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Empire of the Alpha Mom


Ryland's birthday party.  

The first day on the job, as expected, was agony—and then she met the boss. Her son was “very needy,” “very demanding,” she says. He was this tyrannical alien who not only wouldn’t let her read the paper or muse about herself but wouldn’t let her take a shower, wouldn’t let her get dressed. “I couldn’t even have a proper lunch!” Ryland just cried and cried, and Isabel, desperate to please him but not knowing how, cried, too. She felt an isolation, a loss of independence, a helplessness she hadn’t known since she was a child. “I didn’t have the maternal instinct at all,” she says, and Isabel was only glad her parents were there when she realized that her one true instinct was to run.

To all the best-selling scolds who say we expect too much of Mother, the new improved Mama says, if anything, the goalposts have been set too low.

She did not run away, of course—failure was not an option. Isabel set off instead to do the homework she had not done before. Craig marveled at how she dived “into motherhood in such a devoted way, not dissimilar to how she approached her job.” Reading the most current texts, consulting the hottest experts, she began learning how to be a mother to 21st-century children. No expert told her not to worry about it, just to do as she pleased. They talked instead about the right way of parenting: that you don’t, these days, just prop your child in a playpen with a bottle or put him out in the yard like a pet. You breast-feed him. You play with him. You wear him on your body so that he gets used to your voice, develops language skills more quickly, “becomes,” says Isabel, “a smarter baby.” But she could never pull that one off. The more Isabel’s child demanded of her, the more she went out to learn. And the more she learned, the more she was told to stay close—and the more people she hired who could do that for her.

This was motherhood’s magic bullet, the most valuable lesson Isabel learned in her studies: “It takes a village.” Isabel quickly hired one. Her son was just 2 weeks old when she retained a night nurse. When he was 5 months, “I started realizing I needed to get out more,” and she brought on a nanny. Then after about a year, when she started working, “I obviously needed more help,” so she hired a regular babysitter as well—also often employing her father and an Alpha Mom intern.

Isabel began to see that all things were possible again, that with her village, she could pursue the extraordinary goals she had both for herself and for her child. While the village watched him, she set out to master motherhood. And the more she learned, the more “empowered” she felt, until at last, other mothers were pitching parenting questions to her and saying, when she replied, “Oh, that’s a great answer!” Isabel, regaining control of her life, and being who she was, could not help but notice the weakness all around and wonder if there wasn’t more for her to do—whether she might not make a career out of being a mother.

Buh-bye, sweetheart!” she calls to Ryland. “Mommy has to go. Mommy has to go!” And away she goes, in heels and slinky dress.

Craig thought it marvelous that Isabel’s job and baby might dovetail “so miraculously together.” He suggested that she talk to his old senior vice-president of marketing, Vicky Germaise, who had burned out on music and needed something new to sell. Over lunch, Isabel told her all about her “crisis of confidence” and how it had led her to “this new population I never knew existed” of mothers. Now she saw fearful mothers everywhere. “This is universal!” said Isabel. The question was, how could they make some money here?

Vicky had only Yorkies to love, but being somewhat alpha herself, she immediately saw the potential. “A series of ‘Aha!’ moments” followed, said Isabel, and together, they were soon conceiving another baby. Due diligence revealed parenting books, parenting Websites, parenting magazines—but on television, said Vicky, “a tremendous void.” There was no parenting channel, they found, because parents are a segmented audience, with diverse interests. No one had figured out how to serve them with linear programming, until Vicky called up someone who knew something about video-on-demand and who explained that VOD allows a viewer to watch anything, anytime. Working mothers who sleep like Isabel could watch a mothering show of their choice even at 3 A.M. Vicky and Isabel knew they were onto something. When they hit upon the name, Vicky remembers, “we looked at each other and said, ‘This feels so right.’ ” And when they took name and idea to Madison Avenue, “without exception, they loved it!” says Vicky.

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