Looking back, I stumbled into the world of public relations much like I did the world of step-motherhood. If I’m honest, neither were my first choice, and had I known ahead of time the hours, frustration and exhaustion each would bring, I’m not sure I would have dove into both quite as fervently as I did. With that said, after time, effort, and a little wine, I know I am exactly where I belong.
When you’re a step-mom you enter a no-mans-land of parenting. I say no-mans-land because no man (or woman) ever grows up to say they want to be in that land. You have many of the same responsibilities as bio-parents (packing lunches, taxiing around town, sitting through various sport practices and cleaning up vomit) without many of the perks (breakfast-in-bed on Mother’s Day, input in daily decisions and the uninhibited love of the child). You learn early on that the relationship between you and your spouse, you and your step-children and you and the rest of the world is a dance. It’s a constant give and take and one must be able to navigate and adjust expectations on a dime. Things don’t always go as planned. If fact, many times the only thing you can plan on is the unplanned. These little humans are complex and so are the many relationships that go along with them. Bobbing and weaving is a daily occurrence and one must be able to recover quickly or be knocked out of the ring.
Similarly, if you want to succeed in the world of public relations, you must learn to be flexible. We’re talking full-on splits flexible. Clients, media, and even your own agency team is ever changing. Agility and the ability to think on your feet are a must. If your client calls you an hour before a they’re to appear on a live morning show to tell you they have an aggressive case of pink eye, what do you do? If you pitch your heart out about your client’s new product, and your media friends are excited to tell the story but at the last minute the product is canned, what do you do? Flexibility is key, and a level head is a necessity. My stepdaughters’ have given me many opportunities to strengthen my flexibility muscles and I’m thankful they have, especially since the examples above are real-life pages from my career book.
Secondly, as a step-parent, you quickly learn the art of gentle persistence. No one likes to be hounded. Having someone constantly looking over your shoulder and asking if you cleaned your room, fed your turtle, or used shampoo to wash your hair, is not pleasant. I have learned that my girls hear me ask the first time, but for various reasons (My Little Pony Friendship Adventure is on, they’re making paper bag puppets, or an intense game of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is about to go down) they are “unable” to accommodate my request. While I refuse to give up on my original ask, I step into their world, see the importance of what’s happening to them at that particular moment, and take a step back. Later, when the time is right, I gently remind them of my original request or direction. While this is by no means fool-proof, and there are times that they give me the proverbial take-a-hike look, most of the time they respond favorably.
Likewise, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our media friends. Many are stretched thin and working against razor thin deadlines. When you’re feeling that kind of pressure, the last thing you need or will respond to, is a PR person asking for the third time if you received their pitch. Conversely, as a PR professional, we still have the responsibility to our client to leave no stone unturned when telling their news. After all, if we’re not gently persistent in sharing their story and telling folks why it’s important, who will?
The next thing my girls have taught me is that creativity is king. Like adults, their brains are being bombarded with thousands of messages every day. From school, to friends, to PBS Kids, they’re being served up lights, sounds, and ideas that make my faux-momma mind tired. If I want to cut through the clutter and make memories with my girls, I need to be memorable. I need to think of new ways that will engage them and give them something to think about after the day or the event is over.
Equally, as PR professionals, we must be able to think differently. Every day we are tasked to be creative, whether we’re approaching an old story in a new way or taking a story and making sure we tell it in a way that it receives the attention it deserves. This skill is necessary for both roles and I am grateful my girls have pushed me to develop this ability, even on my off days.
Let’s be real for a minute. I love my girls. They are a part of my life that I never thought I had room for, but I do. They have expanded my heart and made my life fuller (and more chaotic). With that said, I’m not their bio-mom. I never will be their mom. Remember what I said above, as a step-mom you do many of the same dirty deeds that their birth mother does, but often you don’t reap the same rewards. I’ve learned to not take this personally (most of the time).
PR professionals need to apply the same roll-off-your-back mentality to avoid burn out. There are many time times that we hear no thanks (or just NO) from a reporter, journalist or client. We can’t take this personally, it’s the world we work in.
As for my girls, there are many sweet moments that happen, too. The way they snuggle in for story at night or to watch funny animal videos on YouTube, the good night hug, and even when they tell me that my Ranch dressing is better than their mom’s (I’m #1 at something!). I relish these special moments the way I relish when a reporter does an amazing piece for my client. You take the good with the bad and you choose to remember the good when the laundry is piling up and emails and phone calls to your media friends go unanswered.
Focus on the Relationship
Lastly, my girls have helped me hone my relational skills. Just because I married their Dad, doesn’t mean that instantly we felt like a family or that they trusted me. Quite the opposite really. I sat on the sidelines for longer than I’d like to admit before I realized that if I wanted to be embraced, I needed to embrace. I needed to dig in and show up for them. I needed to read books with them, play Calico Critters, watch Larva (if you don’t know what this is, you should). I needed to get to know them and what makes them tick before I could put any sort of expectations on them. The same goes for our clients and media friends. We need to do our research and make sure we’re bringing them stories that are right for them. Everyone prefers to spend time with people who have taken the time to invest in them. My girls have taught me to put the time in before expecting the reward.
When I started my career in marketing I had no idea that I would one day be a part of the PR tribe. In the same vein, when I started dating my husband it hadn’t occurred to me that I would enter into the position of bonus-mom. Both were unexpected and at the time, challenging. Now that I have *ahem* a few years under my belt, I am able to say both are exactly what I want for my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My girls have showed me how to be a better bonus-momma at home and a better PR professional at the office.