We met Dr. Catherine Pearlman at the Mom 2.0 Summit earlier this year, and we immediately knew she was our kind of girl. She’s smart, funny, and she cheerfully agreed to sneak off with us to drink wine at the hotel bar. We became fans of hers in short order, and you’re going to become one too.
Catherine holds a PhD in social work, she’s spent her entire professional life working with and coaching parents, and she’s written her popular Family Coach column for years. You’ve probably seen some of her most popular articles in your Facebook feed. You may even use some of her parenting techniques in your own home.
She has the heart and mind of a true helper – her guiding purpose is to help parents and kids enjoy their time with each other more. We sat down with her to get the goods on her career and her excellent new book, Ignore It!, which is on sale today.
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Work Kids Wine: Catherine, thank you for doing this! Let’s kick it right off. What made you decide to go into social work?
Dr. Catherine Pearlman: I’d always planned on being a doctor. I was pre-med in college, but I swiftly discovered I didn’t love all the hard science or the gory stuff that goes on in the hospital. I had a great professor who pushed me into social work, and as soon as I got started down that path I knew I’d found my home.
WKW: And you went all-in. Bachelor’s degree, then master’s, then doctorate. That’s not an easy road.
DCP: It’s a lot. I went straight into my master’s degree program after college. After thatI worked for ten years. I went back to school for the PhD when my kids were 1 and 4.
WKW: When you had two little kids?! Why then?
DCP: I decided it was never going to get easier. There was always going to be some reason to put it off, so I decided to go for it. My husband is a writer and has a lot of flexibility, so he really stepped up with the kids while I worked on my degree. And I never looked back.
WKW: You clearly love your work.
DCP: I do love social work: it grows and changes. And every step in my career has built off the thing before. I’ve worked with teen moms in the Bronx and then in private practice with parents who are not at risk; it seems like those two things would be so different but they’re really not. Parents everywhere have the same struggles.
WKW: Given how much you love your practice, what made you decide to get into writing?
DCP: I started writing almost by accident. I wanted to advertise my private practice, to put an ad in a local parenting guide-type magazine. And then I found out that’s really expensive. So I thought about writing some articles that would help get my name out there. And before I knew it, I was pitching and writing for parenting publications.
I wrote my Dear Family Coach column for a local paper, then for the Wall Street Journal Blog. Eventually I pitched it to a syndicator who grabbed it, and now it’s in papers all over the country. I’ve been doing that for two years now, and my writing has gotten better and more efficient as a result of all the practice.
WKW: And now you’ve written a book!
DCP: Yes! I can hardly believe it!
WKW: Did you always plan to write one?
DCP: I’ve always wanted to write one. But for years, none of my ideas were quite right. And then one day I had the idea for Ignore It!. I’m honestly glad I didn’t hit on the idea any earlier, because I wouldn’t have been ready to write it yet. I decided to test the idea by writing a column laying out the basic premise…and the response to it was tremendous. I got great feedback, and used a lot of it as fodder for my book proposal.
While I worked on the book proposal I kept pitching my writing to other outlets, and I had a couple that really resonated with people. (Editor’s Note: We bet you’ve seen some of these, including her brilliant I Don’t Care Where My Kids Go to College, and her bitingly funny – if excruciatingly frustrating – Invitation to Principal to Take My Daughter Shopping After the Dress Code Violation.) This helped get my voice out there and convince agents and editors that people would want to read my writing.
WKW: How did you end up finding your agent.
DCP: [Smiles] Over the course of two days I pitched my idea to fifty agents.
WKW: I’m sorry, did you say fifty agents?
DCP: Yes. I decided to keep asking until someone said yes. I was really determined to get this book published.
WKW: Fifty points to you for sheer tenacity and persistence. And it worked!
DCP: Yes! Then I had six months to write the book.
WKW: That seems like kind of a short runway.
DCP: Yes again. But I really pushed myself to get it done. Once I had the book deal, I ended up renting a house for four days, stocking the fridge with food from Trader Joe’s, and then doing nothing but writing for four days straight. Nothing but writing.
I came out of that long weekend with the first four chapters of the book, plus the rest of it laid out so I knew where I was going next. And it all fell from there. That rental house was maybe the best money I’ve ever spent.
WKW: Did the book end up looking and feeling like you thought it would?
DCP: It evolved a bit during the writing process. I ended up adding chapters that weren’t in my original book proposal, and I axed one chapter on sleep that I decided just didn’t work. That was a hard call – to cut something I’d worked really hard on. But the book is better because of that decision. And I love the finished product.
WKW: Was it amazing to have the copies show up on your doorstep from the publisher?
DCP: It was amazing! I have been working toward this goal for so long that I almost can’t believe it’s really here, and really happening. I have this mission to help parents enjoy their families more. It’s the backbone of everything I do. I want people to enjoy their time together more. It’s the most simple concept with the biggest results, and I truly hope parents will get that from my book.
WKW: We sincerely can’t wait to read the book. We love your writing and we know we can benefit from your wisdom.
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