Parenting is a damned hard job. Days off? Ha! And as any stressed out, overworked and sleep-deprived parent can tell you, we can all use a hand once in a while. On that note, say hello to Catherine Pearlman, a.k.a. “The Family Coach.” Pearlman, a PhD and social worker by trade, has been helping harried parents work out issues with their children and themselves for almost two decades. Of late she has also become a blogger, a syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to publications like the Wall Street Journal and Parenting, and has even shared her parenting insights on the Today Show. She is also about to become a published author: her debut book, “Ignore It:How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction” will be released next August. We sat down with her recently to talk about her work and the pros and cons of being part of a two-author family.
The Open Mic: Your book is going to be coming out next year, correct?
Pearlman: August, 2017
The Open Mic: How far along are you in this process?
Pearlman: The book is done, it’s been edited by the editor, and I just have a few minor edits to finish up and then it’s moving forward. So it’s kind of like a real thing now.
The Open Mic: That’s very exciting
Pearlman: It’s super exciting
The Open Mic: You’re married to author Jeff Pearlman, who has been a guest here twice now. What was it like for both of you to be working on books at the same time?
Pearlman: It’s actually funny because when I got the book deal I had in my head it would take me six months to write it and I didn’t want to dilly dally so I pretty much set a six-month deadline. Jeff, who you know does over 500 interviews for his books and spends probably twelve hours a day for months and months writing said, “Six months? You’re crazy! Don’t do that. Do a year.” And I struggled for a bit because I really trust in him. He’s obviously done this and I haven’t. He’s a writer and I’m a social worker who is now writing. So I really trusted his opinion. But the thing is I knew me, and I knew more time would just be more time and I would rather focus all my attention for a short period of time rather than be divided by my other full time job and kids just have it draw out longer. So in the end I went with the six-month deadline and I handed my book in on time and the schedule worked out perfectly. But it was very different than what would have been comfortable for him, and it was hard for me to try to favor what I thought would be right for me even though I didn’t know.
The Open Mic: As parents you have all these different responsibilities. I’ve talked with so many people who said they were only able to work on it after their wife or husband and kids went to bed. How was that process for you?
Pearlman: We were both working on a book but we weren’t both writing at the same time. I think if we were writing at the same time it would have been more difficult. Jeff and I both have non-traditional jobs with non-traditional hours. I’m a professor of social work. I teach a lot online, and I do a lot of work at random times so we both have a lot of flexibility. That definitely helps. Jeff also requires a lot less sleep than I do so he tends to work late into the night and I don’t do that as much anymore. Or I work late into the night and he can wake up with the kids the next morning. So we can alternate in that way rather than us both having having to get up at 6:30 to get the kids out to school and both get to a 9 to 5 job.
The Open Mic: Clearly you have an area of expertise, but how did you go about coalescing this breadth of knowledge into what you wanted to present in this book?
Pearlman: That’s actually a really good question because I struggled for a long time with finding my book. I had wanted to write a book for a long time and I had various topics throughout the years, but it never got past me finishing the proposal. It just always felt like that book was already written, or my take wasn’t so different, or it just wasn’t interesting enough. So it was just there on the back burner. But then in my work as a family coach there are certain things I tend to see and say over and over again. One of them is “ignore it.” If somebody asks me “what do I do if my kid does x,y,z?” I’ll tell them to ignore it and then explain to them why they should do that. One of my goals as a family coach is to make parenting be more enjoyable. And sometimes it’s little tips make a huge difference in how they enjoy their time with their kids, and “ignore it” was one of those things. It was super simple, it was something every parent can implement right away and it was unique to me. It was also authentic to the way I work with families, so it just felt like a light bulb went on over my head and I thought, ‘This is definitely my book.’ And so I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the concept to see how it would go over. It went over great: parents responded very enthusiastically. From there I wrote a proposal, which was easier this time around because it was so right. The topic was so one hundred percent the kind of thing I had been saying to parents for so many years. So while the writing was really hard, it came easily because it was my methods. It wasn’t me taking other people’s messages and making them my own. It was mine. So I’m really happy that I came to the right book at the right time. And then I started writing the syndicated Dear Family Coach column and the process of writing two columns every single week really improved my writing and the ability to sit down and write my message out in a way that makes sense.
The Open Mic: The emphasis on platform now is so great, it seems to have superseded the actual message or what a person might have to offer. If you have enough name recognition, they don’t even care if you write, they’ll just get somebody to write the book and your name will be on it. Did you find the industry was concerned about your platform?
Pearlman: Definitely. If I had started this book six years ago it wouldn’t have happened for me because my platform wasn’t there even though I had the work experience and the message. I did work over the last three years on building up my platform with Facebook ads, upping my Twitter activity and then really trying to diversify where I write and trying to get my name out there. I wrote for CNN.com, I did the Wall Street Journal. I was just pitching, pitching, pitching trying to diversify where something I wrote appeared. It was the same thing with the syndicated column. That was a really big deal. It’s a small platform but it’s building and it has potential. And I don’t know if you have this experience but there are things I write [for the blog] that take days to do and I work really hard on them and I really care, and then nobody reads it. And then other things might just be a quick idea that I’m really passionate about and write in 15 minutes and then for some reason everybody reads that one. And that’s pretty much what happened. I wrote two things at the same time, one was about being a working mother that I was incredibly passionate about, and nobody read it. And then I wrote something about how I don’t care where my kids go to college, and that took off like crazy just at the time when my book proposal was being considered, and that I think gave me the last little boost in my platform for the editors to say ‘okay this person is viable and can sell some books.’ So it was a little bit of lucky timing but I was constantly trying to put stuff out there to get a little bit of a response to show that people are interested in my work.
The Open Mic: In the industry’s defense, we are talking about putting out something they want people to purchase. So in that regard I do understand the emphasis on being a known commodity.
Pearlman: In a way I’m glad that pressure does exist because I do want people to read my book. I put my heart into it, I think it can really help people and I want people to read it. So even if it does get published, if I don’t have a platform it’s just going to sink and I’ll be left saying “great book but nobody read it.” So I do think that pressure and all the platform building, for someone like me who is just coming up without this strong following, has really made it so that I’m also going to get more out of publishing my book.
The Open Mic: What was the most surprising thing to you in this process?
Pearlman: Even though I know how hard it is to write and I see Jeff go through his cycles of book writing each time, sitting in front of the computer for eight hours and just writing every single day is mentally very difficult. I could have empathy, but I didn’t really feel it before. This time, I really felt how hard that was.
The Open Mic: As someone who has to produce thousands of words of copy every week I totally relate. There are days where I don’t feel like doing anything, but the words don’t write themselves so I’ve got to sit down and figure out the plan and make it happen.
Pearlman: My column is 600 words, with 50 words used up in each question. I answer parenting questions in around 250 words, so I’m always writing really short and tight. Being able to write expansively because I needed to fill 60,000 words was actually refreshing. I was so frightened that I was never going to be able to get that many words but actually being able to expand on my ideas and topics and give example as opposed to the 300 words I normally get was actually kind of fun.
The Open Mic: Are you already thinking and working and planning the next one?
Pearlman: I am thinking about, yes, but honestly I’m really focused on the plan for release. So everything that I need to do to make sure that my book is a success is kind of what I’m working on now.
The Open Mic: Do you find yourself getting pressure from within the industry to have a second book ready to go in case this one breaks big?
Pearlman: If this book goes big, then what’s more important to me is creating speaking engagements, furthering the message and being able to help parents understand the book. I don’t want it to just come out and have a great opening and then a couple months later you know it’s there but nothing else is happening. For me this is almost like a movement. This is an important message that I want to continue with, I don’t want to just go onto the next book, I want to to make it a bigger opportunity.
The Open Mic: What do you want most for people to get out of this book?
Pearlman: I think the thing I want parents to get out of the book is to understand that we’ve been conditioned as parents in this generation to interact with our kids nonstop, to praise them, to play Legos and video games with them and observe every baseball game and soccer practice. We talk a lot about helicopter parenting, which has a negative connotation, but in my opinion we’re all helicopter parents. We’re all obsessively involved in the minutia of our children’s lives and some of that then goes to discipline. We under-discipline some of the important things and we over-discipline some of the minor things. So the number one thing I want people to get out of this book is that sometimes ignoring things or looking the other way is the quickest way to get rid of that problem behavior and to improve your relationship time with your kid. So your kid is really annoying at the dinner table and he’s making a lot of obnoxious noises, and he’s tap tap tapping, and you say “stop that” and he’s like “oh you don’t like that? Let me tap some more.” Tap, tap, tap, tap. “Stop that!” Tap tap tap tap. Well if you ignore it, the kid will have no incentive to tap,tap,tap. He’s not getting anything out of it. So eventually he’ll just stop it and you can continue on with your conversation. He wants your attention, so if you don’t give it, he’ll stop doing that and try to get attention in a more positive way. It is such a simple idea, there’s no prep work, no big book you have to study, and once you understand the concept the whole book is really giving many examples so parents can make sure they do the method right. How do they do it in public? How do they do it in Grandma’s house? When not to do it, things like that. But it’s the simple idea of being able to step away from the constant observation and discipline of the kids, and that will actually improve the behavior.
The Open Mic: But we all think we know what’s best for our child. People get very defensive about anything to do with outside interference or influence on how they parent.
Pearlman: I think the people who will not respond well to the book will be more the attached parenting type who give everything to their children all their time and attention, and feel like sacrificing is the only way to parent. They probably won’t see eye to eye with me. But I don’t get anybody who feels like “don’t tell me how to parent” mostly because almost every parent I meet will tell you they’re struggling, They’re exhausted, they’re stressed, they’re working really hard, they’re not sleeping very well, they have all kind of sematic complaints; bad back, bad stomach, they’re heavier than they’d like to be, they don’t have any time for themselves. You know, my parents didn’t go to any of my volleyball games or my sister’s debate team stuff. I rode my bike to my piano lesson. Parents were different thirty, forty, fifty years ago. And most parents I meet now feel like they have an obligation to do all these things. Like if you don’t go to baseball games something is wrong with you. Society’s telling us this. So most parents who hear the idea of stepping back a little bit like the idea. They don’t know how to do it, or they’re grasping at straws like “please, tell me how to do that thing that can get rid of this behavior or improve dinner with my kids because I can’t take it anymore.” So can they implement it? That’s a different question. But most people don’t have a problem with it. Most people are very open to hearing the advice because they’re tired and stressed. Parenting is just a whole different ball game now.
The Open Mic: How was it for you as you were getting close to wrapping this thing up? You were on this really tight deadline. Did you feel like you were able to stay true to exactly everything you wanted to get done?
Pearlman: I think yes, but I think I had a little bit of incentive in the word count. I had to get to 60,000 words, and if it was up to me I probably would have been good at 40,000. But because I knew I needed to get the words in, I couldn’t shortchange and so I had to stay very focused and true until the very, very end to make sure that I had the words and that it made sense. It wasn’t just me writing blah, blah, blah – it had to have meaning. I had an outline when I started but then I definitely kept adding chapters because it made sense and I needed more words. And then in the end when I was finishing up and was exhausted, it all came together. I actually think that I was able to say what I wanted to say. I said it better than I thought I could and I’m very, very proud of it.
The Open Mic: My wife often will edit certain things I write, and I’ve come to really rely on her. But I know for some folks it would be very difficult to have their spouse or significant other editing or weighing in on their work. Does your husband ever edit your work?
Pearlman: Definitely. And I’m really harsh. In the beginning of our relationship he probably was much more sensitive to that, but I think now he respects me as an outside reader, as someone he knows would say something if something wasn’t clear. And the same thing for me. Like I said, I’m a social worker who is writing and he’s a writer. So I really respect his opinion on my work and my writing. So he does edit, or at least read everything, but now that I’m getting more confident and feel like I have my own voice which may be different from his I now feel comfortable throwing out some of his comments. In the beginning I felt like everything he said I needed to change because he was right. And now I can say ‘I see where you’re coming from but that’s not what I want to say or I don’t want to say it like that. Even if my way may not be perfect it’s my way, it’s my voice.’ So we do edit each other’s stuff and I think we are both very comfortable with each other doing it. Even if my way may not be perfect, It’s my way. It’s my voice.
Catherine Pearlman’s debut book “Ignore It:How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction” will be available August, 2017. You can learn more about her and her work here.