The Work-at-home-Mom Movement Gets Organized (in theory)
by Patricia Pearson

This article appeared in the National Post, May 10, 2001

Stories have been popping up lately about work-at-home-moms, who are an interesting new hybrid of full-time mother and career woman, pursuing various lines of work while caring for their children themselves. These mothers are getting organized on the Web, and also publishing newsletters. They are even holding an annual trade fair of sorts, called the WAHMfest.

I guess you could call it a movement, although I’m not sure what moniker would suit. It’s not the women’s liberation movement so much as the women’s lunatic objectives movement. I know, because I work at home, and I didn’t understand the word “hampered” until I started taking business calls with two toddlers at my side.

“Hello?”

“Hello Mrs. Pearson, this is…”

“Will you excuse me for a moment? Geoffrey take that Barbie shoe out of your mouth right now. Spit it out.”

“Mrs Pearson, I’m just returning your…”

“I’m sorry, can you hang on? Clara, I WILL get you some more fruit roll-up in a MINUTE!”

“Anyway, Mrs Pearson, I thought…”

“Geoffrey don’t press that button, you’ll hang up the…”

BEEEEEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP—

This is the meaning of the word hampered. If I didn’t have a babysitter part of the week, I would succeed in earning an income of roughly nothing whatsoever.

Far braver and stronger women than I are actually doing this voluntarily all over North America. Their motives vary, ranging from the impossibly high cost of childcare, to parenting values, to cravings for intellectual stimulation and adult company after some years at home. Dancers are going on tour with babies in tow, musicians are recording in studios with toddlers along, lawyers bring their kids to the office, academics complete their dissertations late at night, web site designers, freelance writers and consultants take frantic stabs at work while their children nap. These women are returning to the world of two centuries past, when motherhood and work were more entwined.

How viable is it, though? I wonder, because there have been at least a dozen times this past year when I’ve literally been unable to eat dinner as a result of my two, bawling teeny-tinies.. When you phone someone at work, and their assistant says they’re “in a meeting,” what they would mean in my case is that I am trapped in the bathroom, where I can’t get up from the toilet to reach the toilet paper because my thirteen-month-old won’t let go of my leg. If I stand up to pry him loose he will immediately plunge his hand into the toilet, so the whole thing becomes this absurd Mexican stand-off.

“I’m sorry,” my receptionist would have to say, “Mrs Pearson is unable to wipe her own ass at the moment, may I take a message?” I recently perused the WAHM web ring on the Internet to see what sorts of careers were on offer for full-time parents. Here is a preliminary list:

Candle consultant
Wool diaper cover designer
Custom-designed scrapbooks
Custom-wrapped chocolate bars
Mail-order pumpkins
Mary Kay cosmetics sales
“Field of Themes” web design.

My favourite website is Cookin Deb’s Cupboard, which appears to have gone utterly mad. The site advertises itself as follows: “Cookin Deb’s Cupboard features Watkins, Christian, fibromyalgia, sewing links, rubber stamping and more.” I wonder if Deb is making any money.

For other ideas, mums (and presumably dads) can visit WAHMfest, which holds trade fairs, featuring eager reps from companies like Tupperware, Mary Kay cosmetics, and RHK fundraising. Originally an annual event in Herndon, Virginia, just outside of Washington, WAHMfest is now being organized across the U.S. (with one planned for Toronto in March, 2002.) I guess this is how founder Marybeth Henry is making her work-at-home cash, by marketing and franchizing the process of becoming a work-at-home mom.

Likewise on the Web, mothers are running sites like MoneymakingMommy.com, and Momsnetwork.com. These are filled with tips, links, job referrals and success stories. Very popular amongst WAHMs is a career known as network marketing, in which you get paid by manufacturers to word-of-mouth their product, whether it’s vitamins or tupperware.

One such mother is Sandy Scherschlight of Washington State, a network marketer with four small children ­ one in infancy — who runs a website called Millionaire Moms. Her aim is to make as much money as possible gabbing about environmentally friendly toothpaste, both on and off-line. She has also scouted web opportunities, like getting paid to read advertising e-mail, or to have people click through your site.

I got in touch with her to see how she was managing. “It has certainly been an upward climb,” she told me. “Fortunately for me, the business I chose helped me to begin earning a very nice secondary income relatively quickly. Of course, the down side is the constant flow of interruptions from your children during the course of your work. I have to constantly remind myself what is important. It’s hard not to get irritated when you are in the midst of some creative thought or important task and need to stop to break up a scuffle over a toy.”

No kidding. A couple of weeks ago, I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Radio in London, and while I was on the air up in my office, discoursing expertly on international crime trends, my four-year-old got on the other line.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Clara, hang up please sweetie, I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Hi mommy.”

“Clara please get off the phone.”

“Mommy, I want to change my name to Coco.”

“Okay Clara, just…I’ll be with you in a second.”

“I am not Clara.”

OH FOR GOD’S SAKE! I do not wish to talk to Coco at this time.


© Patricia Pearson, 2001-02
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