirts, dark-wash denim trousers, and cute cords. The biggest compliment was when I tried on my purchases for my hubs at home and he said, “Nice. That looks like Anthropologie.” (Yeah, he’s got a little metro in him.)

And you can’t go wrong at the Loft (which, strangely, seems to have dropped the “Ann Taylor” from its name). Love their basic tees and accessories.

OK, OK, I couldn’t resist the Gymboree outlet. But I only bought one shirt for each kid, I swear!

When I got home, I tried on all my new clothes with stuff I already had. I “shopped my closet” as the fashion experts on the makeover shows say. And what do you know? Once I weeded out all the ill-fitting Old Navy crap, I actually have some cute things! Who knew a couple “statement necklaces,” colorful scarves, and fitted jackets could transform this frumpy soccer mom into a suburban fashionista?

But I’m hanging onto the Las Vegas T-shirt. I mean, let’s not go too crazy. I still spend half my life at the playground, you know.

9/8/10

For the Real New Moms

I’d like to apologize. I’ve gotten a bunch of new readers lately and judging by their profiles, a number of them are, you guessed it, new moms or about to be. Probably lured in by my blog name or Twitter handle, @DiaryofaNewMom. And then they come here and find posts about preschool and writing classes and an 18 m.o.’s shenanigans. No breastfeeding tips or sleep-deprivation horror stories. No picks for the best stroller or baby food recipes.

I’m sorry about that. Really, I am. See, when I started this blog I was pregnant with my first child –- eons ago, it seems -– and I never DREAMED I would still be writing it all these years later. And yet, I’m too lazy to start over. And I’ve built up a nice little following. And I’ve got some really good stuff in my archives, I swear!

But I owe it to those real new moms among you to at least TRY to get back in touch with my roots. So here we go…

To be honest, my blog was pretty boring in the beginning. I only posted once a week and I didn’t know how to upload pictures. You can get the Cliff’s Notes version of my first 9 mos. in this Pregnancy Recap. (Bonus: includes photo of my 41-weeks-pregnant belly!) Link-hop to your heart’s content.

Then there is Birth Story #1 (aka, “When Hypnobirthing Goes Wrong”) and Birth Story #2 (aka, “When Epidurals Don’t Work, Part 2”).

You might be interested in my Top 5 Baby Buys. And also, Firsts for New Moms. And I’m not talking about first smile, first tooth, or first steps.

Also for your reading pleasure, there’s Confessions of a New Mom (I’ve since added several that are SO much worse than these), A Week in the Life of a New Mom, and It Gets Easier. (Except, of course, when it gets harder.)

And if you’re feeling like a bad mom and need a boost, there’s Baby’s First Chipped Tooth and Baby’s First Trip to the ER. But remember, that “perfect” mom with the “perfect” life? May not be what she seems. I promise you, someone out there is jealous of YOU.

Oh, OK. If you’re looking for sleep-deprivation horror stories, I’m happy to oblige — Baby: 165, Mom: 0. Believe it or not, you really will sleep again. Someday.

Don’t forget to check out the Popular Posts tab for the inside scoop on pregnancy butt, milestones, losing the baby weight, and the ever-popular Saga of the Skinny Jeans. You know you wanna.

PRODUCTS O’ THE WEEK: I don’t do paid product reviews but I have no problem recommending stuff I like. IMO, Johnson’s makes the best nursing pads and Medela Quick Clean microwave steam-cleaning bags are a godsend for sterilizing pump parts, bottles, and pacifiers.

Oh, I almost forgot — savvy reader B.R. tipped me off to the launch of Forever 21 Maternity. Let’s set aside for a moment whether this is going to encourage a new generation of Bristol Palins and just enjoy the cheap, stylish maternity wear, shall we? I like H&M and Target for maternity clothes, too.

9/6/10

Know Your Audience (But Not Too Well)

A weird thing happens when you’ve been blogging for as long as I have (5+ years). You start to develop an audience. But that audience is not who you might have imagined, and if you think too much about it, it will make you crazy and you will never write another post again.

Here’s what I mean. When you first start out, it may seem like you’re writing for yourself. (Cue cricket noises.) Or maybe for a handful of friends and family, instead of sending group e-mails. Then some random people start to find your blog, but that’s OK. They’re very nice and actually leave comments, as opposed to your friends who call you up or e-mail you to tell you what they think of your latest post. (Why not just comment? Are you that shy? That’s what the “anonymous” function is for, people.)

Then maybe your husband tells a couple of his friends about it, and they read your blog from time to time hoping to get some dirt on him. So they can say things like, “Dude, your wife was TOTALLY dissing your cleaning skills in her last post!! Harsh, man!” (Note to these people: Mind your own business. I don’t need you stirring the pot. I will track down your IP address and block you. Or maybe post embarrassing pictures of you from our wedding on Facebook. Oh, yes, I will.)

Then your mom might casually mention your blog to her book club and before you know it Mrs. Henderson from down the street is checking it religiously. And that kid you used to babysit for who’s now in college. And your weird ex-coworker. And probably an ex-boyfriend or two. And one of your clients, because you forgot to change your e-mail signature one time.

And also your sister-in-law, who didn’t know about your blog until she somehow found it through Facebook, but not because you didn’t want her to know about it, but just because you felt kind of weird about her reading about her brother’s atrocious housekeeping habits so you thought it was better not to mention it, but now it’s 10 times MORE awkward because you didn’t, since now it seems like you’re trying to hide something.

So then, when you sit down to write a blog post, you’re all of a sudden thinking: “If I write that my husband is a lucky bastard for getting out of diaper duty will that make his sister mad? And if I mention a party we went to, will so-and-so ‘s feelings be hurt because they weren’t invited? And if I post pictures of just how disgusting my house is right now – because it’s so messy it’s funny and I know my fellow moms can relate – will my client be horrified and refuse to do business with me again? And do I really want my ex-boyfriends knowing about my engorged postpartum boobs?”

Now, Mrs. Henderson is probably thinking that NO ONE needs to know about my engorged postpartum boobs. But this is a mom blog, dammit! (Oops, sorry, Mom. I meant “darn it.”) The whole point is that I can write about whatever I want, however I want, and not have to run it by 7 editors and an advisory board. And because it’s fun. So there.

You really can’t focus on writing to please the masses. You will end up with a generic vanilla blog that no one wants to read. Trust me. So I guess I’ll just have to stop worrying about what everyone thinks and do what I want, even if it’s posting pictures of what my kitchen looks like on a typical day:



LINK O’ THE WEEK: Have you guys seen this awesome “Reflections of Motherhood” video yet? Love it.

9/2/10

Mom Skills

There was a time when I seriously wondered whether I’d be able to get the hang of this mom thing. I wasn’t worried about breastfeeding or naps or diapering.

No, it was more the plastic placemats and the Snack Traps and the cheese sticks that had me worried. How do moms know about all that stuff? How do they know how to collapse strollers and set up highchairs and cut grapes in half?

Well, it didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I did pick up a trick or 2. Read more about my latent mom skills at TheBump.com:

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