Reflecting on my first year of The Ordinary Mom

A year ago I had just turned 50 and decided that I wanted to shake up my life a bit.  Not anything drastic like having another child, skydiving, getting a divorce or walking barefoot across hot coals but I just didn’t want to be remembered as someone who worked in sales her whole career, had kids, drove a minivan and was constantly tired.  I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and try new things without changing my whole life or having a mid life crisis (at this point in my life I’m more of a minivan than a sports car kind of person any way).   

I wanted to see if I could use the skills I had acquired in business school and ~30 years of work to do something different and create a new path for myself, whether it was just a hobby or would turn into full time work, I wasn’t sure which it would be and didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself to make it the latter.  

What I wanted was to start with a blank piece of paper (or in reality a blank Google doc) and brainstorm what I could do in a few hours a week that would not disrupt my family life but make me happy and fulfill me.  If it never made money, I’d have a new hobby and if it did make money, I’d have a side hustle. Either way, I wanted to try it.  

At the same time, I also wanted to create a community of people who were experiencing some of what I was feeling at this point in my life as a parent so we could share experiences and learn from each other.  I realized that maybe I could marry the two thoughts of new business ideas and creating a parenting community. I decided that the first thing I would try would be to create a Facebook community of parents to share the good and bad times of parenting and seek advice from experts (i.e. other parents).  Since this wasn’t for money, it was just going to be a fun hobby and a social experiment to see if I could grow nothing into something meaningful. 

Right at this time in my thought process, my sister, Lisa, and her family came to visit us.  I shared my thoughts with my sister, my wife and my brother-in-law over some wine. They all gave me some great feedback that was exactly what I needed right then.  They were my first focus group. I’m a believer that sometimes you have to throw things out to the universe and see what comes back and getting feedback from them was exactly what I needed as I was about to start this new journey. 

They all agreed that I needed to step back and create a master brand and let everything flow from it.   Even though the first thing I wanted to do had no financial stake or financial reward by creating a Facebook parenting group, they really emphasized that I should assume that it could grow into something bigger and have a brand created for myself right from the start.  

We talked about how my sister has a friend who writes under the Bad Ass brand and I have a friend who writes under The Bad Girls Guide (wouldn’t those two be fun to have a drink with?).  This got me thinking of what I’d want my brand to be and that if I got a positive reception from the parenting Facebook group, I should be open to allowing it to become something more. Of what, I had no clue but needed to start the journey to find out. 

I started with what I wanted my brand to reflect and came up with this list I hope reflected me:

kind, funny, busy, soccer mom, ninja warrior mom, theater mom, juggler (literally and figuratively), mom, wife, worker, dog lover and friend.  

Then I came up with the following list of possibilities of brands and that related to my life:

Good dog, Big dog, Busy Mom, Just Julie, The Zen Mom (just being aspirational with this one), The Dog Lover, The Regular Mom, The Everyday Mom, The Ordinary Mom, The Relatable Mom, The Normal Mom, The Every Mom, The Momotron, The Generalist, The Mom Pundit, The Ninja Mom, The Spontaneous Mom (again, aspirational), The Resilient Mom and The Daydreaming Mom.

I wanted to make sure that whatever brand I created had an available URL to support it.  I plugged each of these into the WordPress domain search bar at https://wordpress.com/domains/.  I had decided that I would only purchase a .com domain but that became a little depressing because so many of the domain names I wanted with .com endings were taken.  I decided to stick to my guns and wait it out until I found a .com that resonated with me and what I wanted to be the umbrella name of everything I do.   

After searching a lot of possible URLs and a lot of frustration, I found that www.theordinarymom.com was available so I decided that would be my brand and website url if I ever decided to create one.   It really resonated with me because my being a parent was a big part of this phase of my life and I didn’t want to try to live my life trying to be perfect or for for my kids to think they need to be perfect kids either.  

My family went on a weeklong trip to LA and I was going to meet them on the weekend due to work conflicts but that meant I had four nights at home by myself.  For a working parent with three kids, four nights at home alone was a true luxury. I could have spent those four nights binge watching Netflix but instead I decided to focus the uninterrupted time on creating my Facebook parenting page. 

I bought the URL for www.theordinarymom.com and was ready to create my closed Facebook group.  I decided to call it The Ordinary Mom Parenting Community.  I had never created my own Facebook group so this was all new to me.  

I tried to think of what picture would best capture the fact that parenting is hard and we are not always perfect (nor should we strive to be).  I remembered the photo shoot that my awesome cousin and professional photographer, Nicole Wickens, had done the Thanksgiving before when we were in Austin visiting family (see her website at https://www.greendoorphotography.com/).  

I remember the photo shoot in excruciating detail– it was hot and there were fire ants.  My then 5 year old was not pleased with either the heat or the fire ants and was not being very cooperative.  I used one of the pictures from that photo shoot on my regular Facebook page of three smiling kids.  

I kept going back to what I thought was a terrible picture of my kids because the older two were jumping in the air but the youngest was on the ground, looking grumpy with her arms crossed.  When I saw that picture for the first time, I cringed but my wife loved it. She said it captured a real life moment that wasn’t photoshopped or staged for Facebook. That ended up being what I choose for the parenting group– a real picture that showed real life.

I then started working on how I wanted to describe the group.  The words real, honest and vulnerable came to mind so I created the following to description that I posted:

“We all want to be extraordinary parents but, let’s face it, more often than not, we are just ordinary.  And that’s ok. There is nothing wrong with ordinary. The ordinary is the good stuff. The hugs after your child has been a hot mess, volunteering in class at school, or seeing your kids play together just minutes after they were throwing punches.  Parenting is hard.  The hardest job that I’ve ever had.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I love my 3 little rascals, even when I’m too tired to think. 

This community is for all parents (Moms, Dads, Stepparents, Foster parents, Grandparents etc) of all backgrounds to share struggles, experiences, ask for advice/give recommendations or just vent about a hard day.  No one gives you a manual for this stuff, we just have to figure it out as we go. And sometimes we make mistakes. And we cry. And we make our kids cry. But that is real life. You don’t have to have a fancy degree to be a parenting expert. We are all experts in this field because we are parents and we are always learning.  So share what you know or be honest and admit what you don’t know and ask for help. Tell about how your kid just threw a tantrum in the grocery store (again!), barfed on your nice clothes as you were just walking out of the house or how you are struggling to pay for all of the extra expenses that come with kids. Or tell a joke that your 6 year old just made up.  Just be real. This is a community for all parents. Except haters. Haters need not apply.”

Here was my first post:

“3 things I find challenging:

1. Lack of sleep (for years!)

2. When a child likes your spouse better and admits it (ouch- I’m going through this now with the little one liking my wife better and it’s hard)

3. Getting parenting advice from people without kids (can you see my fingers in my ears as I’m nodding and smiling?)

3 things I love:

1. When they want to climb in bed and snuggle with you (I know I should send them back to their room but they are so cozy)

2. When you pick them up from one of their many activities or school and their faces light up when they see you (ok, maybe just the youngest one at this point)

3.  Being someone’s Mommy.   It’s big job but an awesome one that I’ll do forever.”

My whole motto for this journey is to “launch and learn” so I went to my personal Facebook account and just decided to try it.  In Facebook, there is a tab up top called “Create” so I clicked that and saw an option to “Group”. It’s easy to do. You just create a name and add some people from your Facebook contacts.  You can label it as public, closed or secret so I created a closed group called The Ordinary Mom Parenting Community. I launched it on 8/22/18 and invited 226 people from my regular Facebook page who I knew where parents.  

I got just the reaction I was nervously hoping for.  In the first 11 days, 24 people had shared their 3 things that they find challenging and 3 things they loved about parenting.  Others had responded and/or liked their posts. I was thrilled with the engagement that I was getting but I was hoping it was not like starting a fire from kindling, sometimes it burns bright but never takes. 

Some folks had invited friends and I finished August with 251 members– up 25 members from kicking it off 9 days before.  (A year later, we now have 363 members!) I was so excited about the engagement I was getting. The one thing that was nagging at me, though, was the fact that Dads might feel excluded because it was called The Ordinary Mom Parenting Community.  I was branding myself as The Ordinary Mom but that didn’t mean the group was only for moms and I realized it might sound anti-Dads (which was not my intent). After polling my very exclusive focus group (that pretty much means my wife, kids, two sisters and a few friends), after about a month I decided to change the Facebook group name to The Ordinary Parent Facebook Community because I wanted men to feel included too.

Just taking this step of creating the Facebook page and hearing what people posted about their parenting ups and downs had invigorated me to do more.  I set aside one night a week that I would go to the public library for 2-3 hours and sit in the quiet room and work on The Ordinary Mom projects. When I wasn’t able to get to the library that week, I’d try to carve out some time when the kids were occupied or asleep to keep the momentum going and just do something. 

I wasn’t looking to quit my day job any time soon but I needed something creative that I could focus a little time and energy on to see if I could grow it into anything.  My dream was that I could recreate my work life in the next five years to where I could do something I love, work for myself, have flexibility to spend more time with family and friends and not be tied down to one specific geography.  

This minidriving mom loves to travel but is often stymied by a corporate job with limited vacation.  As I’m writing this my family is on vacation with my wife’s side of the family and I’m at home working because it’s a busy time of year at work and I had already maxed out what vacation I could get away with this summer.     

During my weekly library time, I had come up with the phrase “Ordinary is the new awesome” and I loved it.  I decided for fun I would make t-shirts with that phrase and other “ordinary” phrases so I learned how to create and sell t-shirts on Teespring. I hired some folks on Fivver to create the logos and a website for me for this fun side hustle– www.ordinaryisthenewawesome.com.  

Fivver is this amazing site where you hire freelance workers from all over the world to do your projects.  It’s exactly the flexible type of job I dream about except for the limiting factor that I have no design or website talent or skills (spoiler alert…I did teach myself WordPress a few months later so I now have rudimentary web design skills but not enough to freelance).  I found someone great to do logos but I didn’t have a great experience with that web designer who created my Ordinary is the new awesome website. 

Several folks had encouraged me to start blogging about parenting so a few months after creating the Ordinary is the new awesome site, I started blogging.  I had to create a platform to post the blogs so I decided to learn WordPress and create my own site. I look back at not having a great experience with the Fivver web designer as a blessing as it pushed me to learn something else new.  

I created The Ordinary Mom website at www.theordinarymom.com and started to blog there and then I would also post to The Ordinary Parent Community site.  About this time I realized that it would be fun to publicly document all of this learning and share it with others who are also trying to start a side hustle.  I bought another URL and created a second website with WordPress called The Side Hustle Journey at www.thesidehustlejourney.com and started blogging there too.  

The blogging got my creative juices flowing and reminded me how much I love writing so a few months later, I took on another new and scary project and I decided that I would write an eBook.  I took a Udemy course on writing an eBook and the instructor said to start with non fiction and write about something you know. I decided to write about sales as I’ve made a career out of it but I wanted to make it a little silly so I’m writing an eBook called “Everything I learned about sales, I learned from my dog”.  It’s hopefully a fun but educational business book. I’m working on that now and it is being presold on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07TND6BXN?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420.   That means I have committed to finish it by 9/20 and that puts a little fire under me because I don’t want Amazon mad at me (how would I shop?).  

Since I didn’t have enough on my plate, for a fun summer project my kids and I are filming campy “How to videos” for friends a family on a private YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6Rz7p5E4sugppdLj65jU8g/videos.  We just uploaded our first one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIT7j4I73pY (since it’s a private site, you can only see if I share the link). 

As I reflect on the last year, I can’t believe how much I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and what I did and learned in 2-3 hours a week.  

Here’s the recap:

  • Created a parenting community on Facebook
  • Learned how to create t-shirts and sell them
  • Learned WordPress and created two websites
  • Started blogging about parenting
  • Starting blogging about side hustles
  • Learned how to write an eBook and I’m about to publish my first eBook
  • Working with my kids on a private YouTube channel for friends and family 

The best thing of all is that I have had so much fun.  It has given me more energy than it has taken away. A year ago I would have told you I don’t have an extra 2-3 hours a week but I prioritized it and it has been worth it.  I finally get how people must feel who are following their passions as their career. I think my wife and kids have seen a change in me since starting this and see how excited I am when I go to the library each week for my Ordinary Mom time or when ask them to think through a new idea that I have. 

I don’t know where I will be in this journey a year or five years from now but as my wise mom (who is anything but ordinary) says, “Just keep on keeping on”.

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