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At-home moms with at-home businesses make it work

Marty Levine
January31/ 2013

Rachel Gogos remembers a time, near the beginning of her years running a home business with two daughters now 7 and 5, “when I had lined up a phone call with a fairly new client and the kids were involved in doing something fun. Then the fun ended, and they began looking for me.

“They’re aware that you’re on the phone but they don’t really care,” she recalls. “I initially locked myself in the closet and then the bathroom.”

Gogos, 41, of Peters Township, runs the online branding and marketing company brandiD and writes a digital business column for the Post-Gazette, among other endeavors. She agrees with all the women Kidsburgh interviewed: She has no plans to work outside the home any time soon, but still finds it a challenge to toil with tots at home. “Sometimes it’s down to the wire,” she says. “I’ll finish a call literally as they are walking up from the school bus.”

Even today, she simply won’t talk to a new or prospective client when the kids are around.

Kelly McNelis doesn’t even tell clients she is on vacation. McNelis, 30, of Dormont, has two daughters at home, ages 3 and 17 months. At the shore this summer, she retreated to the beach house to keep working when calls came in. With a Ph.D. in social-personality psychology, McNelis runs New Leaf Wellness, providing personal and group wellness coaching over the phone. She has also published an e-cookbook for working parents and writes her business’s blog.

She uses timers to keep herself on track. “I make to-do lists and assign amounts of time I will spend on each task,” she says. “I don’t spend too much time on one activity.”

Still, she admits, “Sometimes it’s improvised. One time I was doing a class on the phone over lunch and I didn’t have a babysitter, so my dad left work to watch my kids.”

And sometimes a mom’s best plans go awry. Carrie Nardini, 36, of Brookline, founded theI Made It Market in 2007, then Indie Foundry and Propelle to market artists. Her son is 17 months old.

She recalls preparing for the next day’s Market at the South Side Works last summer: a 12-hour event in 95-degree heat involving 65 artists.

“He was a terrible, horrible, awful sleeper,” she says of her son. He woke up twice the night before the event, and she was nursing. “All the people I was supposed to be working with that day cancelled. I remember standing there, changing him in the middle of the night and crying. That was really a mini-breakdown — ‘Oh my God, how am I going to function the next day?’ You read about what other moms experience. But you feel like no one is in the same boat.” She once tried to get a bunch of creative-type moms together to swap tips. “It just never came about — we were like, when will we do this?”

The balancing act

How do moms balance work stuck in the middle of a busy home?

“Your whole life becomes like a workday,” says Nina Gibbs. “You have to be able to take breaks to do the baby thing. I think my ADD really helps.”

Gibbs, 32, of Garfield, is raising her one-year-old while running multiple businesses. She helps husband Jason Sauer with Most Wanted Fine Art in the Penn Avenue Arts Corridor. The pair also started a general-contracting business that provides job skills and a trade to youth recently released from prison. Gibbs is co-producer of the 48 Hour Film Project for Pittsburgh and is on the board of Dormont’s Hollywood Theater, for which she is working on a Pittsburgh film and TV history exhibit, set for the spring.

“My projects lend themselves to being at home with the baby,” she says. “I set the projects out far enough in advance so I have time to work on them. I’m already working on stuff for October.”

Says Rachel Gogos: “It’s really not balancing, it’s integrating. I just have very dedicated work hours, and if I have more to do I typically plug in at night. It’s really a matter of keeping everything moving forward consistently and being organized.”

Carrie Nardini has used a babysitter several days a week, combined business errands with baby-shoe shopping and employed what she calls “power blocks” to separate business from baby. “It’s rough,” she says. “There are a lot of puzzle pieces that have to line up, and some days you have to give in and say, it’ll get done when it gets done.”

Julie Peterson, 40, had to travel to London to train for her home job. She has opened one of America’s few House of Colour franchises, through which she does personal color and style consulting and offers classes in beauty and personal care.

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Peterson lived in the British capital previously, but came to Pittsburgh’s North Side more than five years ago with her husband and kids, now 2 and 6.

You want challenging? she asks. “Getting two kids up and dressed in the morning is usually a challenge. I wanted to stay in a business I felt good about and do good for people — but I wanted to spend time with my children. I felt like I didn’t have kids for other people to raise them. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, not a lot of parents get to spend their time with their children.”

At the end of August, she travelled abroad for the House of Colour’s three-week training. “That was stressful, she says. “Not that I was worried about them, but I was making a big, life-changing decision, not only for me but for my husband and kids.”

“You definitely have to be a self starter, because you’re not surrounded every day by people in an office who keep you motivated and help you take the next step,” says Shannon Rizzo, 47, of Dormont, who balances a home business — selling Thirty One Gifts with a hotel sales job and caring for three kids of 7, 9 and 15. “I thought I was the last person who would have a home business,” she says. Now Thirty One “happens at any point. Everything overlaps.”

Jacqueline Massacci, 32, of Mt. Lebanon, is a single mom with a 10-year-old daughter. “One of the biggest challenges for any business owner,” she points out, “is that when you decide to go out on your own, there is not a steady income.”

Massacci founded Image Consulting by Design in 2009, doing wardrobe consultations, personal styling and shopping for high-end clientele going through life changes — new career, newly single or simply sporting a new clothing size.

Of course, she also says, working nine to five has its own challenges. Before she left a previous corporate post, her daughter had to stay after school for three hours until Massacci could pick her up.

“The best part of working at home is that I can set my own schedule,” she says. “I can meet my daughter. I can pick her up after school and we can do homework on the kitchen table.”

The most rewarding part

In fact, Massacci says, even her daughter prefers mom to work at home. “I got a call from someone who saw an old resume of mine online, and my daughter said, ‘I don’t want you to go back to work like that. I just want you to work like this so we can spend time together.'”

“Motherhood is a balancing act, no matter what you do,” says McNelis. “If you work at home, if you work in an office, if you don’t work. I don’t think it’s that different than all the other juggling parents do.”

“For me,” concludes Gogos, “it was really important for my kids to see a role model of someone able to do both things — to work as a parent. It’s important for your kids to know what real life it like.”

From top to bottom: Jacqueline Massacci, Kelly McNelis, Nina Gibbs
Photographs by John Altdorfer
, except for photo of Kelly McNelis, which was provided by the subject.

Marty Levine