Zibby Owens: Today I’m talking to Marti Bledsoe Post who’s the author of Retrofit: The Playbook for Modern Moms. She is an executive coach and transformation leader at Mindset Digital, where she was previously the chief strategy officer, and a founding member of Women in Digital. A former White House intern with twenty years of experience in marketing and social media, Marti is now a professional champion of working mothers as the founder of a’parently, that’s, a’parently, get it? Parent-ly. A graduate of Kent State University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, she currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her two children.

Welcome, Marti. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Marti Bledsoe Post: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: Of course. I was beyond excited when I got your book in the mail, Retrofit: The Playbook for Modern Moms. I started flipping through it. You had all these amazing resources for working moms. One of the resources was my podcast! I almost died. I was in the kitchen flipping through. I was like, “You guys, look!” Very effective way to get on the show, I have to say, and I’m sure for all the podcasts you mention and everything.

Marti: I’ve been following and loving what you’re doing. It’s exciting to be able to collaborate with you.

Zibby: Thank you. This is super fun. This is great. I wanted to talk about your book, but I also want to talk about how you got into this whole world. You started a’parently. You are now an advocate for the working mom and have dedicated your life to helping others. Tell me how this all started, what you were doing before, and how you’ve arrived in this role today, in case that’s not enough to talk about at once.

Marti: I was in a marketing agency career for almost twenty years, which in marketing agencies is like 250 years. I loved the work. I loved the pace. I loved the clients. I loved the teams I got to work with. I was exhausted and burnt out and really stressed. My kids were three and eight. We were juggling the beginning of elementary school and learning about how you get two kids at such different ages and stages through their life. I was a reluctant warrior on this. I was asked to give a tell-all talk on being a working mom at a conference. It was a women’s conference. It was in my hometown. It was my industry, so I knew I would know a lot of women in the room. I was really scared. I had a VP title. I had a big team. I thought if I stand up there and really say, “This is kind of a mess most days,” that my boss would say, “I’ll find someone who’s not a mess to do this role,” and in fact every other boss in town would think the same thing. I really felt career jeopardy about it.

However, I also found out that my story was not unique. I have a consumer research background. I kicked into high gear and started doing focus groups and interviews with other women in the same situation. What I heard over and over was, “We all feel this incredible tension and pulling on both sides. We feel lost in the middle. We’re overwhelmed.” I also read The History of Silence by Rebecca Solnit. She writes that who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. I thought, okay, if I don’t stand up there and say, “This is really hard. It’s really costing me a lot. It’s costing a lot for the women I’ve talked to,” then everyone’s going to keep on thinking working motherhood is just stressful. This is just the way it is. I wanted a chance to change that narrative. It was the most freeing experience of my life to stand up in front of that room and unburden and lift off all of the assumptions and all of the coverups. I was really good at joking about my situation. I’d arrive at work, wipe away tears, go to the coffee pot, and say, “Boy, you wouldn’t believe I chased a toddler all morning,” or whatever and make it funny and cover up what was really hard about it, which was I don’t feel ready to be at work. I didn’t get to close the door while at home or whatever. I think a lot of us were doing that. I wanted to just bust that open and be more honest.

Zibby: What happened?

Marti: I cried. The women in the room cried. Then somebody raised their hands for Q&A. I answered maybe two questions. Then the women in the room started answering each other’s questions and asking each other and going back and forth. I stood back and realized this is what needs to happen. It’s not really my story, per se. It’s just a story has been told. Truth has been cracked open. Now women feel safe to share what it’s like for them. The conference organizers were standing outside the room, “We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to switch this room out.” Everybody was still talking. I thought, this is pent-up conversation because it’s so real. We’re not joking. We’re not saving face. We’re being honest. We need more of this. That’s what led me to start creating workshop programming around this. The idea for a’parently at first was I’ll go out and do these workshops. We’ll tackle these issues more in-depth. We’ll problem solve in the room. Then eventually I realized, that’s fine. It’s very valuable work. I want to continue to do that work. I also want to bring in employers. I want to have the conversation inside the business world as well. I think if companies can create safety for women to tell the truth about the intersection of their personal life and their work life, they’ll be more inspired and more loyal and more ready to step into leadership roles with that company simply for having had that opportunity. The corporate consulting is the next frontier for me.

Zibby: How has this now affected your state of mind? Has it helped you? Are you feeling just as frazzled when you get to this work? Is it a different type of experience? Has cracking it open helped?

Marti: It really helped me in two ways. One, it just freed up that big sense of silence and coverup that I was living under. In some ways, it took my imposter syndrome away a bit because it was really honest. The other thing, though, is that it gave me purpose work. I loved my marketing career. I really enjoyed agency work. I loved all the clients I had the opportunity to work on, but this is work that is more purpose based. I get out of bed in the morning because working moms are counting on me to continue to be a voice. It’s work that feels worth leaving my kiddos for. It’s work that feels worth crusading for or being inconvenienced for or being scared for. It helps me get over the fear of, who am I to be a consultant for working mothers? I don’t have a coaching background. I’m turning all of my journalism and consumer research work around to focus on this. I do still have moments where I’m like, what am I thinking? How can I possibly do this?

Zibby: This is the imposter syndrome you were talking about?

Marti: A little bit, yeah. What I remember always is Elizabeth Gilbert, in Big Magic, she wrote, “The work wants to be made. It wants to be made through you.” I just go back to that. I keep thinking, if I don’t make the work today, if I don’t focus on this today, then I’m letting down the cause. It helps me get over the imposter syndrome and dig in and do it less than perfectly lots of days, less than all the way lots of day, but still one foot after the other and trying.

Zibby: That’s excellent.

Marti: I’m trying. I’m trying.

Zibby: Marti’s wearing a shirt that says, “Viv la evolution.” This came out of the talk from that day?

Marti: Yes.

Zibby: Not to mention a gorgeous necklace that I need to immediately go online and find somewhere and buy myself.

Marti: This was the T-shirt from that conference. It was the second year of the conference. They were focusing on how we evolve. This whole idea of evolution was important to me because I felt like my career was evolving. I felt like my story was evolving. I felt like my identity was even evolving a little bit. I really latched onto that. I love it because it mimics that viva la revolution idea, but it’s the growth side. It’s what happens after you have the revolution. You have to continue to move and grow. That’s what I love about it.

Zibby: Very cool. How did the idea for this book come about?

Marti: I got a book for Christmas last year. It was a five-by-seven, full-color, pocket-size book making an argument about social media, which was my former career. I was very interested in it still. I read the book. It was a quick read. I thought, that’s what moms need, is a quick, small book that brings home some of these points about what we’re facing and yet can do it in a purse-sized book. It’s six-by-six. It’s small. It’s cute. My daughter says it’s like a board book for moms.

Zibby: Oh, that’s true. It is kind of like a board book. It is. I love it.

Marti: It does look like a board book.

Zibby: You could spin this off. This could become some sort of board game. These are the spots. You could see this all.

Marti: We could.

Zibby: That would be fun.

Marti: That would be fun.

Zibby: I have an idea for a board game. Maybe I’ll talk to you about it.

Marti: We should talk about that.

Zibby: It’s called Time Out. Every spot, you have to write your family’s, like what would get your kid a time out. Then time out, you would go back two spaces. Then if you did something like brush your teeth, you’d go forward a few spaces.

Marti: That’s smart.

Zibby: Anyway, whatever. It’s probably not relevant to this.

Marti: But it is fun.

Zibby: This would look like a very cool board game board. Go on. So six-by-six. It’s bright and yellow and orange and red and purple and blue, and very fun.

Marti: Believe it or not, when I started the book I thought — I did a sticky note storyboard first. That was really helpful. Then I started laying it out in Microsoft PowerPoint because I’ve designed a lot of presentations in my work. To me, this was basically distilling what you would present in my workshops or in my talks, but in a way that you could digest as a reader. I started the layout in PowerPoint. I had this fantasy that I was going to do the entire book in PowerPoint and PDF it and send it to the printer. I was seven out of ten months into it before the design vision — before reality hit. I’ll just say that. What I realized — I think this is a powerful message for any writer. I had gotten so fixated on the layout because I wanted it to be bright and beautiful. I wanted this cool square shape. I wanted the points to line up. I was focusing more on the design than the story. I learned that when a friend of mine who’s a designer sat down with me. We looked at it together. I was pointing out to her, I was so proud of my PowerPoint design.

She said, “What is the main heart of chapter three?” I couldn’t answer her because I was so focused on the boxes and the lines and the colors. She said, “Why don’t you let me lay it out? I’ll worry about, is it consistent every single page? Are the squares all the same size? You think about, what’s the heart of each chapter? What’s the story I’m telling?” The manuscript made a major jump when I did that. I punched up all the exercises that were in there. Prior to that, they were much more like every one was just a Q&A page. I actually got in there and thought, how do I think differently about these? I streamlined my own personal stories a bit and punched up some of the statistics. I couldn’t have done that rev if she hadn’t extracted me from the design process. I’m very, very grateful to her. Her name is Jen Bajeck . She’s super talented. She’s an amazing partner. That’s really where I think the book was born for me, was in that revision. That was seven months out of ten. That was pretty late in the game.

Zibby: You had the book idea. You decided you’re just going to do it yourself. Did you ever think about making a proposal and trying to get a publisher, go the traditional publishing route? You just decided you wanted to hand this out? What was your vision?

Marti: The vision definitely is to hand it out at workshops and programming. I wanted speed. I wanted speed because two things. There’s an election coming. It’s going to get real noisy next year. I wanted my message out before that happened. The beautiful thing is the candidates are starting to talk about family policy. It’s going to dovetail into some of those topics, which is great, but I wasn’t sure. Also, it’s not that I didn’t want to get rejected by publishers. I just didn’t want to leave it to anyone else to decide. I felt like I have something to say. I have a way to say it. There is a whole self-publishing world out there for this reason, so I’m just going to go for it. That’s why I went the route that I went.

Zibby: How have you found the self-publishing process to be? Did you love it? Would you do it again?

Marti: I would do it again.

Zibby: What would you warn people about if they want to do something similar?

Marti: In a book like this which is very visual, there’s no way that my design skill could’ve gotten me from my PDF’d PowerPoint to that book. The designer, she did a huge amount of work with the publisher back and forth on pagination. Little things come up and you’re like, I don’t know, how many blank fly sheets do I need? She said, “Which page are you going to sign?” I was like, I don’t know, which page am I going to sign? It helped me to have somebody there who understood book pagination, book layout, and could go back and forth with the printer. I felt, again, like that let my focus stay on the message of the book and where we’re going to send the book out and those kinds of things. I think you almost need a guide, whether it’s a coach or a design person or someone at the printer or publisher to help you navigate that.

Zibby: How did you pick your publisher?

Marti: I picked them. They’re local to Ohio where I’m from. Their name is 48 Hr Books. They live that promise. Like I said, I was in speed mode. I went with them. They lived up to the promise of being super fast. Everything was amazing, attention to detail. The UPS guy was in my driveway, as promised. I basically tackled him when he got out of the truck. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, those are my books!” He was laughing because it was an expedited, high-priority box. He knew there was something special in there. I was so pleased with the way it all came together.

Zibby: I spend so much time thinking about the process of publishing now and how slow it is, hearing about people’s journeys throughout this thing, like when they had the idea, the five years it took to write the book, then handing it in. Then it’s a year talking to bookstores. Why? There must be a better way. Obviously, self-publishing is out there. To hear from the horse’s mouth how amazing that in forty-eight hours you could have your idea be in your hands versus waiting a year, it’s crazy.

Marti: It’s crazy. Now, all the getting the book out there is now on me to do. It comes with its own set of new challenges, but I have the book in my hand to get out there. I’m not pitching a proposed book that’ll be out in 2020. I have the book.

Zibby: Are you trying to sell it into — I’m sorry, I’m so interested in this aspect. I want to talk about the content as well. Are you trying to sell it to bookstores to sell for you? Are you going to sell just online? What’s your marketing plan here?

Marti: My main plan, I’m selling it through my site right now. Then I do want to get it out into bookstores.

Zibby: What’s your website in case people want to buy?

Marti: Thank you. It’s, is where you can buy it.

Zibby: M-A-R…

Marti: I want to get it out to booksellers in conjunction with an event. Again, this is a workbook kind of thing. This goes really well with a short talk. It goes really well if people get to hear a bit of, how did this come to be? When you first pick it up, it’s not a typical book. It’s kind of a workbook, but there’s some storytelling in it. There’s all these startling statistics. At least I still find them startling.

Zibby: Yeah, for sure.

Marti: I want the chance to be in the stores and telling people this is what this book is about and maybe even encourage people to take on some of those first exercises in a group setting. That’s the beauty of, again, when moms start to talk to each other, the magic happens, as we all have probably experienced.

Zibby: It would be neat if you could get book clubs to do it just with their preexisting groups as opposed to people coming in to take a workshop. You’re a marketing person. You don’t need my two cents on this. It just seems like if I sat down with a group of my friends, this would be really great. I might even need that sort of accountability to take myself through this workbook.

Marti: I think you’re right, and also women’s groups at companies or moms’ groups. I think it’s a great bit of content for people who already feel safe to digest together too, for sure.

Zibby: Even with your spouse in a way, like, here’s how I feel about these answers. Depends on the spouse.

Marti: Doesn’t everything?

Zibby: You wrote in the book, “It could be that the biggest problem for working moms today is actually what happens at home, or more accurately, what doesn’t happen.” What did you mean?

Marti: For my generation of working moms, we had a running narrative in my groups of friends that we just need to lower our standards. We just need to live with a messy house, a dirty car, a not-maintained car because we’re so busy. Again, I think we were joking and covering up there’s five loads of unfolded laundry on my bed. That never really sat right with me because I’m one of those people who’s influenced by my environment. My home never felt like a haven because it was so chaotic. I couldn’t keep up with it. I started thinking about, why am I the only one trying to keep up with it? When I can’t do, at the time, my full-time job that was the primary breadwinning job in my family and parent these two children the way I believe they needed to be parented and keep up with all this house stuff, why did the answer become, just back off the standards? Why isn’t the answer, everybody pitch in? We agree as a family this is the standard. We don’t leave five loads of laundry unfolded on Mommy’s bed because Mommy has to sleep.

As I looked into it and as I read more and more data about how women do the majority of unpaid work at home, whether it’s the housework, the childcare, the pet care, just the general maintenance stuff, the split is still something like sixty-five percent/thirty-five percent. It’s been that way for decades. When a man gets up and goes to work in the morning and a lot of that stuff’s been done for him or thought about or worried about by someone else, he shows up at work with a sense of agency. He is there to work. The distractions, if they were ever there, they’ve melted away. The woman, in my case, was showing up at work still feeling like I never called back the pediatrician because I was already on hold with the school the whole way to work. I left dishes in the sink. Now I have to come home to that. The static that that was creating made me feel less prepared to hit my workday running. That’s not really fair because my job brings in most of the money.

How can I be better prepared to hit my workday? I need more help at home. That was probably one of the hardest things for me as I started to put the book together. How do you say the hardest thing about being a professional woman is not the profession? It’s the house. That feels like a 1955 thing to say. Yet here we are in almost 2020 with these modern expectations of women and moms and these very outdated ideas and support systems, which is where, to me, the retrofit, the tension of modern and almost vintage ideas, the collision is happening right now. We’re having to examine all these layers. It is also happening at work in a way. It’s also about home. It’s about parenting. It’s about digital trends and iPads and Snapchat.

Zibby: Has it been effective in reassigning some of the things at home? I feel like I often go on these kicks, like, “It would be so much faster if other people would help me clear this table. Look how fast we do it altogether versus just me.” Then everyone’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Mom. Okay, whatever.”

Marti: We read a great book called — it’s in here — How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Have you read that one?

Zibby: I haven’t.

Marti: I actually listened to it on Audible, in all honesty.

Zibby: That’s okay. That still counts. You don’t have to make an excuse for listening to Audible.

Marti: Thank you. One of the things I learned in there — this doesn’t work all the time. I’m not pretending it’s paradise at home. One of the things I did learn in there was if you simply offer information and then shut up — so instead of “Put the milk away” it’s, “The milk can’t sit out on the counter all day because it will spoil.” Then zip your lips. That’s where the hard part comes. I have noticed that is a better technique to get my kids to chip in than to say, “Put away the milk.” That’s the kind of parenting tip or trick that I loved. I love to learn. I have a learner’s mind. I also mention in the book, it just never occurred to me that I’d be on this learning journey as a parent as in-depth as I am. It’s everything from how do I get them to chip in? How do I discipline? How do I know if they’re where they’re supposed to be in school?

I’m reading books about this stuff and thinking I don’t feel like I have time to do that, but I need to do that work. That’s important work. It’s how I’m going to learn to be a good, better mother. There’s no degree in that. This is my way of trying to get that degree and pick up these different expert ideas. That was one that was like, oh, that’s really cool. That’s a good idea. Other ones were the notion of validating our kids’ feelings. As busy adults, you’re trying to get out the door and you’re like, “Put on your shoes. Hurry up. Grab your backpack,” and right then is the, “I’m so sad, Mom. I lost my necklace,” and having to pause and be like, “That is really sad.” That was in a different book, but had I not read that, that would never have occurred to me. I would’ve just been like, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” Those are the kinds of things that, as a mother, I want to spend time investing in and learning and trying. We’ve also tried things in our house and our daughter, who is now ten, is looking at me like, did you read that in a book? Skeptical, like, “Oh, Mom.” She’ll say, “You’re talking like a book. You’re talking weird.” She’s onto me.

Zibby: When I was growing up, my mother had a little parenting book next to her bed, which back then felt like — I was like, what do you mean parenting? What? Why on earth would you read a book just to be — don’t you know how to do this?

Marti: Right, you’re the grown-up here. You are a parent.

Zibby: Now there’s the whole culture as if we haven’t read 57,000 parenting books, we’re in trouble. Great information obviously comes from all these because we need all the help we can get. I certainly do. Wow, super interesting. What is coming next for you? Where do you want this to go? What’s your grand vision?

Marti: My grand vision is that anytime we talk about women’s leadership, we talk about parenting at the same time, working parenting. It’s still unequal. It’s unequal at home. It’s unequal at work. There was a fascinating story just a couple days ago on CNN from the CEO of Stitch Fix who said the fact that we give the woman twelve weeks of leave and we maybe give the dad a week or two means we have a primary caregiver and a secondary caregiver. From day one professionally, we are seeing these two people as not equally responsible for that life. I just thought, wow, that’s a huge insight about where we put our priority. Women weren’t home alone with their kids until after World War II. This is a modern idea, that the mom stays home and is the primary caregiver until school age. We’ve somehow now believed that if a woman deviates from that, she has to be called a working mom because it’s clear that she’s doing something different than being a mom. She needs this qualifier, which is why I didn’t put working mom in the book title. I think it’s a strange phrase.

Caitlyn Collins, in her book Making Motherhood Work, when she asked a question of Swedish mothers in her interviewing, the translator relayed the question and they didn’t understand the phrase working mom. They went back and forth a couple times because working mom, it didn’t make any sense. In Swedish culture, they’re just moms. Everyone works. To me, we have to change how we perceive it at work and at home. We’ve had the conversation at home forever. We have talked about this in our book clubs, in our Facebook mom groups, in our wine nights, in our coffee meetups, in our fitness groups. Nothing’s changing. I think we have to talk about it at work. My grand vision is we’re talking about it on LinkedIn. We’re talking about in the Harvard Business Review. We’re talking about in leadership consulting work and development conferences. When we look at the gender diversity across a board or an executive team and we say there’s not enough women on here, we go find out how we can make the parenthood piece easier. To me, that will balance the gender equality issue.

Zibby: Awesome. Any advice to aspiring authors?

Marti: Oh, my gosh. I would say I wrote this book in the most imperfect conditions you could possibly imagine. I was transitioning my career. I am transitioning out of my marriage. I’m going through a divorce this year. The book came to life in ten months because I simply ignored all the conditions. I just ignored them. I don’t have enough time to sit down and get very many pages done, so I’m not going to start. Nope, I’m going to do one page. I don’t have my laptop with me. Nope, that thing went with me everywhere for ten months. I’m not even joking. It was never away from me more than an arm’s length for ten months. It was by my bed. It was in my bag. It was in the car. I was looking for those little spots everywhere. I just feel like I never stopped. I kept putting stuff on the page. As I’ve shared, it went through a major revision. That was great. I wasn’t trying to get it right the first time. I was just trying to get it out and make it look good in PowerPoint. Then I had a good realization about that. You just have to keep creating. When that doubt comes in, it starts to take on the form of all these circumstances. This is not the right time. I don’t have enough time. Those are wonderful excuses. The fact is, if it’s important, you’ll find a way. If it’s not important, you’ll find an excuse. It’s one of those annoying sayings that people level at you when you’re like, ahh! But it’s so true. I kept thinking, how can I find a way today to write? Some days, I couldn’t. There were some days this summer where I just couldn’t. I also was like, okay, I’ll write tomorrow.

It’s a balance of pushing and forgiving, and pushing and forgiving, and then revising. It’s never great the first time, but it’s a start. It was very freeing. It was very, very freeing to just put it down on paper. At one point I was like, what if people don’t agree with my take on this? What if they don’t agree it’s harder than ever to be a working mom? What if they don’t agree it’s harder in the US than anywhere else? What if they don’t like this notion of modern expectations and outdated support systems? I came back to that’s the beauty of self-publishing. It’s mine. It’s my idea. I put it out there. I wrote it down. I published it. People can react to it how they will. All I had to do was put it out. That gave me an enormous amount of freedom that I am not historically used to. I’m an approval seeker like most people. I was kind of in awe of this idea that I can write this down and publish this. It is going to be what’s going to be.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s amazing. I am so impressed. I love it. You should feel so proud. You did it. It’s here. Now we’re talking about it. It’s out there. People are talking about it. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Marti: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Marti: You’re welcome. Thanks for having this podcast. I wanted to say, here’s what I love about it. We have to figure out ways to keep our identity intact when we have families pulling on us in so many ways, whether that’s a new way to connect to a beloved hobby like this is where you can listen and you actually hear this amazing POV from these writers that you wouldn’t get anywhere else and then you feel reconnected to what you love, in this case, reading. I think that’s a huge part of how we’re all going to navigate this. How do we stay connected to who we were and who we’re trying to become as we go through this? We’re changing as mothers too.

Zibby: It’s true.

Marti: Thank you for the work you’re doing.

Zibby: You’re so welcome. Thanks for recommending my podcast in your book. Thanks a lot.


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