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Balancing business & baby More women are embracing work at home instead of choosing between kids and careers.
BYLINE: Maria Mallory, Staff
SECTION: Job Guide

As Cheri Cappel Cowan and her toddler did their commute to day care a few mornings ago, they paused for an unplanned pit stop. "We saw an inchworm," Cowan explains. "We had to stop and watch for a while."
This was no maniacally suicidal inchworm wriggling its way across the highway during morning rush-hour traffic. Cowan and her son Cappy (short for Cappel, his first name) were on foot. As a work-at-home mom, Cowan has given up traffic jams and car seats, opting for a stress- free stroll through her Dunwoody neighborhood to her son's school.
Cowan, 40, is among the growing ranks of moms who have decided to telecommute or run their own businesses from home.
In the half century from 1947 to 1996, the work force participation of American women with preschool-age children has grown more than fivefold, rising to 62.3 percent from 12.0, according to government statistics. While many women choose to return to their pre-pregnancy career paths, many like Cowan opt not to.
"My first priority is my child. He's only going to be this age at this time," she says, adding that she didn't want to miss moments like the inchworm sighting.
Before her baby was born, Cowan had precious little time, not to mention desire, for such diversions. "I would have never done that, " she says.
And no wonder. A marketing and business operations veteran with nearly two decades of experience, Cowan was busy observing marketing strategies and business operations for corporate titans IBM, MCI and ADP. Married to a one-time entrepreneur, Cowan was the primary breadwinner.
With Cappy came a shift in focus from the Fortune 500 to putting her family first, says Cowan, 40.
"As I talked to moms where I brought Cappy to day care, some did not work at all. Some were planning to stop working or hoping to stop working," Cowan remembers. "At first it was 'Oh, isn't it wonderful that they can do that?' Then I started thinking, why couldn' t I? To me it was an adventure, and I wanted to see how these other moms were taking advantage of it."
Cowan's main concern was financial. Then, a chain of financially fortuitous events changed all that, as she netted a six-figure windfall from stock options that vested in the wake of MCI-WorldCom merger plans and she collected a substantial severance package when she opted to leave MCI after 6 1/2 years.
"When things started changing with MCI, that financial door opened," which gave her the "financial cushion" to seriously consider working from home, Cowan says.
Since March, Cowan has been working with InterAsk, a fast-growing Internet marketing and Web site development firm with headquarters in the Perimeter Mall area, a short drive from her home. She works closely with some of the company's largest clients, including Zap Entertainment, Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and author John Gray of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" fame.
It's a job that offers Cowan the chance to work within the fast- paced Internet, growth-company environment and a new-economy flexibility that she says company founder Frank Farris insists on. InterAsk's 20 employees often work independently from their homes, only convening face to face as a group at the company headquarters once a week for planning sessions.
"(Frank) really wants this to be a place to work that fits into life," Cowan says. "He doesn't want this to be another grind. He's got a young child, too."
Cowan has traded this flexibility for the higher wages she would command at a more traditional company.
"I'm taking less pay in exchange for equity," says Cowan, who has been working since March as a consultant for InterAsk, billing them hourly for her work. Next month, however, she will sign on as chief operating officer.
To be sure, not all moms who'd like to are in a position to work from home. Not everyone is as financially fortunate as Cowan. Not everyone has an employer as flexible as InterAsk. Not everyone shares the responsibility for home with a spouse or partner. And not everyone works in an industry or with a skill set that easily translates to telecommuting or entrepreneurship.
As a result, there are many variables to consider before taking the work-at-home plunge. Clearly, telecommuting and home-based employment aren't for everybody.
What's more, choosing the right business is an equally challenging consideration, especially with the number of scams out there, including so-called employers who require up-front fees before permitting you to work.
Despite the obstacles, more women are embracing working at home as a viable alternative to what has traditionally been considered the Hobson's choice between motherhood and a successful career. There has been an "assumption that no woman in her right mind would actually choose to 'make the sacrifice' and leave the mental stimulation of the workplace simply to take care of her children," writes Cheryl Demas in her soon-to-be-released book "The Work-at-Home Mom's Guide to Home Business."
"I've been kind of surprised that there are women across all demographic groups" who work at home, Demas said in a recent interview. "I meet really young women who don't have children yet but know they want to have a home business established for when they have children."
Demas, who runs, said she has also heard from grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren as well as single fathers raising their kids. However, "I just focus on moms," Demas said.
A mom herself, Demas knows first-hand the intricacies involved with balancing the desire to continue working and full-time mothering.
Six years ago, two days before giving birth to her second child, Demas' 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with diabetes. Having worked for years as an engineer, Demas had already been struggling with the desire to be at home. The news of her daughter's condition hastened her return home, but she was determined not to give up her career.
Instead, she launched a home-based business building Web sites. While she was at it, she put up her own site in 1995, where she chronicled her experiences and concerns as a fledgling home-based entrepreneur. Demas quickly found she wasn't alone, and her site swiftly became more than just a hobby for this self-described "closet writer."
"As my Web site started getting more and more hits, advertisers started coming to me and asking if they could advertise on my Web site," Demas said. "I actually had people coming to me, saying, 'I want to give you money.' "
Demas expects her profits to top six figures this year. With and now the book, she seeks to offer encouragement, advice and support for other work-at-home moms.
Jan Frieman is an Alpharetta-based work-at-home mom who has consulted Demas' site.
Frieman started out telecommuting, doing administrative work for United States Surgical Corp., a medical supply company, after deciding following the birth of her first child in 1990 that she wanted to work from home.
She worked for USSC for five years and employed a full-time nanny for more than three years of that time. When the job ended in October, Frieman continued to work from home, doing contract work exclusively. Today, her primary client is a gift wholesaler with a showroom in the Atlanta Mart. She also does freelance secretarial work for between $15 and $18 an hour that she culls from sites such as and
Even with the previous expense for the live-in nanny, Frieman says working at home was more cost-effective for her family. "My husband and I sat down and we looked at it, the money that I brought in (working from home) would be more than the cost of working away from the home, " she says. "We sat down and put down all the (expenses) --- getting a wardrobe, child care, lunch and the other things that you would have to do. It just wasn't worth it."
Frieman, whose son and daughter are 5 and 10, respectively, says she doubts she'll ever go back to working outside the home. " I made a comment about going back to work in an office, and my son' s first response was, 'What happens if I get sick in school or you have to bring me something?' " she says. "The look on (his) face: It was 'You won't be there for me.' "
Frieman also says being at home sets her mind at ease that she has the flexibility in her work routine to meet her kids' needs. Bottom line, she says, "you can't put a price tag" on that peace of mind.

ILLUSTRATIONS/PHOTOS: In her office in her Dunwoody home, consultant Cheri Cowan finds time for her active 2-year-old son, Cappy. / JENNI GIRTMAN / Staff
Cappy Cowan entertains his mom during a work break. "Enjoying him while he's this age is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Cheri Cowan said. / JENNI GIRTMAN / Staff
Author and Web master Cheryl Demas offers this self-assessment exercise to help moms decide whether they should take the work-at-home plunge.

To determine reasons for working from home:
If I choose to work at home, what is the best thing that could happen?
What is the worst thing that could happen?
Why do I really want to do this?
What things are stopping me from working at home?
How will my family and I benefit if I start a home business?
Will my family suffer in any way if I work at home?
Will my family benefit in any way if I continue working away from home?
Will we suffer in any way if I continue to work away from home?

To determine if you're suited for working at home:
Do I have the self-discipline necessary to work on my own?
Will I be able to handle the isolation that comes with working on my own?
Will I be able to work efficiently and keep my business paperwork organized?
Can I afford to do without an income until my business is established?
Can I fit regular working hours into my daily schedule?
Do I have a network of friends and family who will support my business and me?
Am I willing to get the training I need, take the classes and attend seminars that are necessary to run my business?

Maria Mallory, Staff, Balancing business & baby More women are embracing work at home instead of choosing between kids and careers.. , The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 06-25-2000, pp R1


[Workaholics] || [MOTHER KNOWS BEST] || [Balancing business & baby] || [at-home moms] || [Home Work] || [Flexible work styles] || [The Happy Home Office] || [Teleworking]


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