Meet Catherine, a working mom of two girls. She along with 13 other women share stories from working in motherhood. This post is a part of a blog series of stories of working moms. I also really would like to hear YOUR story and I’d love to hear it. Keep the conversation going in the comments & on social media using #wellcraftedworkingmoms. A huge thank you to the women who volunteered to share their stories, Mary Boyden of Mamma Bear Magazine for her photography and Madeline Roosevelt for hair and makeup!
I feel bad for saying this, but I don’t remember WHEN I met Catherine. I feel as if Catherine is a kindred spirit. I know that we must have met at some blogging event or other, but ever since I met her she has felt like an old friend to me. She is just a kind, giving spirit. She puts her girls first in everything I’ve seen her do, but she also gives of herself to the other people in her life.
I also loved that when I told everyone to wear what they would typically wear for work she totally rocked her yoga pants! I invited nursing babies to the photoshoot so that mommas wouldn’t need to worry about feedings so you’ll see Catherine’s youngest daughter in some of the photos.
Catherine is another example of a mother who is making her job work for her and her family by being a freelance writer. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did!
Meet Catherine, a working mom
Catherine Ryan Gregory is a writer, a story-teller if you will. (You will see it in this interview, she weaves such beautiful words together!) Catherine is married to Eric who teaches special education. She is the mother of two little girls (we’ll call them by their nicknames)— Peeper is 2 1/2 and Kiwi is eight months old.
Catherine finished grad school and led a study/intern abroad program for journalism students in Accra, Ghana. After getting the antimalarials out of her system she got pregnant with her oldest girl. During her pregnancy she worked in communications for a nonprofit called College Possible Portland, a branch of an organization that helps disadvantaged high schoolers get into and succeed in college. After having her first child she decided not to return to her job but instead went back to freelancing as a writer, a job she did for years before grad school.
Being able to write from home allowed Catherine to be flexible and care for her baby and toddler. She was also able to write about things that were relevant to her life, including writing for Fit Pregnancy until it closed.
I was able to write from home (and the cafe at Whole Foods, ha!), which allowed me to be flexible while still caring for a baby and then a toddler. Also, I was able to write about things relevant to my life: I wrote a ton for Fit Pregnancy until it closed (RIP), and my experience as a new mom helped me identify with readers and give them the info they needed!
Catherine works full-time as a freelance writer and storyteller.
“As most people who freelance and work for themselves, this means I wear a lot of hats and have a lot of different gigs going on at the same time!” she said.
Catherine’s main source of income is currently a retainer with a Fortune 100 tech company where she writes and edits stories for their philanthropies section and produces photo shoots for the web.
She explains the job with relish, “In a nutshell: I write about nonprofits and young people who benefit from trainings, donations, services and support from the company. It means I get to talk to and tell the stories of teenagers who are starting robotics clubs in rural libraries, nonprofit leaders who are using the cloud to help address the AIDS crisis in Africa, and volunteers who teach computer science to immigrant high schoolers. It’s very cool. I also art direct photo shoots, which means I hang out for a day with a photographer at a nonprofit or in a classroom and capture the awesome things that happen!”
Catherine also does freelance magazine writing where she writes mostly service pieces for women. (Check out her LinkedIn page for a list of previous publications.)
Why does Catherine work?
“First off, I love to write. I enjoy sleuthing out a story, interviewing experts, being surprised or moved or inspired by what stories people tell me, and crafting a story that will affect readers. I am insanely fortunate to have my job and do what I love – and get paid for it,” she said.
She also explains that while money is part of why she works it is not the primary reason. She wants her girls to see her enjoy something that is her own.
“I want them to witness the excitement, passion, even frustration it sparks in me,” she said.
Why would she want them to see her frustration?
She explains, “Because no relationship is perfect, including the one with your work. Seeing that I can be angry or aggravated by work but push through it and stick with it is a great example of how life works.”
Catherine believes that people are complex and that they are not defined by one role or title.
“So I am not “just” a mother or wife or master of the last-minute, empty-fridge dinner. I am also a professional whom people rely on,” she said.
Working for Catherine has also been a sanity-saving constant in her life especially after transitioning to a family of four. She has had a difficult time adjusting to having two kids.
Catherine explains the adjustment period”…the first six months were especially hard. When I couldn’t get my baby to sleep, when my nipples were bleeding, when I yelled at my toddler for something minor, when my house was an absolute disaster, I still had to work—and it made me feel so. damn. good. After all, it was something I was good at. When it felt like I was failing at everything else, I still wrote killer copy.”
Something Catherine’s Proud of in Work and Motherhood:
Just a few months after her second child was born a web site that she helped to redesign, edit and write stories for went live.
“Not only did my manager love my stories, she told me that focus groups wanted them to be more prominent on the web site. Then parts of the stories were presented at Davos, the World Economic Forum meeting,” she said.
A typical work day in the life of a full-time writer that is a mother to two
“The only thing that’s typical is that it’s not typical!”
As a freelance writer Catherine’s work is fairly flexible. Some days she takes her oldest to gymnastic or her youngest to moms’ group.
“I am that person who checks her phone at library story time or preschool. Being semi-connected to work allows me to join these activities and know I’m not missing something time-sensitive. Most of the time, I don’t have to do any work at these activities,” she said.
Throughout the day Catherine does a mix of interviewing, writing, editing and corresponding. She is always writing more than one project at a time so the mix depends on where she is at on certain projects.
Since she is working from home, and because she dislikes pumping and the baby doesn’t like the bottle much, she takes her “breaks” to nurse her youngest. She also will take a break to read a book with her oldest or eat lunch with the family.
“I do have to work downstairs in my office so I can focus; otherwise Peeper would be constantly asking to type on my computer (she always starts her documents the same way: QWERTY !)” she explained.
The flexibility that her job affords during the day means that she will work at night and on the weekends as well.
When my kids are adults and look back at their childhood, I want them to know…
“My job is abstract. I mostly sit at a desk and tap black squares on a metal rectangle. I talk to people sometimes, but almost always on the phone or video,” Catherine said as she explained why her girls wouldn’t understand her job for some time. Unless she doesn’t have childcare for the day then she is working in her office and her girls don’t see her work.
“But I hope they remember my telling them and others about the stories I hear and write about. I hope they remember the way my eyes light up, how I gesture and get animated, how I put down my fork over dinner and tell people about something that demands my full attention,” she said.
Catherine also hopes that her working will help her daughters become more independent and creative.
“When I grew up, both my parents worked. Having a lot of free time on our own made me and my siblings invent fun for ourselves. We spent hours imagining ourselves as fairies or orphans or alligator wrestlers. We dedicated weeks to turning our play room into a haunted house. We made up songs and ran around outside and skinned our knees and broke windows (though not too often, thankfully),” Catherine shares.
“I want my girls to have a similar childhood – one that’s not micromanaged by me.”
Maternity Leave, Childcare & Mom Guilt… oh MY!
I absolutely had to ask a few questions about some of the topics that often come up for the working mom such as maternity leave, childcare, and the challenges & joys of working. I love the answers so much that I felt it was best to just put it in their own words. Read on to learn about the ups, downs, ins and outs of Erin’s working mom experience!
When did you go back to work after having your children?
With Peeper, I took maybe 5 months off. Then I worked part-time, freelancing stories – it worked out great. With Kiwi, I didn’t get that kind of time. I actually checked and sent emails from my phone from the hospital (and we stayed just a day). It’s not that I’m obsessed with work. The timing of the web site launch [mentioned above] that I had to get a certain amount of work done by the deadline, so I had to make sure stories were coming along. That said, I worked part-time for the first 3 months or so.
What type of childcare solutions do you use in order to work?
The way this is all possible is my mom. She comes up from Eugene, where my parents live, and stays 3 nights each week. She watches Max and Peeper much of the day so I can work—or occasionally take care of myself, like by showering or getting my hair cut or even getting a massage! A side benefit of my working is they have the most amazing relationship with their Nana. They are so very close, and I can’t begin to express how appreciative, grateful and lucky I am to have her.
Another bonus: My mom works for free! Ha!
What challenges do you have as a working mother?
I love what I do, but I also struggle with it. For one thing, I do feel guilty sometimes. Like if I’m downstairs working and one (or both) kids is upstairs crying, I feel terrible if I don’t immediately go to them. Usually it’s something minor and my mom handles it like the veteran/champion grandma she is. But a little part of me feels like I should be kissing the boo boos and reassuring my girls. My logical parts know that it’s even better that they have another reliable, loving adult who’s a constant in their lives. It still hurts, though.
When work is slow, which it sometimes is, the arrangement feels ideal: I get to be at home with my kids, work at something I genuinely enjoy and believe in, make money to help support my family. It feels almost like I have it all.
But when work gets busy—inevitably at a time when a lot else is going on—it feels like I’m stretched too thin, like an overinflated balloon threatening to pop any minute. For example, last week I was feeling the strain of writing something like 17 stories spread over 3 different projects; planning and hosting our co-op homeschool preschool; planning my sister’s baby shower; running the household; and doing the regular social life things that I’d feel utterly boring without. There just weren’t enough hours in the day.
I have learned to let go of so much. I let go of having a semi-clean house. (And the only reason it’s not a cesspool is I have hired a housecleaner who comes twice a month!) I let my mom order cupcakes for my sister’s shower instead of making them like I meant to. Our preschool lesson was sort of half-assed, but everyone had fun anyway.
I just have to mark my priorities. Everything that isn’t a priority ends up getting dropped or improvised or completed in a way that is less than perfect, and I have to make peace with that.
What joys do you have as a working mother?
It definitely makes me a better version of myself! That’s for a few reasons. At its most basic, work pushes me to interact with the outside world beyond my mom circles. Especially when you’re in the fog of new motherhood, when anything beyond your baby’s eating, sleeping and pooping routine is just too much, motherhood can feel kind of isolating. Especially when Kiwi was super-young, I didn’t know anything about current politics, I didn’t read the news (or anything else), I didn’t watch movies, I didn’t do anything besides care for my girls. I felt utterly boring. I still feel like that sometimes, but now I have something to talk about other than Kiwi’s horrible sleep. I can talk about the young people I interview and retell their inspiring stories.
What’s more, I like what I do, and nurturing the professional storyteller in me makes me a more whole individual. That’s good for everyone. It makes me happier, it makes me more interesting, it makes me a good example. After all, I want my girls growing up to believe that they are worth it. They are worthy of nurturing. They need not sacrifice themselves for someone else – even their kids.
Besides that, I really enjoy what I do. Like I already said, I love hearing people’s stories and retelling them to a wider audience. Because a lot of my writing is for a tech company’s philanthropy department, telling these stories helps people. For example, I told the story about a young man from Brazil who learned IT skills while he was in prison, and now he has taught hundreds of other disadvantaged youth, helping them turn their lives around. And I’m writing about a young woman in the Middle East who’s developing an app that will allow people to anonymously report domestic abuse and violence. This is important stuff, and I am fortunate in playing a very small part in advancing it.
How do you fulfill the other needs in your life (going back to school, working on a dream business, seeing friends, being creative, etc.) while working and being a mom?
I double-dip. I socialize with friends who have kids, I blog about motherhood, I freelance about topics relevant to me.
In the busy/hard times, other goals and pursuits take a back seat. I love blogging, but for the first four or so months of Kiwi’s life, I barely posted. Ditto when work gets really busy. I just started reading for pleasure again. I want to craft and create more, but with sleep still being so elusive, I haven’t been able to make the space in my life for that.
So I continually try to be gentle with myself for letting many of my interests hibernate.
How do you prioritize your family and children as a working mom?
A few examples:
I try to never pass up an opportunity to show my love, even if it’s a “drive-by.” If I come upstairs to fill my water, I swoop in for as many hugs and kisses as my toddler will tolerate, then I zoom back downstairs. It’s like a flash flood of love, haha!
I make sure we get family together time. With my husband and my schedule, this doesn’t always happen every day, at least for long. But we will go on a hike all together, or play out int the yard, or make cookies.
I try to listen. I try to brag on everyone within their earshot so they know I am paying attention to how awesome they are. I sometimes leave notes for my husband telling him I appreciate him. I (usually) don’t check my phone during meals. I arrange my schedule around important things my family loves, like moms’ group or gymnastics lessons. I share in what they love, whether it’s finger paints or banging on the xylophone or taking a long walk. And I do my best to join them in those things. One of our favorite things to do, for example, is “be a band,” as Peeper says. We get out all our instruments, bang on them even though non of us knows how to play them, and sing. Even Kiwi gets into it! (She kills the tiny toy piano!!!) I sort of shudder to imagine what the neighbors think of the racket, but I don’t care. We have fun.
I also outsource as much as I can so I can spend my free time with them, not scrubbing rings from the bathtub. I do almost all my shopping online. (Amazon Prime is my BFF!) Some meals consist of frozen fish sticks or ravioli from Costco. But my kids won’t remember that they ate cold tofu dogs for dinner; they’ll remember me pushing them on the swing, or me eating their pretend picnic, or me reading them book after book, or me simply lying in the middle of the living room floor with them.
Read more from Catherine:
Catherine writes about motherhood on her blog Ten Thousand Hour Mama— Check it out!
Thank you! A huge thank you to Catherine for sharing her story as a working mom and participating in this series. Does her story resonate with you? Share in the comments below or on social media with #wellcraftedworkingmoms !
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