Writer, PR maven and mom Erin Flynn Jay told herself for years that she’d write a book. After managing her own business for ten years and having her second daughter, she decided she’d better get a move on. The award-winning Mastering the Mommy Track: Juggling Career and Kids in Uncertain Times was published in 2011. When she’s not writing about balancing work and parenthood, she specializes in author PR.
Erin is my friend and colleague, and she stopped by the blog last week to talk about the pitfalls and strategies of entrepreneurship while breastfeeding and beyond. Here are excerpts of our conversation.
Alaina Mabaso: It seems like you’re adapting pretty well to a changing marketplace.
Erin Flynn Jay: It’s such a competitive environment right now, really like nothing I’ve ever seen before… and it’s really sad to be honest with you…Businesses are trying to get writers for free.
I felt like I was sucker-punched. A woman decided to hire me…and expected me to crank out…a series of [press] releases…in under an hour each. Well, that’s not realistic, especially if you’re talking about each release having multiple sources: it’s absolutely insane. I had to part ways.
I’ve been doing this for so long. One of the warning signs for writers is if [someone]…expect[s] you to drive an hour or so to meet with them and their client, and they don’t want to pay you. That’s a big red flag. Don’t even pursue the low-paying deals. I read about these opportunities all the time, and I just laugh…you can’t pursue it.
AM: A friend of mine recently shared a job posting offering a graphic designer $10 an hour “because we value talent.”
EFJ: I’ve had conversations with businesses about doing social media and they say they want to pay $10 an hour, and I just laugh…A lot of businesses think they can hire a young kid for $10 an hour.
Newsflash: Infants keep Mom up at night
AM: In your book’s chapter on health and wellness, you cite a 2010 study on sleep challenges for new parents. It concludes that “interrupted sleep is a burden borne disproportionately by women.” Do we really need a study to prove something like this?
EFJ: You’re sleep-deprived when you have to feed a baby throughout the night, and work might not be as productive. You definitely feel the effects. I remember eating chocolate throughout the day, and I nursed both my girls, and scheduled conference calls or meetings. It didn’t always work out so well but I tried.
The teenage husband
AM: According to your research, men aren’t stepping up enough to help with the housework. You write that many new moms say their husbands act like teenage boys from another marriage instead of a partner. Is getting men on board with housework another responsibility that women have, or are you saying, “Hey, men, this is something that you need to do?”
EFJ: Definitely the message is for the moms to have an open communication with their spouses, because as [one] study found, I was surprised by how many women were resentful, and it often does fall on the mom’s shoulders: the household duties and the childcare…If you have a situation where you have two breadwinners, then both partners really need to divvy up the tasks.
AM: It’s like what you say in the book about the feminist revolution giving people the freedom to get into the workplace, but there was no corresponding support on the home front.
EFJ: Right. I see families having four kids…they have a support system like in-laws or parents who can help. But if you don’t have that, then you have to pay for that.
Get out of the house
AM: I’ve been reading lately about the incidence of post-partum depression in America, and some commentators saying that it’s a phenomenon of a culture that gives all of its attention to pregnant women, and does not offer the support that new mothers need.
EFJ: I did do a chapter on mental health because I felt that was so important…A lot of moms will feel isolated after the birth…I just took a six-week break [from work] because I’m self-employed and didn’t want to take too much time. I was shouldering the work and the feedings, but when you have feedings every two hours you really can’t go that far. What I found really helpful was going out for coffee or lunch…I joined the Mom’s Club of Philadelphia…you can’t just stay in the house all day, feeding every two hours.
AM: Earlier this summer, conservative writer Erick Erickson said working women aren’t playing their proper feminine roles and claims that women who want to work are competing with their husbands, instead of being the “complementary” partners nature intended. What would you tell him, if you could?
EFJ: I did look at some of his essays online, and it’s really backward thinking, because nearly 60% of married families have two breadwinners, juggling both child and household duties in addition to their careers.
Begging for flex time
AM: You write a lot about the flexible, entrepreneurial career track versus the typical corporate 9-5 career, and you mention the pressures women feel, being afraid to ask for leave or flexible schedules. In your opinion, what are the top factors that are keeping employers holding on to that traditional model?
EFJ: It really is sad. I just don’t see the flexibility out there. I know some people in the finance industry, and I asked one: why don’t you ask for some flexibility, maybe a telecommuting option, and he said, “you just can’t do that. You have to be there.”
I think a lot of parents are afraid to ask for more flexible options, maybe a day a week working-from-home situation or a compressed work week.
AM: But what is it that employers are worried about when they don’t want to grant that flexibility?
EFJ: A lot of employers want to be watching over their workers’ shoulders, but they have to take into consideration that I think workers would be much more productive if they had some flexibility, even just one day a week they could catch up on home duties.
Back to the workforce
AM: You touch on a few anecdotes about stay-at-home dads, and you also mention how hard it is for a stay-at-home mom to re-enter the workface later on. If more men are staying at home with kids, is it just as hard for men to get back in the workforce after a childcare gap as it is for women?
EFJ: I think it would be hard for men, but it wouldn’t be as hard as for women…Women face more challenges because we’re the ones who are expected to take care of the kids….I don’t want to have to rely [financially] on my husband.
AM: Erick Erickson is frowning on you right now.
EFJ: I’m sure some other moms would be too, but each mom has to do what’s right for [her].
AM: In the book, you mention how important it is for young people who imagine becoming parents down the road to look at flexible career options from the beginning instead of jumping into a traditional environment and then trying to make it flexible when they have kids later. Do you think it’s even more important for women to look at entrepreneurial or freelance careers than it is for men?
EFJ: It is a great time to have an entrepreneurial mindset…In the past, people would rely on corporations to be with them for twenty years, to get a pension. In today’s landscape you just can’t do that.
AM: But should there be a special focus on entrepreneurship in women’s education?
EFJ: Absolutely. It’s not something that I learned in college, but I think that women would benefit from taking some entrepreneurial classes.
The next generation
AM: Reading your book, one of the things that struck me is that having a good work-life balance ultimately isn’t just about your own sanity; it’s about modeling something for your kids as well. So what do you hope your girls will learn from you when they become adults?
EFJ: I’ll encourage my girls to pursue any career that they’re interested in. I’m setting an example for them, because I work, I go to meetings, I have clients. Maybe this is something they’d like to do when they’re older: having their own businesses.
You can read Erin’s blog and order Mastering the Mommy Track on her website. Read the rave reviews on Amazon here. To learn about Erin’s copywriting, publicity and social media services, visit Flynnmedia.com