Today's WAHM is Catherine Holecko aka Mayberry Mom, family fitness mom, and plain old “MOM!!!!” to Josie, age 8, and Owen, age 5. At BlogHer’10, she will speak on the topic of “Understanding, Accepting, and Loving Your Small Blog.”
MU:You moved to "Mayberry" from New York as part of your husband's work. Was WAHMdom your first choice or were you seeking outside of the home employment?
CH: I really liked my job in New York and I wanted to keep it. I also didn’t think I’d be able to find something comparable in Mayberry (I was an editor/producer for the website of a large publishing company). So as soon as I told my boss that we were moving, I followed up with “but I can keep working with you from home.”
Together we worked out a plan for what my responsibilities and hours would be. I was able to keep the parts of my job that I liked the best and ditch some others, and my boss did not have to fill an empty position. I cut back to 80% time (with accompanying pay cut). We agreed that I would come back to New York about three times a year for face-to-face meetings, and the company would reimburse me for travel.
That arrangement worked very well for about four years, through the birth and babyhood of my second child (who came with me to New York for most of those trips!). I also took on some freelance writing work during this time, for extra cash and to keep my connections with New York editors alive. After my boss left our former company and I stopped enjoying my work as much as I once had, I decided to leave my job and freelance instead. Now I run About Family Fitness and I contribute to other sites and print publications as a freelancer.
MU: Your kids have always been in full-time childcare - how did you come to that decision?
CH: When my first child was born I went back to work full-time after my generous four-month maternity leave. I worked at home for two days a week for the next eight months, then one day a week for another year until I moved. I had my daughter in a child care center a few blocks away from our apartment. It was the only way I felt comfortable managing my job responsibilities. I couldn’t have accomplished anything with her at home (including frequent phone calls with coworkers) and there was no room for a nanny. It was at that child care center that I met Julie Marsh, whose daughter was my daughter’s classmate. So it will always be a happy place to me!
When we moved and I began working from home, my daughter was just turning two. I wanted her to be in a preschool environment for both of our sakes. I found a good center that was close to home. A friend advised me to work four days on and one day off rather than five short days. It was a smart move, because if I had worked five shorter days I would have shorted myself of some of the non-work time I was entitled to.
After my son was born he joined my daughter at the same child care center. When I quit my job, I cut back on child care hours, but only slightly (more so in the summer). My daughter was in first grade and my son was three and thriving at the center, and I wanted to keep my dedicated work time intact. This fall, my son starts kindergarten and we’ll be done paying for child care after eight and a half years.
MU: You seem to have an incredible ability to balance the home and work - or maybe you're a really good actress (ha!) - what's your secret?
CH: Well, first of all I outsource—namely child care and housecleaning. This means I barely break even some months but I try to look at the bigger picture in terms of earning and career development. (Also, sanity.) I am involved at the kids’ school, but I choose tasks that are brief (setting up/taking down electric keyboards for piano class) or can be done on my own time (updating the school’s website).
I think that starting out as a WAH employee helped a lot. I had a set daily schedule, with hours that I had to be working and available. I had a salary and accountability to a boss and coworkers, so I took my work time and responsibilities seriously. I learned how to balance home and job as I would if I were going to an office every day. So I kept all that up when I became a freelancer. I think it would have been harder to ramp up slowly from SAHM-dom.
MU: Now that you're a freelancer, what's your schedule like?
CH: The idea is that I work while the kids are at school. And I generally do. After I drop them off in the morning, I go to yoga class, run whatever errands are essential for that day, and/or fit in a bike ride, walk, or run (ideally, I bike with them to school, bike to the grocery store, then bike home—that’s three for one). Then I get home and get to work. I try not to make too many other commitments during school hours, but since it’s when I have child care it’s also when I go to the dentist, get my hair cut, and so on.
I try to reserve the hours from after-school pickup until bedtime for the kids—playing with them and shuttling them to their activities, or sometimes they help me fold laundry or chop vegetables for dinner. They are a little older and more independent now, so sometimes I check mail for a few minutes, but I set my expectations very low for accomplishing any work tasks during those four to five hours.
After they are in bed I often work some more, but usually while I’m watching TV with my husband; so I do more administrative (read: brainless) tasks.
I almost never work from Friday night to Sunday morning. If I get some free time (hahahaha) on Sunday afternoon or evening, I work ahead on blog posts for my fitness site or other writing.
MU: What's the most challenging aspect of WAHM-dom for you?
CH: Working for myself is harder than working at home, because there is always more I could be doing. More articles I could be writing, more marketing I could be doing, more assignments I could be chasing, and on and on. It is harder to stop and take a break and I never feel “done” with my work.
When it comes to working at home, I have the classic challenge of needing to say “No” more. I could very easily fill my day with volunteer commitments, household chores, and, you know, Facebook. It’s a conscious, daily effort to stay focused on my work tasks and make sure I have enough time and mental space to complete them.
MU: So answer the age-old WAHM question: Do you work in your pajamas?
CH: I never work in my pajamas! I have to drop off the kids in the morning and I refuse to do that in jammies. It takes two seconds to throw on workout clothes instead.
MU: Any other myths about WAHM-dom you want to address?
CH: The myth that bothers me most about WAH is that it can be done without help. When people hear that I work from home, they almost always assume that I somehow do it with kids circling my chair and hanging off my pant legs. No! Unless you can do your job in 10-12 hours a week, you are going to need child care. Whether that means day care, a split shift with a spouse, having a babysitter come in—it has to be done.
MU: What do you love about your current "gig?"
CH: The flexibility is huge for me, as is losing the commute. In New York City both my husband and I spent two or more hours a day commuting. What a huge freaking waste.
MU: Do you separate out your personal and professional social media time?
CH: Not really. I thought about having one Twitter account for my personal life/blogging and a separate one for my fitness site, but that feels forced to me (and I worry it would be too time-consuming). Instead I include both my fitness site and my blog on my Twitter bio and I try to be mindful of the audience reading my tweets. Some are there because they know me from my blog, but others want fitness info, so I include both.
At a community event, I heard about a local woman who runs a PR business and is active in social media. I started following her on Twitter and checked her Facebook page. There she wrote “I gave up awhile ago keeping my personal and business life separate--both in person and in social media. So if you see me sharing information on behalf of my clients, that's part of my life … But you still get a heavy dose of me.” I realized I felt the same way.
However: I am still working on a way to control the time suck that is social media. If I’m on deadline, I enforce social-media-free hours. It’s still hard being both the enforcer and the enforcee.
MU: What do you miss most about working outside the home?
CH: I miss going out to lunch!
Photo by Erica Gries (to kids on the right are hers!)
Check out the past "A Few Good WAHMs" interviews in my archives.