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Working Mothers, Real Talk: A Conversation with Angela Burt-Murray

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For more than 35 years, Essence magazine has brought black women the latest in beauty, fashion, lifestyle and personal finance. In its storied history, only four people have held the title of editor-in-chief. Its newest editor is Angela Burt-Murray, former executive editor of Teen People. The wife and mother of two is also an author, having written a couple books with friends Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller, the latest of which is “The Vow.” Read on as Ms. Burt-Murray shares her views on making it work.

Mahogany Baby: You have two sons. Does being a mom influence your work at Essence?
Angela Burt-Murray: I think the idea of what we want to put together at Essence is a magazine that reflects the breadth of our community. Something that shows us in a positive and beautiful light. So I hope that is the content we’re creating. That not only feeds the soul of our 7.7 million readers, but also it impacts my children by seeing these beautiful and positive images. When they’re ready to read Essence, they’ll get information that’s accurate and fairly portrays our community and covers the issues that the mainstream media doesn’t necessarily find is newsworthy.

MB: How have you changed since you’ve had children?
ABM: Having children definitely changes you. You definitely become less selfish. It’s less about you and more about them, making sure that they’re happy, healthy and safe. Even though I’m editor in chief of Essence, I’m very clear about what the priority is and that’s the well-being of my family. I’m fortunate to work at a company that supports that. The president of Essence, Michele Ebanks, also has two small children. As mothers with very busy careers, we both know the priority is the children.

MB: How do you manage to find time for your side projects, like your books?
ABM: It can be challenging. With the book projects, luckily our deadlines were prior to me taking this position so I had time to write the book. This job can be very demanding. I work about 60 hours a week. I try not to work on the weekends and have that be totally family time. But you know, if you’re passionate about something, you’ll find time to do it. When I wrote my last novel with Mitzi Miller and Denene Millner, we had a very tight schedule that we put together so that we could get the project done in time. We basically had the summer to do it so I would write mostly on the weekends to get it done. It’s all about putting together a schedule together that works for you.

MB: Do you have any special routines with your children or husband?
ABM: We try to make sure that the time that we have together we make it count. We go to church together on Sunday. On Saturdays, it’s mostly spent at their activities because they’re involved – they have sports and birthday parties. On the weekends, its full-on “mommy mode.”

MB: So what do you do, aside from the kids and the husband, to try to relax and take a moment for yourself?
ABM: It’s hard to carve out time for yourself. Because obviously, when you spend so much time at work, any down time you do have, you feel like you should be focused on your family and your spouse. I try to plan little trips with my girlfriends when I can. I try to get an hour on the weekends to get my nails done and flip through magazines and completely zone out. But other than that, it’s difficult to find those pockets of time. But it’s important that women try to do that.

MB: Sometimes when you talk to women about balancing everything, it seems like their role as a mother overshadows their role as a wife. How do you make sure you still have time for your husband while you’re trying to give 100 percent to your kids?
ABM: I think it’s important that you focus on your spouse and make sure the two of you still have a relationship beyond the children. Whether it’s having a date night every week or if that’s planning trips away or quiet time after the children go to bed. I think it’s important that you plan to have that time together.

MB: How do you make time for your friends? I know you mentioned in a previous issue of Essence in your editor’s letter that you plan trips with your girlfriends.
ABM: We try to plan a trip at least twice a year. But we’re constantly on email with each other, which is fun, because it gives you a break in the day. It’s good to have those connections with people. Most of my friends also have children so we’ll get the kids together for birthday parties and play dates.

MB: Do you have any advice for new mothers who are nervous about working?
ABM: My only advice would be, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of any one else. So, as difficult as it may seem to find the time to relax and reflect and schedule that annual doctor’s appointment, you have to take care of yourself before you can run 100 miles an hour, trying to manage your career and keep the family going. It’s just really important to take time for yourself.


Tara Pringle is associate editor of MahoganyBaby.com and a freelance writer living in Kent, Ohio.