More women try to have it all

Updated: Sep 30 2006, 05:58am hrs
In the 1980s, women were sold the idea that it was possible to do it all: Scale the corporate ladder and carve out a career identity with one hand while baking cookies and changing diapers with the other. By the 1990s, however, moms realised that model was usually fiction and most felt forced to choose between family and career. But the do-it-all dream is enjoying a rebirth among some women. Thanks to technology, hands-on husbands and the buildup in home equity, a number of mompreneurs are starting their own businesses and creating the kind of flexible work schedules women have always wanted. I didnt want to go back to work just to sit at a desk and bring in a paycheck that would have been offset by what I would pay for child care, said Jennifer Gunn, an Altadena mother of two and inventor of the Cupcake Courier, a handy plastic container for carrying and storing up to 36 cupcakes.

Unless I had to go back, or I had studied to become a doctor or lawyer ... I wouldnt want to make a small amount of money and then pay someone else to raise my kids. A former floral designer who also has done work for upscale home decor and clothing retailer Anthropologie, Gunn said she always assumed she would go back to work in some form, but raising her kids was just as important. For her, it was a matter of creating the right mix.

She came up with the idea for her product while hauling dozens of cupcakes to school events and birthday parties. She has invested about $40,000 so far, partly from a home equity loan originally intended for redoing a bathroom. But the Cupcake Courier looks promising.

It is set to debut on QVC in the next month or so, Gunn said. Like Gunn, Stacie Mindich-Jordan got the idea for her business, BabyDish, from her children. When she had her second child a few years ago, the former marketing manager for the entertainment weekly Variety became frustrated with the lack of pre-packed diaper bags. So she created one. I was just going to be retired, and then I started doing some research and got in touch with manufacturers and fabric people and sent it to Hong Kong. Mindich-Jordan has some serious connections she has contacts through her former job, and her husband works on Access Hollywood that have helped turn her bag into a must-have for celebrity moms.

Still, she never expected the response her bag has received since she launched it on March1. The orders just kept coming in, she said. The web site was getting 500,000 hits a week. Mindich-Jordan said she routinely works until 4am at home, plus most days from a rented office one mile from home in Sherman Oaks. The close location allows her to interrupt her day to pick up her son from school, or take her 2-year-old daughter to Mommy & Me classes. Despite her years in the corporate world, she said she loves the flexibility of coming and going as she pleases, even though she is working harder than ever.

Weekend warrior Mompreneurs fortunate enough to have husbands who are making enough to support the family have a leg up in starting small businesses. But some super-motivated moms arent letting their full-time jobs crowd out their entrepreneurial aspirations. Jenean Witherspoon is a mother of four in Covina who works the graveyard shift at a Pomona rehabilitation hospital. She takes online courses in hospitality management through the University of Phoenix. On the weekends, she hosts all kinds of tea parties for her two-year-old business, Princess Dreams Tea Parties. Her fantasy is to have her own bed-and-breakfast, which she said would probably be located out of state, if the dream materialises. Witherspoon charges from about $200 to $300 per party and usually does two a month. Her goal is to quit her job and focus on the business full time. For the kids, I would rather be home during the week, and thats one of the biggest motivators for me, she said.

The common denominator among these mompreneurs aside from boundless energy and a desire to raise their children themselves for the first few years is a persistent motivation to attain the kind of adjustable work-life balance not found in a corporate setting. In a survey of 2,000 mothers nationwide, The Motherhood Project found that 41% work full time, while just 16% said they would choose full-time work if they could design their ideal work situation. One in three mothers said they would prefer to work part time, and about 30% said they would prefer to work for pay from home. Overall, a majority of mothers said they want to be employed but in positions that do not demand so much of their time.

NY Times / Barbara Correa